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2,862 Tutorials

How to clean up your Windows PC

Undo the damage caused by everyday computing

However fast your PC when you first buy it, over time its performance will only deteriorate. We look at how to undo the damage done by everyday computing use and claw back valuable disk space and processor cycles.

More cleanup options

You can, of course, manually clean out a lot of the junk on your system. Here are some ways to tackle the job.

Disk Cleanup
The past few versions of Windows have shipped with the Disk Cleanup utility, which you can launch by clicking Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup. When we used this tool on our test machine, we discovered 16.3GB of temporary converted audio files.

You can manually clean out old system files, but that can be perilous, so delete such files with care. Note too that Disk Cleanup allows you (under the More Options tab) to delete all but the most recent System Restore and Shadow Copy files. We recommend avoiding this though: you never know if you'll need an older restore point to get a usable machine back if you run into problems.

Defrag your drive
Defragmenting your hard drive is useful after you've performed a sweep with Disk Cleanup. During the defrag process, your system performance will slow down, since the defragger keeps the hard drives pretty busy. The Windows 7 defrag utility is somewhat smart about this, but your PC will still be less responsive during the process; it's best to run the utility when you don't need timely system access.

System Configuration Utility
This tool is more commonly referred to as Msconfig. You launch it by typing msconfig in the Start, Run bar. You can selectively enable and disable background services in Msconfig. Using Msconfig lets you manually specify services to run, as well as startup applications. It's far from perfect, however. It doesn't give you any advice as to what services can be safely disabled, though you can hide Windows services, which makes the Services tab a little more manageable.

This is all the stuff that launches on boot. The Startup tab is more useful. The caution here, though, is that if you disable everything willy-nilly, some of your applications (such as your antivirus software) may not work. Still, items such as the QuickTime Helper app and the Adobe Acrobat helper can be safely disabled.

Registry Editor
Use the Windows Registry Editor, aka 'regedit', with caution. You could easily delete keys from the Registry permanently and thereby render your system unusable. A less serious risk is that you could make applications unusable, then have to reinstall them. We've also had tales of woe from readers who have found a partial Registry edit makes it impossible to uninstall or reinstall an application but the program won't run. If you're going to edit the Registry yourself, back it up first.

Edit your system's Registry at your own risk. This screenshot of the Registry Editor shows only the first-level view; on lower levels the typical Registry contains many thousands of entries, often with arcane names such as HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\{9F5FBC24-EFE2-4f90-B498-EC0FB7D47D15}. Understanding what to delete and what to keep can be fraught with peril.

If you're trying to root out Registry entries for an incompletely uninstalled piece of software, the editor does allow you to search. If you do this, be very specific with the search string. The application name is much better than, say, the company name. Searching for Zune, for instance [does this work for a UK readership?], will probably yield much safer results than searching for Microsoft.

NEXT PAGE: Useful third party choices

  1. Undo the damage caused by everyday computing
  2. Windows entropy explained
  3. Diagnostic tools: tracking down the junk
  4. More cleanup options
  5. Useful third party choices
  6. Maintaining a clean system

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