Now that the dark days of winter are over, there's nothing better than a good spring clean to blow all the cobwebs away. This doesn't just apply to houses - your computer can also benefit from an overhaul. After all, a tidy PC is an efficient PC.

Over time, as you load up various applications, save files and download data, your system gets bogged down. This is problematic for fairly new machines, but far worse for older systems that are already struggling to run power-hungry apps and operating systems.

But before you grab a screwdriver and contemplate complex upgrades, consider giving your PC a thorough clean. It's cheap, relatively easy to do and could seriously speed up your machine.

Dust collecting on the chassis is a serious hindrance to performance. A regular dusting will help prevent overheating and keep your PC running efficiently. On a similar note, it's important to ensure air can circulate freely around the machine, and that the fan isn't clogged up and unable to rotate.

Unless you're a model of minimalism, you've probably also got plenty of onscreen detritus you could usefully organise more logically. As well as minimising the number of shortcuts littering your desktop, periodically decluttering and defragging the hard drive will pay dividends in terms of how easy it is to find and retrieve items you need.

Filling your PC with programs and files you never use will slow it down. Getting rid of anything you don't need, while organising what you do, will make it easier to find and quickly load up items at a later date. Just remember to make a backup before you start hacking away at your hard drive's contents.

1. Start with the area surrounding your PC. It should be clean and clutter-free. Once you've had a tidy up, unplug the keyboard and remove any dust from between its keys with a cotton bud or a can of compressed air. Wipe down your screen to remove any greasy marks.

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2. Next, clean any dust from your PC chassis. Unplug the power cord and earth yourself by touching any metal part of the case. Start by vacuuming the fan vents from outside the case. You can also suck up the dust lying on the base and on the bottoms of empty drive bays, but don't go anywhere near the motherboard or components.

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3. Now put the case back together. It may be a good idea to relocate your PC - raising it off the floor by a few inches will reduce the amount of dust that gets sucked into the vents. Check whether there's enough space where the fan extracts and ensure there's a free flow of air. Excessive heat is your PC's worst enemy.

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4. Organise the cables connected to your PC. Coil or bundle up any loose cables and secure them with a cable tie to improve the airflow around your PC. If you've got several devices that you plug into the USB ports of your machine, invest in a USB hub, which will also help you keep track of your devices.

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5. Now we're ready to clean up the digital detritus. Start by preventing any non-essential programs launching at startup. Browse to My Computer, Local Disk (C:), Documents and Settings, [your name], Start Menu, Programs, Startup. Delete the shortcuts to any programs that you don't want to launch at startup.

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6. You can customise the Start menu, too. Open the Taskbar and Start Menu properties folder in Control Panel, then click the Start Menu tab and choose Customize. This dialog box lets you specify whether you want small or large icons in the Start Menu, as well as how many program icons are displayed.

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7. Next, uninstall any applications you don't use. Go to Start, Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs. Browse through the list of programs for any that are used ‘rarely'. If you no longer need the application, click the Change/Remove button and follow the onscreen instructions.

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8. To stop any unnecessary application update services or scheduled tasks running in the background and slowing things down, access the Scheduled Tasks folder from Start, Control Panel. Simply right-click any of the tasks you don't need and select Delete to remove them from the list.

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9. Declutter your desktop by right-clicking on a free area and choosing Arrange Icons By, Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard. This will gather any unused items in a folder on the desktop labelled Unused Desktop Items. We recommend that you then move this folder into My Documents.

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10. Remove any duplicate files and folders using Clone Remover or Glary Utilities. Place loose files in My Music, My Pictures or My Documents, and consider creating sub-folders where helpful - such as organising your audio collection by album or artist name.

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11. Download and install a free photo manager, such as Magix Photo Manager 8.0. This will help you keep a track of your digital photos. Some programs embed keywords, tags and ratings into images for faster and easier file searching.

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12. Now clear out your inbox. Scan through your mail and delete anything you don't need. Those that you want to keep should be archived into folders. If you've got any emails with large attachments, it's a good idea to save the attachment to your hard disk. In Outlook, it's possible to save the attachment but separate it from the message.

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13. Consider installing an indexing application, such as Microsoft Desktop Search or Google Desktop Search. These free apps keep tabs on the files on your system and provide an easy-to-use search function, allowing you to retrieve relevant files in moments.

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14. Before you delete anything from your machine, it's important to back up the data. A USB flash drive is fine as a temporary measure, but you should archive to DVD or an external hard drive for permanent backups. You can then begin deleting files, safe in the knowledge that if you make a mistake, all is not lost.

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