Create a drive image
With a fresh copy of Windows perfectly configured and running smoothly, now is an ideal time to capture and preserve its state, just in case something goes awry later.
Create an image of your PC. This is in essence a full-system backup that contains all the extra stuff that gets added after a fresh Windows install. By making that image your restore source, you can save a lot of time if you ever need to perform another reinstall. Note, however, that an image won’t preserve your data.
Macrium Reflect is easy to use, and it can save your image file to an external drive, a network drive or disc. It’ll also build a bootable rescue disc for restoring the image, just in case you need to resurrect a seriously compromised PC.
Make a Linux partition
Linux operating systems are fast and robust, and stocked with all the software that most users need for everyday computing. Plus, many versions are free – and if your Windows install ever becomes too messed up to boot, you might be able to use Linux to save it.
This is the perfect time to create a dual-boot environment and devote a partition of your hard drive to Linux. When you’re finished, you’ll be able to choose Windows or Linux at every boot; it’s like turning one PC into two. And in the unlikely event that something goes wrong during setup, you can whip out the drive image you created earlier and restore the PC to its previous state.
We recommend Ubuntu, although countless other Linux versions are available. To install Ubuntu alongside Windows, you’ll need to download the operating system, burn it to a CD, create a partition within Windows, and then boot the Ubuntu CD and follow the instructions. See here for instructions.
You’re computing on thin ice. A malware attack or hard-drive failure might be just around the corner. The time has come to start making regular backups.
First, schedule a weekly full-system backup, using an external hard drive as the destination. The aforementioned Macrium Reflect works well, as it can create image files at scheduled times. However, consider buying the full version, which supports both differential and incremental backups. (The latter means the program adds only the files and data that have changed since the previous backup, a huge timesaver.)
Second, enlist an online backup service such as Carbonite or Mozy to save your crucial data to the cloud. We’re partial to the set-it-and-forget-it Mozy, which offers 2GB of free backup space, a highly automated utility, and the option of making a local backup too.
A re--stored PC gives you the rare chance to put everything in order: your files, your folders and even the desktop. Let’s start with the latter – no more leaving icons strewn across the desktop like clothes on the bedroom floor. Organise them with Fences, a free utility that turns cluttered desktops into tidy ones.
As for files, it’s always good to manually organise them as best you can, putting documents in one folder, photos in another, videos in a third and so on. But even if you have stuff spread out across hundreds of folders (and/or different drives), Windows 7’s Libraries feature makes finding what you need easy. It’s a much better approach than the age-old folder/subfolder system. The only trick is setting up Libraries properly (see tinyurl.com/3fk44k9).
Slim down your security
Many PCs suffer from security software overkill, as users are tempted to install a firewall, antivirus and antispyware tools, a rootkit blocker and perhaps even a security suite on top of all that.
Take a simplified approach. Windows 7 has almost everything you need: a firewall, a spyware and pop-up blocker, an improved User Account Control system and a host of malware and phishing protections in Internet Explorer. Install Microsoft’s free Security Essentials and Web of Trust and you’ll have a well-protected PC. The only extra you might need is a spam filter, but most webmail services do a great job of filtering spam.
Install a better uninstaller
Many uninstalled programs leave traces – configuration files here, Registry entries there, and so on. This can make Windows slow down over a period of time.
What you need is a program that will remove every last vestige of any application. Try the aforementioned Revo Uninstaller or IObit Advanced Uninstaller, which offers a few perks that Revo lacks. One of them is batch uninstalling: an excellent timesaver that lets you select multiple programs to remove. IObit’s program is tiny (just 700KB) and portable, requiring no installation.
Make a Driver library
One of the biggest hassles in restoring a PC is tracking down drivers for all the attached components and peripherals. Even if you restore your machine from an image file, you might wind up with several drivers that are outdated.
Make device-driver backups a part of your regular backup regimen. Double Driver 4.1 (a free utility) accomplishes the task quickly and easily. It scans your computer, automatically detects and selects drivers that aren’t part of the operating system, then lets you back them up to a USB drive, a network folder or another portable storage device.
A quicker boot
Windows boots more slowly over time, as every program you install seems to insist on loading a piece of itself into the startup directory. Freeware utility Soluto can be used to analyse the software and services on your PC. It then lets you eliminate them, delay their startup or leave them alone. Soluto also offers recommendations, complete with statistics on what other users have done.