Computers get slower over time. Of course, hardware aging does play a role, but for most people, poor operating system maintenance is a more common cause. It's time to clean your computer.
Reinstalling Windows is the nuclear option. If you get rid of the accumulated junk and restart immediately, your machine will run faster and smoother.
However, you don't have to take such drastic steps. If you spend some time cleaning Windows, almost identical results can be achieved. Sure, your five year old laptop may never play the latest AAA game, but you will still see tremendous improvements.
Here is the ultimate checklist for cleaning a Windows computer.
1. Delete unused software
Let's start with an obvious one. The first step on the path to a clean computer is to remove all of the old software that you no longer use. Unless you're a "busy eraser," you'll be amazed at how much unnecessary material you have installed on your computer.
To see all the apps on your computer, go to Start> Settings> Apps> Apps and Features. Scroll down the list and click Uninstall on everything you don't need.
Of course you have to be careful. Don't just remove things you don't recognize. First, do a Google search to make sure it's safe to delete.
2. Run your antivirus
Next, you should be running your antivirus software. Viruses are one of the most common causes of slow computers. Hence, this is an excellent way to clean a Windows PC.
The exact instructions for running the scan vary from app to app. However, you should try to get an option called Complete search, Deep scan, or something similar. The scan takes much longer, but you can be sure that nothing will be missed.
It is also worth downloading Malwarebytes. Instead of focusing on viruses, the main goal is to protect users from the latest Trojans, backdoors, adware and spyware.
For more information, please see our list of the best antivirus apps.
3. Disk cleanup
Windows 10 offers a disk cleanup tool. It has been part of the Windows operating system for many years and is still just as effective at cleaning up unnecessary files and improving performance.
To run Disk Cleanup, either enter the app's name in the Start menu or go to Control Panel> Administrative Tools> Disk Cleanup.
Before running the scan, click Clean up system files. The app can do a more thorough scan by looking for old Windows update files and log files.
In general, you can delete any files that the scan finds. Check the box next to each result type and click OK. However, keep in mind that as you clean up, you want to tidy up Previous Windows installation (s) Use of Clean up system files This option does not allow you to revert to the previous version of Windows.
4. Defragment your hard drive
Windows 10 will run Disk Defragmentation when it is determined that it is necessary. However, since we are thoroughly cleaning your computer, it is not advisable not to run it manually.
You will find the Defragment and optimize drives Tool by doing a search or by going to Control Panel> Administrative Tools.
To use the app, highlight your primary hard drive and click Optimize in the lower right corner of the window.
5. Delete old drivers
Windows keeps old drivers. The logic behind retention is solid: you'll never get stuck if a new driver doesn't work as expected. The offshoot, however, is that your computer may be full of drivers from devices you stopped using years ago.
There are two easy ways to remove old drivers from your computer: the command prompt or environment variables. For more details on the details, please see our in-depth guide on removing old drivers from Windows.
6. Update your start list
Any seasoned Windows user knows that the operating system lags far behind macOS, Chrome OS, and Linux in terms of slow startup times.
Usually the problem is caused by the number of programs Windows tries to start the first time. Most of them are unnecessary.
Press to clean up your start list Ctrl + Alt + Del and select Task manager. Click in the new window More details, then choose the Start up Tab at the top of the screen.
You should now look at all of the apps Windows wants to run on boot. To deactivate an app, mark the relevant line and click on Deactivate.
7. Clean up the AppData folder
When you uninstall an app, you can often find remnants of its previous presence on your computer. One of the most common locations is the AppData folder.
The folder is hidden by default. You can find it under C: Users (username) AppData or by tapping %App data% into Windows search.
There are three sub-folders within the main folder: Local, LocalLow, and Wandering. Make sure to search all three folders to find traces of old software. Again, don't delete anything unless you are sure it is safe.
To prevent these leftovers from apps that you delete in the future; You can use a special uninstaller. One of the best is Geek Uninstaller. The app is so good that it's one of our must-have free computer maintenance tools.
8. Remove old program files
The other place that you can often find trace elements of old app files is in the Applications folders.
Most computers have two program folders. You can find them under C: Programs and C: Program Files (x86).
As with the AppData folder, carefully work through the contents of each folder and delete any files and folders that are no longer in use.
9. Clean up the registry
You've probably heard horror stories about registry cleaners – being overly aggressive can easily damage your machine.
However, it is important that you keep your registry clean. Think of this as a library: the larger the library, the longer it will take to find what you're looking for. The more junk there is in your registry, the longer it will take Windows to find the entries it needs.
Why don't you take matters into your own hands? It's easier than it sounds. Do a search for regedit and press Enter. Then go to Computer HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE SOFTWARE and Computer HKEY_CURRENT_USER Software. In each folder, slowly work through the list and delete entries for software that you no longer use.
Warning: Deleting the wrong registry entry can have serious consequences for your system. Make sure to take a full backup of your registry data before proceeding.
10. Clean all caches
Windows 10 is full of caches. A cache is a non-permanent file that Windows may need again in the future without getting lost in technical jargon.
But what if Windows no longer needs it? You have all these files lying around cluttering your hard drive.
In an article elsewhere on the site, we introduced you to several hidden Windows caches and how you can clean each one individually. It will take a while to work through them all, but time well invested.
How do you clean your computer?
We've introduced you to a few key steps if you want to give your operating system a spring clean. If you process all 10, an increase in performance is guaranteed.
Of course, there are other ways to improve the speed of your computer – you could update the hardware, for example – but this is often expensive and complicated for beginners. The compromise is not always worth it.
Which upgrades will improve your PC's performance the most?
Is your PC fast enough for the things you want to do? Does it take forever to boot or freeze when trying to use Photoshop? If so, it is probably time to update your hardware.
About the author
(1402 articles published)
Dan joined MakeUseOf in 2014 and has been Partnerships Director since July 2020. Contact him for information on sponsored content, affiliate agreements, promotions, and other forms of partnership. You can also see him walking around the exhibit space at CES in Las Vegas every year. Say hello when you leave. Prior to his writing career, he was a financial advisor.
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