It seems almost every day of the year marks a little-known holiday, and today is no exception. It's Clean Out Your Computer Day.

Unlike Groundhog Day and any number of other occasions, observing this holiday can actually make your life easier. The simple computer maintenance tasks recommended for today will help your desktops and laptops run faster and last longer.

So bring your team together with a few snacks and beverages (keep these well away from the computers). Get yourselves a few small soft brushes, some cans of compressed air, and if handy, some keyboard-sized vacuums. Then follow these simple steps recommended by iolo Technologies, which makes computer repair and optimization software:

1. Eliminate excess apps.

They take up room on your hard drive, they may be running in your computer's memory, and they can interfere with other software that you do want. So go through your applications folder and get rid of applications you've installed but never used or that came preinstalled that you don't need. (If you're not sure what something does, find out before you delete it--you could wind up accidentally removing something that you do need.)

2. Bring all your software up to date.

It's easy to get behind on updates, but both you and your computer will be happier if all the software you use--especially all your security software--is up to date. Software makers often defend against newly discovered security threats in the latest versions of their applications but leave earlier versions unprotected. So download and install any available updates for all the software you still have installed after step 1. (This can take a while, so plan some time for it. You can enjoy the party while you're waiting for installations to complete.)

3. Clean up your backups.

Your data should be backed up at least once every 24 hours, ideally to two separate places, for instance one external hard drive and one cloud backup service. If you don't have a system like this already, use today to put one in place--the cost will be minimal.

If you are getting daily backups, use today to review the data files you're backing up. Chances are some of them could be removed or archived.

4. Defrag.

The more you save, delete, change, and re-save data on your hard drive, the more that data is "fragmented"--stored in different locations around the disk. This makes your computer work harder than it should and increases wear on the drive as well as opportunities for things to go wrong. So run defragmentation software that will reassemble fragmented data back into a whole. Ideally, you should do this more than once a year.

5. Tackle the dust.

Unless your office is inside a clean room, you have dust in your computer. You'll likely be surprised just how much dust is in there. This is especially true if your computer tower sits on the floor, in which case it will have basically turned into a square vacuum cleaner. (Hint: Don't place your computer tower on the floor.)

Your best defense against dust is a can of compressed air. Spray it everywhere you can reach from the outside, such as through fans and vents--and on your keyboard, mouse, and monitor, too. If you're going to use furniture spray or any other liquid to pick up dust, don't spray or pour it on the computer itself--put a small amount onto a soft cloth and use that. And needless to say, before you do any of these things, make sure your computer is unplugged.

6. Clean the interior.

Now it's time to open up your computer and clean any dust and debris on the inside. Begin by touching something metal for at least five seconds. It sounds silly, but if you're carrying a static charge, you could damage the components inside your computer.

Next, remove any external cards, plugs, antennas, extensions, etc. and put them in a safe place. If you have several plugs that look alike, take a photo or make note of what plugs in where. Carefully remove the outside case of your computer, leaving the frame and insides exposed. You may be tempted to vacuum up some of that dust, and that's fine, but keep the vacuum well away from any computer components or slots. Use compressed air and your soft brush on those, and be gentle!

7. Close it all up.

Make sure to dust any components you removed with compressed air or with your soft brush before putting everything back together. Then wait at least half an hour before plugging your computer in and booting it up.

Published on: Feb 9, 2015
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