This is a long-ish article, but if you own a computer and it’s been kind of slow lately, you might want to read this.
A new computer is a rush like nothing else. For me, at least—I’m a shameless, self-proclaimed geek of titanic proportions.
The sight of a monitor powering up for the first time is indescribable, and I go out of my way to keep my PC in decent condition. Sure, my tendency to hoard comes across in the clutter of my desktop (don’t do this, it slows down your computer!), but the stuff that matters is usually shipshape.
Over time, after answering dozens of family tech support calls, I started to notice that most people let their computers go to shit.
The most common complaint was that it would start like every romance ever—rainbows, roses, choirs of cherubic angels, and the sweet (almost non-existent) hum of a well-oiled machine. After a couple of months though, the honeymoon period was over and done with. It would devolve into a flaming wreck set to the soundtrack of a chain-smoking cat in mortal distress.
This is when I would get that call which would mean another frustrating ordeal of “please-clean-up-my-PC”.
It's All about the Hard Disk
Well, not all. But your hard disk is integral to the running of your computer.
When I say hard disk, I don’t only mean external hard disks. Your computer comes with one built in. So if your PC suddenly becomes much slower, it’s quite likely that your internal hard disk needs some TLC.
Also, if you don’t have an external hard disk, get yourself one ASAP. Like, right now. Seriously, you’ll feel terrible if your computer dies and you don’t have your shit backed up. Just go onto Flipkart and get one without even leaving your room. You’ll thank yourself later.
Even if you don’t have a boatload of data, it’ll save you the anguish and heartache that comes with a complete hard disk crash. Even better, get two and keep both synced so that if one dies, you’ll still have all your data.
Before we dive into your HD care routine, though, you need to face facts: your hard disk is going to die someday. It’ll happen slowly, but steadily. While you can’t do much about this, you can significantly extend its lifespan by taking good care of it.
Dust builds up faster than you’d expect.
This is something I need to keep reminding myself of. Problem is, it’s hard to wrap your head around just how quickly large quantities of dust collect inside your system. We live in a dusty country and—It. Gets. Everywhere.
If you have a desktop with an easily openable cabinet, you can clean it yourself. Simply open it up (once a month or so) and dustbust. But gently. Get yourself one of those tiny vacuum cleaners; it works like a charm.
Otherwise, use a soft cloth, gently. WITHOUT ANY WATER.
If you have a laptop or can’t open your cabinet, take it to a service center. They’ll open it up and give it a thorough cleaning for you.
Dust causes heat to build up and hurts your hard disk significantly. Get rid of it!
I find it extremely infuriating when people refuse to turn their computers off. Unless they use Apple products, which seem to be able to take this kind of abuse, you should always, always turn off your computer on a regular basis.
Ideally, whenever you’re done using it, power it down and let it recover.
On the flip side, cutting power to your PC abruptly, or by long-pressing the power button could damage your hardware. India’s power grid is abysmal at the best of times—a sprinkle of rain and the fluctuations start.
In the same vein—don’t pull the plug on your hard disk without safely ejecting it. If you make a habit of treating your hard disk like this, you will lose all your data sooner rather than later.
To stay on the safe side, get yourself a UPS that also acts as a stabiliser. This way, you can safely shut down your PC when the power gets cut, and also keep your internal hard disk protected from power surges.
Declutter Your Hard Disk
Once you’ve had a computer for a while, clutter starts to collect whether you like it or not. Clutter in the form of temporary files you don’t need anymore, old programs, and (sometimes) everyone’s best friend—malware.
To deal with malware, spyware, and the multitude of unwanted viruses, invest in a reliable antivirus. Once you have it, set it to scan all your hard disks on a regular basis and you should be fine.
Besides this, there are a bunch of things you should do to clean up the clutter:
Go to Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs and remove every single program that you’re not going to use in the foreseeable future. Some cursory Googling will also tell you how to clean up all the temporary files that are slowing down your computer (look for ‘disk cleanup’ followed by the OS you use).
First, make sure that the drive you’re defragmenting is not a flash drive. NEVER, EVER DEFRAGMENT A FLASH DRIVE. This will reduce its lifespan significantly. If you have an SSD (Solid State Drive), it’s a flash drive and shouldn’t be defragmented.
Now that the warning is out of the way, what is defragmentation?
When you write to a disk (put information or data onto it), it tends to get scattered into a bunch of chunks and stored in different parts of the drive. So if you have a physical drive that uses a manual arm to read your data, it’ll have to jump around a fair bit, which is bad for it (makes it slower) and by extension, bad for your blood pressure.
Defragmentation is simply the process of taking all these scattered bits and putting them neatly next to each other so that your drive doesn’t have to work harder than it should be.
You can easily defragment your disk using a free program like Defraggler.
And finally (again, BECAUSE IT’S SO IMPORTANT), for the sake of your sanity, back up all your data. When your hard disk finally dies (when, not if), you’ll feel a lot better about the loss if you have everything you need backed up.
Another major perk of regularly backing up your files is that it allows you to delete things from your computer that you don’t immediately need—freeing up space and decluttering your hard disk.
Once you’ve backed up all your data, you need to take good care of your external hard disk. This means:
- Don’t drop it
- Don’t let it heat up
- Don’t get it wet
- Always place it only on still, stable surfaces
- If you value your data, wait for the ‘safely remove hardware’ message before you unplug it
- Don’t drop it
That’s about it. If your computer is still slow after you do all this, it might just be time to call in a professional. They’ll be able to tell you whether you can salvage your current computer or if you need to buy a new one.