The more you use your PC, the more it will collect files that you no longer need, taking up unnecessary disk space. It is therefore a good idea to regularly clean out your system, getting rid of the files and programs you no longer need to make space for new ones.

You can also run maintenance programs which clean up and arrange files in a way which makes it easier for your PC to find. By doing this, you can improve the speed at which Windows runs programs.

Unfortunately some of the advice below may be too technical for some users. If you feel that this is the case with you then we would advise you to contact a computer support professional to perform a one-off PC “clean-up” for you and they will also be able to explain some of the basic regular maintenance tasks you need to perform.

IMPORTANT – Before you attempt any of these actions make sure that you have backed-up all of your data to somewhere independent of your PC first (such as an external tape or disk) and that you have closed all programs before running any of these processes.

The Recycle Bin

When you delete a file it usually means that it has been moved to the Recycle Bin. If you don’t regularly empty this Bin, the files inside may take up valuable disk space.

To manage your Recycle Bin, double click the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop to see which files are currently stored in there. If there are any files in the Bin that you want to keep and put back in the original place you deleted them from, right-click on the files and select Restore. If you are happy you no longer require any of the files in the Recycle Bin, you can remove them from your computer completely by right-clicking the Recycle Bin icon and selecting ‘Empty Recycle Bin’.

You should empty your Recycle Bin regularly, at least once a month.

Remove Temporary Files

As you surf the internet your computer stores web pages and images into a temporary internet cache (disk area) so that it can quickly recall and access information when you move back and forth between pages. The default amount of space that is used for these temporary files is 10% of your total drive space which could mean that your computer saves over 1000MB worth of unnecessary temporary internet files. This information can quickly mount up and take up valuable hard drive space that you could use for your own storage.

Whichever browser software you use you should clean this area up regularly by following the help files located within those programs. You may also wish to set a specific maximum file size for your cache folder, so that it is not allowed to run rampant.

Internet Explorer stores many of the files used on the web pages you visit so that next time you go to a site it doesn’t have to download the same files again. However, this can build up over time and take up a lot of disk space.

In Internet Explorer 6 click on Tools then Internet Options. Under the section Temporary Internet Files on the General tab, click Delete Files. Tick Delete all offline content and click OK. When finished, click OK to exit the Internet Options window.

In Internet Explorer 7 click on Tools then Internet Options and look for the section Browsing History and click the Delete button underneath. Next Click the Delete Files button next to Temporary Internet Files.

The System Restore facility is a useful safety feature but it can also use up a lot of space, so occasionally it is worth clearing out the old restore points.

To do this, go to Control Panel, click on System then on the System Restore tab. Tick to turn off System Restore and click Apply, this will clear out all old restore points. Now un-tick to turn System Restore back on.

Uninstall unused programs.

Often a new program will come along that looks fun to have or play with, but after a week or two you simply stop using it. These programs clutter up your drive and take up valuable space. You might be tempted to delete these programs from your drive, but doing so will cause problems. You must use the uninstall function of Windows for the program to be removed safely and completely.

Disk Cleanup

When your computer is not shut down properly, it will often store information from its memory into temporary files. Also, while you’re running programs, your computer will write information that it does not immediately need into temporary files. Most programs clear these up automatically but others leave them there in error or by design. These temporary files waste space and that may eventually slow your PC down.

The Disk Cleanup system tool allows you to clean out Windows components and programs you no longer need, and remove temporary files.

From the Start menu, click on Programs> Accessories> SystemTools> Disk Cleanup. The main Disk Cleanup window shows two tabs – Disk Cleanup and More Options. In the Disk Cleanup tab window, put a tick in the following boxes if you wish to clean out these unnecessary files:

  • Downloaded program files
  • Temporary internet files
  • Recycle bin
  • Temporary files

Click on the More Options tab and you can choose to get rid of unwanted Windows components, remove installed programs you no longer use, and remove all but the most recent System restore point.

When you have selected everything you want to clean up, click on OK then Yes to confirm you want to begin the Disk Cleanup process.

Defragmenting Your Hard Disk

When programs are installed in Windows, the required files are placed on your hard disk drive where there is free space, this data is not necessarily in one place and not directly after the last program installed. As a result, your hard disk drive has patches of empty space on it that are not big enough to fit a full file, which can result in errors or can at least slow your PC down as it searches for all the parts of the file you want. The Disk Defragmenter application helps Windows arrange files on your Hard Disk in a way that makes it easier and faster for it to find your programs and files.

From the Start menu, click on Programs> Accessories> SystemTools> Disk Defragmenter.

It is recommended that you read the Defragmenter Help manual before beginning the defragmentation process. Click on Help from the menu at the top of the Disk Defragmenter window.

Defragmenting can take anything from a few minutes to several hours depending how fragmented the disk is, during which time you should not run any other programs.

Disk Defragmenter requires 15% of free space on your hard disk to work with. If you do not have enough space you will need to delete some files. To start the defragmentation process, click the volume that you want to defragment, and then click Defragment.