As your computer ages, programs take up memory and CPU usage. The drive fragments and the Windows registry contains applications no longer in use. Old browser cache takes up space and virus definition files become outdated. At first, the issues aren’t too important. However, as you continue to use the computer, these maintenance issues become a problem. Windows 8.1 has a scheduler where you can set maintenance tasks automatically. You can optionally choose to manually run these tasks.
Setting a Maintenance Schedule
Creating a maintenance schedule in Windows 8.1 is not unlike older Windows versions. The maintenance tools and scheduler is located in the Control Panel.
Open Control Panel and click on the “Action Center” option. With Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, the Action Center is a shortcut on the taskbar. It’s the flag icon on the right side of the task bar next to the system clock. Click the “Maintenance” section to view a list of options.
To schedule maintenance, click the link labeled “Change maintenance settings” in the “Automatic Maintenance” section. Windows 8.1 can run at any time, but you should run your maintenance tasks when you don’t use the computer. For instance, running the disk defragment tool while you’re working will severely reduce performance. It will take you twice as long to perform typical tasks. For this reason, schedule your maintenance at night or when you don’t use the computer.
If you set your computer to go into “Sleep” mode, check the box labeled “Allow scheduled maintenance to wake up my computer at the scheduled time.” This option ensures that even when the computer is in stand-by mode (such as a laptop) that the scheduled maintenance still runs.
Manually Running Maintenance
You don’t need to run maintenance on a schedule. You can run it manually as well. For instance, you might not want to delete your browser cache. Browser cache makes it easier to run websites you’ve already viewed and you can store form information to save you time. Instead of running all Windows maintenance at once, you can instead run only the tasks you want to run doing it one-by-one.
The first tasks that’s important is disk defrag. The Disk Defrag tool lets you defragment your drive. When you save and delete files, the disk drive deletes and re-adds files at random locations on the drive (actually, it’s not random, but it looks that way when you look at a fragmented drive). One file can be stored on multiple places on the drive. Since the disk head must rotate back and forth and wait for the disk to spin around to the file storage location, it takes longer when the files aren’t stored in a contiguous place on the drive. To avoid this issue, you defrag the drive. Defrag moves file storage locations next to other, related file segments. The result is faster seek and store times on your hard drive. The defrag utility takes up much of your resources if you try to use your computer. Your computer must move around file fragments while you use the machine. This takes up much of your resources, so you only want to run the defrag utility when you are away from your computer.
The Windows registry stores software and hardware settings. When you install software or hardware, the registry stores information until you uninstall the software. If you just delete executables or DLL files, it does not remove the file settings from the registry. Part of your maintenance should be uninstalling programs through the Windows Control Panel. This process completely removes the settings from the registry and deletes old DLL files that you will no longer need.
You can also remove files from the “Startup” section of the registry. This section runs software each time your computer boots. The more programs that start when you boot, the longer it takes for your computer to finish the boot process. You find these programs in the “Administrative Tools” section of the Control Panel under “System Configuration.”
In the security section of the Action Center, your firewall and virus protection settings are listed. When you install Windows, virus definition files are only as current as the date the operating system was installed. You need to update these definition files to fully protect your computer. The updated definition files keep your computer protected against the latest threats that weren’t a problem when you first installed the operating system. The Windows 8.1 operating system has a separate scheduler that is included with the Windows Update software. You should regularly update these files.
The final main maintenance task you should perform is an update to the core operating system. The Windows Update application searches for security patches and bug fixes. Microsoft regularly provides updates, so your operating system is less buggy. It also patches security holes found in the operating system to protect you from being hacked.
You can also delete your browser cache and stored form information. This won’t likely speed up your computer, but it could speed up your Internet browsing. Deleting form information is a must if you sell your computer or allow other users to access it. The form information is stored on the computer for easier form submission, but it’s also a security issue if other people are able to access the browser cache.
Computer maintenance can take some time, but you can speed up even an older computer with a little bit of time. While deleting and managing your operating system doesn’t replace adding memory or faster resources, you can help boost your productivity and improve performance.