So here it is April again and the air is filled with pollen and the sounds of lawnmowers. Everyone’s focus turns to outdoor activities this time of the year. We tend to forget about the old reliable computers that kept us entertained throughout the winter. Computer cleaning and maintenance are vital to keeping them running well. Here are a few pointers to keeping your computer healthy and happy after a long winter.

Desktop and My Documents Clean-up

I consider myself a power user. I build my own custom computers from aftermarket parts. However, I tend to get lazy and sloppy with data management on my computers. With a full time job, a one year old daughter, and all the other things in life, it can get pretty bad. Most of my data tends to collect on the Windows desktop. Photos, documents, spreadsheets, and other things from work will take over my desktop in a matter of months. I’ll often do a quick once over clean up by dumping all that junk into a folder for sorting later on. This past weekend I decided to clean up and organize this junk collection. My desktop junk folder was over 10 GB in size! It only took an hour or so to get everything organized where it should be.

Another area needing clean-up is likely your user folder (aka “My Documents”). This can become a dumping ground much like your desktop for random files or pictures. This is where the normal sub-folders like “My Pictures” or “My Music” can come in handy. I even keep separate folders for work related documents and spreadsheets. Be careful to not get to carried away moving things around. I know most computer games tend to like to keep your game saves in the user folder. You don’t want to accidently delete your precious game saves.

Clean Out Old Backups

I tend to re-install Windows on my PCs every year or two. Part of re-stalling Windows requires backing up your data to a drive or partition that won’t be re-formatted. Since I’m lazy in this area, I usually back everything up quickly and worry about sorting it out later. After three re-installs of the Windows 7 beta and one install on Windows 7 RTM, I had a mess on my hands. I ended up tucking everything away on my D: drive to worry about later. I decided to perform clean up this weekend and discovered something shocking. I had three copies of my music library (20 GB each). I had three copies of my photo library (50 GB each). I discovered a cache of approximately 500 GB of old recorded TV from 2009. I also had random duplicates of my download folder archive as well. All total, I had over 800 GB of duplicate or obsolete data on my hard drive. After all of it was cleaned up, I went from 1.0 TB down to 200 GB on my D: drive.

As far as properly backing up data, this is a necessary task to perform on a regular basis. Windows 7 has a very slick backup utility that will allow you to create a backup archive on an external drive or another computer on your network. It can be set up update the archive on-demand or on a set schedule. There are also other 3rd party utilities that are available that perform a similar task. Backup utilities can also be found bundled with external hard drives.

Re-installing Windows

Sometimes Windows just needs a clean install to speed things up or fix a problem that can be resolved otherwise. I have a bad habit of installing game demos or other nifty little utilities I find. All this messing around can cause your registry to become bloated with entries. A registry cleaner like CCleaner will help keep the operating system running smoothly. However, a clean install will eventually be needed. Also keep in mind that a major hardware upgrade such as a new motherboard and CPU will require a fresh install of Windows. Be sure to back up your data before starting the re-install.

Mechanical Maintenance

So now that you’ve got the operating system tuned up and running well, let’s take a look at the mechanical maintenance of your computer. Most computers use fans to move air in and out of the case for cooling. Just like the HVAC system in your home, everything that floats in the air will get sucked in. Dust and hair will collect on the intake grills, filters, fan blades, and heat sinks. The buildup of debris will reduce the cooling efficiency of the fans and heat sinks, possibly reducing the lifespan of the computer.

Cleaning can be as simple as blowing off the fans and heat sinks with an aerosol can of compressed air for dusting electronics. If you have pets or have never bothered to clean your computer, you will probably need to do a more thorough cleaning. This may involve more complicated disassembly of the computer case. Most aftermarket computer cases are designed to make it easy to access the fans and intake screens. Pre-built computers from big name manufactures may be more complicated to disassemble. Also don’t forget to clean fans and heat sinks of the CPU and graphics card. These are your two hardest working components of your computer. If you don’t feel comfortable with tearing apart your computer to clean everything, considering taking it to a reputable computer repair shop. You might be able to get a good deal on an OS tune-up and system cleaning.

Disclaimer and the author of this article assume no responsibility for loss of data or physical damage to computers that were maintained using the methods stated in this article. All computers are unique and these maintenance methods may not apply to your particular OS and hardware configuration. Please consult with the manufacturer of your computer if you are unsure of performing routine maintenance on it.