How can I most efficiently "spring clean" my laptop?
January 30, 2013 7:17 PM   Subscribe

My computer is slowing down and I need to revive it!

I have a laptop that is about 3 years old. It has decent specs (Lenovo g460, processor is an Intel i5, 2GB of RAM, Windows 7 Ultimate, 32bit) and has usually run Photoshop CS5 and some games without problems.

Lately however, I've noticed a lot of delays, increased loading times, random switching off when trying to wake it from sleep mode, etc. Some games that I had no problem running before no longer work. I'm guessing that it's time to do some intense spring cleaning on my system--delete old files (as a graphic designer and a grad student I have TONS of files), run a full anti-virus scan, update whatever needs updating, and so forth.

I'm pretty busy with coursework and my job and I need my computer very much for both, so I'd like to be able to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible--say if I set aside a day on the weekend. How can I accomplish this and what spring cleaning steps should I be sure not to skip? I don't have, like, IT level of expertise with computers, but I would consider myself pretty computer literate, so don't hesitate to suggest more advanced steps.

Also, I have a...problem with my file organization. My files are EVERYWHERE (very similar to the state of my irl files...) If anyone has good tips for how to keep files nice and orderly, please share!

One more thing: what are some good general maintenance habits I can adopt to keep my computer running smoothly longer?

Thank you in advance for your help!
posted by joyeuxamelie to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
2GB of RAM

bump it up to 8GB of RAM.

what spring cleaning steps should I be sure not to skip
Also, figure out a backup schedule, ideally automated onto the cloud/external HD?
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:22 PM on January 30, 2013

My usual approach with decaying Windows systems and Linux distributions too old to upgrade piecemeal is to back up the stuff I care about, wipe everything, and install from scratch. This is pretty much standard operating procedure with all the professional nerds I know (I am a professional nerd and basically only know other nerds).

Seconded on more than 2 gigs of RAM and regular backups.

For what it's worth, some of what you're experiencing might be down to tired hardware. I subject my machines to quite a bit of bike travel, dust, and general violence, but three years is about the outside of my expected reliable life for a portable gadget. Especially for one of those lower-end Lenovo machines. I have a similar model from maybe a year earlier and it doubles as a white-noise-generating space heater.
posted by brennen at 7:33 PM on January 30, 2013

Make a C:\joyeuxamelie directory and put everything there, including your email files if possible (they'll probably be in your home directory otherwise), your bookmarks, and any other day-to-day stuff. Address books I used to forget all the time. After you have moved everything to c:\joyeuamelie, copy that directory and your home directory, C:\Users\JA or whatever, to a USB thumbdrive. Then wipe your harddrive, reinstall Windows and all your apps.
posted by rhizome at 7:34 PM on January 30, 2013

In my preferred order, but not a mandatory one:

1) Download and install all Windows updates.

2) Download and install the latest drivers for your graphics card. You may wish to do the same with other hardware components but that is unlikely to result in significant performance increases.

3) Use something like the Filehippo Update Checker to identify and grab the latest versions of anything that is outdated: Flash, Java, browsers, other utilities. Use Apple Software Update if appropriate.

3) Turn off unnecessary startup processes using something like CCleaner or Autoruns. Turn off unnecessary startup services using Services.MSC

4) Do a full virus scan using e.g. Microsoft Security Essentials or Malwarebytes.

5) Defrag your hard drive using something like MyDefrag's "System Disk Monthly" (if you have more than one hard drive, you can try something like "Data Disk Monthly" for any that are used for storage) (run either or both overnight). Windows 7 includes a scheduled simple (read: insufficient on its own in certain cases) defrag by default.

For file organization, you basically have to decide what works for you. I sometimes use programs like Bulk Rename Utility to prepare for a "sort and file" step by appending last save date and time to certain files, removing unnecessary prefixes/suffixes, auto-copy / auto-move, etc.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:35 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Uninstall programs you rarely use.
Run CCleaner
posted by wongcorgi at 7:35 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to nuke it from orbit and start over, I recommend the following:
Export your user with Win7's User Migration Tool
Back up your files with Crashplan.
Make a list of all of your applications, and burn a disc with all the most recent installers.
Make a text file containing all the essential keys and such required to activate those applications. I keep mine my dropbox, encrypted.
Download and burn the latest Win7 ultimate disc from MSDN. They keep them updated, and so you'll save hours of WindowsUpdate nonsense.

Once you've rebuilt Windows, gotten it updated to current, and installed some basic utilities, do another backup, and save a Windows Restore checkpoint thing as well. Capture a disc image if need be.

After that, start installing everything. Repeat the Windows Restore checkpoint thing needed.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:54 PM on January 30, 2013

Since this is a 32 bit system, increasing RAM beyond 4 GB will not help, as a 32bit OS can't access more than 4GB of RAM.
posted by pombe at 8:20 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

If anyone has good tips for how to keep files nice and orderly, please share!

Make sure your files have good names when you save them, and just use search. I don't organize anything. The whole file-folder metaphor is a bit outdated, anyway.
posted by empath at 8:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

pombe: "Since this is a 32 bit system, increasing RAM beyond 4 GB will not help, as a 32bit OS can't access more than 4GB of RAM."

And just to expand on this, you'll need to consult your user manual or your laptop manufacturer's website to see how much RAM your laptop is capable of handling, and how many spaces you have for sticks of RAM. (Since it was sold as a 32-bit machine, it may only be capable of handling 4GB.) For example, if your laptop has 2 RAM slots and only one is filled, you could add a second stick of 2GB. If it instead only has 1 slot, you'll need to get a 4GB stick and remove the old RAM. This isn't terribly complicated - usually there's a hatch on the bottom held together by a couple of screws to let you access the RAM.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:11 AM on January 31, 2013

Seconding wongcorgi's advice to "uninstall what you don't use, run cc cleaner, and defrag." I was able to keep an old Gateway with Windows ME running for SEVEN YEARS that way.

Also: CC Cleaner now has a system that you can use to check out your registry - that's one of my steps now if something is running a little funny. If you've never done it, you may find that your registry is littered with bits of code still from programs that you uninstalled a while ago.

Another good bit of freeware is Soluto - it can help you identify things that may be slowing down your bootup, and help you identify which things you can take out of your bootup and which things you should leave in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Back up all your data to USB stick or external hard drive.

For three years old laptop you might want to clean the CPU fan. The fan become clogged up very quickly and started restricting airflow then causing random shutdowns. At this point, most consumers would give up and buy a new laptop, don't do it! You don't have to replace the fan like in the video, just by a can of air and clean the hell out of it. Be careful with this step, skip it if you are not confident, you could easily destroy your laptop with rare but still dangerous static charge. Touch your hand with metal part to discharge the static before working on the laptop.

At this point, I would just re-install the windows 7. It's a lot of work but this step will give your computer a clean slate and you don't have to spend time to diagnostic why your computer is so slow. Skip it if you don't have time.

Gina from Lifehacker has folder organization system you might want to take a look at to give you some inspiration but do whatever work for you.

After you have the folder organization figured out, download Belvedere to automatically organize the files for you.

After you are done, don't forget to backup your files with dropbox or crashplan!
posted by Carius at 9:14 AM on January 31, 2013

I just upgraded my laptop harddrive to an SSD and the speed difference is huge. It also runs on a lot less power and doesn't get as hot as it used to. The whole process was easy and relatively inexpensive. I did sacrifice a bit of harddrive space but I tend to store a lot of stuff on external drives anyway.
Once you've tidied up your install of windows you can use a program and a usb harddrive enclosure to make an exact copy of your computer on the new drive so that when you install the drive it is ready to go straight away.
posted by kwes at 1:37 PM on January 31, 2013

It sounds like you might actually have some hardware issues as well. Do some physical cleaning. Make sure your laptop's fan ducts are unblocked. Check to see if you are running hot.
posted by srboisvert at 1:05 PM on February 20, 2013

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