Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Friday, 15 February 2008

Click Essentials: PC health check

Our essential guide to improving your computer's performance.

A computer hard drive
Clearing out your computer's hard drive can improve its performance
As time goes by, your computer's performance can start to suffer as lots of different programs and websites fill up its working areas, and every so often they need a good clear-out.

It is just like servicing a car, and as such there can be quite a bit to remember.

All operating systems work best when at least 20% of the drive is kept free. You can make room by deleting unwanted photos, music and documents or by archiving your data on to removable storage like writable CDs.

Alternatively, with the cost of hard drives falling all the time, try buying a second drive to store your documents separately to the operating system.


Over time your hard drive can become disorganised with some files split into several chunks and stored in different locations on the disc. Defragging will shuffle the data around to store it more efficiently and improve access times.


Microsoft Windows has a good defrag tool built in, but make sure you have quit all other applications before hitting the Defragment button. This is a long and boring process, so have a cup of tea at the ready.

Apple says that its systems are less susceptible to disc fragmentation but nevertheless there are commercial defrag programmes available for the Apple Mac.


Every time you load a webpage your browser will save it to your hard drive, meaning it is quicker to load on your next visit.

But this dump of pictures and text can become very large so follow your browser's options to delete the cache or, as Microsoft Internet Explorer prefers to call it, your Temporary Internet Files.


To run smoothly, applications need plenty of short term memory - or RAM - so investing in another gigabyte or two will give you an instant boost.

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But because the amount of RAM you have is finite, keep an eye on how many applications you have got open at any one time and quit any you are not using.

And on that note, check which programmes run automatically when your machine starts up.

In Microsoft Windows this is set in the System Configuration Utility. You can find this by going into the Help and Support Centre and selecting Tools. On an Apple Mac, right-click an icon in the dock and un-tick Open at Login.


Not only does spyware put your personal data at serious risk but it also hijacks some of your processing power.

Windows users can use Microsoft's Defender to clear out these dodgy programmes. but other spyware detectors are available for both the Apple Mac and PC.

They all work in the same way by searching your system and removing any offending data.


Downloading the latest drivers for your hardware could give you a noticeable speed boost, especially if you have not done it since your machine left the shop.


Despite what you might think, the off button on the front of your machine is unlikely to be connected to the power supply, so pressing it might send your system to sleep rather than turning it off.

To change this, go into the Control Panel where you can find Power Options. In here you can configure what a thumb to the off button actually does: sleep or shutdown.


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