Although many of us will have already broken our New Year's resolutions, it's not too late to change some old habits. One of our annual vows is to get outside and get into shape; since it's far too cold to tackle that particular hurdle, turning our attention to home - and home technology - improvements makes sense.
A useful project is to give your PC some attention, sprucing it up and helping it to run smoothly. If nothing else, we suggest giving your computer a good clean to blow away all the cobwebs.
But it's not just the PC's exterior that could do with a tidy. Over time, installed programs, unused desktop shortcuts, saved files and downloaded data can bog down your system. Organising these files will go a long way to improving productivity when you need to work on a particular document.
The hard drive, temporary file folders and Windows Registry will also need a good sort out. Any programs and files you rarely use will serve only to slow down your PC. Get rid of anything that's no longer needed, dump duplicate files and uninstall old programs you'd forgotten about; this will help recover the pep your PC once had.
Although these ideas sound pretty laborious, free downloads can do most of the hard work for you. We particularly rate Revo Uninstaller, which deletes programs and related junk files, and Easy Duplicate File Finder, which trawls your hard drive for duplicate files. Be sure to back up your machine before using any third-party tool or Windows utility, however.
These steps should make your PC boot up faster, but to speed up startup further you'll need to investigate the programs that autoload when you turn on the PC. Boot-analysis tool Soluto offers advice on which programs can safely be removed from the boot-up process, and can even defer their launch until a later time.
Clean up and organise your desktop
Step 1. Digital documents should be stored in relevant folders, not on the desktop. Create a folder by right-clicking the desktop and choosing New, then Folder. Named 'New Folder' by default, you can rename your archive simply by typing over the highlighted text. Drag-and-drop relevant files into your folder.
Step 2. Remove unused shortcuts from the desktop - this won't uninstall the programs they link to, but it will help to keep things tidy and organised. Next, right-click the desktop and choose View, 'Auto arrange icons'. This will force your remaining shortcuts into a neat grid on the left side of the screen.
Step 3. You should be able to identify a file's content from its name, without needing to open it. Adding the location to holiday photo filenames is a good example. It can also be useful to include the date. If you've got lots of similar files to rename, copy and paste the common information into each file being renamed.
Step 4. Get a better view of what's in your folders: click the 'Change your view' icon at the top-right corner of a folder and select Details. File size, creation date and other information will now appear next to a list of your documents. Reorder the list by date, file size and so on by clicking the various tabs at the top of the window.
Step 5. Keywords, which are visible when you right-click a file and choose Properties, make a file easier to search for. In Word, go to File, Properties, fill in the Keywords field and press Ok. For photos, tags are the equivalent of keywords; click the Tags field at the bottom of a Windows Explorer pane to add them.
Step 6. If you need to find a file in a hurry, enter its name into the Start menu Search box. The Windows Search Assistant is useful in such cases, but it's no match for a desktop-search engine like Copernic. This free program indexes your entire hard drive to make finding the file you're looking for much faster.
Clean out junk files to restore PC performance
Step 1. As your PC ages, a range of data will fill up the hard drive and slow performance. Remove the junk to restore the zip it once had. Begin by deleting duplicate files (commonly found in music and image libraries). The free Easy Duplicate File Finder can speed up this process.
Step 2. Use Windows 7's Disk Cleanup Wizard to empty the Recycle Bin, and remove temporary and other files you no longer need. Go to Start, All Programs, Accessories, then choose System Tools, Disk Cleanup. Alternatively, use the Start menu Search bar to quickly locate the Disk Cleanup Wizard.Step 3. The wizard will identify the files it thinks you can delete, also telling you how much hard-drive space it will free up. Click 'View files' if you aren't sure which files it's pointing to. If it offers to delete a file you want to keep, simply remove the tick in the box beside it before clicking 'Clean up system files'.
Step 4. Next, remove any programs you don't use - Windows has its own tool for this. Head to Start, Control Panel, Programs and choose 'Uninstall a program'. Scroll down the list and select the program you want to remove, then click the Uninstall button at the top of the window.
Step 5. It isn't always possible to completely remove all traces of a program using Windows' utility. For this, you need Revo Uninstaller. In Revo's interface, double-click a program's icon to remove it. You can then scan for and remove leftover files or Registry entries.
Step 6. Many programs autoload at startup, so you don't need to wait around when you later want to use them - but you don't always want to use them. Enter msconfig in the Start menu Search bar. Click the Startup tab in the System Configuration window and deselect any programs you don't want to launch at startup. Press Apply, Ok.
Step 7. Free boot-analysis tool Soluto offers advice on which programs can be safely removed from the startup process. This handy utility improves on the System Configuration tool's functionality by also letting you defer certain items to load just after the desktop becomes responsive.
Step 8. Services can also be prevented from running at startup, but be careful: Windows will require some of these to function properly. Enter services.msc into the Start menu Search bar to display a list of startup services, then head to Black Viper to identify which of those services can be delayed or disabled.