Activities to perform a PC healthcheckPublished on November 26th, 2023
As someone whose career has been spent in IT support, I’m often faced with a friend’s laptop with issues (the latest was booting very slowly, and throwing regular errors). This entry aims to recommend steps to others looking to give their Windows PC a bit of love and care.
Items are in my recommended order. I’m assuming for this that you’re not keen to wipe the Windows installation and start again, though that is obviously the easiest way to be sure no legacy remains in the Windows installation.
- Perform a virus scan
I usually start with some anti-virus software, to ensure the PC is free from malicious software.
There’s no need to go spending money here, the Windows Defender software or a free virus scanner such as AVG: https://www.avg.com or MalwareBytes: https://www.malwarebytes.com/ is perfectly sufficient.
- Uninstall useless software, including browser toolbars
Next I look for software that is installed but shouldn’t be. I do this for local software and browser extensions. It never ceases to amaze me what I find at this stage. Unwanted software my be hogging memory, disk space, or even stealing your data.
- Local Software: Simply visit “Add/Remove Programs” in the Control Panel and look through the installed programs list. Search the internet for any items that you don’t recognise and that aren’t by Microsoft or your PC vendor, to check whether it is something you want to retain. Uninstall software you no longer need or that appears malicious.
- Browser extensions: Equally important is to check all installed web browsers for malicious or unnecessary extensions. Edge and Chrome both have an “Extensions” option on their menu system that can quickly show you active extensions. On my friend’s laptop, I found lots of “search optimisation” extensions, which claimed to improve her searching experience. In practice, they were stealing information, and making money from her web searches by opening popups that she assumed the websites themselves were creating and supportive of. Be particularly suspicious of browser extensions, these slow browsers down and many are the cause of popups and data theft.
- Check the hard drive for corruptions (chkdsk/f)
Happy that the right things are installed, I now move onto the health of data stored on the device.
This command uses a Microsoft tool to scan your hard drive for data and index corruptions and attempts to fix any issues it finds. Run “chkdsk/f” from Command Prompt. You’ll need to agree to restart your machine, and the scan will happen during the restart.
- Update key software including Windows, vendor drivers etc.
For a machine to run securely and efficiently, it needs the latest drivers, so I recommend:
- Run Windows Update (e.g. “Check for updates” option in your start menu) to update Windows.
- Check your start menu for any vendor update options (e.g. Dell Command Update), run these to update firmware and vendor-specific drivers.
- Optional: Check system files (sfc/scannow)
If Windows remains unstable/full of error messages after the above steps, I tend to run Windows System File Checker (by running “sfc/scannow” from Command Prompt). This command verifies the integrity of the Windows System files (often possible if files are corrupted by viruses as found in step 1).
- Check what starts up with Windows
Choose “Startup Apps” from the start menu and disable anything you dont want to start with Windows. Less programs initiated at startup can speed up startup, and reduce memory usage, though be careful to ensure any security and hardware programs (e.g. sound or graphics hardware tools) remain enabled.
- Run a registry cleaner
Over time your registry gets messy, with lots of orphaned entries (entries needed and added by software that you have since uninstalled). Eusing Free Registry Cleaner is the one free registry cleaner that I trust… important, as once again this is an area where a lot of dodgy software exists.Eusing Free Registry Cleaner is available from their website: https://www.eusing.com/free_registry_cleaner/registry_cleaner.htm and is of course free.
- Compact your registry
Also available for free from Eusing is Eusing Free Registry Defrag, well worth downloading, as your registry can get bloated in size, slowing boot times.
- Disk Cleanup
Emptying the recycle bin, internet cache, temporary files etc.. is a great thing to do once in a while. Running Disk Cleanup does most of this for you. If you use a browser other than IE, you’ll need to empty that cache separately.
Tip: If you’re like me and avoid the “Compress Files” option for Disk Cleanup, you’ll find the start time of Disk Cleanup a wind-up, as it spends ages on the Compress Files option. To stop Disk Cleanup considering the Compress Files options, simply delete the entries in the “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches” (you may want to keep a record of these in-case you want to re-enable this option in the future!). Disk cleanup will start a LOT quicker now!
I hope this helps you in maintaining the health of your Windows PC.
Any ideas for further items? If so, feel free to add a comment.