Fred Langa offers a comprehensive plan for keeping your PC in absolute top-notch condition.
Most of the following daily maintenance tasks can be fully automated, or nearly so: Once they're set up, they'll run on their own at night or during the PC's idle times, so little or no human intervention is required. That means your PC can mostly take care of itself!
1) Clean and compact the local mailboxes, throwing out junk mail, and keeping the rest of the mail files densely packed. (This helps to speed searches and to avoid filing problems.) Some mail clients, such as Eudora, let you automate this clean/compact process.
Others, such as Outlook Express, require a few manual clicks. But either way, it's worth doing on a regular basis: Check the help file for your mail client for information on how to do this on your system.
2) Deep-clean the "Temporary Files" areas. Windows automatically creates several scratchpad spaces and holding areas for temporary files based on a percentage of disk space. With today's huge hard drives, you can end up with literally gigabytes of junk files because these areas are normally not cleaned out until they overflow; and even then, will only be cleared to make enough space for whatever new files are arriving there. But "temporary" files, by definition, shouldn't have to be kept around, so almost all this space (minus a little essential housekeeping data that's regenerated with each restart of Windows) can be reclaimed. Windows has some built-in tools like the "Disk Cleanup" utility that can get you started, but you can do much better: The Disk Cleanup utility, for example, has extra, hidden settings you can access if you know how that will do a much better job with much finer control over just what gets kept and what gets thrown out. And some simple, free additions to the built-in tools can get most everything else. You also can automate the entire process so your PC stays lean and clean, with hundreds to thousands of megabytes less of junk files than otherwise. See this for full details.
3) Back up all user files. There are many tools to do this automatically; my preferred method automatically creates a nightly backup and then zip-compresses, encrypts, password protects, and stores the backup on an otherwise unused partition on my hard drive. See this for step-by-step info.
4) Set your antivirus, anti-spyware, and firewall to check automatically for updates at least once a day. (This is usually found in an "Options," "Settings," "Update" or "Schedule" menu item.) Likewise, let Windows Update grab any and all "critical" updates as they become available. If you wish, you can have them auto-install as well. If you prefer an extra, cautionary step, have Windows Update download, but not install the updates, until you give your approval.
5) Defrag at least the C: drive or partition; and any other frequently accessed drives or partitions. On my heavily used system, a daily defrag helps keep my files in contiguous spaces on the hard drive, which speeds access to the files' contents. It also would make any data-recovery --in the event of a catastrophic disk failure -- much simpler and surer. Plus, with only one day's fragmentation to overcome, each nightly defrag proceeds swiftly. But I admit: Daily defrags would be overkill on a lightly used PC; in that case, defrags could be done weekly or monthly; it's up to you. In any case, you can automate the process and allow for unattended defrags by using Defrag's command line options in a script, batch file, or scheduled task.
6) The one manual element in my daily maintenance rituals is to burn the previous night's backup file to CD for long-term offsite storage. I usually do this first thing in the morning while the day's first batch of E-mail is downloading; it takes one blank CD (cost: about 20 cents) and about four minute's time. With these daily CD backups stored away from my PC, my data's safe, even if something horrendous should happen to the PC itself.
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