My semi-annual computer cleanup (a to-do list for everyone else)

WinDirStat main window
WinDirStat main window

Now that the semester is over and all the grades are in, it is time for me again to clean up my computer before summer work starts. It is simply amazing how much that machine get filled with stuff over time. Add to that that my hard disk is small by today’s standards and I have my work cut out for me.

Since this may be of help for others, here is my to-do list when I clean my machine. Since I am running a Windows machine, all of those apply to Windows only.

  • Uninstall unused software
    I try out a lot of software and often forget to uninstall those right away. My uninstall tool of choice is the Revo uninstaller. It not only runs the software-supplied uninstaller but also checks for connected files and registry settings.
  • Run a disk cleanup
    That’s always a good idea. Run the Windows cleanup program as a baseline and then run CCleaner for more options and possibly a registry scan.
  • Find and cleanup big files
    I find the main space problem on my harddisk comes from huge files. Finding those is often a good step in chasing down which program stores large amounts of data. I use WinDirStat for this. It is a small software that lists large folders and files in a treeview and – especially useful – in a colorful diagram. This is how I found out about many of the other tips in this list.
  • Defragment drive
    You should do this regularly anyways. In my case I couldn’t do that until I had some time since I had to free up some space on my harddisk first (Windows’ defragmenter needs 15% free space to run). I also use Defraggler since it can defragment individual files. One tip: Disable hibernation (in your computer’s power settings) and set the pagefile to zero (right-click on My Computer and look under Properties) before you defragment. Those two files (hiberfil.sys and pagefil.sys) can be huge and are locked otherwise.
  • Cleanup MS Outlook archive and/or backup files and then defragment those
    Depending on how you use Outlook (if you do), it may be wise to delete old items. You can easily do so by running an advanced find (right-click on folder name in Outlook) over your “Personal Folders” file or your “Archive” file (if you have archiving enabled). I typically delete old items that are at least three years old.
  • Cleanup iTunes
    You may want to check iTunes for leftover podcasts, duplicate movies etc. Then delete those and maybe change the settings to only store the latest version of your subscribed podcasts. Also check for unused backups for your devices in the Preferences.
  • Delete Picasa originals
    If you are happy with how Picasa modifies your images, then there’s no need to keep backups (I burn my original files on CD-ROMS as added safety anyways). Do a search for folders named “Originals” or “.picasaoriginals” and then delete those. You can use Windows’ search function but you’ll have to make those folders visible first since they are hidden (in any explorer window go to Tools > Folder Options…).
  • Malwarebytes anti-malware
    You should check for malware every once in a while anyways. I ran Microsofts’ little program which didn’t find anything. Then I tried Malwarebytes’ software which found the little bugger. Also do a check with Ad-aware.
  • Apple installers
    For whatever reason, Apple decided to cache every single installer for iTunes, Quicktime, Safari etc. for the past years on my harddrive. They are in folders called “Installer Cache”. You can spot them easily using WinDirStat and then safely delete at least the old versions.
  • Google Desktop index file
    This turned out to be a huge space hog on my harddisk. It may be a good idea to uninstall google desktop and reinstall. This way, the index gets rebuilt and old leftover items get removed. I also found that the index was significantly contributing to my harddrive fragmentation. You might need to manually remove the index files – mine didn’t clean up after an uninstall. Again, spot them using WinDirStat (They are under “Documents and Settings > All Users”.
    Not applicable anymore
  • Google Earth
    Make sure you clean and reduce the size of Google Earth’s cache!
  • Video temp files
    If you burn a lot of DVDs (of your family movies for example), look for temporary files or burn images. Video software often stores a full copy of the DVD on the harddisk before it burns the DVD itself.
  • System restore
    Final tip: You can reduce the amount of space that system restore uses by looking under the My Computer properties. Don’t turn it off, it’s a useful feature!

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