If your PC’s running noticeably slowly, or seems to take a long time to start up, chances are it could benefit from some maintenance. 

You don’t need to be a professional to keep your computer running smoothly as there are many tools, most of which are free, that are designed to help you.  This article will focus on the free tools available.

Anti-virus software is essential in this day and age as it protects your computer from becoming infected by malicious programmes.   Most computers come with anti-virus software but when the free period runs out it asks you to pay to extend it.  There is nothing wrong with paying for anti-virus programmes if this is what you are happy to do, but there are free alternatives out there.  A good, free, antivirus package is Microsoft Security Essentials, found at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/windows/products/security-essentials .  Alternatively try avast! which is a free and well respected anti-virus programme.  It can be found here http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download .  One word of warning is that you should never run multiple anti-virus programmes simultaneously as they can interfere with each other’s functionality.

Spyware can be installed onto a PC to record information without your consent.  Much spyware is not malicious or destructive, but can be used by companies to target advertisements to computer users.  Nevertheless spyware can slow your computer down so it is useful to be able to remove it.  A great programme for this is Ad-Aware which can be found here http://www.lavasoft.com/ .  Another free programme for removing spyware is Spybot – Search & Destroy, found here http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html .  Many users install both of these tools, as they work well in tandem with one another to minimise the chances of spyware slipping through the net.  Again, you should not run both at the same time, run one and then the other.

Windows 7 computers have a built in firewall, which you should ensure is turned on by visiting System and Security in your Control Panel.  If you don’t have a firewall included in your operating system, or would like to use an additional firewall, Zonealarm is free and easy to use.  It pops up to warn you of any suspected security breaches that occur on your computer, prompting you to block them.  Zonealarm can be downloaded from http://www.zonealarm.co.uk/security/en-gb/zonealarm-pc-security-free-firewall.htm .

Clearing Cookies
Clearing your cookies from time to time is a good idea to keep your computer running well.  CCleaner cleans your cookies, temporary files, recycle bin, history and more (you can set it to clean some or all areas of your computer as you prefer).  After running it, many computer users find their PC is faster, so it’s an excellent idea to add it to your regular maintenance.  You should be aware, however, that CCleaner includes some tools, in addition to the basic cleaner, such as registry cleanup, which should only be used by advanced users.  This free tool can be found here www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download .

Running your computer’s defrag tool organises its memory to become more efficient, speeding up processing.  You do not need to download anything as Windows PCs have defrag built in.  On Windows 7, you can find this by going to Control Panel then Administrative Tools.

It’s handy to perform computer maintenance at least once per month, and when setting up these tools you will often be given the option to have them run automatically on a set day per week or month.  Unfortunately, even with all the maintenance possible, things can and do go wrong with computers so running a backup of your important personal documents should also be performed on a regular basis.  

Once you get into the habit, using these simple tools will become second nature and you’ll benefit from a computer which is running faster and more securely than before.