PC optimization is likely one of the least common tasks to make spring cleaning checklist. Yet, the team here at TuneUp believes it is an important thing to do! And although it may seem like a tedious chore, it doesn’t have to be—I’ve outlined five tips for making the PC spring cleaning process easy and painless. I’ve also documented my experience applying these tips on three different machines, to show you the major impact spring cleaning can have on freeing up disk space. Let’s get started!
1. Get rid of old programs.
Part of my work as a technical writer involves installing and testing many applications. Unfortunately, I tend to forget to remove these programs when I’m done with them. But, uninstalling these applications is one way of cleaning out your system and boosting its performance.
Open up your Windows Control Panel, and go to “Programs\Programs and Features” to find the list of applications on your PC. If there’s a program you don’t need or haven’t used, simply hit the “Uninstall” button to remove it. However, it’s important to bear in mind that not all program entries will be easy to understand. What, for example, is Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition? Do I need that? Why? There’s also no easy way to figure out when you last used applications.
This is where TuneUp Utilities 2013 comes in. TuneUp Uninstall Manager can help you figure out what cryptic program entries actually mean and when you’ve used them for the last time. If you don’t have the software, install the free, 15-day trial version. Then, jump to the “Optimize system” tab, and click on “Uninstall programs”.
This will bring you directly to the “Uninstall Manager”. Now, click on “Filter list” in the upper right hand corner. This will bring up a list of programs that you haven’t used in the last four weeks (or more).
I found a handful of games, Adobe’s Creative Suite and some tools like FileZilla, Microsoft’s USB/DVD download tool and file transfer manager, among others that I rarely touch. Having gone through the list, I was able to save a massive amount of disk space (more on that below) and get rid of three start-up items that delayed my boot process. Hint: If you want to save even more disk space, use the “Large programs” filter.
As I previously mentioned, I applied this tip to three, very different machines. First, I used an Alienware X51 gaming PC, which is hooked up to my home theater rig and used mainly for playing Blu-rays and gaming. It has a large disk, although it’s slowly declining in terms of space and performance with every game and movie I put on there. I got this system last May, and it hasn’t been cleaned in months.
I also leveraged a Samsung Series 7 tablet running Windows 8 for this spring cleaning test—it suffers from low disk space; only 66.5 MB is left of its 64 GB SSD. I threw my main machine, a 2011 MacBook Air running Windows 8 with 10.2 GB of disk space left, into this experiment, too.
I uninstalled 15 applications from my MacBook Air that I didn’t use anymore and some games I decided I could also play on the Alienware machine—and gained almost 6 GB of disk space as a result. However, I couldn’t afford to get rid of any of the applications on the Samsung Series 7 tablet, but I gained the most free disk space (48 GB) by uninstalling games I already played through or didn’t like.
2. Clean out your hardware.
Physical hardware cleaning should also be on the top of your to-do list. First, you should get rid of dust bunnies in your PC’s case and fans. Every two to three months, I usually open up the case of my desktop PC and very carefully use my vacuum on all of the fans (CPU, power supply and GPU).
I use Q-tips with an alcohol-based cleaner to get rid of the rest of the dust bunnies. This is essential for an optimally running PC—if the fan is dusty, it likely won’t reach its highest RPM, which, in turn, means your CPU/GPU will become hot. This can lead to an automatic reduction of speed to prevent overheating or even result in a system crash.
I also routinely de-grease my keyboard, because after about six months of heavy typing, the keys of my laptop looked something like this.
Regular cleaning products don’t stand a chance against this. If your keyboard is salvageable, try Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser or something similar. While I couldn’t remove all of the grime, I was able to smooth out the keys.
3. Run a disk cleaning tool on a regular basis.
At the end of just one day of use, your PC, laptop or tablet will have accumulated a ton of junk. To get rid of unwanted data, the built-in Windows cleaner isn’t helpful enough. Instead, consider using TuneUp Utilities 2013’s enhanced Disk Cleaner and Browser Cleaner features to remove digital crud from your Windows system.
For example, one of the many locations TuneUp Utilities checks for junk is the well-hidden “Temp” folder, which stores temporary files of both OS and third-party applications. On my MacBook Air, that folder was filled with almost 8 GB of data crud.
Managing just that single folder would be easy enough. Unfortunately, there are old temporary files scattered across the entire disk. For example, Adobe Reader 11 keeps a cache folder for previously opened documents and fonts. Over time, this folder grows but is never deleted. Since it’s of no real use, get rid of it. Using a cleaning tool will ensure that you can quickly identify hundreds of these locations on your PC and clean them out once and for all.
With regard to my other two test machines, the Samsung Series 7 was able to breathe again, as TuneUp Utilities 2013 found 2.4 GB of unnecessary files as well as allowed me to turn off the hibernation file, which came in at 3.2 GB. The Alienware X51, the machine least taken care of, had about 11 GB of unnecessary data on it as well as a 6 GB large hibernation file. Since I either shut this machine off or put it on standby, there was no need for the hibernation mode, so I deleted it.
4. Get rid of huge Windows 8 apps.
Some of the new Windows 8 apps tend to consume quite a bit of disk space. But even when you’re running out, Windows 8 doesn’t proactively tell you to get rid of some apps or help identify those that consume the most space. To find this out for yourself, open up the charms bar and click on “Settings”.
Go to “Change PC settings” and head over to the “General” page. Look for a “View app sizes” button near the bottom of the screen. After a brief moment, you should be presented with the sizes of your apps, starting with the largest first:
Score! On the MacBook Air running Windows 8, I found several large games I didn’t play anymore as well as a handful of apps that I downloaded for fun and haven’t really looked at since. I ended up deleting about 20 apps, which accounted for 2.9 GB, from this machine. As I wasn’t really playing games on the Samsung Series 7, I deleted some news and travel apps that took up a bit more than 700 MB. Not much, but on a 64 GB SSD, everything counts, right?
5. Clean-up iTunes.
Most iDevice owners use iTunes for music, TV shows, movies, apps and podcasts. But, what they don’t know is that iTunes can accumulate a lot of disk space. My folder clocks in at a solid 16 GB—and that number is “low” since I clean it up on a regular basis. Here are a few ways that you can likewise de-clutter your iTunes folder.
First, delete podcasts and set a limit. For instance, I have subscribed to about 15 podcasts in iTunes. Each of these takes up 50 to 150 MB. Go into the settings for each podcast and only select to keep the most recent episodes. Older episodes will then be deleted automatically.
Also go to the physical podcast folder, which can be found under “C:\Users\Sandro\ Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Podcasts”, for example, because iTunes tends to forget to delete some older podcasts.
Frequently check and delete duplicate songs, too. This is unnecessary data junk in your iTunes library, and usually occurs and stays hidden due to audio conversions or accidentally adding a music folder you already have. You can get rid of these files by clicking on “View\Show Duplicate Items”, but make sure you keep the ones with the highest quality and bit rate.
Delete movies and TV shows as well. I tend to watch a lot of TV shows on my iPad, which get automatically synced back to iTunes. Since I tend to forget about this, I usually get a lot of 1-2 GB M4V files. Go through your iTunes library, and just get rid of whatever you aren’t watching anymore.
I’m also one of those rare iPhone and iPad users who doesn’t keep 100+ apps on their devices. My advice is to go through the list of apps and really ask yourself if they are needed or not. Perhaps, you could move them onto an external hard disk, delete them from your iTunes library and devices, and add them back when you want to use them.
Plus, you’ll see that, in some cases, iTunes keeps previous versions of apps. You should check “\iTunes\iTunes Media\Mobile Applications” for duplicates and delete the ones with the lower file number.
Don’t forget to clear the album cache, too. iTunes stores all Album covers in a folder called “iTunes\Album Artwork”. If your library is rather large, delete this folder to prevent it from containing too many covers and problems with displaying the covers. Don’t worry though—iTunes will immediately start rebuilding the cache from scratch when you download new music.
Consider getting rid of iPad, iPod and iPhone backups, as well. I use three iDevices on a regular basis—an iPad 3, iPhone 4S and iPhone 3GS, which I use as a media player. Every time I sync one of these devices to iTunes, it backs up new content, and for each of these backups, iTunes keeps a file and doesn’t delete them. Here’s what TuneUp Disk Space Explorer showed me after I enabled hidden files.
In total, iTunes backed up roughly 15.5 GB of unnecessary data from my iDevices! You can figure this out on your system by pressing WINDOWS+R at the same time and type in “%appdata%”. Hit Enter. Now, jump to “Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup”.
Within that folder, you’ll find several subfolders—each represents one Apple device. My advice is to back up these folders to an external hard disk and delete these if all of your Apple devices are working properly. If anything goes wrong and you need to restore your old data, just copy the backups onto your system and restore your device.
Phew! That was a lot. iTunes is, at least on my PCs, quite a garbage collector. Since I use the program on three devices and keep them in sync, I was able to delete another 22.9 GB of files.
My Spring Cleaning Experience So Far
These five steps took almost no time to complete, and did a sufficient job in terms of freeing up disk space on my three machines.
I encourage you to start the PC spring cleaning process with these simple tips and welcome your feedback on whether or not they made a difference on your system. Interested in tackling this chore further? Stay tuned for more advanced tips next week.