With a Windows computer there are several maintenance tasks you should run on a regular basis, though most of us forget. Here’s how to automate the most important maintenance tasks in XP, Vista & Windows 7 and keep your PC running like new.
We’ll take a look at automating some of the most common tasks, and while it takes a bit of time to set each one up, once you do you’ll have peace of mind knowing your system is clean and up to date.
Automate Cleaning Up Your Hard Drive
If you want to make sure you have plenty of space on your hard drive, and get rid of old files you no longer need, you can schedule Disk Cleanup to run in Windows 7 or Vista, which gets rid of plenty of temporary files and other stuff that doesn’t need to be around anymore.
You can setup Disk Cleanup in XP as well as a Scheduled Task. The process is easy following the Scheduled Task Wizard in XP.
If you really want to keep your system automated, however, you can setup the freeware CCleaner tool to automatically run every night, which will clean up more than just the regular temporary files—CCleaner can even clear out your browser history, applications caches, and more.
Note: you’ll want to make sure that you don’t select any toolbars during CCleaner installation, or get the slim download from the optional downloads section.
Automate Backups to Keep Your Data Secure
The most important task Windows users need to do is make sure your data is backed up—that way, no matter what happens to your PC, you can always get to your files, even from another PC. If your PC is completely dead, you’ll be able to restore those files onto your new computer and get right back to whatever you were doing.
Windows 7 includes an easy-to-use, wizard-driven Backup & Restore utility in all versions, which includes creating a system image. For more on which files to backup, check out The Geek’s guide to What Files you Should Backup on Your Windows PC.
The Backup & Restore utility included in Windows 7 allows you to set a schedule from daily, weekly, or monthly. The choice is up to you, but if you backup on a regular basis, you’ll be glad you did.
If you have Windows Home Server, backing up your computers is very easy to configure and automate. You can set it to backup on a regular schedule and also have WHS wake up your machine to back it up at night.
Online Backup Services
If you want to be really thorough with in your backup strategy, having redundant backups onsite and offsite is a good thing. There’s plenty of commercial backup services, like Mozy and Carbonite. They both work the same way, pushing your data up to their servers and making it available for download from another PC, or allowing you to restore individual files that you might have deleted.
Automate Disk Defrag to Keep Your Drive Running Smooth
The cool thing with Vista and Windows 7 is that Disk Defragmenter is scheduled to run by default at 1 AM every Wednesday, so it’s something you no longer have to deal with. You can customize the defragmenter schedule if you want, but there’s probably no reason to change it.
If you’re still on Windows XP you can get the same feature by creating your own Windows 7 style auto defrag using Task Scheduler. There’s no reason to have to remember to do it manually, and really no reason to waste money on a commercial defrag utility that does it automatically when you can set it up yourself.
If you’ve got multiple hard drives in your XP machine, you can also setup a batch file that will defragment multiple hard drives at once.
Automate Disk Checking
The chkdsk.exe utility in Windows allows you to scan your hard drive for errors and fix them as well, and this task can be automated with the command-line and Task Scheduler as well, though it’s going to require rebooting your PC in order for it to work, so it’s probably best to just trigger this one manually every so often.
Then go to the Actions tab of the job in Task Scheduler, and add another action to run after the chkdsk command, and specify shutdown as the command. This will run the chkdsk command, and then run a shutdown afterwards. Make sure to use /R as the argument so that Windows will reboot and run chkdsk, and not just shut down.
You may also want to check the box to make sure that Windows doesn’t reboot you while you’re doing something. You can head to the Conditions tab, and make it only start if the PC has been idle for a while.
Note: Windows will automatically detect when your drive has a lot of problems and prompt you to check the disk, but that doesn’t mean running it manually is a bad idea once in a while.
To manually trigger a disk check for the next time you reboot, right-click on your local drive and select Properties. Then select the Tools tab and under Error-checking, click on the Check now button.
Make sure to select both Check disk options, and click Start.
Unfortunately it can’t start while you’re using your PC, but you can schedule it to run during next restart.
The next time your machine is restarted, Check Disk will run and detect and fix errors automatically. Keep in mind this process can take quite a while depending on the size of your drive and the amount of data on it. For more, check out The Geek’s guide to Check Disk in Windows.
Automate Windows Updates to Keep Your PC Patched
Although it should go without saying, an important task you can make run automatically is Windows Updates. You can configure Important and Recommended updates to download and install automatically, or just download and you choose which ones to install.
For more, check out how to make Windows 7 Update display recommended and important updates.
Automate Antivirus to Check Definitions & Scan Your Computer
Another important security task is making sure your Antivirus protection is up to date and runs automatically. Each program is different, but most provide the option to keep definition files up to date and scan automatically. For instance it’s easy to setup in our favorite Microsoft Security Essentials.
Note: of course, most anti-virus applications are set to automatically update their virus definition files, but you should double-check to make sure.
If you’re using another Antimalware utility to compliment your Antivirus software, make sure it’s set to find its latest definition files and scan automatically. Keep in mind though, with most of the free versions of Antispyware apps, you’ll need to purchase a license to get real-time protection, automatic updates, and scanning.
Automatically Keep Drivers and 3rd-Party Software Up to Date
Another important task to automate is checking for the latest hardware driver and other app updates. There are a few good programs that will do it which we’ve previously covered such as Secunia Personal Software Inspector. It will automatically check for software updates at startup and provides continuous monitoring.
To automatically keep your hardware drivers up to date, try a program such as Device Doctor, Slimdrivers, or any of the other non-free utilities out there. They will complete driver scans and make sure that your drivers are updated.
Note: One thing to keep in mind with Device Doctor (or really any application) during installation is to skip installing the worthless Ask Toolbar.
This guide should definitely get you started in figuring out which maintenance tasks you want to setup to run automatically. While there certainly seems to be a lot to keep up with if you’re a Windows user, setting tasks to run automatically will free up some time so you get get to work and get things done.
What about you guys? What Tasks do you set up to run automatically and what methods do you use? Leave a comment below and lets us know!
Programmer by day, geek by night, The Geek, also known as Lowell Heddings, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 10/4/10