A Definitive Guide To Spring Cleaning Your Painfully Slow Computer

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TechCleanup_slides-01Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Introducing LadyBits, an ultra-cool collective of tech journalists who look at the world with smart, lady lenses. And since we're always in the market for the best stuff out there, we'll feature its know-how on the regular. Below, check out one of LadyBits' innovator spotlights, prepared by Alexandra Ossola especially for Refinery29.

Spring is here! You’re pulling shorts from the back of the drawer and wiping dust off the windowsills — doesn’t your beleaguered computer deserve the same tune-up? Here’s how to make sure it’s in fighting shape.

Back That Thang Up
You might have forgotten to back up your hard drive while fighting the winter doldrums. But you’ll thank yourself later if you periodically save your documents, music, and photos to a separate storage space — you never know when digital disaster might strike. And, it’s surprisingly easy to just hit “restore” on a document you accidentally deleted. Here are a few ways to keep your precious files from being lost forever.

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External hard drives are the classic backup device. While they’ll cost you more upfront than a lot of other methods, they have a shocking amount of space, and you don’t have to worry about an Internet connection to get your files should you need them. While a 3-terabyte hard drive will set you back about $100, it has enough space to store 2,100 hours of video, so you wouldn’t have to worry about buying another for a while. Think of it as an investment in everything you’ve ever saved on your computer. There are a lot of options when it comes to buying a hard drive, and while LadyBits has already espoused our affection for this pocket sized version, your options are pretty much endless.

If you’re a Mac user, you can use the built-in program Time Machine to copy everything from your computer’s hard drive to your backup drive. Time Machine will even give you handy reminders to update periodically. If you prefer PC, you will be asked upon first plugging in your hard drive if you want to use it for backup storage. If you say you do, it’ll save everything automatically for you. It’s that easy!

There are some downsides to the external hard drive. Just like anything else you own, you could lose or break the little box. And, with everything else going on in your life, remembering to plug in the backup drive can be hard. If you’d rather not deal with all that, there’s always the Cloud. Cloud storage has its advantages — it’s the only real safeguard against physical damage to your computer and hard drive, and many of the services simply back up for you automatically, no reminders necessary. Services like Crashplan and Carbonite will pull files from your computer to their servers to keep them safe. Yet, these apps do require monthly fees and yearly plans, and most restrict how much data you can store per month.
TechCleanup_slides-02Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Clean Your Machine
You know that layer of dust and grime that settles over everything during a long winter? Chances are it’s on your computer too — not to mention the snack residue wedged in the keyboard (it’s okay, we've all gotten a crumb stuck underneath the space bar at least once). It’s time to make all of that go away.

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For the CSI-level fingerprints on your screen, you can find disposable dusting cloths in most office stores. If you’re going for more of a home remedy, just be sure to never spray liquid directly on the screen and avoid using paper towels or any cleaners that are made of ammonia or alcohol. Those can all damage your computer.

Keyboards are a little more tricky. To clean the tops of the keys, you can dip a cotton swab or paper towel in rubbing alcohol, and just wipe them down. Just be sure not to use ethyl alcohol, as it will rub away the lettering on the keys! If it’s just grime you’re worried about, a nail brush or toothbrush will do for a slightly deeper clean. Small vacuum cleaners, or even cans of compressed air, can help get dust out of those harder-to-reach nooks. Sticky keyboards require even more special savvy. You can carefully pry out the keys with a screwdriver (for external keyboards) or your fingernail (on laptops), then clean the key bed with a tiny bit of warm water. Laptops are especially delicate, so be careful! When you’re ready to put the keys back on, just put them in the appropriate spot and press down until you hear them snap. If you’re scared to do this kind of surgery on your precious machine, you can find more detailed instructions on how to play computer doctor here.
TechCleanup_slides-03Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Compu-purge
Over time, our computers get bogged down with all sorts of things that we don’t use, or even remember downloading. This is often one of the main causes for slow processing speeds. Here are some simple things you can do to speed up your computer. Delete any programs that you no longer use.
Can you even see your desktop picture anymore? How about some folders for those files floating around?
Check your Downloads folder — remember that photo? No? Why not toss it, then?
Check your startup disc to see which programs launch when your computer turns on. You can turn off any programs that you don’t need right from the get-go, and you don’t even have to delete them. Here’s how to check for a Mac, and a PC.
Once you double check that you actually don't need any of this stuff, empty your Recycle Bin.

While the desktop and downloads are the obvious places to look, sometimes you’ve got files hidden in random pockets on your computer that you might never think to look in. That’s where a hard drive space analyzer comes in handy. WinDirStat (for Windows) and Daily Disk (for Mac) are two programs that can unearth that cache of Boyz II Men music videos you downloaded that one nostalgic night two years ago.

If you’d rather not go through and choose which files to delete manually, there are also some apps that will do the dirty work for you. Things like Clean My Mac (for Macs, obviously) and CCleaner (for PCs) can take a look at your computer and tidy things up automatically. After you’ve done these things, you can use those hard drive analyzers to check on how much space you’ve freed up.
TechCleanup_slides-04Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Less Rattle, More Hum
Now that you have all this space, you’re good to go, right? Not quite. You’ve deleted excess documents and programs, but now your computer’s memory has gaps where they once were, which can still slow down your computer. If you have a Mac, you’re in luck — the computer consolidates that free space on its own, but if you’re a PC person, you’ll want to download and run Defraggler. And, if you realize that you deleted a file by accident before you could back up, don’t worry. Recuva (PC) or Disk Drill (Mac) can help you track it down.

That extra space can also mean upgrades to some of your software. Sure, your operating system is a great thing to check on, but what about other programs you use? It’s worth clicking the “Software Update” button to make sure everything is up to date. You may have to stop what you’re working on so your computer can restart, but it’s worth it to get your computer zippy, again.

There you have it — a fresh, clean computer, ready for spring’s sunshine! While we’re in the revamping mood, why not get a new case or cover for your laptop? Etsy and Society6 have some stylish ones; you can find more practical and protective ones on Rakuten. Gelaskins has a nice mix between the two. And, while you’re at it, why not splurge on a funky new iPhone case, too? You deserve it! Happy spring!

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This post was authored by Alexandra Ossola.

Introducing LadyBits, an ultra-cool collective of tech journalists who look at the world with smart, lady lenses. And, since we're always in the market for the best stuff out there, we'll feature its know-how on the regular.