System Cleanup


Over time, the system get's "clogged" with all kinds of useless files. This maybe leftovers from software removed times ago, and different sorts of data and entries hidden almost everywhere on the system. Removing these useless data can speed-up your machine and making it run more stable. Besides, this is also a good moment to remove any software we don't need anymore. Cleaning up the system can be done by using the standard features of the operating system or by using one or more cleanup programs, but as it's nearly impossible to do this real thoroughly and safe in an automatic way, it's good practice to do a manual cleanup now and then.
To start with, we're going to use the automatic cleanup features of the operating system which will already remove a lot of useless data in a safe way. First we'll use the software un-install feature to remove any software we don't use anymore. Afterwards we'll do an automatic hard-disk cleanup.

Software un-install

From within the Windows Control Panel, double-click the "Software" item and wait for the list of installed software to appear. In the list, select any program you want to remove from the system and click the button to remove it. Follow the instructions of the operating system to safely uninstall the program. In case the un-installer asks you to decide about removing a file, stay on the safe side: if the file resides in the program folder (or a sub-folder) of the program you are removing, then it's almost certainly safe to remove the file. If the file resides at another location on the system, better let it there 'cause sometimes files are shared between programs and deleting the file may cause another program not to work.
Besides un-installing standard installed applications, you can also remove parts of the Windows operating system here in the same way. Click through the different options and remove the items you don't need. Although there's not much risk in it, for you can easily set back any deleted item by using the same procedure, don't remove things when you're not sure where they are need for. If, after un-installing a program, the system asks to restart, you can restart immediately, but if you want to un-install another program, you can do this first, before restarting the computer.

Hard-disk cleanup

Automatic cleanup

Open the Windows Explorer and navigate to the hard-disk you want to cleanup. On a home system this will be the C: drive. Be sure to select the top level (the "root") of drive C: (the name of the hard-disk may differ, but it's always followed by (C:)). Right-click the drive and select "Properties". In the next window click to cleanup the disk. The system will calculate the space which can be freed up and present a list with files to remove. All files in the list can safely be removed, but as nearly every computer has more than enough hard-disk these days, it's not needed to compress old files (for opening a compressed file may take longer).
Now you can click OK to start removing the files, but before doing that, click the second tab "More options". There you can remove any old system restore points which are no longer needed. Click to remove these points. Then go back to the first tab and click to remove the files.
Remark: be aware that the files in the recycle bin will also be deleted; check if you think you may want back some file you deleted before.


Manual cleanup

After doing an automatic cleanup, it's time to see what's left over of useless files on the system. Of course, this is a bit trickier, for it's not always obvious to decide whether a file is still needed or not. So we'll stay on the safe side, removing only those files which are -almost- certainly not needed anymore. To make things easy, we'll open the Windows Explorer and step down through the folder structure, checking some folders for useless files. We'll do a little cleanup of drive C:, suppose that's the only hard-disk in a home system. In case there are more hard-disks in your system, you may follow the same procedure for each disk.
C: root-directory
Let's start in the root-directory (the top-level) of drive C: (as above, click on the (C:) folder in the left panel of Explorer, giving you the list of all sub-folders and files in the right panel).
In the root-directory there may be no files except some system files. You may find the following files: autoexec.bat; boot.ini; bootfont.bin; config.sys; io.sys; msdos.sys;; ntldr; pagefile.sys; hiber*; and eventually some other files. Although some of these files may be empty (0 KB) and not needed depending on the operating system, don't remove them unless you're sure they are not needed.
But look for any other files which have another extension than the ones above. There could be user-documents saved in the C: root-directory which is a very bad practice and they are to be moved to a more appropriate folder. Then look for any (maybe large) files with extension *.chk. These are automatically created files during a system check and they may be removed. Also files with the extensions "*.old"; "*.tmp"; "*.log" when occurring in the C: root folder may be safely removed.
Then have a look at the folder names in the left panel. If there are folders with a name beginning with a dollar sign ($) or beginning with a tilde (~), these folders may be removed completely (these are left-overs of software installations which were not automatically removed).

Folders Users / Documents and Settings
Now go to the Users / Documents and Settings folders. As Windows creates user-folder structures for "All Users" and for each individual user of the system, we must look into all these different folder trees. As an example, say there's a user folder named "John" and we're going to check that folder on useless files. But remember to check out all the other folders too the same way.
In the user folder, find the sub-folder "Application Data" and look for any program names of software no longer on the system. These can be safely removed.
Then find the sub-folder "Local Settings" and there look for "Application Data" (the same name). Entries of un-installed software maybe safely removed.
By the way, in the "Local Settings" folder there're also the folders containing cookies, history and internet temporary files (cache). You may delete the contents of these folders here, but this can also be done the normal an easier way from within Internet Explorer.
But have a look at the "Temp" folder. Everything there (folders and files) may be removed.
Next, close the "Local Settings" folder and look for the folder containing "Recent documents". The documents itself are not there, only shortcuts to it, and they maybe removed all.
Program Files
In the "Program Files" folder, applications installed on the computer store their program-files. Check all the sub-folder names one by one and see if there are any program names in it of un-installed software not longer on the system. If you can't determinate it by the folder name, then in most cases you can find it out by just opening the folder an looking into it to see the name of the program.
Any folder with a program name of already un-installed software may be deleted completely (the main folder, containing all files and eventually sub-folders). Remark: many times the folder will already be empty, then just delete the main folder with the program name.
In the "Windows" folder and its many sub-folders, the Windows operating system itself is stored. Because of this, we will rather be safe than sorry and only remove those files which are -almost always- certainly useless. Same as above, we will overlook some of the folders and see what files can be removed.
Windows root-folder
Let's start in the Windows root folder (the top level, just click on the "Windows" folder in the left panel of Explorer, giving you the list of all sub-folders and files in the right panel). In the right panel, scroll down until you see the files.
Now click on "type" (above in the right panel) to sort the files by type and look for files with the following extensions:

- *.xxx where "xxx" stands for a number (such as "filename.005")
- *.inilook for "ini" files with the name of programs no longer on the system
- *.old any files with extension ".old"
- *.tmp any files with extension ".tmp"

All these files maybe removed safely.
Downloaded Installations
In this folder are the install-files of programs downloaded from the internet. They are useful in case you want to re-install a such a program without connecting to the internet and downloading the program again. But as program versions are changing constantly, and because of the (relatively) high download speeds today, it's not very useful to keep these files anymore. Besides this, the folder may contain installation files of programs already removed from the system times ago. So all contents of the folder may be deleted.
Downloaded Program Files
This folder contains files automatically installed by browser add-in's while surfing. As they will be automatically re-installed when needed during surfing, they may be removed safely. As some of these files may be useful all the time, depending on the user and the system, maybe it's good to cleanup the folder once, and later on look what files are always restored and used by the system.
Keep in mind that too many fonts may slow down the system. Some hundreds may still be okay, but some thousands is too much... So check the folder and remove unneeded fonts if necessary. Tip: to select between fonts you can use the date when they were installed.
See "Downloaded Installations": this folder contains also the install-files of programs, with the difference that the programs were not downloaded from the internet but from other media such as cd or dvd. These files are useful to modify or re-install a program without the need of the original installation disk(s). If you need more disk space, you may delete the files, otherwise keep them on the system. But as this folder may also contain installation files of programs already removed from the system, you could check the files one by one to see to what program they belong, and remove the installation files of un-installed programs.
Offline Web Pages
The contents may be deleted if you don't need to read the web pages without connecting to the internet. But deleting these files can also in the "normal" and easier way from within Internet Explorer.
Here the information about the frequency of use of programs is automatically stored. This makes that the most frequently used programs will start up faster. But over time, the folder may become "clogged" with too much entries and with entries of programs no longer installed on the system. Cleaning up the folder (delete all files within) will start a fresh list.
All files in this folder are created by the operating system of by programs for temporary use. After the system has been shut down and restarted again, these files are not needed anymore and may be safely deleted.
Registry cleanup
The Registry is the database where all the Windows and program settings are stored by the operating system. Just like the hard-disk becomes clogged with useless files, the Registry becomes even more clogged with useless (and even wrong) system and program entries, making the system slower and less stable.
You could look for certain entries in the Registry by using its search function, but given the enormous contents of the Registry, a rather deep knowledge of its structure (and of the whole system) is needed to find your way in it and safely remove or modify the settings.
Even then, a manual cleanup is virtually impossible. Luckily there are many programs which will cleanup the Registry automatically, but to stay on the safe side, these programs will ask the user what to do in case some entries are dubious. In fact, there's no good way to cleanup the Registry thoroughly and safely. Unless you're absolutely sure about it, don't delete any entries unless the program says it's safe.
Remark: as useless entries in the Registry are much harder to remove, keep in mind that the continuous installation and un-installation of software makes the system "clogged". Do not install a program just for fun or if you don't need it.
To find a good Registry cleanup program, look at the software page on this site.



Related topics : Software installation and removal - Malware forced removal - System restore


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