What maintenance routines should I run regularly, and how often? Can I automate the process?
Chester Knapp, Cincinnati
There are three critical maintenance chores for the PC:
Back up: The last thing you should do every workday is create a backup of your data. Click here for our list of the best free backup programs.
Although most backup utilities let you schedule backups ahead of time, you're better off getting into the habit of running yours manually. That way, you can insert the media (DVD, external hard drive, or whatever) and remove it afterward, which is safer than leaving your backup in or attached to your computer.
Scan for viruses: Scan your hard drive for viruses, Trojan horses, and other forms of malicious software at least once a week.
Scan and defrag your hard drive: Click Start, Programs (All Programs in XP), Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter. Select the disk or partition you want to defragment (if necessary), and click Defragment. To run ScanDisk in Windows 98 or Me, select Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, ScanDisk. Choose the disk you want to check, select Automatically fix errors if you prefer not to verify each one, and click Start. In Windows 2000 and XP, right-click the drive you want to scan in Explorer or any folder window and then click Properties. Click the Tools, Check Now button under 'Error-checking' (see Figure 1
You can automate maintenance by using Windows' Scheduled Tasks program. In 98 and Me, open ScanDisk, click Advanced, and select Never in the 'Display summary' section. Click OK. In the main ScanDisk window, select Thorough, check Automatically fix errors, and click Start, Cancel, Close (don't do the scan now). In Windows 2000 or XP, open Notepad or your text editor. Type y, press <Enter>, click File, Save, and name the file c:\y.txt. Scheduled Tasks won't run in Windows XP without a log-on password. Click here for details and instructions for creating one, if necessary. Windows 2000 users must download the free AutoDeFrag utility from MorphaSys; store this small program in your C:\winnt folder.
Now you're ready to open the Scheduled Task Wizard: Select Start, Programs (All Programs in Windows XP), Accessories, System Tools, Scheduled Tasks, Add Scheduled Task. Choose anything when asked to pick a program; you'll change this later. Give the task an appropriate name, and set it to run monthly at an appropriate time. On the last page of the wizard, click Open advanced properties.
When the wizard finishes, a dialog box will open. Click the Tasks tab and change the Run field to one of these strings:
For a monthly disk scan in Windows 2000 or XP, type command /c chkdsk /r < c:\y.txt (this scans the next time Windows boots, and once a month thereafter).
To defrag a disk in Windows 98 or Me, type defrag /all /noprompt /f.
To defrag in 2000, type autodefrag.
To defrag in XP, enter defrag c:.
To scan in 98 or Me, type scandskw /n.
Create separate entries for your scan and defrag. (Defrag after you scan.) Then sit back and let Windows do the work.
Print a List of Programs
Ever wanted a printed list of all the programs on your PC? It's useful if you are about to reinstall Windows, migrate to a new computer, or call tech support. Mike Miller of Warren, Michigan, found a terrific solution: Judge Software's free Installed Program Printer). The utility is extremely simple to use: Just launch it to see a list of all programs installed on your computer, more or less identical to the one in Add/Remove Programs. Click Select All, Print Selected to print the list.