Seven Tips, Tricks and Apps to Help Clean Up Your Mac or PC

By Kane Fulton on at

Today is National Clean Up Your Computer Day, which stands out for being one of the more practical annual events imported from the US. While it may not have the allure of firm favourite National Penguin Awareness Day (second only to National Mousse Day), it's a good reminder to whip out a screwdriver, install some apps and give your machine a good spring clean.

We’ve put together a collection of clean-up tips and app tip-offs that can help your Windows PC or Mac pick up the pace. If you’re not too confident with any of the instructions below, make sure to ask a friend for help. Don't have any? Sit tight: Make A Friend Day is just around the corner.

1.) Defrag Your Hard Drive

"Defragging" feels like a term that should have been relegated to the confines of ICT history sometime around 2004, but it's surprisingly relevant if you're still rocking a big fat platter-puss of a drive.

Even modern hard disks slow down over time as files are split up into fragments and stored across multiple locations of spinning platters. Because they read and write data sequentially, using a disk defragmenter can improve performance by rearranging fragmented data to make drives work more efficiently. Windows has its own defrag tool, but it's slightly on the basic side.

Smart Defrag 3 is a more robust choice and one of the few third-party options that supports Windows 8.1 apps, while iDefrag is one of the most commonly cited on OS X (though it has yet to introduced support for Yosemite). Oh, and never defrag an SSD. They access memory randomly, rather than sequentially, meaning defragging won't speed them up and you may even reduce its lifespan.

2.) Find and Prevent Automatic Processes From Running

Preventing resource-hogging apps and processes from starting up automatically after booting is one of the quickest ways to speed up your computer's operation and increase boot times.

Windows (via the Task Manager) and OS X (via the Activity Monitor) both allow you to see which processes are running in real-time and end the ones slowing you down. If you're on a Mac, head to System Preferences, Users & Groups and then click Login Items to select or deselect the items you want to boot.

For Windows, Autoruns is one of the most popular free tools for controlling auto-start applications, and it'll also let you sift through many more options like logon entries, Explorer/Internet Explorer add-ons and boot execute images. If you're using a relatively new PC loaded with bloatware, PC Decrapifier is a handy tool for quickly identifying and removing unwanted pre-installed apps.

3.) Locate and Delete Large Files

There are loads more affordable Windows tablets and devices on the market these days, which is great, but they tend to come with less storage than a central London flat. They also tend to max out around the 2GB mark when it comes to RAM, meaning Windows doesn't have as much space for the virtual memory needed to keep your device operating smoothly.

While Windows has a built-in Disk Cleanup Wizard for banishing old files to the scrapheap, WinDirStat is a more thorough tool that gives you a graphical view of the different file types taking up drive space, allowing you to delete or move them to an external drive.

OS X allows you to do this in a less-technical manner by using Finder to search the entire Mac and ordering files by size. For third-party utilities, iStat Menus from Bjango is a simple way to get an instant glance at how much free space remains on your hard-disk or SSD.

4.) Clean Your PC's Innards

Without proper care and attention, the inside of a PC tower can become dustier than a Shoreditch rave. Too much cack inside can suffocate components and lead to a build up of heat, reducing performance and increasing the chance of a hardware failure.

To give it the spring clean it deserves you'll need a Philips head screwdriver to get into the case, as well as a can of compressed air. After shutting down the PC and disconnecting all of the ports from the back of it, open the case and use compressed air to blow away any dust starting from the top. Make sure not to touch any components and leave a good distance between the can and components. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the mess once you're done, but refrain from sticking the nozzle inside the case itself.

5.) Prevent Email From Clogging Everything Up

If you use a desktop email client and find that you're constantly wasting your efforts archiving stacks of emails, unroll.me is a simple tool that lets you quickly unsubscribe to multiple services you may have signed up for. Think of it as a faster way of clicking on the "Unsubscribe Me" links at the bottom of emails.

After entering your email address and accepting the terms and conditions, it scans your inbox for signed-up services before giving you the option to Unsubscribe en masse. There's a five-subscription limit that you can overcome by liking its Facebook page (and then deleting your new post straight after).

6.) Clear Out Viruses and Malware

Whether you've accidentally clicked on a few less-than-trustworthy links scouring the web, or have been unlucky enough to fall into a trap, viruses, spyware and malware can be a root cause of a slow computer. There's a long-running myth that Macs don't need anti-virus, which isn't strictly true (viruses are less common, but they're out there), so if your Apple-branded machine is acting suspiciously slow it's worth running a free tool like Avast, or Sophos Antivirus for Mac.

As you would expect, there's a longer list of malware scanners on Windows vying for your attention that includes Malwarebytes, BitDefender Free Edition, Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool and SuperAntiSpyware. You can also help protect your PC or Mac by keeping it as up-to-date as possible through enabling automatic updating via the Settings pane on Windows or System Preferences > App Store on OS X.

7.) Avoid Wi-Fi Interference

Speeding up your computer will feel like it has had less impact if you're bogged down by slow Wi-Fi connectivity for connecting to the internet. With an increasing number of wireless-enabled devices entering homes, all battling for the same slice of spectrum, it's useful to find the Wi-Fi channel experiencing the least interference from other access points around you.

A Wi-Fi analyser such as Acrylic WiFi can help by scanning for nearby wireless networks and identifying the Wi-Fi channels they're turned into, allowing you to log into your router and switch to a lesser-populated channel to ramp up speeds.