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Clean It Up to Speed It Up

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Taking out the Trash

Written on April 21, 2003 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde

Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine

Is your computer getting slower and more sluggish? Are you running out of disk space? Is it more difficult to find things because of clutter on your computer?

A computer system clogged with unnecessary files and programs runs more slowly -- a computer system needs about 10 to 15% of free disk space to run efficiently. Even newer computers with large disk drives are affected, as the storage space becomes more fragmented as files are created, moved, and deleted.

By keeping your computer clean, you can also speed it up.

Recycle Bin

When you delete a file on your computer, it's not really deleted at all. The file is left on your computer but it is moved to the Recycle Bin.

This is a nice feature added to Windows to help you recover deleted files. If you've accidentally deleted a file and want it back, simply go to the Recycle Bin, highlight the file (i.e. mouse click once on the file), and select File | Restore from the top menu.

However, Windows allocates up to 10% of your disk space to save "deleted" files for an indefinite period of time. 10% may make sense for smaller disk drives, but not for the large capacity drives being shipped with new computers. To set aside less space, right-click on the Recycle Bin icon, select Properties, move the arrow to a new percentage (as low as 1%), and click OK.

You must manually empty your Recycle Bin to physically delete the files stored there. You may do so by opening the Recycle Bin and selecting File | Empty Recycle Bin from the top menu. Alternatively, use the Disk Cleanup utility described next.

Disk Cleanup

The Disk Cleanup utility empties the Recycle Bin as well as getting rid of Temporary Files that your programs create, including cached files from your Internet browser (whenever you visit a web site, all the web pages and graphics are stored or cached on your computer so that when you visit the web site later, the information is quickly displayed from the cache rather than retrieving it again from the web site).

To run, open the Start menu and select Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Disk Cleanup (yes, it's well hidden!). Check off the files you want to delete and click OK (see illustration for an example).


Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express are notorious for not actually deleting your e-mail when you think you've deleted it or moved it to another e-mail folder.

When you delete e-mail, it gets moved to a Deleted Items folder (again, for easy recovery of inadvertently deleted messages). You may remove these messages manually (select them in the Deleted Items folders and delete them again) or you can have the system automatically delete them for you when you close your e-mail application - in Outlook select Tools | Options | Other and check the box beside "Empty the Deleted Items folder upon exiting".

Even so, Outlook Express does not actually free up any disk space when you delete messages or empty the Deleted Items folder. It simply flags the message as deleted and you never see it again. To re-claim the disk space, you must select File | Folder | Compact All Folders within Outlook Express. Afterwards, you may notice that Outlook Express runs a lot faster.

Disk Defragmenter

As files are created, moved, and deleted, the disk drive becomes fragmented as information is placed all over the disk drive. This eventually slows the computer down as it takes longer and longer to retrieve data.

By running Disk Defragmenter, the information on your disk is reorganized to make it more efficient. To run, open the Start menu and select Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Disk Defragmenter (again, it's well hidden!). Select the disk you want to optimize and click OK.

HINT #1: Make sure to clean up the rest of your disk before running the defragmenter (i.e. run Disk Cleanup, clean out your E-Mail). Otherwise, you end up optimizing the clutter!

WARNING: The Disk Defragmenter may take several hours to run, especially if you've never run this before on your disk drive. You should never stop this program once it's started.

HINT #2: Backup your data before running Disk Defragmenter. It the utility stops in the middle of its processing, there is a possibility that your data may be corrupted.

Remember that keeping your system neat and clean not only lets you work faster; your computer will work faster too. So take out the trash!

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