Originally published on vidmid.com

You may have heard that reinstalling an operating system can fix various problems, including slowness. Although this is true in some cases, reinstallation shouldn’t be your first choice for regular maintenance. If you’re not careful, you can lose files or cause damage to your system. Here, systems engineer Ravi Bahethi discusses three of the best maintenance techniques that you can use to keep your computer running efficiently without having to reinstall your operating system. 

Defragment Your Hard Drive

Defragmenting, or “defragging,” rearranges the layout of files on your hard drive for faster access. This process does not take long, and it’s something every computer owner should do periodically. 

Although a file seems like a single thing, to a computer, a file is a lot more complex. Consider this analogy: a person sees a single file as a book, but a computer sees it as hundreds of pages within that book. When fragmentation occurs, the pages of the book become scattered, and in order to read the book in order, you must find all the pages and reorganize them. In a fragmented file, the sectors that make up that file are scattered, and your computer will take more time trying to retrieve the components.

A defragmenting tool rearranges files on a disk so they can be laid out with some structure. After defragmentation, sectors of a file are organized into an orderly sequence that is easy for the computer to find. To manually defragment your disk, start Windows Explorer, right-click on the drive you want to defragment, click Properties, click the Tools tab, and then click Defragment Now. This will open a defragmentation window. In Windows 7, you can schedule defragmentation; however, doing it manually is not time consuming. You can also use defragmentation tools from third parties if you prefer; Windows is typically sufficient but other tools may be faster or more complex. 

Analyze if it is Worth the Time and Effort

How old is your operating system? Before taking the time to reinstall your OS, analyze if it is worth the time and effort to reinstall or upgrade. Many systems generally slow down over time, but it is often preventable. 

To prevent your system from slowing down in the first place, install only software you need. Avoid unnecessary browser toolbars and poorly written applications that can clutter your system. Occasionally remove temporary files that take up space on your hard drive, and choose lightweight security programs. If you’re taking care of your Windows system and keeping it clean, you shouldn’t need to reinstall it regularly. However, if it refuses to speed up no matter what you do, you may need to consider reinstallation as a last resort. 

Back Up Your Important Data

If you do have to reinstall your OS, or if you just want to remove files from your drive, be sure to back up your important data. When you reinstall a Windows OS, all the content will be formatted in some way and potentially overwritten. 

There are two general ways to back up your computer: using the built in Backup and Restore method or using an external hard drive. Both methods are useful and reliable; however, if you would like to only keep system-related items on your drive, you should use the build in system backup. If you want to remove everything (files, photos, etc.), back your entire disk up to an external hard drive. The more places you data is backed up, the better, and you don’t have to choose between a locally stored physical backup (external hard drive) or a software or cloud-based backup. You can do both if you choose. 

About Ravi Bahethi

Ravi Bahethi is a systems engineer and programmer working in Fortran 77, Fortran 90, C/C++ and SQL on a variety of platforms, including OpenVMS, Tru64 Unix, IRIX, Linux and Windows. He is devoted to providing flexible and cost-effective IT solutions to both government and industry clients. When he is not busy managing Maryland-based Terranet Inc., Ravi enjoys taking long walks and playing tennis. 

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