Three Windows Maintenance Tools You Actually Need

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Hands performing hardware maintenance on an open computer case

Using a Windows PC can be exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need all the system maintenance tools you’ll see hawked online. Registry cleaners, PC optimizers, game boosters — they’re not necessary. Here are the few tools that are essential.

Antivirus

An antivirus program — anti-malware program, technically — is the core piece of security software you need on your computer. It’s something that stays in the background, watching programs you run and files you open to ensure they’re safe.

Quite a few programs do this. In Windows 8, Microsoft’s own Windows Defender is integrated. With Windows 7, you can download Microsoft Security Essentials — it’s basically the same thing as Windows Defender for Windows 8, but with a different name.

Other antivirus companies offer free programs, including AVG, Avast and BitDefender. Many, many more antivirus applications are out there, both free and paid. Follow my other simple tips for securing your PC, too.

Windows Defender anti-malware software on Windows 8.1

Backup

Backups are essential, no matter which operating system you use. If you aren’t performing regular backups, you haven’t yet been bitten by a hard drive failure or another unexpected data loss.

After you lose all your stuff once, you’ll start getting serious about backups. That’s what happened to me when I was younger. But you can skip that whole episode by getting started with backups today.

Regular backups don’t have to be time-consuming. In fact, automate them as much as possible so your computer will automatically make regular backups without any effort on your part. Windows has backup tools integrated — head into the Control Panel and set up File History on Windows or use Windows Backup on Windows 7 to create backups. Many other backup options are available, of course, including online backup solutions. Here are the easiest ways to back up your PC.

File History backup dialog on Windows 8.1

Temporary File Cleanup

Temporary files probably aren’t slowing down your computer very much, despite all the ads that say your PC will run much faster if you just install their PC-cleaning software and pay them some money. However, temporary files and other junk absolutely waste space on your hard drive. And, in an age where computers are shipping with smaller (but faster!) solid-state drives, you want to waste as little space as possible.

This is where a temporary-file-cleaning tool comes in. It will scan your system for various bits of unnecessary junk — temporary files, Windows update uninstallation files, offline caches for various applications and more — then delete them for you. This can often free up gigabytes of space on your hard drive.

Windows includes a built-in tool for doing this, known as Disk Cleanup. It does a pretty decent job, but I also love CCleaner for its ability to clean up files from a wider variety of programs. You don’t need to buy the paid version of CCleaner — just install and use the free version, which will work fine. Here’s how to clean up your PC.

Microsoft's Disk Cleanup tool on Windows 8.1

That’s It?

That’s it, really. Other tools could be useful in some circumstances, but you don’t need to install the endless number of different Windows system maintenance programs you’ll see on the Internet. Keep your PC secure, ensure your files are backed up, and do an occasional cleaning if you need some disk space. Those are the basic things everyone needs to do.

The rest is all good habits — not downloading and running shady software, avoiding phishing schemes, and so on.

Photo Credit: Steven Brewer on Flickr, Microsoft

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