When you buy a laptop, you do so with the intent to use it over a long stretch of time. Unlike with phones, which tend to be upgraded every couple of years, some folks go years without swapping computers. And why would you, anyway? As the saying goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Well, owning a laptop is a lot like owning a car. With proper maintenance, gentle use, and regular care, your equipment will last for years to come. Ignoring important factors like cleaning and manufacturer updates, however, can result in a bogged-down machine that's frustrating to work with.
If you want to get as many years as possible out of your beloved laptop, you'll want to follow these 7 essential maintenance tasks every month. Not only will these tips help you extend the life of your computer, but they also apply to every brand of laptop out there. So strap in and get your canned air ready -- your laptop is about to get some much needed TLC.
1. Tidy up your hard drive by deleting old files
Whether you use your computer for work or just leisure, you probably have a number of files floating around that you aren't using anymore.
This can be anything from old photos you've already uploaded to Facebook, music tracks you're no longer interested in, or leftover installer files left to rot in your downloads folder. Cleaning these files up will free up valuable space on your hard drive, and help free up memory so your computer runs faster.
Before going on a mass purge of your system, take care to make sure you avoid any "critical" folders that contain files your computer needs to run. On Windows, these are mostly found in the System32 folder.
Apple, on the other hand, hides critical files so users won't pull anything funny. Keep in mind: Deleting critical system files will prevent your computer from running altogether, so when the time comes to clean, make sure you're only deleting files you know you won't miss.
Here's a hint: start in the Downloads folder. People download images, videos, and installer files that tend to sit here and collect dust. You won't believe how much space you'll gain just by dragging them into the Recycling Bin and hitting "empty."
2. Declutter your desktop with a little help from Windows or macOS
A messy desktop is ugly. Nobody can argue with that. Getting your desktop nice looking, however, takes a little bit of know-how. Sure, you can simply click and drag the icons around until you have something resembling "order" but this can take time out of your day -- and you probably have better things to do than fiddle around with a mouse for an hour.
Thankfully, both Windows and macOS have some automated organization options for their respective desktops.
On Windows, simply right click with your trackpad or mouse on your desktop wallpaper. Next, hover over the option Sort by and choose either name, size, filetype, or date modified. I recommend you select name since it alphabetizes your icons. Once you click this, your icons will be neatly arranged in a row -- perfect for picking and choosing what programs stay and what programs go.
On Mac, all you need to do is right-click or ctrl + click and you should see a menu option that says Clean up. Clicking this will automatically re-organize the icons on your desktop.
If you don't see Clean up when you right-click, your system may already be configured to organize icons another way. To check, click the desktop and select View from the menu bar, followed by Sort by and then your preferred method of organizing.
For more information on customizing your cleanup, Apple's support guide on the matter can guide you through alternative options like Stacks and changing the size of your icons.
3. Clear your browser's cache and cookies
This is an essential part of keeping your computer (and web browser) speedy and safe. Even browsing the internet normally will result in a large number of cookies occupying your browser files, so taking the time to remove them can work wonders.
There are many browsers -- each with different methods of cleaning out temporary files and cookies. Thankfully, we've covered most of them in one of our previous articles about the importance of regularly deleting cookies.
Since the majority of our readers use Google Chrome, however, it's worth refreshing the process for this popular browser.
In the Chrome window, click on the three-dot symbol in the upper right corner of the browser. Then, click Settings and scroll to the bottom of the page that appears. Then, click on Advanced to expand the menu. Scroll a bit further down until you see Clear Browsing Data. Click this, and you'll be able to delete your cookies, cache, and even browsing history!
You can even set the time range you want your deletion to extend to -- just in case you have some essential history items you want to hang on to.
4. Clean your screen and keyboard (with the proper tools, of course!)
Now that we've tidied up on the digital side of your computer, it's time to have a look at the hardware itself. Neglecting to clean your computer on a regular basis can spell disaster to the longevity of your system. Just imagine, if you will, how many crumbs, skin cells, and pieces of dirt make their way into your keyboard.
Now, imagine all that grime adding up over years. It's not a pretty picture...
You can prevent the buildup of dirt and grime, however, by investing in some safe computer cleaning products. These items are designed to work with your system -- and are made to prevent you from accidentally damaging its sensitive components.
For your screen, the best option would be pre-moistened screen wipes. These items contain a safe amount of moisture that won't damage your screen and can help increase the clarity of your display.
My personal recommendation is the CareTouch brand Lens Cleaning Wipes. Originally designed for eyeglasses, they're a safe way to get your laptop's screen sparkling. Plus, they can be safely used on smartphones and tablets.
Kim uses Windex electronics screen wipes, which are great for a streak-free shine.
As for your keyboard, you'll want to tread cautiously. Needlessly jamming something like a paperclip in the space between keys can break the sensitive mechanisms that make the thing work. The best solution is to use an "invisible touch" that dislodges debris without physically contacting it. To do this, you'll need a can of compressed air, or "canned air" as it's sometimes called.
These pressurized canisters of oxygen are perfect for cleaning computers and have been trusted by IT professionals for years. Simply point the can at a slight angle near the affected area and spray.
A small but powerful blast of wind will push crumbs and dust out from even the smallest spaces. As for the best brand of canned air, we recommend Dust-Off -- a long-lived brand with a trusted reputation for quality compressed air. Make sure to follow the directions on the can for maximum safety.
5. Clean your ports so they last for years
Just like the keyboard, the ports of your computer are likely to get clogged with dust and debris after years of use.
As you may already know, there's a large variety of the types of ports that are found on your computer (unless you're using a new Macbook -- then it's just USB type C ports.) Each of these has a slightly different shape, so getting inside and dislodging the dirt can present a challenge to the uninitiated.
Fortunately, if you've followed the other steps, you'll already have compressed air on hand. Just like with the keyboard, compressed air will clear out dirt and debris without actually touching the contacts found inside your ports -- making it perfectly safe to use!
This safety, however, depends on the way you use the air. The instructions on your can will likely detail this, but it is worth mentioning that compressed air tends to be very very cold upon leaving the can. Blasting the air too close to any given surface will result in a layer of frost appearing temporarily.
This is why most brands of compressed air include a straw to direct the airflow -- but not all of them do. To clean your ports as safely as possible, just make sure to leave some space between the port and the nozzle (or end of the straw) and push the trigger gently for more control.
6. Check your camera and microphone
Not every laptop is equipped with these, but they're becoming increasingly common in modern computers. They are important ways to communicate with loved ones, and can even be moneymakers if you're a blogger or a YouTuber.
To keep these items clean and tidy, you can gently wipe the camera down with the lens cleaners we mentioned above, and clean the microphone with a soft, dry cloth. Do not use the compressed air to clean the microphone, as it can loosen or dislodge the components inside that allow it to pick up sound.
But many of us have privacy and security concerns. These concerns aren't lost on industry titans like Mark Zuckerberg who understand that bad actors can use laptop cameras for spying.
There's nothing wrong with leaving your microphone and camera exposed but for extra peace of mind, covering it up is the thing to do. Just make sure you have a sticker that's an appropriate size to fill up the entire width of the camera lens. Three-dimensional stickers are highly recommended, as they're easy to pop off in the event you change your mind.
7. Update your software and firmware
This is one of the single most important things you can do for the longevity and security of your system. And rightfully so -- you wouldn't be able to get life out of your computer for years if it were totally bogged down by viruses, anyway.
Because of how tenacious hackers and cybercriminals can be, software and hardware developers are constantly releasing updates to keep the security of their systems as stable as possible. Even though there might be a bad update here and there, security patches should not be avoided.
Even older or outdated operating systems tend to get these kinds of updates, so if you decide to skip on "feature releases," still make time for your patches. It's critical.
To update on Windows 10, simply click the Windows icon in the bottom left corner of the desktop, click Settings and click Update & Security. In this menu, you'll see the latest updates and patches available for your system.
On Mac, simply open the App Store app and click Updates from the sidebar on the left. This will display any available updates that your Mac is capable of downloading.
Keep your system current with updates, and you'll notice a lot less trouble with your system over time. In fact, it's one of the strongest defenses against common security exploits, and staying regular can help you stop emerging threats from affecting your system.
Now that you know the methods, it's up to you to put them into practice. Do so and you might be surprised at how many years of life you can get out of your machine. And with the prices of computers (Macs in particular) skyrocketing over the years, that's money in the bank in the long term. What's better than that?
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