Every PC gamer is proud of their gaming rig whether it’s an old creaking piece of crap or a glowy water cooled beast that looks more like a UFO. We all want to get them running with as much performance as they can put out. An important step for this though is maintaining them properly.
In the world of PC gaming, we gamers are essentially forced to run Windows in order to have the fullest gaming experience. It can be difficult to keep your machine running well sometimes since Windows requires more maintenance and know-how than any other OS. Although preventive measures against spyware, viruses, fragmentation and memory management issues have improved exponentially over the years, there are still some regular routines you should practice to keep your machine running at its best. Not everyone is savvy enough to know how to properly maintain their machines on their own nor do they want to put the time into learning how. These are some of the easiest things you can do without having to know much about computing.
1. Dust – The bane of the PC
Dust is the number one enemy of computers. If it builds up and collects on the components inside your computer it will collect heat and clog up ventilation. A graphics card with dust all over it and inside it will run twice as hot as one that is clean. Heat is obviously bad since it can shorten the lifespan of your hardware and your computer will also run slower the hotter it gets.
If you’re one of those gamers who has never opened up their computer you certainly need to do some spring cleaning as it is almost guaranteed to have dust inside it. Dust buildup is an unavoidable problem that computers face simply because of how they’re built. Macs and consoles will gather dust inside them over time as well.
Do not vacuum the inside of your computer. This should be fairly obvious but some people don’t realize you can actually suck capacitors and other important parts off of your motherboard with a vacuum.
The best way to get rid of dust is with compressed air. You can pick this up at almost any computer store or online retailer. Obviously you can’t put a motherboard in the dishwasher and it’s a bad idea to take any kind of physical cleaning instrument to it so air is your best option when all you’re cleaning off is dust (hopefully). You can’t achieve the same effect just by blowing on the inside of your computer so don’t consider that as a substitution.
Always turn your computer off before cleaning it. Depending on how much dust is built up you will probably end up blowing a lot of it into the air around you. Keeping a vacuum cleaner hose running nearby will ensure it doesn’t just fall back into your computer. Also, you should touch your computer case or something metal before venturing inside your computer as electrostatic charge from the human body can ruin computer components if strong enough.
2. Defragment your hard drive
This is important to ensure your load times stay short and your hard drive lifespan stays long. Your hard drive is divided into sectors and chunks that it uses to fill up with data. Ideally when you install something it puts the data all together in one chunk, but sometimes a chunk cannot contain all of the data so your hard drive has to divide it into two parts and write the remainder of it somewhere else on the hard drive. This is called fragmentation.
This is bad when a game loads something large the hard drive like a map to put it into RAM temporarily while you play. If the map is divided into two or more parts across your hard drive then your hard drive has to spend extra time seeking out the individual parts. While this happens very quickly it can still slow down your load times tremendously if the hard drive is fragmented enough. Don’t confuse this with the actual files on windows though. File data can be physically split up on your hard drive but still appear as one file in windows.
These find all of the fragmented files and rearranges the data on your hard drive to put everything back together so it can access them much faster. Puran defrag is free and unlike most freeware defraggers it can even defragment directories and your master file table. Defragmentation time depends on how much there is so if your drive is heavily fragmented I would recommend doing it overnight while you sleep. If not, just run it when you have a few minutes to spare. Don’t run it while you are downloading, moving or editing files or it will not defrag properly.
3. Malware and Viruses: Kill them
Nothing will slow down your computer more than malware aside from a nice cycle through your washing machine. While viruses and trojans are usually meant to completely cripple windows or your computer, malware is designed to run hidden in the background and do any number of malicious things without you knowing. Keyloggers are the number one causes of WoW and Steam accounts being hijacked. Changing your account password while one is still on your machine will only result in your account being re-stolen.
First off, if you don’t have a firewall you are asking for viruses. There are plenty of free firewalls out there and Windows comes with a semi-decent one as well. Do not ever browse the internet without a firewall. You are walking through a minefield and will tread on one eventually. Secondly, scan your PC with an anti-virus and use more than one. Different programs have different databases so one virus scan alone cannot get rid of every virus out there no matter how hard it tries. Some of them get pretty close though and here are some I recommend:
Many anti-virus programs install a passive scanner that works in the background. These are often a bit useless but if you want this feature I recommend only using one. Using many of them will only slow your computer to a halt. Virus scanning, like defragging, can be a time consuming task so this is something you may want to do overnight.
4. Keep a good amount of disk space free
Windows needs some space to breath. If you only have one or two gigabytes of free space left (or heaven forbid even less) Windows is going to struggle to work properly.
5. Keep your drivers up to date
Most of the time if someone can’t get a game to run it’s because they aren’t running the newest version of their graphics card drivers. Drivers are the software that tell your hardware what to do and how to do it. They aren’t perfect though and must be updated to weed out errors and introduce new technologies. Updating the drivers of any components in your computer that have a newer version available is often the best way to resolve many issues.
Do your research with the drivers you install though. Newer is not always better in some cases and installing a driver could potentially put a damper on your PCs performance. If you have no reason to update them, it’s best to leave your drivers alone.
6. Tweak your TCP settings
Speedguide.net makes a program called TCP Optimizer.
When you run it you must first select the speed of your internet connection. If you don’t know exactly what that is you can find out here.
Do not set the bandwidth to a speed higher or lower than your actual internet connection speed. That will not magically give you a faster connection. You can custom tweak the settings yourself but if you don’t know how just select the “optimal” option and it will automatically select the best settings fit for your connection speed. This won’t necessarily make your connection blazingly faster, but it may give you better latency and let your computer make better use of your connection if it’s fast enough.
7. Don’t run programs in the background if you don’t use them
Just because you aren’t logged into your multiple IM clients or using your desktop picture search at the time doesn’t mean they aren’t sucking up valuable resources that could be put towards the game you’re playing. Computers are like cars because they’re touted to be able to handle anything you throw at them at the dealer. While modern PCs can indeed handle quite a lot, they are still subject to being slowed down under larger loads. Cars will always run faster under a lighter load and so will your computer. Having extra software running in the background is like having your car trunk filled with cinder blocks.
The link above leads to a tutorial on how to check your disk for errors. Sometimes hard drive sectors can become corrupt and that can lead to a whole plethora of problems. Once every blue moon you should run this to make sure everything is a-okay. These issues are rare in modern hard drives but sudden power outages can still be a culprit for sector corruption. On a related note, you should always have your computer plugged into a surge protector or UPS to defend it from power surges as those can turn your PC into a paperweight.
9. Myths about PC maintenance
- Going into your task manager and ending all the processes (or getting a program that does it for you) will not make your computer faster, only more crash happy.
- Using registry cleaners does not make your computer faster unless you have a metric ton of orphaned registry entries and errors, which is usually not the case. The primary purpose of a registry cleaner is to clean up errors and traces after you uninstall something or are having registration issues.
- “Memory cleaners” do nothing except make your computer use more virtual ram which makes it seem as though you are using less memory. This is a bad thing for gaming. Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks.
- “PC optimization” programs are usually a load of crap. Avoid using them.