Your computer is probably one of the most important pieces of technology in your home, so you need to keep it in good condition. A little proper maintenance every now and then can help you get the most out of your computer, not just today, but years from now. But where do we start? Here we share some quick tips for taking care of your computer. While it’s impossible to cover this topic from every perspective, you can think of our guide as an introduction that can help you decide where to start. Whether you want to physically clean your desktop or digitally declutter your Windows, here are some tips to get you started.

How to clean your computer and peripherals

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Will Lipman photography for Engadget

Windows computers, especially desktop computers, come in all shapes and sizes, but the tips we’ll cover here will help you clean your computer, whether you bought it ready-made or built it yourself. If you own a laptop, check out our Mac organization guide. All the steps we detail there will work just as well for portable Windows.

Before cleaning the inside of your computer, start with the display and peripherals. At this stage, all you need is some distilled water in a spray bottle and a microfiber cloth. You can buy the former at a grocery store or do it yourself. And if you don’t already own microfiber towels, Amazon does 24 packs available you can get for less than $15. Once you have them in hand, spray the water on a clean cloth and wipe your computer display before moving on to the mouse and keyboard. You want to start with your screen to avoid transferring dirt and debris to the panel.

Once you’re done with them, turn off your computer and turn off everything connected to it. You’ll also want to turn off the power supply unit (PSU) by turning the switch on the outside of it to the “O” position. Then press the power button and hold it for about 30 seconds to discharge the capacitors. To protect your computer from static electricity, we strongly recommend that you purchase antistatic wrist strap.

If possible, do most of the steps we’ll describe outside. The last thing you want to do is clean your computer and then let it pick up all that dust again.

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Will Lipman photography for Engadget

After moving your computer, start by removing the side panels. Most modern boxes allow you to do this without any tools, but you’ll need at least a screwdriver for most of the work, which we’ll cover in detail in a moment. As for most of the screws in your computer, a 4-inch Phillips screwdriver should be all you need. Some components, like your GPU, may include Torx screws and the like, but don’t worry about them for now, as we won’t be taking them apart. If you don’t already own a decent set of screwdrivers and have something of a DIY streak in you, a driver set from iFixit is your best bet. The 16, 32 and 64-bit kits for sale are an excellent starting point and will be useful to you not only with your computer.

If your computer has dust filters, remove them now and rinse them in the sink before setting them aside to dry. Depending on how long your computer has been gathering dust, you may want to remove some components, such as the GPU, to make cleaning everything easier.

If this is something you feel comfortable doing and it’s your first time removing some of the internals, use your phone to take pictures of the interior. The images will help you put all the pieces in their original place at the end. This is important to do because there is an optimal way to install many of the components in your computer. For example, you always want to install your GPU in the fastest PCIe lane available. When it comes to removing PCI cards, first unscrew the mounting bracket and then press the appropriate release on the motherboard before pulling out the card.

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Will Lipman photography for Engadget

Whether you choose to keep all of your computer’s internals in place or not, you’re going to need something to blow away all that dust. A can of compressed air is one option, but I like to use one Jotos’ Rocket Fan. It’s designed to clean camera sensors and won’t damage any of your components. This is also a one-time purchase.

Whatever you have on hand, use it to blow away the dust that has built up on your computer’s internal components, fans, and grills. Pay special attention to the heatsinks connected to your computer’s CPU, GPU, chipset, and voltage regulators. They will likely have most of the most difficult-to-remove dust in your system, thanks to their narrow fin stacks. What’s more, particularly bad build-up can make them ineffective at cooling these components, which in turn will affect their performance.

When cleaning any exposed PCB, use an antistatic brush (like the one from Amazon) instead of a microfiber cloth. You will avoid damaging any of the sensitive components on the board. You can go over any non-electronic part with a damp microfiber cloth.

At this point, all you have to do is put everything back in its place. As a final tip, if there is some way to avoid leaving your desktop on the floor, you’ll end up spending less time cleaning it since it won’t be near the dust and dander that collects there. If your desk or living space setup doesn’t make this an option, a PC tower stand is an inexpensive but effective way to raise your computer off the ground and help it drag less debris.

How to organize your computer’s storage devices

A screenshot of Windows 11's built-in security and task management tools in a desktop environment.A screenshot of Windows 11's built-in security and task management tools in a desktop environment.


If it’s been a while since you’ve checked all the software you’ve installed on your computer, the best place to start is in Task Manager. Here you can see how much of your computer’s resources are allocated to specific processes. Since everyone will have different software installed on their computer, it’s hard to offer general recommendations, but using Task Manager you can get an idea of ​​the applications that may be slowing down your computer. For most people, there will be two main culprits: bloatware and antivirus software.

If you bought your computer from a system integrator like Dell, it will almost certainly include software that your computer doesn’t need to run. You can safely uninstall unused, preloaded apps to improve performance and save space.

The following tip may be controversial to some: I believe that as long as you avoid clicking on obscure links and stay away from the dark corners of the Internet, the Microsoft Defender tool built into the Windows Security app is all you need to protect your computer from most of the malware out there. Although there are good antivirus programs like Bitdefender and Malwarebytes, most are too expensive for what they offer and will only slow down your computer. If you don’t feel comfortable uninstalling your antivirus software, by all means leave it on your computer.

While you’re in Task Manager, you’ll also want to click on the “Startup Applications” tab to see what programs your computer starts when you turn it on. You can speed up this process simply by limiting this list to as few applications as possible. As for the actual process of deleting any unnecessary software, always uninstall programs from the Control Panel, as this will leave the least amount of residue when all is said and done. If you’ve been using Windows for a while, you’ll have errant files all over the place. It is possible to remove them manually, but this can take a long time. Fortunately, Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup tool will help you resolve them with ease.

If you have older mechanical drives installed in your computer, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of defragmenting them regularly. First, launch the built-in Disk Defragmenter and Optimizer and click the “Optimize” button. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this process may take some time. Do not defragment your SSDs as you will only shorten their life with little or no performance improvement.

How to organize your apps, tabs, and other windows

The tabbed search menu for the Google Chrome web browser, complete with several open tabs, is shown in a close-up on a laptop display.The tabbed search menu for the Google Chrome web browser, complete with several open tabs, is shown in a close-up on a laptop display.

Jeff Dunn / Engadget

Say what you will about Windows 11 (or 10), but the fact is that it comes with some of the best window management tools built right into an operating system. You don’t need to download any additional software to organize your desktop, but there are some settings you can change to get even more out of its signature Snap functionality.

As you may already know, you can press the Windows and Tab keys at the same time to bring up the task view window. Here you can add additional virtual desktops. If you’re not already using virtual desktops, they’re great for organizing your active windows so you don’t have to constantly rearrange them when you’re trying to find a specific one. You can quickly press the Windows key, Ctrl, and the left or right arrow keys to move between desktops. But to make things even simpler, go to the Settings app and the Multitasking section of the system menu. Under the “Desktops” heading, switch both settings to “On all desktops.” You can now use the Alt-Tab or taskbar shortcut to switch to any application on any desktop.

When it comes to bickering in your tabs, a lot of it will depend on the browser you’re using. We have a comprehensive guide to organizing tabs if you want to take a deep dive into the available tools with the most popular options. But as a basic starting point, all major players include a feature that lets you pin tabs. I use this to keep the websites I visit most during the work day (in my case Gmail, Trello and Google Drive) open at all times and at the top of the tab bar. That way, these tabs never get lost among the countless other websites I might have open for a story I’m writing. What’s more, in the case of Brave, the browser I use, I can use several key combination to quickly jump to those sections.

In closing, we want to highlight just how much customization Windows offers you when it comes to the organization of your PC. As just one example, you can right-click items located on the taskbar and start menu to put the apps and shortcuts you use most often within easy reach. However, if you want to really dig into all the options Windows has to offer on this front, websites like Windows Central they have detailed instructions which are an excellent starting point.

Jeff Dunn contributed to this report.

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