By Gary Cox
Just like with any operating system, keeping a Windows PC running well requires some maintenance. The good news is that you can automate most of the important maintenance tasks, and keep Windows humming along like it was freshly installed.
Windows 8 and 10 Feature Scheduled Automatic Maintenance
First things first. Windows 8 and 10 automatically perform basic system maintenance tasks according to a schedule you can customize. These tasks include things like software updates, security definition updates and scans, disk optimization and defragmentation, and some other diagnostic tasks
You can’t turn this automatic maintenance off, but you can change when it operates, and whether or not it can wake a sleeping PC to run its tasks. By default, Windows runs these tasks every day at 2 AM and wakes up your PC to do so if necessary.
To manage this tool, head to Control Panel > System and Security > Security and Maintenance. You can also hit Start, type “maintenance” into the search box, and then click the “Security and Maintenance” result.
In the Security and Maintenance window, expand the “Maintenance” section, and then click the “Change maintenance settings” link.
In the Automatic Maintenance window, you can change the time that tasks are run each day, and disable the ability for Windows to wake your PC from sleep to run those tasks. Note that even if Windows wakes your computer to run these tasks, it will put the system back to sleep when it’s done.
Clean Up Your Hard Drive Automatically
If you want to make sure you have plenty of space on your hard drive, and get rid of old files you no longer need, which gets rid of plenty of temporary files and other stuff that doesn’t need to be around anymore.
Windows 10: Let Storage Sense Clean Your Drive Automatically
Windows 10 users have the luxury of using Storage Sense, a handy little feature that automatically cleans out your temporary files and recycle bin of things that have been hanging around for over a month. Storage Sense was added to Windows 10 in the Creator’s Update (Spring, 2017), and it’s a great tool for automatically cleaning things up safely. It’s pretty conservative about what it deletes, so you shouldn’t run into any problems leaving it turned on.
To get to it, head to Settings > System > Storage, and turn on the toggle in the “Storage Sense” section.
Click that “Change how we free up space” link right under the toggle to adjust settings.
And no, there aren’t many settings there. Like we mentioned, it’s a conservative tool. You do, however, have other options.
Any Windows Version: Schedule a Disk Cleanup Task
The Disk Cleanup tool has been around forever, and it still works great. In fact, it cleans up more stuff than the Storage Sense tool in Windows 10. While you can run Disk Cleanup yourself every once in a while, why not schedule it to run automatically?
You can use the Task Scheduler in Windows to run a basic Disk Cleanup scan as often as you like, and with a few extra command line switches, you can have it clean even more in an advanced mode. We’ve got a complete write-up on scheduling Disk Cleanup in Windows, so we won’t cover all the steps here. Check it out if you’re interested, though!
Any Windows Version: Use CCleaner For Even More Power
CCleaner is a popular cleaning utility that’s available in both a free and premium version. It works much like Disk Cleanup, but extends even further what it can clean. In addition to temporary and cached files, CCleaner can also clean up data for additional apps, and even clear data for your web browser. It’s a powerful tool, and not one you necessarily need. But a lot of people swear by it.
The premium version ($25) features scheduled cleaning, but you can also use the Windows Task Scheduler to automate CCleaner even with the free version.
Disk Defragmentation Is Already Automated (If It Needs To Be)
If you’ve been using a PC for long enough, you might have gotten into the habit of defragmenting your hard drive. The good news is that this is something you don’t really need to worry about too much anymore.
First up, if you’re using a solid state drive (SSD), you should not be defragmenting your drive at all. It doesn’t help, and just creates additional wear and tear on the drive. If you’re running Windows 7, 8, or 10, Windows automatically disables defragmentation on SSDs.
And, if you’re using Windows 7, 8, or 10, Windows also automatically enables defragmentation on a schedule for traditional hard drives. So, it’s really not something you need to worry about. You can just let Windows do its thing.
By default, Windows defragments traditional drives every Wednesday at 1 AM, if you’re not using your computer at the time. You can customize the defragmenter schedule if you want, but there’s probably no reason to change it.
Keep Windows, Hardware Drivers, and Third-Party Apps Up To Date
Keeping your PC updated can be frustrating. Windows 10 is a lot more aggressive about using Windows Update to keep itself updated than past versions of Windows—and for the most part, that’s a good thing. If you’re using Windows 7, you’ve got a good bit more control about what updates you apply, and when.
So, while you can’t really prevent updates from happening in Windows 8 and 10 (at least not permanently), you can at least change things like your active hours—when you’re using your computer and it should not apply updates or restart your PC.
Keeping third-party apps up to date automatically is a little more challenging. Some apps have built-in updaters that can download and install updates automatically, others can check for updates and at least notify you, and still others just rely on you to check for updated versions once in a while.
Security software, like antivirus apps, are especially important to keep updated. Most have automatic updaters built-in. Still, it’s important to check up on them once in a while–like before you run a manual scan–just to make sure. As an example, Windows Defender gets regular updates for virus definitions through Windows Updates, but still offers the ability to manually check for updates when you open it up.
There are some third-party utilities out there, like Patch My PC, which can scan all your installed apps, check for updates, and then install them for you, and then there are hardware drivers. If you’ve got the default Windows drivers installed for your hardware, the good news is that Windows Update takes care of updating those automatically. And the truth is, the basic Windows drivers are good enough for most types of hardware. For some type of hardware, like graphics cards, you’ll probably want the actual manufacturer drivers that are kept much more up to date and offer additional features. For those, you’ll have to rely on the manufacturers’ own tools to keep things up to date.
Automate Backups to Keep Your Data Secure
We’ve save perhaps the most important task for last—backing up your PC. Because sometimes bad things happen, it’s important that you have an automated backup routine for your important files.
And there are a number of ways you can approach backing up your PC, depending on your situation. If you’re using Windows 8 or 10, the easiest way to automate your backups is to use the built-in File History feature. Hook up an external drive, turn File History on, and Windows automatically backs up your important files. Not only does it work as a full-featured backup, File History also lets you pull up previous versions of your files.
Windows 10 also includes the old Windows 7 backup tools, which you can use to set up a scheduled backup to an external or networked drive. You can set a backup routine that backs up specific files or that captures entire hard drives as an image that you can easily restore.
If you’re looking for even more customizability in your automated backups, we highly recommend taking a look at Macrium Reflect. The free edition lets you create live images of your drives, provides several different styles of backup, and gives you a lot of scheduling flexibility. The paid version for home users adds the ability to back up individual files and folders (rather than just an image backup), encrypted backups, and more backup styles.
And while these tools we’ve mentioned are great for keeping local backups of your data, a good off-site or online backup is something else worth taking a look at. Having your data saved at a different location can help protect you against big things like fire, theft, or natural disaster.
This guide should definitely get you started in figuring out how to run common Windows maintenance tasks automatically. Obviously, there are a lot more things you can automate in Windows than we’ve covered here.
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