It’s easy to go overboard with cleaning your PC. All you really need to do is run CCleaner or the Disk Cleanup tool included in Windows to delete useless files and free up disk space once in a while. If you’re cleaning your PC in other ways, be sure you know what you’re getting into — it’s easy to break something.
Deleting Your Recovery Partition
Most computers come with a recovery partition. When you decide to reinstall Windows — or use the Refresh or Reset Your PC features on Windows 8 — your computer copies the Windows installation files from the recovery partition instead of an external CD, DVD, or USB drive.
The recovery partition uses up several gigabytes of space on your device’s internal disk. You can delete it from a partition manager or even use the recovery drive creator tool in Windows 8 to copy your recovery partition to a USB drive and then remove it, freeing up that space.
This cleans up your drive and lets you use more of the space. However, you won’t be able to reinstall Windows or reset or refresh your PC unless you made a copy of the recovery partition. Even if you made a copy, you won’t be able to reinstall your operating system if you misplace the drive you copied the recovery files to. You’ll need an original Windows installer disc, and this won’t help you reinstall the exact OS image and drivers that came with your customized windows system.
Take Home Message: Don’t remove your recovery partition unless you’ve created a recovery USB drive or disc first. If you do, be careful not to lose your recovery media.
Corrupting Your Registry
Registry cleaners work by scanning through your registry and deleting entries they think aren’t important. For example, a registry entry created by a program you uninstalled isn’t necessary, and can be removed. The Windows registry is a massive place, containing hundreds of thousands of different registry entries, both for Windows itself and third-party programs. Many of your computer’s settings are saved here.
Cleaning your registry seems like a good idea. After all, those useless, outdated registry entries are just cluttering up the place. However, these registry entries are tiny. Even if you remove thousands of them, your computer won’t be noticeably faster.
Because of the sheer amount of complexity, registry cleaners can sometimes remove important registry settings. This can prevent a program you use from working properly until you reinstall it or cause other problems in Windows.
Take Home Message: Cleaning your registry isn’t worth it because you could run into problems and there’s no real benefit to the cleaning. if you must clean your registry, use a more trustworthy registry cleaner like the free one built into CCleaner and skip the paid registry cleaners you see advertisements for online.
Erasing System, Program, & Setting Files
Your computer has important system, program, and user setting files scattered around its file system. Deleting any of these files can cause problems with your computer. This may be obvious to the geeks among us, but we’ve all heard stories about people who started deleting important files located in the C:\Windows directory in an attempt to clean up their computers and free up space.
Take Home Message: You shouldn’t tamper with files in the C:\Windows directory or other system files unless you’re manually removing a virus and have a good reason to delete specific files.
This doesn’t just apply to files in the standard C:\Windows and C:\Program Files directories, though. For example, many games save their game files in your Documents folder. Delete these folders in an attempt to clean up your documents folder and you’ll lose your save files and settings for those games! Other directories, like the hidden C:\ProgramData and each user’s Application Data directory also contain important settings that you’d lose if you started trying to clean these folders.
Driver cleaner utilities can purge all bits of drivers from your computer, allowing you to reinstall the offending drivers from a clean state if you’re experiencing a driver problem. Manufacturers offer their own driver cleaners, such as the AMD Clean Uninstall Utility, which uninstalls all AMD drivers from a system. There are also third-party driver cleaners.
These driver cleaners can remove drivers you’re actually using. For example, we found stories online of people being unable to use their USB mouse and keyboard after using the AMD Clean Install Utility to delete all AMD drivers — it also wiped out their USB drivers. These people will have to restore their computers in Safe Mode, or — if that doesn’t work — maybe even reinstall Windows.
Take Home Message: Use driver cleaning tools with care. They can be helpful if a particular driver causes issues and cannot be removed otherwise, but they can also make things worse.
Tools like Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) allow you to wipe an entire hard drive by overwriting everything on it with garbage data. Some people prefer using a tool like this one before reinstalling Windows to ensure no deleted files can be recovered from the drive. This is only necessary on Windows 7 and earlier, as the Reset Your PC feature in Windows 8 has a drive-wiping option built in.
Take Home Message: On typical consumer PCs, wiping your drive with a tool like DBAN will erase any recovery partitions on the drive. Be careful when using drive-wiping tools!
Have you ever broken something when cleaning your PC? Leave a comment and share your cautionary tale!
Image Credit: Bawl on Flickr