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10 easy ways to spring clean your computer

And you don't need to be tech-savvy to pull it off

I’d love to spend money when it’s not necessary -- said no one ever.

Problem is, your computer might be showing its age, be it slow boot-up times, sluggish performance, annoying freeze-ups and pop-up windows caused by malware (“malicious software”).

Instead of buying an entirely new computer, perhaps you can try these following tips to help squeeze more life out of your aging PC or Mac.

1. Back it up

Before you mess around with your computer, be sure to back-up all your important information and store it in a safe place. This includes your irreplaceable photos and camcorder footage, documents, emails, bookmarks, and so on. If you only have a little bit to back up, use an inexpensive USB thumbdrive or an online option (such as OneDrive, Google Cloud, iCloud, Dropbox or Box), while media hounds might opt for an external hard drive.

 2. Cleaning house

Now, decide what programs you no longer need. Try to keep only the software you use regularly as it's easy to become a digital packrat. Has it been a year since you touched that solitaire game bundled with your PC? Have your music tastes changed since you went through that Country & Western "stage" in 2010? Uninstall unused programs by going to the Control Panel, and then Add/Remove Programs. On a Mac, open LaunchPad and drag and drop the app icon into Trash.

3. Purge it

If you want to free up even more room on your hard drive, go to Windows Explorer and right-click on the letter associated with your hard drive (usually C:). Click Properties, followed by Disk Cleanup. Check off the desired boxes -- such as "Temporary Internet Files," "Recycle Bin" and "Downloaded Program Files" -- and it will tell you how much space it can free up. For Macs, the program is called Finder. Also, is your desktop littered with so many icons you can’t see the photo that’s behind it? It's probably time to get friendly with your keyboard's Delete button.

4. Do the defrag

"Degfragging" is another way to help your computer operate faster with more stability. In Windows 8 or older, do a search for the words “cleanup” or “system tools” and select Disk Defragmenter. Run the program on your hard drive to give your PC maximum efficiency. It might take a while but you should notice a marked improvement (tip: start the process before you leave your home or go to bed). There are also good third-party disk defrag tools available online.

5. Update software

It’s also important to download the latest free software updates for your operating system. Called “Windows Update” for Windows and “Software Update” for Macs (click on Apple logo in the top left corner), these updates plug security holes, zap bugs and add functionality. You can choose to download and install new updates whenever they become available, which might be ideal for forgetful types. Also be sure to download all the updates to your favorite programs – such as a web browser, media player and computer games – and look accessory updates, too, such as one for a printer or monitor.

6. Use protection

Any who spends time online should have good anti-malware installed on their computer. This includes viruses and spyware, which secretly monitors your web surfing behavior, causes pop-up windows and slows down your PC's performance. Even if you use free anti-malware security solutions, such as what’s bundled in Windows 8 or available at download.com, it’s critical to keep it on and updated to safeguard your computer’s files.

7. Reduce spam

A thorn in many a computer user's side is junk email, or "spam," that clutters up one's inbox, promising everything from erectile dysfunction to bad credit – or worse, “phishing scams” have you click on links and can affect your computer’s performance or cause identity theft. The good news is you can greatly reduce the amount of unwanted email. Chances are your email program, such as Microsoft Outlook, lets you bump up the filters so that it catches more junk mail. Anti-malware software might be able to help (see previous tip). Also, be selective about to whom you're giving out your email address when online.

8. Use a better browser

Some browsers act as an extra layer of defense from the ills of the Internet. Windows 8 comes preloaded with the latest Internet Explorer, which can notify you if you land on a suspicious website by turning the URL (web address) red instead of green, and with a warning of the content being questionable. IE is also the first browser to feature a "Do Not Track" privacy option turned on by default, to help reduce the odds of cyber-snoopers. Many computer users prefer other browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari.

9. Hardware tips, too

All of the tips thus far are software-related, but of course you should also keep your computer clean on the outside, too. This includes using antibacterial wipes (or a damp cloth) to clean the mouse and keyboard. Vacuum out dust and pet hair from your computer’s fan – especially noticeable if you have a desktop PC and keep it on the floor, perhaps under your desk – and use proper cleaning fluid on your monitor to remove gunk, smudges and fingerprints (hint: baby wipes rock).

10. Augment, don’t replace

The last thing you might consider is to upgrade components – if you’re able to -- instead of replacing the entire computer. For example, laptop and desktop owners might be able to double the RAM (system memory). If you don’t know where to start, take it to your favorite electronics retailer to do it. Or you might be able to add a new hard drive or SSD flash drive, and better video card – which is easier on a desktop than a laptop. Finally, spice up your aging computer with a bigger monitor, new mouse or keyboard, or better-sounding speakers.

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