In Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed how you can delete files and clean up your PC. In this final part, we’ll discuss backing up and imaging your hard drive.

Another important housekeeping step I’d recommend is to first backup and then image your computer. We did discuss the difference in this article. We also explained how to backup to an external hard drive. This would also be the same process as backing up to a flash drive, but the flash drive must be big enough to store your backup.

 When you perform a backup, you really are backing up anything that was “user created.” That means all the documents, pictures, music, and other files created or edited by you or anyone using your computer. There are free programs out there to do this, but Windows also has built in backup software as explained in the article above. However, you must have an external drive to set these backups up, either a flash drive or external hard drive or network drive.

You can customize Windows backup as well, and change how often it backs up, from every 10 minutes to daily, and you can set it to exclude certain folders.  After you’ve backed up, you can then restore files individually or whole folders if necessary.

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An image is different. This creates an exact image of your computer in case of a complete reinstall. It will restore your computer, programs and all, back to a specific moment in time, but you cannot retrieve single files or folders. It’s an all or nothing deal.

To set up a System Image using Windows built-in backup tools, in Windows 7, type Backup and Restore in the start menu. On the left, click Create a System Image and follow the step. In Windows 8, you have to search for File History. You also must have an external drive plugged in. Once you do, look on the bottom left for System Image Backup.

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Follow the steps to save your image. Please keep in mind your drive must be formatted to us NTFS filing system, so you may need to reformat the drive for that.  Also bear in mind that an image file is quite large, typically about as large as all the used space on the drive you are imaging, so it most likely will not fit on a flash drive.  You could save it to a DVD, but would likely need more than 1 DVD for the whole image, unless you compress it. There are many free imaging software options other than the included Windows imaging tools as well, but for basic images, Windows works pretty well.

The final housekeeping recommendation is to clean out the vents. A computer needs constant air flow or it could over heat and and cause poor performance or even failure. Dust and dirt build up can reduce the ability of the computer to cool itself. Get yourself a canister of compressed air and gently spray out the vents, ports, fans, and any other areas where dust could build up. If you are computer savvy and comfortable, you can even open up your desktop computer case and spray out the inside, being careful not to touch any of the components. However, this is ONLY recommended if you know what you are doing, as opening up a computer could cause damage to any of the internal components of the computer if handled improperly.

 ~ Audra