This article is intended to provide a fairly comprehensive but basic reference to maintaining your laptop's hardware and software. We'll start with maintaining the hardware, then move on to the bulk of the problem - maintaining your hardware drivers in Windows 10. Finally, we'll look at maintaining the software - your programs. And we'll even consider cracking the case if your lappy's really old and dirty.
Most people somehow survive by not taking care of their laptop...or not even backing up their data for that matter. After a couple-few years their lappy starts to slow down, choke, and mis-behave, so they buy another and chuck the old one, thus contributing to the steady stream of toxic waste created by discarded ultra-light computers ("smart" phones and ultra-light laptops are often so glued together that they contain no or almost no reclaimable or even recyclable parts, unlike heavier, professional modular/configurable laptops, which can usually be fairly easily dis-assembled, and have up-gradable, reclaimable and recyclable parts).
You, on the other hand, like keeping things running as long as they serve their intended purpose. You like being able to rely on yourself to keep your tools sharp and running smoothly, and you like to tweak your machine so it performs as well after 5 years as it did the day you bought it. You like buying stuff that isn't destined for the scrap heap, like to protect the environment from unnecessary toxic waste, and you like saving money!
Hardware isn't Hard, but it Does Wear :(
All computers (all electronics) have an arch enemy: heat. Heat can cause our precious to slow down and even die. So it goes without saying that blocking air inlets and outlets is like putting your hands around precious' little throat...don't do it! The most likely cause of overheating is dust build-up, since if air can't get in then precious can't keep her cool. Dust builds up particularly around and inside the air intakes, but also air gets sucked into cracks and holes (like the power, USB and headphones ports). So cleaning all these places regularly is the single most important hardware maintenance you can perform. I actually use a regular vacuum cleaner with a CLEAN, soft, natural brush attachment and remove dust from the entire outside (including the screen - gently!) about once per month. If you need to, buy a new horsehair brush so that it's clean. Be careful of loose parts that could get sucked in though. After this, use a clean, damp handkerchief or other lint-free cloth and very gently, in an up-and-down motion (if you do scratch it, vertical scratches are less visible), wipe the screen, and follow this with a dry handkerchief immediately (while the screen is still damp). Repeat with the cloths if needed. Now using the same two cloths, clean the rest of the outsides of the machine. You can treat your mouse / trackball the same way. There, now don't you feel better?
Clean Windows is Better Than Gummy Windows
It's inevitable...after a few years, your once-speedy computer degrades to the point where using it becomes a frustrating experience. It takes forever to boot up to the point where you can actually open a program, those programs become sluggish, performance becomes slow or inconsistent, and then freezes and even crashes eventually appear. By the time you get around to thinking "she's going down! Quick we have to back 'er up!" it's too late - Windows crashes and won't even boot.
It's Better to be Backed Up than *&^%$# Up
This is why all your data is in a different physical location than the main hard drive...right? I mean, you do save all your documents, images, music, etc. to a separate drive other than the main "C:\" drive that Windows and all your programs are installed on don't you? Or maybe all your data is secure in your 1 Terabyte of free, synced, online storage that was included with that subscription to Microsoft Office? No? Well then, live and learn. If Windows, or your hard disk, crashes, it takes everything on the C:\ drive with it. If you don't have a backup, then good luck fixing a failed Windows installation or retrieving data off a dead drive. I'm not going to get in to backing up or retrieving data off a failed Windows disk here. But, hey (*slap slap*) things shouldn't have gotten so bad that Windows crashed in the first place, should it? Yeah, that's right, and this is about preventing that, and actually keeping Windows running fast and smooth.
Rule #1: Windows Update Keep Windows up to date by, once every week or so, clicking Start | Settings | Update and Security | Windows Update | Check for Updates.
You prolly want to check the Advanced options here to make sure you've checked Give me updates for other Microsoft products, Automatically download updates and We'll show a reminder when we're going to restart. Unfortunately, these choices vary according to which version of Windows you have (I have the Pro version). Who designs these dialog boxes anyway? I mean who wouldn't want to be reminded just before Windows shuts down and installs a major time-consuming update, just when you're in the middle of a time-sensitive project and your boss wants it on her desk yesterday? Maybe this should be enabled by default, and the choice then would be "Don't show a reminder before restarting, so I will be surprised when Windows installs a major update while I'm in the middle of a critical project." Sheesh. After we update Windows, it would also be a good idea to put a Windows Update shortcut on your Start Menu by Clicking Start | Settings then right-clicking Update & Security and selecting Pin to Start.
Rule #2: Get Organized in a Flash First, we need to set up a series of hierarchical folders on a flash drive where we will store everything you need to perform maintenance on all your electronics and PCs. You can carry a flash drive to whichever PC it is you need to maintain, repair or restore after a crash. But for now we just need a place to put our driver downloads.
Open Windows File Explorer by clicking the yellow folder icon on the taskbar, or you can find it in the Windows System folder on the Start menu. If it was removed from the taskbar, you can restore it there from this location by right-clicking File Explorer and selecting More | Pin to Taskbar. You can drag icons to any place you want them on the taskbar.
In the left pane of File Explorer, click on your flash drive. We need to create our nested folders on the drive, so in the right pane, right-click and select New | Folder. I have folders for each person in my family (and quite a few not in my family), where I store drivers for all their hardware (desktops, laptops, printers, etc.) that I sometimes need to "rescue." Under each computer's folder, I have folders for each component that requires drivers or software from the manufacturer. Here's a screenshot of the folder for my main desktop "Zip." You can see I have folders for each hardware component inside the case, plus a text file listing zip's specs and the model numbers and serial numbers for each component (allowing me to easily look up information or download the latest drivers on any component). In here is where I keep notes to myself on how I managed to successfully install an older version of Windows on this machine, or screenshots of error messages, or how I solved errors, etc. In each folder are the drivers for that component (in folders names according to date so they line up chronologically), plus other things like user manual pdfs, or instructions for updating the BIOS, etc.
Rule #3: Download Fresh Drivers Every 6 Months We updated Windows first because often Windows will update your hardware drivers for you along with Windows update. But many drivers are not included in that, and Windows update doesn't always include the most recent versions of drivers, which can be a problem for critical hardware sometimes - such as with your SSD (Solid State Drive) or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit or graphics card). For a typical user, Windows updates these days are prolly all they need, at least until Windows starts to get mucked up with faulty programs, corrupt files, and general lack of maintenance - so then they create some toxic waste and buy a new one! But you are not a typical user. You're a power user! So open a browser and go to the website for your laptop. Browse to locate the page for your model (the model number's the name of a folder you have on your flash drive), and find the driver download page. Unfortunately, both Dell and HP name their drivers something like "R66674.EXE" or "sp71979.exe," which doesn't provide any useful information as to what device the driver is intended for. So that's why we need folders named for each component: so we will know which driver to use to update a given device. I have written multiple comments to both Dell and HP about this, and they have never changed. Go figure! "We value your suggestions - please leave a comment! We read them all so we can improve our products and customer service!" Uh-huh. So you might see a page like this one for my HP.
You usually have to choose your operating system (Windows 10) and version (64-bit for all PCs made in the last 8 years or so). If you don't see Windows 10, choose Windows 8 or 7, or (oi!) Vista. DON'T choose Windows XP, because that OS used a completely different driver architecture that will not work with any more recent version of Windows. In the screenshot note where it says Driver-Graphics (2): that means there are 2 drivers for the GPU. So you would create a folder called "Driver-Graphics" or "Graphics" and put the two driver downloads in there, and so on. If you see that there are two files for the same thing - an older and newer version, it's OK to just download the newer one. When you have finally downloaded all the files, you should have folders with names just like the ones at the website, with all the cryptically-named driver files inside each. Good.
Rule #4 Update the drivers every 6 months, or whenever Windows or your important software programs get an update. You should also update your drivers whenever you are having a problem. Now when the company that makes your hardware takes down the website for your model, you will still have all the latest drivers to keep it running for quite a while (at least until Windows updates itself to the point where a different type of driver is needed, and then it's time to recycle).
If you are having difficulty with a component, or suspect something is glitchy and it might be related to that component, it is a good idea to update the driver, or just re-install an existing driver. Sometimes a re-install will overwrite a file that has become corrupted by improper shutdown (make sure you always shut Windows down completely using the Start | Shut Down commands and wait for the computer to shut down - never shut down using the power switch or allow your computer to enter a sleep mode. Sleep mode is a great idea that has never worked reliably imo).
Rule #5 Reinstall Windows When Things Get Really Bad After a few years, an older Windows starts to get cranky and sluggish (hmmm...). You can re-vitalize a machine by installing a fresh copy of Windows and fresh program installs. It's a lot of work, but for a geek it's worth it ;) I won't go into re-installing Windows here (though it's easier than ever), but once Windows is installed, install the drivers in the following order:
- Input Devices
It should be noted that a BIOS update is something else altogether that you will want to read up about and then read all the info.txt files from the manufacturer about before undertaking. Basically, the BIOS is the Basic Input Output instruction set that resides on a little chip on your motherboard. When you boot your computer, it reads the BIOS first, which tells your computer where (which drive) to find the operating system on, and how to configure other hardware devices, USB ports, etc. So if you mess up your BIOS, the puter might not boot correctly or at all. Firmware is similar - it's an instruction set for a chip residing on another device, such as your DVD drive. The Chipset drivers are for your motherboard. The Network drivers allow you to get on the Internet to update Windows. The Storage drivers are for your hard disks, Graphics drivers for your GPU, and Audio for your audio!
Rule #6: Manage Those Pesky Drivers Besides manually updating your drivers every 3-6 months, it's also a good idea to go through the Device Manager window and update drivers that way through Windows. Using this method ALWAYS results in useful, bug-crushing updates that otherwise somehow don't get installed either by Windows or you. To do this, right-click the Start button and select Device Manager. You'll see the name of your computer at the top of the list. Beginning with the first item, open it by clicking on the little > arrow. Now beginning sat the top item, right-click it and select Update Driver | Search Automatically. Most of the time it will eventually respond with "The best drivers for your device are already installed." Great - you did a good job! But as you continue down the list, invariably you might notice it will install a new driver or bring up another dialog box which will allow you to install a new driver. Yes, you need to go through every single item in every single category. This will give you the best possible drivers! I find it amazingly useful for the numerous System Devices items. For some reason Windows will overlook updates for these critical devices, at least for a while anyway, and this technique usually finds updates otherwise missed.
Stay tuned - Software Updates are next to be added to this article. And please feel free to ask questions or add comments. I'll be updating this article now and then, and will try to respond to any questions.