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Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

There are a lot of programs out there that can clean up your Windows 10 computer. But did you know that one of the best ones comes with Windows 10? Here's how to clean up your Windows 10 computer with Disk Cleanup.

Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup has been included with Windows since Windows XP and is part of my regular scheduled maintenance. Disk Cleanup can be run two (2) different ways and can have three (3) different sets of options. The first way to run it is from any of the shortcuts built into Windows (Start menu or disk properties). When you use a built-in shortcut, you will have two (2) different sets of options, user and system.

Disk Cleanup user options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup user options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup system options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup system options in Windows 10

When you run Disk Cleanup with user options, you can clean up user-specific files such as downloaded program files, temporary Internet files, and the recycle bin. With system options, you can also clean up Windows system files like Windows temporary files, device driver packages, and previous installations of Windows, just to name a few.

Disk Cleanup command line options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup command line options in Windows 10

Disk Cleanup can also be run using command line switches. When you do this, you get the maximum options available. But you will have to run it at an administrative command prompt to configure these options. These options include all user and system options plus a few more, like old chkdsk files, Windows Update Cleanup, and Windows ESD installation files.

How to run Disk Cleanup from the Start menu

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
  2. Scroll down to Windows Administrative Tools and left-click to expand.
  3. Left-click on Disk Cleanup. If you have more than one (1) drive, you will be prompted on which drive you want to clean up.

Disk Cleanup will scan your system for files that it can remove and open with the available user options. You can now choose which user files you would like to delete. To activate the system options, you will need to select Clean up system files in the lower left-hand corner. When you do this, Disk Cleanup will close and rescan your computer.

This time Disk Cleanup will now include system files that can be removed. It will also have a second tab on top called More Options. Under More Options, you will find other options, Programs and Features and System Restore and Shadow Copies.

Programs and Features will take you to the Control Panel, where you can uninstall programs or add/remove Windows features. Selecting System Restore and Shadow Copies will delete all but the most recent restore point. Use this carefully, as you cannot get back any restore points once they are deleted.

How to run Disk Cleanup from an administrative command prompt

You can run Disk Cleanup with or without command-line switches. When you run Disk Cleanup without any switches, it opens with the system options selections. When you run it with switch /sageset:n, you will get even more options than the system settings.

The first thing you will need to do is open an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

Then type the following into the command prompt to run Disk Cleanup.

cleanmgr

Disk Cleanup can also be used with command-line switches, further expanding on its features. And when used with the /sageset:n and /sagerun:n switches, you can save multiple configurations that can be used in a shortcut or as a scheduled task. Here's an explanation of the /sageset:n and /sagerun:n switches.

cleanmgr /sageset:n

/sageset:n - This switch displays the Disk Cleanup settings dialog box and creates a registry key to store the settings you select. The n value is stored in the registry and allows you to specify different tasks for Disk Cleanup to run. The n value can be any integer value from 0 to 65535. To get all the available options when using the /sageset switch, you may need to specify the drive letter that contains the Windows installation.

cleanmgr /sagerun:n

/sagerun:n - This switch runs the specified tasks assigned to the n value by using the /sageset switch. All drives in the computer will be enumerated, and the selected profile will be run against each drive.

How to run Disk Cleanup as a Scheduled Task

First, you will need to have created a preset configuration using the /sageset:n switch. Then open Task Scheduler and create a new task.

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
  2. Scroll down to Windows Administrative Tools and left-click to expand.
  3. Left-click on Task Scheduler.
  4. In the right column labeled Actions, select Create Basic Task. The Create a Basic Task Wizard will appear.
  5. Give the task a name and description and then select Next.
  6. Select when you want it to run (trigger).
  7. When prompted for what task you want to perform, select Start a program, then select Next.
  8. When prompted for a program/script to start, select Browse and navigate to C:\Windows\System32\ and select cleanmgr.exe.
  9. In the Add arguments section, type /sagerun:n and then select Next.
  10. The then select Finish, and you're all set.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Updated August 12, 2020

Backing up your computer has never been exciting, but it needs to be done regularly. And with the increase of file-encrypting malware, having a good backup has never been more critical. Here's how to back up your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Windows 10 backup basics

Now there are two (2) different backup programs inside of Windows 10, Windows Backup, and File History, and each one does a specific type of backup. Windows Backup is geared more towards scheduled backups (nightly, weekly, etc.) and is usually used for full system backups / complete 'bare metal' system images. File History is more for personal files that frequently change, like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, as it saves multiple versions of the same file.

File History creates multiple versions of the same file with time stamps in the names
File History creates multiple versions of the same file with time-stamps in the names

The one thing that Windows Backup and File History have in common is that both of these programs can back up to an external drive or network folder. Windows Backup can also use writeable disks like CDs or DVDs.

With the recent outbreak of file-encrypting malware, if you're going to use a network folder, it is recommended you do not map a network folder to a drive letter (N:\Files), but instead use Uniform Naming Convention (UNC) (\\Server\Volume\Files).

Never use the same drive that Windows is installed on for File History or Windows Backup. If your computer gets a virus or the operating system gets corrupted, you may have to reformat the drive and reinstall Windows.

Remember, when not in use, store the media used for backups (external hard disks, DVDs, or CDs) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files. It is also recommended to use a fire-proof location, like a data safe, to store the backup media.

Using File History to back up your files

File History will automatically create time-stamped versions of your files (documents, music, photos, etc.) on a set schedule. If the originals are lost, damaged, or deleted, you can restore them from an earlier point in time. You can schedule File History to run from every ten (10) minutes to daily. And you can also set the length time that File History keeps copies of your files, from 1 month to forever or whenever space is needed.

The main screen for File History
The main screen for File History

To use File History, you will need to either have an external drive or network folder to save the files. By default, File History will back up your folders (documents, photos, videos, etc.), but you can add additional folders to its configuration. Now configuring File History inside of Windows 10 can be a little confusing, as there are two (2) different places to change the settings, Settings and Control Panel.

How to open File History in Settings

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  2. Left-click on Update & security.
  3. In the left column, left-click on Backup.

How to open File History in the Control Panel

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  4. If viewing by category, left-click on Save backup copies of your file with File History. If viewing by large/small icons, left-click on File History.

or

  1. In the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results.
  2. If viewing by category, left-click on Save backup copies of your file with File History. If viewing by large/small icons, left-click on File History.

Here is a breakdown of what options can be changed and where to find them.

File History option Settings Control Panel
Turn on or off X X
Manually run File History X  
Change frequency (how often it runs) and duration (how long they are kept) of history X X
Add or remove folders X  
Exclude folders (useful for sub-folders) X X
Change where backups are stored X X
Clean up older versions   X
Restore files   X

Using Windows Backup to back up your files

The Windows Backup version included in Windows 10 is actually from Windows 7, hence the name in the Control Panel, Backup and Restore (Windows 7). If you used the version in Windows 7, everything will be familiar to you. With Windows Backup, you can back up just specific files and folders or do a complete system backup/system image. And you can schedule it to run whenever you want.

The main screen for Windows Backup
The main screen for Windows Backup

But unlike File History, Windows Backup creates a single backup that gets updated when it is run. No multiple file versions here, just the latest version of files at the time Windows Backup was run.

Along with using an external drive or network folder for backup, Windows Backup can also use CDs or DVDs. But if you're going to do a complete system backup on CD's or DVD's, be prepared with plenty of blank disks.

If you're creating a complete system image, remember to make a system repair disk to go along with it. If you ever need to restore your computer from a Windows Backup image, you will need to boot your computer from it. The link to create it is in the left-hand column.

How to open Windows Backup in Settings

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  2. Left-click on Update & security.
  3. In the left column, left-click on Backup.
  4. In the right column, left-click on Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

How to open Windows Backup in the Control Panel

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  4. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

or

  1. In the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results.
  2. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

How to customize the Start menu in Windows 10

Updated August 16, 2020

The Start menu was first included in Windows 95 and was a big part of its success. It has undergone many changes over the years, but still is the primary way of navigating Windows. So here is how to customize the Start menu in Windows 10.

How to customize the Start menu in Windows 10

The Windows 10 Start menu is a combination of the Start menu that was in Windows 7 and the Start screen from Windows 8. You have the traditional Start menu features like folders and apps on the left and Start screen tiles on the right side.

The different areas of the Windows 10 Start menu

Now there are four (4) main areas of the Start menu that you can customize; Appearance, Folders, App list, and Tiles. You can also change the size, color, font, and transparency of the Start menu. Changing the size is relatively simple.

Just like any other application, you can change the width and height of the Start menu. Hover your cursor over one of the Start menu edges until the sizing arrows appear, then hold the left mouse button and drag it to the size you want.

Almost all settings to customize the Start menu are located in the Personalization section of the Settings app. To find the Start menu settings in the Settings apps just:

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  2. Left-click on Personalization.
  3. In the left-hand column, left-click on Start.

Appearance

This is where you can set up the way the Start menu looks and operates. In the right-hand column, you will find a list of options that you can turn on. Their functions are pretty self-explanatory.

  • Show more tiles on Start
  • Show app list in Start menu
  • Show recently added apps
  • Show most used apps
  • Show suggestions occasionally in Start
  • Use Start full screen (similar to Tablet mode)
  • Show recently open items in Jump Lists on Start or Taskbar and in Explorer Quick Access

Folders

At the bottom of the list is a link labeled Choose which folders appear on Start. When you click on it, you get a list of the folders that you can toggle on or off. The folders that can be displayed on the Start menu are:

  • File Explorer
  • Settings (on by default)
  • Documents (on by default)
  • Music
  • Pictures (on by default)
  • Videos
  • Network
  • Personal Folder

Tiles

Some of the Tiles are Desktop program shortcuts, and some are UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps. All of the Tiles can be resized and unpinned. Live Tiles (tiles that display information, like the Photo app) can be turned on and off.

And there are a few that can be uninstalled directly from the Tile section of the Start menu. If you place the mouse cursor over a Tile and hold down the left mouse button, you can move a tile around. If you right-click on a Tile, you will get a context menu with different options.

You can easily pin a program to the Tile area of the Start menu. Just right-click on any application or shortcut in the App list, on the Desktop or inside of the File Explorer, and select Pin to Start from the context menu that appears.

App list

I left this area of the Start menu for last, as it is the most complicated to change. The App list is a special folder on the drive where Windows is installed. Actually, there are two (2) App list folders; a system folder that is for all system users and a user folder that is inside of each user profile.

You can perform almost all of the regular folder and file editing inside the system App list reasonably quickly. Just right-click on an item and select an action from the context menu. Remember that the system App list is propagated into the user App list, so if you make a change here, it affects all users.

Now adding to the system App list is hard, since you can not do it directly. When I say directly, you can not just click inside and select New > Folder or Shortcut from the context menu. You have to copy/paste or drag/drop a folder or shortcut into it. I recommend leaving the system App list alone and changing only the user App list.

How to create a shortcut in Windows 10

Modifying the user App list is easier and is the recommended way of changing the App list. It will have fewer folders and shortcuts, but most of the App list comes from the system App list. Here are the different App list locations.

Just copy and paste the code below into a Run dialog box (Windows logo key Windows logo + R).

The system App list location
%programdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu
The user App list location
%appdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

How to create a shortcut in Windows 10

Shortcuts are links to various types of objects on your computer like a program, file, folder, or another computer, and it can be placed on your Desktop, Taskbar or Start menu. Here's how to create a shortcut in Windows 10.

To create a shortcut in Windows 10, you need to know where the object is located on your computer. Open File Explorer (left-click the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or left-click on the Start Menu and select File Explorer) and navigate to the object you want to create a shortcut to. If you're going to create a Desktop shortcut, make sure File Explorer is not in full-screen mode.

  • For a shortcut on the Start menu, right-click on the object and select Pin to Start.
  • For a shortcut on the Taskbar, right-click on the object and select Pin to Taskbar.
  • For a shortcut on the Desktop, press and hold the right mouse button on the object and drag it to the Desktop. From the context menu that appears, select Create shortcuts here.

7 things to do before and after upgrading to Windows 10

Updated August 17, 2020

With the release of Windows 10 comes the inevitable upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, And with the upgrade being free, why not upgrade to Windows 10? But before you do, there are some things you should do before. Here are seven (7) things to do before and after upgrading to Windows 10.

7 things to do before and after upgrading to Windows 10

1. Run Window 10 Upgrade Advisor

Update 8/1/16: Microsoft ended the Get Windows 10 (GWX) promotion, and the Windows 10 Upgrade Advisor is no longer available. If you perform an in-place upgrade using Windows 10 media, the installer will check your computer for incompatible hardware and software.

Update 8/17/20: Even though the Get Windows 10 promotion has ended, you can still upgrade Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 for free.

How to get a free Windows 10 upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1

Doing an in-place upgrade has its pros and cons. Even though Microsoft claims that if the software runs on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, it will run on Windows 10, there will be exceptions to the rule. The same can be said about hardware too. Remember that Windows 10 will only come with generic drivers for a good portion of the equipment. Running the upgrade advisor will tell what issues you may have, and then you can find a fix before performing the upgrade. Download any hardware-specific drivers that you will need and save them to a flash drive or network folder.

    The Get Windows 10 icon
  1. Left-click the Get Windows 10 icon on the Taskbar
  2. The Get Windows 10 PC check
  3. Left-click on the three horizontal bars in the upper left corner to expand the menu and select Check your PC.

2. Check your drive for errors

One of the last things you want is to have the upgrade fail because of errors on the system drive. This is especially so if the failure were to happen while copying new files and left your system un-bootable. To be on the safe side, run Windows disk checking utility CHKDSK.

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows 7
Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 8

3. Clean up the junk

It's now time to clean the system up. Uninstall any program you don't need or want and then run Windows built-in Disk Cleanup utility. You can also use a program like CCleaner, but be careful not to go too far with it.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup
Windows 8 Disk Cleanup
Clean up and optimize your computer with CCleaner

4. Backup everything

As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", so a complete backup of your system is the next thing to do. Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 both have a built-in File Recovery program that can do a full system image to an external drive, network folder, or DVDs. You will also need to create a system repair disk to boot the system so that you can restore the system image you create, just in case. Links to both are located on the left-side column of the File Recovery program screen.

Now the File Recovery program can be kind of hard to find, especially in Windows 8.1. To make sure you are running it with the correct privileges, I suggest just running the program using an administrative command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

To open the File Recovery program, type the following into an admin command prompt and hit enter.

sdclt.exe

5. Perform an inventory with Belarc

Having a complete list of all of the hardware and software inside your computer can come in handy if anything were to go wrong. Belarc Advisor is an excellent program for creating an inventory of your computer software and hardware, including software installation keys. Once it is done creating an inventory, it opens the results in a web browser. Print or save the results to a flash drive, just in case you might need it down the road.

Belarc Advisor

6. Uninstall system utilities

This is not mandatory, but I recommend uninstalling any anti-virus, anti-malware, EMET, etc. program before the upgrade. These programs look for malicious activity geared toward the operating system and could create a massive headache during the upgrade. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Time to upgrade to Windows 10

Grab a drink and have a seat; it'll take a little while.

7. Update drivers and reinstall software

It's now time to install any device-specific drivers you downloaded in Step #1. Once that is done, it's time to download the latest version of all the software you removed in Step #6. If you're unsure what version of a program you had installed, go through the inventory you created in Step #5.

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