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How to make your computer look and run like brand-new

For most people, there is nothing better than a brand-new computer. But of course, you cannot get a new computer every few months. But you can get that same feeling. Here is how to make your computer look and run like brand-new.

How to make your computer look and run like brand new

For most of us, getting a brand-new computer every year is not financially possible. It would be nice, but realistically it is out of the question. But with a little work, you can get that brand-new feeling from your existing computer.

Looking brand-new

Perception is everything. If it looks new to you, it will feel new to you. And with a little cleaning and maybe a couple of hardware changes, it can look brand-new.

The first place to start is with the keyboard. Most keyboards are black and will show dirt and grim like no tomorrow. You will be amazed at how a good cleaning will make it appear brand new.

A really dirty keyboard before cleaning
A filthy keyboard before cleaning

Now when cleaning your keyboard, you will need to turn off your computer. That way, you do not accidentally press the wrong keys. I have seen it happen, especially with laptops with FN keys.

Since most of us eat while we work, compressed air can help dislodge anything that may have gotten in between or under the keys. A good spray of compressed air should get rid of the massive debris.

When it comes to psychically cleaning the keyboard, remember that liquid and electronics do not mix. Never spray a cleaning solution directly on your keyboard. Always apply it to the cleaning material (cotton swab, paper towel, etc.) first.

Lightly dampen a cotton swab or paper towel with a cleaning solution and ring out any excess liquid before cleaning. It may take some time to clean all of the keys, but remember how long it took to get them dirty (months? years?).

That same dirty keyboard after being cleaned
That same dirty keyboard after being cleaned

Now, if the printing has faded or worn off, maybe it is time to go ahead and replace the keyboard. Desktop keyboards are easy to replace; laptop keyboards can be a little harder. For new laptop keyboards, I recommend LaptopKeyboard.com.

When it comes to your mouse, the body will get dirty, and the buttons get looking worn. The same cleaning technique used for your keyboard applies to your mouse.

If it is a wired mouse, turn off the computer. If it is wireless, turn it off. Clean both the top and bottom with a lightly dampened paper towel. Use a lightly damped cotton swab to clean the optical lens on the bottom.

The next thing you might want to clean is the monitor. As with the keyboard and mouse, you will want to turn it off, unplug it and let it cool down. Once it is cooled down, you can start to clean it.

Just like with your keyboard, you want to start cleaning your monitor with some compressed air. If your monitor is dusty, you may want to take it outside before clean it with compressed air.

Use the compressed air to clean out all of the ventilation holes in the case. Make sure you get as much of the grime out as you can, as dust does conduct electricity.

Now lightly dampen a paper towel with a cleaning solution and wipe the outside of the case. When you get done with that, it is time to clean the screen.

To clean the screen, I recommend using a soap-based, not ammonia-based, glass cleaner, and microfiber towels to protect the finish. Never directly apply the glass cleaner to the screen to prevent damage to it.

Lightly dampen a microfiber towel with glass cleaner and thoroughly wipe the screen. Now before it has a chance to dry, wipe the screen off with a dry micro-fiber towel to remove any streaks that may have appeared.

The last thing to clean is the outside of the computer case itself. Please make sure you turn it off and unplug the power cord (desktop computer) or ac adapter (laptop computer) before you start to clean it.

Lightly dampen a paper towel with a cleaning solution and wipe down the outside (front, sides, top, bottom, and back). If you have any old and faded stickers, this would be a great time to remove them.

To remove stickers, I recommend using an adhesive remover like Goof Off. Just make sure the area with the label is laying completely horizontal, so you can let the adhesive remover sit on it for a little while.

Once you have let the adhesive remover soak in, use a plastic razor blade or plastic putty knife to scrape the label off. If the sticker has been on there for a while, it may take a few passes to get it removed.

When all of the labels are gone, go ahead and clean it with a paper towel with a cleaning solution. You want to get any residue from the adhesive remover off.

The next thing we want to do is clean the inside of the computer with some compressed air. For this step, we will need to disconnect all cables attached to the computer and take it outside.

Now the procedure is about the same for desktop and laptop computers. For desktop computers, here is a detailed article we did a little while back on how to clean the dust out of your computer.

The same procedures in the article above apply to laptops as well. All you have to do for a laptop computer is to locate the air intake for the cooling fan(s). But instead of using a nonmetallic rod to hold the cooling fan(s), use a straightened-out paper clip.

Running like brand-new

Now that you have the outside and inside clean, maybe it is time to get the operating system and programs cleaned up. Using the Windows built-in Disk Cleanup tool is an excellent place to start.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup

Windows 8.1 Disk Cleanup

Windows 10 Disk Cleanup

Once you have used the Disk Cleanup program, you can now look at getting rid of some of the programs you no longer need. You will need to get to the Control Panel to do this. The quickest way to get to the Control Panel is by using the Run dialog box.

How to get to and use the Run dialog box in Windows

My favorite (and the fastest way) to bring up the Run dialog box is to press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + R keys simultaneously. When it appears, type control and then select OK.

When the Control Panel appears, select either Uninstall a program (category view) or Programs and Features (icon view). You can then start to uninstall the programs you no longer use.

Now, if you want your computer to have that brand-new feeling, you can reset Windows 8.1 or Windows 10. The procedure is similar for both Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

How to reset Windows 10

But if you want that brand-new feeling, a clean installation of Windows is the way to go. Follow the instructions in the following article to perform a clean Windows 10 installation.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

You can use the same procedures listed in the article above for Windows 8.1, but you will have to download the Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool.

Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool

You can also do the same for Windows 7, but you need to have a valid product key to download the Windows 7 ISO Image.

Download Windows 7 Disc Image

What you can do with an ISO file

What you can do with an ISO file

Have you ever downloaded an ISO file and did not know what to do with it? More and more software companies are now distributing their software using ISO files. Here is what you can do with an ISO file.

What you can do with an ISO file

Nowadays, it seems like everyone is starting to use ISO files for distributing software. ISO files are just an image of a CD or DVD. You commonly see them used to deliver bootable software.

Now really quick, ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. They have a set standard (ISO 9660) for the file system used for optical disks (CD, DVD, BD, etc.).

Even Microsoft is now using ISO files for distributing Windows. If you download Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 from Microsoft, you will get the option of downloading an ISO file.

But once you download the ISO file, what can you do with it? If you are running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or Windows 10, you have three (3) options; mount it as a virtual optical drive, burn it to a disk or create a bootable USB drive.

You can also create ISO image files. For more information, check out How to create ISO files from your software disks.

How to mount and access files in an ISO file

By default, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 can mount an ISO file as a virtual optical drive built-in. Windows 7 requires a third-party program to mount an ISO file.

Once you mount an ISO file as a virtual optical drive, you can access the files and folders inside it. Most of the time, you will use this feature to run a software installation.

For Windows 7, we are going to use the open-source optical drive emulator WinCDEmu. Just download and install it using the default settings. Once WinCDEmu is installed, mounting an ISO image is similar to Windows 8.1 or Windows 10.

Windows 7

  1. Open Windows Explorer by using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the manila folder icon to the Taskbar.
    • or
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E at the same time.
  2. Navigate to the ISO image you want to open.
  3. Right-click on it and select Select drive letter and mount on the context menu that appears.
    The Mount option highlighted on the ISO file context menu inside of Windows 7
  4. On the WinCDEmu screen that appears, select the drive letter you want to use for the virtual optical drive and left-click on OK.
    The main screen for WinCDEmu
  5. Using Windows Explorer, navigate to the virtual drive you just mounted. You can now use it as you would with any other physically attached optical drive.
  6. When you finish with the virtual drive, you can remove the drive by right-clicking on it and selecting Eject on the context menu that appears.
    The Eject option highlighted on the ISO file context menu inside of Windows 7

Windows 8.1 and Windows 10

  1. Open File Explorer (name changed in Windows 8.1) by using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the manila folder icon to the Taskbar.
    • or
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E at the same time.
  2. Navigate to the ISO image you want to open.
  3. Right-click on it and select Mount on the context menu that appears. Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 automatically assign the next available drive letter.
    The Mount option highlighted on the ISO file context menu inside of Windows 10
  4. Using File Explorer, navigate to the virtual drive you just mounted. You can now use it as you would with any other physically attached optical drive.
  5. When you finish with the virtual drive, you can remove the drive by right-clicking on it and selecting Eject on the context menu that appears.
    The Eject option highlighted on the ISO file context menu inside of Windows 10

How to burn an ISO image file to a disk

The process for burning an ISO image to disk is the same for Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10. Just make sure you have the correct blank media for the disk you want to burn.

For example, if your ISO file is under 700 MB's (Megabyte), it will fit on a CD. If it is between 700 MB's (Megabyte) and 4.7 GB's (Gigabyte), then it will fit on a DVD. If it is between 4.7 and 8.5 GB's (Gigabyte), it will fit on a Double Layer DVD. Anything over 8.5 GB's (Gigabyte), and it is going to go on a BD.

For more information on Megabytes and Gigabytes, check out What is a Bit? What is a Byte?.

Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10

  1. Open Windows Explorer (Windows 7) or File Explorer (Windows 8.1, Windows 10) by using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the manila folder icon to the Taskbar.
    • or
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E at the same time.
  2. Navigate to the ISO image you want to burn to disk.
  3. Right-click on the ISO files and select Burn disk image on the context menu that appears.
    The Burn disk image option highlighted on the ISO file context menu inside of Windows 10
  4. Select the optical drive you want to use to burn the disk from the pull-down menu on the Windows Disc Image Burner screen. You also have the option to verify the disk after it is created. When you are ready, left-click on the Burn button.
    The main Windows Disc Image Burner screen inside of Windows 10
  5. When the optical drive is finished burning the disk, left-click on the Close button.
    The Windows Disc Image Burner screen verifying the disc has been burned inside of Windows 10

How to create a bootable USB drive from an ISO file

When you want to create a bootable USB drive, you will need a USB flash drive that is empty or that you do not mind if it gets erased. If you are going to use a USB flash drive that has been used before, double-check it to make sure there is nothing on it you may want to keep.

Remember to use a USB drive larger than the ISO file you want to put on it. A good rule of thumb is to use one that the capacity is more than 4GB. I prefer using 8GB or larger.

To create a bootable USB drive will require downloading and installing a separate program. There are several out on the Internet, but here are the two (2) most popular programs.

Windows USB/DVD Download Tool from Microsoft

This free tool is mainly meant for creating bootable Windows 7 USB drives from downloaded installation media. It is recommended to only install it on Windows 7, as the system requirements do not list support for Windows 8.1 or Windows 10.

Rufus - Create bootable USB drives the easy way

The thing about Rufus is it requires no installation, just download it, and it is ready to go. And there are a lot more options, including partition scheme, file system, and cluster size. You also have more boot options, including MS-DOS and FreeDOS.

Overlooked features inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Microsoft recently released the Fall Creators Update for Windows 10. As usual, Microsoft has added some pretty cool features in this version of Windows 10. Let's take a look at some of the new overlooked features included in the Window 10 Fall Creators Update.

Overlooked features inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

There are a couple of new features that have gotten all sorts of publicity, the support of virtual reality headsets and mixed reality. But there are a few new features that have gotten passed over.

Make a movie using the Photos app

Creating a video using the Windows 10 Photo app
Creating a video using the Windows 10 Photo app

This feature is reminiscent of the old Windows Movie Maker program. You select some pictures and videos, set up the different parameters, and then export your video out.

One of the coolest features in that you can add either predefined generic music or use your own. Another is the preset themes that you can apply to your video. Here is a list of some of the other options.

  • Changing the order of the photos
  • Changing the duration a photo is displayed
  • Various predefined photo filters
  • Adding text to a photo
  • Predefined motion styles

Easily insert an emoji

The emoji panel inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
The emoji panel inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Do you like to use emojis? Well, inserting them just got a whole lot easier. With the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, you can now add an emoji with just a couple of keystrokes.

All you have to do is open a program that supports using emojis, like webmail in a browser or e-mail client (Outlook, Windows 10 Mail) You can even insert an emoji into a Microsoft Word document.

To bring up the emoji panel, press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + Period (.) or Semicolon (;) and left-click on the emoji you want to insert. If you're going to add multiple emojis, you will have to repeat the keystroke combination for each emoji.

There appears to be over 1200 emojis to choose from. If you left-click on the search magnifying glass and type the first few characters of the emoji name your looking for, the panel will display all the emojis that match.

And some of them you can even change the skin tone. To see this in action, search for Santa and use the skin tone box in the upper right-hand corner to change his skin tone.

Quick and easy dictation

The dictation box inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Now let's look at one of the cooler features inside the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, the on-the-fly dictation. If you have a microphone, it's a pretty cool little program.

OK, I'm a little skeptical when it comes to doing voice recognition to text. I have had programs that said that they would translate from voice to text, but none of them worked well, but this one works pretty well.

I found the dictation program inside of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will work with any program that types text, like Notepad or WordPad. Sure, it has its little quirks; it doesn't capture all of the words correctly.

But about 95% of which you speak does get translated to decent human legible text. And if you hate to type, the dictation app could help.

You can bring up the dictation app two (2) different ways:

  • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + H on a physical keyboard
  • or
  • Select the microphone icon on the touch keyboard

Controlled folder access inside of Windows Defender

The controlled folder option inside of Windows Defender
The controlled folder option inside of Windows Defender

One of the most anticipated new features of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is the controlled folder access inside of Windows Defender. With all of the file-encrypting malware outbreaks, this is a great new feature. But it does have its pros and cons.

In essence, Windows Defender blocks access to your folders (desktop, documents, favorites, pictures, music, and videos) from programs that it does not recognize (non-Microsoft). You can also add any other folder you would like to protect too. But you will have to turn this option on, as by default it is disabled.

Now, this can also be an issue with non-Microsoft programs accessing files in the protected folders. Case in point, I recently updated a client's computer to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, and QuickBooks couldn't get to the documents folder. But it was easily fixed by adding QuickBooks to the allowed programs list inside of Windows Defender.

Even though you can have Windows Defender working side-by-side with your existing anti-virus software doing periodic scans, the controlled folders option only works when Windows Defender is the only anti-virus program installed.

Understanding Windows 10 updates

In previous versions of Windows, we had service packs and critical / non-critical updates. But Microsoft changed all of that with Windows 10. To better understand Windows 10 updates, we need to take a closer look.

Understanding Windows 10 updates

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft changed the concept of the Windows operating system. Microsoft calls it Windows as a Service. It is a new way to keep Windows 10 up to date.

Now the terminology Microsoft uses can be a little confusing. But when you break it down, it is quite simple. Let's start with the big picture, then work our way into the details.

Now Microsoft has created two (2) different categories for updates: Feature and Quality. Now, this is where things get a little confusing. When Windows 10 downloads updates, it refers to them by Version (Feature) and Build (Quality)

Everyone refers to Windows 10 by the Version and Build numbers. To better understand the difference between Feature (Version) and Quality (Build) updates, let's take a look at the About Windows program.

For this, we will need to use the Run dialog box. I like to press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + R to bring up the Run dialog box, but there are five (5) ways that you can do it. Here is a list of all of them.

The Run dialog box with the About Windows program name typed in
The Run dialog box with the About Windows program name typed in.

Once you have the Run dialog box up, type in winver and click on OK. The following dialog box will appear. The Version (Feature) number and the Build (Quality) number are on the same line.

The About Windows screen in Windows 10
The About Windows screen in Windows 10

Now let's take a look at the Windows 10 update history page.
The Windows 10 update history page
Here you will see Windows 10 updates broken down into Version (Feature) and Build (Quality). Now let's take a look and the difference between them.

Feature (Version) updates

Microsoft is planning on releasing Feature (Version) updates twice a year. The Feature (Version) updates will include all of the Quality (Build) updates released for the previous version (up to its release date).

And Feature (Version) updates will include any new programs and features the have been tested out first by Microsoft employees and then the Windows Insider Program.

Occasionally, Microsoft will also remove a feature or program from a Feature (Version) update. If you are missing a Windows program after you apply a Feature (Version) update to Windows 10, you will know why.

Support for older hardware is also going away. Microsoft has already started to do this with some discontinued Atom processor-based systems. If your computer doesn't run right after a Feature (Version) update, this could be the reason.

Now the names of Feature (Version) updates will vary. We have had Feature updates named Anniversary (Version 1607), Creators (Version 1703), and Fall (Version 1709). But Microsoft has since stopped giving names to the Feature updates and calls them by the version number (1803, 1809, 1903, 1909, etc.).

The Version naming is like a date stamp, it consists of the month, and the year it was released. The first two (2) numbers are the year, and the last two (2) are the month.

Now there is a reason you need to be able to identify the Windows 10 version you have. Microsoft is only supporting the three (3) most current versions. If you do not keep up on Feature (Versions) updates, you will stop getting Quality (Builds) updates.

Quality (Build) Updates

So, in previous Windows versions, you would get the twice-monthly updates: the second Tuesday of the month would be critical updates, and the fourth Tuesday of the month would be non-critical.

Now Quality (Build) updates can be a mixture of security and non-security fixes. And the Quality (Build) updates are cumulative, so each one contains all of the previous Quality (Build) updates for that version of Windows 10.

For example, let's say you install Quality (Build) update #1 and miss Quality (Build) update #2, Quality (Build) update #3 has everything from #1, and #2 included. No more having to do multiple updates when you install/reinstall Windows.

With Windows 10, Quality (Build) updates usually are released on the second Tuesday of the month, to coincide with security updates for previous Windows versions. If Microsoft is going to release a security update, they release it for all supported versions of Windows. Not just Windows 10.

Microsoft also releases Quality (Build) updates periodically too. But for now, you can always count on Quality (Build) updates on the second Tuesday of the month.

Things to remember about Windows 10 Updates

  • If you miss a Quality (Build) update, don't worry. The next one will bring you up to date.
  • Don't forget to install Feature (Version) updates when they come available. You never want to get more than two (2) Feature (Version) updates behind. That way, you will always get the latest security and non-security fixes for Windows 10.

Understanding long folder and file names in Windows

Did you know that there is a limit to how long a file name can be? Did you know that the character limit also includes the folder name? And what about the Path? Let's take a look at the long folder and file names in Windows.

Understanding long folder and file names in Windows

I recently recovered files from several Windows computers for a client. He asked that I put them onto an external drive for storage. But I ran into a problem, file names that were too long.

Now allot of people think that the maximum length for the name of a File in Windows is 255 characters. But that is not correct. Technically, Folders are also a File but with a unique attribute designating it as a Folder.

And Folder and Sub-Folder names are also included in the full name of the File. So, the File's actual name consists of the Folder and Sub-Folder name(s) as well. All of these names factor into the 255 character limit.

So, when you include the names of the Folder, Sub-Folder(s), and File together, it is called a Path. A Path is a string of Folder, Sub-Folder, File, backslashes, and sometimes a volume name (drive letter).

The Path to a Folder or File on your computer will contain a drive letter (C:\, D:\, etc.) at the beginning. A Path to a network Folder and File will contain just two (2) backslashes (\\) at the beginning. And a Path can be up to 260 characters in length.

For example, let's say you have a file named 'My Text File.txt' in a Sub-Folder of your Documents Folder called 'Simply Text Files'. The complete Path for it would be:

C:\Users\username\Documents\Simply Text Files\My Text File.txt

The name of the File itself is only 16 characters, but with the name of the Folder and Sub-Folders included, it is 59 characters. And the complete Path is 62 characters. And yes, spaces do count as characters.

So, getting a long name error does not necessarily mean the actual name of the File is too long; it just means the length of the names of the Folder, Sub-Folder(s), and File altogether is. The simplest solution is to shrink the Folder or Sub-Folder(s) name(s) and leave the actual File name alone.

Now in my case, I was dealing with a couple of thousand File names that were too long. And I could not determine where all of the Files were on the drives. So, I went looking online for a program that could help me with this issue.

What I found was a neat little program called TLPD (Too Long Path Detector).
Too Long Path Detector folder selection screen
It showed me where all of the long file names were. And lucky for me, they were grouped in Folders and Sub-Folders with reasonably long names.

So, using the output from TLPD,
Too Long Path Detector text file output
I started shortening the Folder and Sub-Folder names. I kept running TLPD until I had all of the Paths down to under 225 characters. It was then I was able to copy all of the Files to an external drive for storage.

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company that specializes in servicing all brands of desktop and laptop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have provided excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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