Checklist for the end of the year for Windows

Get Windows ready for next year with this easy-to-follow list of important steps to keep your PC running smoothly in the new year.


Windows is – for all purposes – the most used operating system in the world. The range is firmly anchored in both the business and consumer world and continues to grow steadily on desktop, tablet and mobile platforms.

With the end of the year on us, there is no better time to do some system maintenance chores to ensure that your system is optimized as you go into the new year. This is also the time of year when equipment is replaced by holiday gifts, with older equipment being transferred or sold to make way for the new one.

Let’s go through this handy checklist with practical procedures that will keep your Windows PCs humming.

SEE: Windows 10 apps: which ones should you save and which ones should you dump? (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Upgrade applications

To be honest, updating applications must be part of a regular maintenance cycle, but the task sometimes falls through the cracks. Ensure that applications are always current to maximize compatibility with newer hardware and to support the overall security of a system. Don’t come with outdated software next year.

2. Back up data

This critical task must be performed regularly to ensure that data can be recovered in the event of loss, theft or catastrophe. But without a well-configured, automated backup schedule, it’s a second best thing to manually do a full backup of all your data, especially if you upgrade to a new PC and want to recycle your current device.

All versions of Windows since Vista have a modern backup application built into the operating system itself, which allows you to back up to an external drive or a shared folder on a network drive. Although not as robust as a backup solution like some of the third-party offers, it works as advertised and backups can even be performed according to a schedule.

A backup client that is worth considering is CrashPlan. It offers a simple interface and a powerful backup function set – such as encryption of local and external backups and file version, not to mention various options for backup destinations. CrashPlan has both free and paid choices, including business and business options that add cloud-based backup and recovery for added peace of mind.

3. Update Windows

Windows XP offered the possibility to automatically integrate system updates. Such a simple feature has remained streamlined in current Windows versions to protect machines against malware and security threats. Yet millions of devices worldwide do not regularly receive system updates. I can’t think of a better time than the New Year to develop the habit of performing system updates to protect and keep your devices stable.

4. Clean temporary files and cache folders

With the large amount of data going back and forth online and the increased dependence on web-based applications, the temporary folders and cache folders, including cookies, that store all this data can grow to incredible formats in a short time. To free up storage space – and to prevent this type of data from being used to compromise your system and accounts – it is important to delete these temporary files to clean up your system.

Of the many available applications that provide tools for cleaning systems, CCleaner stands out as powerful and easy to use. Even the freeware version has enough options to clear all temporary folders and caches and frees up storage space with its handy scripts. You can set it to run at startup so that your system is always clean and functioning properly.

5. Update anti-malware and perform a full system scan

The popularity of Windows, although great for market share, puts you in the rose for security threats. With so many threat factors that Windows PCs want to compromise, an updated malware detection system is often the only thing that stands between saving and losing your data.

There are dozens of security choices, but some packages offer high detection speeds, are free or cheap, and will not beat the performance of your PC. Offers from BitDefender ($ 39.99-44.99) and Kaspersky ($ 34.99-49.99) work to keep your PC fully protected and bundle additional security measures such as a firewall and web and email filtering. Free apps, such as Avira, Windows Defender and Avast, also score high, although they have a small impact on system resources and at the same time offer top performance.

6. Use system file check (SFC)

Windows files are changed when system updates occur or applications are installed and upgraded. They can also be damaged by malicious software or incomplete updates. Bottom line: when system files are not as they should be, strange things happen in your Windows installation.

To prevent Windows from responding irregularly or the system or applications from loading correctly, you must run SFC regularly – Microsoft’s built-in utility to check and resolve system file problems. Here’s how:

  1. Start CMD with increased rights.
  2. Type sfc / scannow to start the verification process for all system files. As the scan progresses, corrupted files are automatically corrected from the cache stored locally in the Windows folder.

7. Remove unused applications

We all use different apps to complete work. Some are small while others are large suites. But make no mistake: over time, some of these apps lose their viability and no longer perform their function.

This presents a problem on a number of fronts. Firstly, installing unnecessary apps unnecessarily can lead to bloat. Secondly, they can cause security issues. If the apps that are no longer being used are no longer supported by the developer, there may be an even greater security risk. End the year by discarding these unused apps before data loss occurs.

8. Transfer Windows data from one PC to another

If you upgrade to a new PC or replace your equipment, you can transfer your account profile, including files and folders and settings, from your old PC to the new one. Microsoft has a partnership with LapLink to officially offer Windows 10 support for its PCMover Express software ($ 14.99-29.99) to migrate data to a new PC with Windows 10. The application also includes regular and business editions that can be used via corporate networks and offers zero touch support.

9. Perform a PC reset

This also applies especially to those who want to switch from an existing PC to a newer model. Normally, formatting the hard drive and reinstalling Windows would be the right solution. But from Windows 8, Microsoft has added recovery options to repair non-working computers, as well as the option to reset an installation. This essentially removes all user data, including apps, and restores the Windows operating system to the default values.

Follow the steps below:

  1. Go to Settings, Update & Security, Reset this PC, Getting started.
  2. Choose the Delete All option, as this is the best option to completely clean the internal drive, settings, and all user data. Depending on the speed of the computer, the process usually takes approximately two hours to complete.

10. Restart Windows to delete old data

I am guilty of this, both on the PC and on the Mac. I do it almost 99% of the time. I use my PC for work and when I’m done I put it to sleep. I hardly ever restart and I never shut down unless the system has become unstable or the battery has run out.

Windows has come a long way with its sleep and sleep energy schemes. In the past, users sometimes lost the data they were working on when a device was put into sleep or hibernation mode because the data could not be stored correctly in the temporary storage cache. Fortunately, this is largely a thing of the past and modern versions of Windows work great when it comes to managing power schemes.

That said, heavily used systems that depend on sleep – and not on power cycles – between uses, need to be restarted every now and then to remove unwanted data that may be stuck in previous sleep sessions or temporarily cached in a paging or hibernation file. This helps keep the device clutter-free, optimizing storage space, renewing resources and humming the computer.

11. Upgrade hardware

Unless you have a brand new machine, it might be a good time to reassess the feasibility of using your existing device. You may need to upgrade it by adding more RAM or replacing a mechanical HDD with an SSD drive. Or consider upgrading to a larger external drive or adding some accessories, such as a docking station, to improve performance.

If you choose to follow the total upgrade path of the system, performing the above tasks will prepare your current PC for the new owner by ensuring that a complete backup of your data is made and ready to be to be transferred to the new home and that the older equipment primo condition for the next user.

12. Permissions for audit system

Most of the time our computers are just for us to get our work done. But if it is a shared resource, a user rights check must be performed at least once a year. By determining whether these accounts should be allowed to log in or have rights to the system, we can ensure that access to the system and, most importantly, the data contained therein is for authorized users only.

13. Enable new security functions

New software versions, such as operating systems, usually introduce new functions, such as disk encryption, to improve security and better protect data. Depending on how Windows has been upgraded, you may receive a prompt to enable BitLocker. The encryption service for the entire disk is in Windows and the added security layer is a highly recommended method to protect your data at rest. It is especially important for users on mobile devices or in shared environments, where the added data security would be beneficial for all users.

Publisher’s note: This article was originally published in 2016 and was updated in December 2019.

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