Keeping XP clean if you don't want to move to Windows Vista
Many users are unwilling to make the move from Windows XP to Windows Vista due to its need for better hardware and the fact that is has some compatibility issues with older software and hardware. Nearly all new PC's ship with Vista, so we will give you some tips on how to keep your XP installation in pristine condition to prevent you having to upgrade to Vista just yet.
A very common way to corrupt your Windows XP installation is to contract a virus. You may have had experience with viruses in the past - they are at best, annoying, at worst destructive. Either way they are unwanted and you need protection against them. Home users can get themselves a free copy of AVG anti-virus, in our experience we find it one of the best. You can find this at http://www.discountavg.co.uk/page/avg_free
If you are a business you would need to buy the pro version of AVG which includes a firewall and spyware remover. This can be purchased from http://www.discountavg.co.uk and includes a 10% discount!
Taking care of your Hard Drive
To keep your hard drive running fast and efficiently we recommend defragmenting every month. Basically this moves little pieces of the data around so it's all grouped together, this will increase read speeds and potentially reduce wear on the drive. It's a little difficult to understand what is happening with these bits of data so I will attempt a small explanation.
Let's imagine we have a hard drive with 20 ‘blocks' of data on it (realistically there's a huge amount more). We install some software which uses blocks 1-7. We install some more software which uses blocks 8-10. We then remove the first piece of software and install another program which is 12 blocks. Obviously you can't fit 12 blocks into 7 so it overflows onto the next empty blocks. Now we have a piece of software which is using 1-7 and 10-14. This means that the drive has to look for longer than it should for these pieces of data. Defragmenting re-sorts the hard drive and puts all appropriate blocks together.
Disk defragmenter is packaged with Windows and can be found in Start Menu >All Programs >Accessories >System Tools.
Restoring your system
By creating restore points on you system, if you do end up having issues you can roll the PC back in time to a point when it worked. The beauty of it is that you will still keep all the files, photos and music you have put on since.
System Restore comes packaged with Windows and can be found in the same location as Disk Defragmenter.
Keeping your keys!
If worst comes to worst and you do need to reinstall, don't forget your licence keys! Many users have had issues where they wipe their hard drive to install Windows and find they don't know their licence key. Without a licence key you cannot install Windows.
Most shop bought PC's have an OEM sticker on them displaying the Windows key, if not you can run a piece of software called Jellybean (www.magicaljellybean.com) which will find your key for Windows and Microsoft Office. Make sure to keep a copy of the keys somewhere safe.
All hard drives will eventually wear out, so unless you want to lose all your music, photos documents etc, we would recommend backing up. Backing up to the same hard drive could prove pointless as you will lose your backups when that same drive fails, so we recommend backing up to an external Hard Drive.
An excellent free piece of software called Cobain Backup (http://www.educ.umu.se/~cobian/) can be scheduled to back up your important files on a daily/weekly/monthly routine, as long as you leave your PC running when the backup is supposed to occur.
If you feel like having a better backup solutions we point you to Acronis TrueImage Workstation with Universal Restore. (http://www.acronis.co.uk/promo/backupandrestore/resolve/). Universal Restore can back up a complete image of your computer and restore it pretty much any other machine, and it should all work exactly how you left it at your last backup. You will, however, need to install the drivers to this new machine.