[TIP] Windows Automatic Maintenance

Category: Windows

Windows includes several free system maintenance and optimization functions for which some third-party apps charge an annual fee. Whether those optimizers do the job faster or better is debatable. Let’s just say you don’t have to pay for disk defragmentation, junk file cleanup, updates of Windows system files, diagnostics, and other tasks that help keep your system running fast and reliably. Here's what you need to know about the Windows Automatic Maintenance feature...

What Does Windows Automatic Maintenance Do?

Microsoft introduced the Windows Update feature 20 years ago, with the aim of automatically patching software bugs and keeping the operating system secure. But there are many other maintenance tasks required to keep a computer running smoothly. One example is the automatic defragmenting of hard drives that was added in the Windows Vista release.

Beginning with Windows 7, a set of system maintenance features was built into Windows to take care of other important tasks, such as cleaning up unnecessary files, fixing broken shortcuts, and running diagnostic tests on memory and hard drives. In Windows 8 and 10, the Automatic Maintenance feature was introduced, offering additional system optimization tasks and finer control over the maintenance process.

It’s important to know the distinction Windows makes between optimization and updates. Optimization is the running of tasks such as defragmentation and junk file cleanup, security and malware scans, and diagnostics. Updates are tasks that check for newer versions of software and install them when they are found.

Windows Automatic Computer Maintenance

Optimization runs for a maximum of one hour per day. Any running optimization tasks are stopped at the end of that hour, and restarted during the next scheduled Automatic Maintenance session; tasks that were not run due to lack of time will be run after the restarted tasks complete. The only exception is tasks deemed critical; those will always run to completion even if the hour has run out.

If your PC is powered off or you are actively working on it, optimization tasks will be postponed until a time when they can be run without impacting system performance or energy efficiency. Updates are not so polite; they will download and install even outside the scheduled maintenance hour. Of course, the PC must be powered on for updates to work.

Scheduling Automatic Maintenance

You can run all of the Automatic Maintenance tasks at any time, or pick a time at which to run them automatically. Here is how to do that on WIndows 10:

Open Control Panel.

  • Click on System and Security.

  • Click on Security and Maintenance.

  • Expand the Maintenance section to reveal its options. “Start maintenance” will launch the tasks assigned to Automatic Maintenance immediately.

  • Click the Change maintenance settings link.

In the middle of that page is the Run maintenance tasks daily at drop-down menu; use it to set the hour of the day you want Automated Maintenance to start. The default is 2:00 AM. If you are in the habit of letting your PC go to “sleep” after several minutes of inactivity, you should check the box that says, “Allow scheduled maintenance to wake up my computer at the scheduled time.” Otherwise, Automatic Maintenance may never run.

If you're still running Windows 7, the only thing you can do is turn System Maintenance on or off. To do so, open Control Panel, then Select “View by: Small icons”. Open Action Center and click the down-arrow next to Maintenance to expand it. Scroll down and click the “Change troubleshooting settings” link.

Many third-party software developers include a utility program to check for and install updates as they are released. In Windows 10, third-party apps can add tasks to Automatic Maintenance to apply updates. But this is not a universal custom so you cannot depend on Automatic Maintenance to keep all your software up to date.

What About Third-Party Optimizers?

Microsoft is a tight-lipped about the complete list of optimization tasks that are performed by the Automatic Maintenance feature. I think it's safe to say that not much of consequence is happening aside from security scans, defragging, and cleanup of junk files. So there is still a place for third-party optimizers which replace or supplement the maintenance and optimization tasks built into Windows.

I've written about Privazer, describing it as "a hard drive clean-up utility on steroids." Privazer is a freebie that removes traces of activity that could compromise your privacy, such as web browsing history, saved passwords, and cookies. It will also get rid of duplicate and temporary files, and scrubs your Windows registry.

More recently, I did a test and review of PC Matic and found that it includes many diagnostic, maintenance and optimization features that can significantly improve performance. PC Matic's features include driver updates, registry cleaning, SSD optimization, broadband optimization, scanning for and updating outdated software, removing unnecessary startup tasks, download acceleration, and various diagnostic reports. PC Matic isn't free, but the $50 license can be used on up to 5 computers.

Do you let Windows manage everything, or do you use a third-party application to enhance the security and performance of your computer? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[TIP] Windows Automatic Maintenance"

Posted by:

Milus Campbell
28 Sep 2018

Your article says "Open Control Panel. Click on System and Security."

There is no "System and Security" on my Win 10 Pro machine. There is "Security and Maintenance."

Please be very accurate and precise.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2018

This answered one question I had. Why was my computer waking up in the middle of the night and accessing the disk furiously? Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2018

I've used Privazeer for a long time and only had one bad occurence with it (may have been my fault). Otherwise it seems to work good. I continue to use it with confidence.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2018

I use Privazer and have been using it for the last 4 years. Never had a problem with it. It definitly brings back space after cleaning. I run it about every two weeks.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
28 Sep 2018

At Milus Campbell:
Bob was correct in saying "Open Control Panel. Click on System and Security.". However, he failed to mention which VIEW in Control Panel. There are 3 views in Control Panel; Category, Large icons, and Small icons. Only in the Category view will you see "System and Security". If you are in one of the icon views, go directly to clicking on "Security and Maintenance", do not pass GO, do not collect $200! :-)

Posted by:

Martin W
28 Sep 2018

I use EVERYTHING. I have third-party optimizations and security up the wazoo. I don't run them all every day (that would be all I'd be doing), but I use them frequently. I also use Windows built-in "stuff". I'm going to check my Security, Maintenance, etc. folders to see if there are any I've missed.
One thing about Privazer: I used it once on an old desktop that had been given to me, just to remove junk the former owner had left on. After running it once, the computer no longer recognized its internet adapter or its CD/DVD drive. It was as if they didn't exist. I've never used privazer since.

Posted by:

John O'Brien
28 Sep 2018

I have used defraggler for defrag. It tends to push files back toward the Beginning of disk space and maximizes unused space.

Posted by:

Richard Malone
29 Sep 2018

I bought PCmatic on your recommendation. Very happy with the much improved performance. Do I still have to use Windows Maintenance?

Posted by:

David Baker
29 Sep 2018

I use Piriform's, CCleaner and have also used another one one of their products, DeFraggler. Both free versions. Both have worked well.

Posted by:

29 Sep 2018

The problem with Microsoft's maintenance programme is that, as with almost everything else that comes out of Redmond, they don't tell you exactly what it does - or doesn't - do. I've been using Iolo's System Mechanic for several years and that tells me in detail what it's doing and what it has found. If that is duplicating Microsoft's in-built procedures, lucky me - I'm getting twice the checks - but I'll never know, because Windows doesn't tell me anything! If Microsoft weren't so all-fired secretive, there probably would be a market for third party maintenance programs, so they've only got themselves to blame if users don't trust them.

Posted by:

Dennis Foster
29 Sep 2018

Your article says "Click on Security and Maintenance." However, I have Win 7 and that is not an option within System and Security". Please advise.

Posted by:

Somewhere in Costa Rica
29 Sep 2018

I have a small form desk PC (Windows 7 Ultimate) and a new Laptop (Windows 10 Home), both have the Op Sys drive as an SSD, then a large storage drive that is a regular mechanical HDD. I was told (by my personal PC/programming guru) that an SSD should NOT be defragged. I have the desk PC use the program Advanced System Care to defrag ONLY the storage HDD drive. The new laptop with Windows 10 Home I will be picking up in early November when we go to the US. Will I be able to use Win 10 system maintenance to defrag ONLY the storage/HDD drive and NOT defrag the SSD Op System drive? I LOVE your articles, and look forward to reading them! Thank you so much!

Posted by:

18 Oct 2018

Have to tell that I bought PCMatic on your recommendation and it made no difference on my slow computer. It cost $70 in my Canadian dollars

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