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Wise Tech Tips

Improve your System Performance and Reduce Problems with a Software Tune-Up

By James Wise
web posted October 5, 2009
WISE TECH TIPS – Has your PC gotten slower and slower over time? If so, it might be time for a tune-up. Today, we’ll cover a few of my suggestions for whipping your computer into shape with minimal work and without shelling out any cash.

To start, let me say that if you aren’t comfortable with any of the suggestions below, you can always take your PC to a qualified repair shop that offers “tune-up” services. However ideally, these are things you can do yourself. For now, I’m just trying to compile a quick list of things to do. This list doesn’t contain any real detail about doing these things but I believe many of them are self explanatory (or covered in more detail by past columns). That said, if you have any questions or if I can help in any way, just send me a mail (edgefieldtechhelp@gmail.com).

None of these should involve much work but it make take time for some of these to run. I normally do this over the weekend and occasionally check back on my PC to see when something has finished and I should move on.

Step 1 - Backup
As we’ve discussed before, I would ALWAYS suggest having a backup. This is especially true before you do something like a tune-up. Normally, I just focus on data and I’ve mentioned several options for this in various tech tips. In this particular case though, I would recommend a full image backup (see http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips051809.html) to another disk (like a USB drive).

Step 2 – CCleaner
I recommend using CCleaner (see http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips041309.html) to cleanup files that build up over time like temporary Internet files. Occasionally, I also like to use it myself to review the programs I have installed and remove programs I may not need. Some other things you can do with this program include running a registry scan/fix and disabling programs from starting up automatically when you don’t need them to (only disable the ones you are sure you don’t need).

I recently read about another free cleanup program you might want to checkout as well: http://www.harddrivepowerwash.com/free.html. While there is some overlap with CCleaner, it looks like “Hard Drive Powerwash” might cleanup additional files even after running CCleaner. You might want to try both of these programs out for a one-two punch.

Step 3 – Manually cleanup your files
CCleaner is great for cleaning up a lot of files. However, it won’t remove your personal data files or other files it isn’t designed for. So, from time to time, I would review the files you have and see if you need to delete any. Just be sure not to get rid of anything you need (and take a backup if there is any doubt). One thing that can help with this is to have a tool that helps you see where your disk space is going. You can read the following article for one such tool we discussed in the past: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips040609.html

Step 4 – Windows Update
I hope that everyone has Windows Automatic Updates enabled (in the control panel). Just in case, I always like to occasionally go to http://www.windowsupdate.com/ and check for updates. Just click on express and see if any updates need to be applied. Run this several times if necessary until it shows that no updates are necessary.

Occasionally, you might also want to check other programs you have to see if updates (especially free ones) are available. The way this is done differs by program but you can look for a “check for upgrade” option in the program’s help menu. Another option for some programs is to use a program like AppSnap to more easily download/install upgrades. You can read more about that program from the following link: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips050409.html (just use the “upgradeable” option from the drop down box in the upper left hand corner of the program to see if newer versions than the ones you have (that are supported by this program) are available).

Lastly, you could also check for hardware driver updates. Typically, these are found using the “support” link from the manufacturer’s website. I don’t do this as often as everything else but it could be a very good thing to do if you are having crashes or problems with some specific hardware.

Step 5 – Antivirus Software
This is another item which I hope you have already. If you don’t have antivirus software installed on your computer, I would highly recommend installing a program. We discussed a few free options in a past column that you might want to checkout: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips070909.html

A new option for free antivirus software which was just released is Microsoft’s own “Security Essentials” program: http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/

During the “tune-up”, I would also check your antivirus definitions to make sure they are up to date. Typically this means the virus database was updated at least within the past week. The method of checking this differs from program to program but normally you can check this in the “about” screen of the program.

While this may be redundant, I sometimes like to take this “tune-up” time to manually run a full antivirus scan of all the drives on my computer

Step 6 – Anti-Spyware Software
It’s also a good idea to run some sort of anti-spyware software. Here are a few different options I’m aware of:

1) Microsoft’s Windows Defender - http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/defender/default.mspx
2) Ad-Aware Free: http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware_free.php
3) Spybot Search and Destroy http://www.safer-networking.org/en/spybotsd/index.html
4) Malwarebytes http://www.malwarebytes.org/

If you already have anti-spyware, use the “tune-up” time to make sure its definitions are updated (similar to antivirus software). You might also consider running a “full scan” with this software at this time.

Another program you might want to try from time to time is the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool. You should have this already (part of Windows Updates). To run it, just go to Start, Run, type MRT, and hit enter. Click next, and then use the “full scan” option.

Step 7 – Check for Hard Disk Errors
I like to check for hard disk errors from time to time. You can do this by going to start, run, typing “chkdsk c: /f” (without the quotes) and hitting enter. This will check the “c” drive. You can replace “c” with other letters to check additional hard drives. In some cases, the program may not be able to get a lock on the drive. In that case, you will be asked if you want to schedule the check for the next reboot. Just choose yes and then reboot your computer.

Step 8 – Defragment your Hard Drive
When I’m finished with my cleanup, I always like to defragment my hard drives (if you are using Windows Vista, this shouldn’t be necessary if the automatic defragmenter is running). For other versions, you can defragment with the built in tools in Windows or other programs. You can read more about one option for this here: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips072709.html

You can use these steps anytime you’d like. I would recommend doing this every 3 to 6 months.

In the future, we’ll talk about some other “tune-up” items on the hardware side such as RAM (memory) upgrades, checking to be sure your cooling fans are running, and cleaning dust out of your computer.


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