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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Making Windows Run Like New(er)

Over time, Windows collects bloat just like a snowball. If you're not careful, some of that bloat could be something really nasty like a virus or spyware. Below are some simple steps that can help you safely restore the performance and safety of your computer. Of course, since I'm cheap, I want to point out that this process won't cost you a dime!

Update Windows

You have to start by updating Windows, if possible. For Windows XP, you'll want install Windows XP Service Pack 3. If you run into issues with permissions, then this will help. I know it's been given some bad press, but so did Service Pack 2. Hey, it worked for me. If you don't want to opt for SP3, or if you're using Vista (in which case you should hunt down SP1), then at least run Microsoft Update to get the critical security patches you need.

[UPDATE: 12/08/08]: Good news egg lovers - Autopatcher is back! And it's better than ever. It now includes updaters for Vista, Office, etc. I highly recommend installing the latest service pack for your OS (SP3 for XP, SP1 for Vista) and running Autopatcher to update your system. It's nice not using Microsoft Update, WGA, etc. Of course, there's also Windizupdate - the way to use Microsoft Update with Firefox.

Install/Update an Antispyware Application

You can use the program of your choice. I've used Spybot Search and Destroy, and Adaware. I'm pleased with both for their own reasons. Just pick one, download and install it, and let it do a full system scan. It shouldn't take very long (maybe 5-10 minutes). Let it remove what it found and be on your merry way.

I've you're really paranoid, you can always run both. Just make sure you take the in foil off of your head when you leave your office, or else people will laugh.

Install/Update an Antivirus Application

Everyone should run antivirus software, just like everyone should wear a seatbelt. Sure, maybe you'll never need it, but you'll never know when you'll need it until you need it. So why not wear it? I mean, install it? After it's installed/updated, let it do a full system scan. This will take some time, possibly up to a couple of hours. Just start it and head to bed/work/exercise/dinner/TV/whatever - just come back alter to see what it found and whack it. Virus removal help is available all over the web, but most applications today can remove threats themselves.

If you're already paying for antivirus software (McAfee, Symantec AV, Nod32, etc.) and you're happy paying for it, then go ahead. If you're tired of paying for it, then cancel your subscription and get something free like Avast, AVG, Avira, or Comodo that works just as well (if not better in some cases). I haven't EVER paid for antivirus software and they've kept me plenty safe. I don't know why your experience should be any different!

Also, if you don't run a firewall, think about it. If you aren't behind a router (you'd know if you were) and are just running Windows Firewall, then you might be at risk. Think about these awesome freebies:
Comodo Personal Firewall
Zone Alarm Free

[UPDATE: 12/08/08]: A month or two ago, Comodo released their first (and latest) firewall-antivirus suite, Comodo Internet Security. I've made the switch and now feel quite protected. Best of all, I'm only running one app that does my software firewall and antivirus. If you're ready for something new and tired of memory/CPU hogs, give Comodo Internet Security suite a try. The only downside that I've seen is that the on-demand scanning is a little slow. But, I rarely run full system scans; on-access protection is the life for me.

Clean Out Your Startup Folder

The easiest way is to

  1. Click on Start > All Programs > Startup
  2. Right-click > Delete anything in there
Most legitimate programs won't use the startup folder for anything vital. Most things that start up with the operating system are "convenience" applications anyway. The only exceptions are firewalls and antivirus/spyware applications. I don't recommend killing those. But, most of those will be found in the registry anyway.

Remove What's Not Needed from the Registry

There are two places in the registry where shortcuts to applications can be found that Windows will automatically start when the computer starts: one for the all users, and one for the current user. Here's one way to approach it:
  1. Start > Run > type regedit and hit enter
  2. Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE>Software>Microsoft>Windows>Current Version> Run
    OR
  3. Browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER>Software>Microsoft>Windows>Current Version> Run
Next, do a little research on the entries in those text files. You can just open them in Notepad to see what's inside. For the most part, I only let the absolute essentials startup, like my antivirus and firewall. But, if there are only a couple of items (like maybe Picassa, etc.), I don't worry about this stuff too much. But anything that looks like an updater, I usually eliminate. If you need some additional help, consider trying Hijack This! to find help.

You can also consider looking at my other article about Troubleshooting a Slow Computer using msconfig. It can simply some of the task with the registry and help you find some services to disable, too.

Clean Up Your Registry

I recently found a great, fast, safe, free-for-personal use pair of applications for disk cleaning and registry cleaning. First, Wise Registry Cleaner is a fast, easy, safe way to clean out the clutter of your registry without worrying about it whacking too much. You can find Wise Registry Cleaner here. Just download, install, run and enjoy. This doesn't take very long; maybe about 5 minutes.

[UPDATE: 12/8/08]: My favorite folks over at Comodo have just released their version of a registry cleaner. I've used it as well and it's another good app: Comodo's Registry Cleaner.

Clean Up Your Hard Drive

Windows comes with a disk cleaning utility. But, I think it's slow and doesn't capture everything. So, I was happy to find Wise Disk Cleaner. (boy, I sound like an advertisement, don't I; well, I'm still waiting for the check :\). Just download, install, run and enjoy. This doesn't take very long either, but you might have to wait a little while longer than the registry cleaner.

Defragment Your Hard Drive

People debate about this. But I think it's a good thing to do. Once your hard drive is cleaned of unnecessary junk, you might as well put it back in order. Here's what you do:
  1. Start > Run > Right-click My Computer (or, right-click My Computer if it's on the Desktop)
  2. Choose Manage
  3. Click on Disk Defragmenter under Storage on the left
  4. Select your C drive (if you have multiple Windows drives/partitions, you may as well do those too)
  5. Click the Defragment button

Now, this will take some time. I've seen this go for a couple of hours. It all depends on how much stuff is on your hard drive, and how big it is.

And that's it! These steps can take a while, but they are certainly worth it. If you have any success, tips, or other suggestions, please feel free to drop them in the comments.

1 comment:

Claire said...

My habit for keeping my Windows PC always in top shape is to run all of the "system cleaners" at least once every two months. I run the antivirus and antispyware programs. After that, I use the all-in-one system cleanup utility which cleans the registry and other unneeded files. For the last phase, which takes the longest time, I do a surface scan and defragmentation.

My workstation is also safe at my office in Ottawa. Computer support service is provided by a third-party company, and it does the job very well. An Ottawa computer tech support representative is always available should anything arises.

Thanks a lot for mentioning the Comodo Internet Security. I'll look into it.