Russ Pitts is the former Editor-in-Chief of escapistmagazine.com and the former head writer and producer of TechTV’s “The Screen Savers.” He has been building and upgrading PCs for over 15 years.
Q. How do I keep my PC running fast?
A. Today’s PCs are more powerful than ever, but we’re using them, increasingly, for more and more. If you’re serious about gaming, everyday wear and tear on your PC could be wreaking havoc on your rig. What might have been a top-of-the-line gaming powerhouse a year ago could be sucking wind like a plumber running up the stairs today, if you’re not taking care of it properly.
Web browsing, productivity software, smart device syncing, video, messaging and even some games can make a mess of your system, even when you’re not using them, clogging your OS with baggage from hardware and software you haven’t used in months. Stuff that pops up and makes your life miserable when you least expect it, like pictures from “that night” peeking out from under the sofa.
So to help you keep your machine in peak condition all season long, here are some basic steps you can take to put some spring back in your PC’s step, without buying a single piece of new hardware or spending a single dollar.
Instead, you’re going to want to store all of your irreplaceable data (files, bookmarks, saved images, etc.) onto an external hard drive (or your secondary drive if you have one) and completely wipe the slate clean by doing a quick format on your C: drive, and reinstalling your copy of Windows from the disk it came on. Just be sure to set aside a full day for the process and install all of the updates available, and then keep checking for updates until you don’t see any more available. Sometimes it will take eight or nine passes to get your OS completely up to date, depending on which flavor of Windows you’re using.
Like I said: a whole day.
If you only want to periodically rejuvenate Windows or don’t want to bother with the hassle of re-installing, Registry Reviver on this very website is a nice tool that will tune up your Windows registry to clean up broken registry data and help make your PC faster and more stable. It’s not a thorough as reformatting and reinstalling Windows, but for occasional tune-ups, it will get the job done.
As much as I love assembling PCs, I have to admit that I have also purchased a few computers off-the-shelf. It’s easy, takes less time to get up and running and if it breaks, I can send it to someone else to fix it. Unfortunately, when most PC-makers pre-install Windows, they also pre-install a lot of other crap with it. Some of it isn’t so friendly, and all of it can slow down your PC.
You can solve this problem in one of two ways: either buy your own copy of Windows and perform the clean install mentioned above, or run a program that will identify and eliminate all the pre-installed crap foisted on you by the manufacturer. I like PC Decrapifier. It’s free, easy to use and allows you to selectively uninstall or disable all of the stuff that is set to run automatically when you start up windows. If your OS comes on a disc with anyone else’s logo other than Microsoft’s, then you should run PC Decrapifier at least once. You may be surprised at what you find.
For detecting and removing malware and spyware, I use a few different programs to try and ensure that whatever new bug is out there isn’t getting through to my machine, or that if I do happen to be a lucky one who gets it first, I’ll get rid of it as quickly as possible. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, Super Anti-Spyware and Spybot S&D are my go-to dream team. If one doesn’t find the malware, the other two usually will. Each program comes with some measure of “always on” resident protection, but if you’re running ZoneAlarm, you don’t need it, and it will slow things down. Just be sure you keep the programs updated and run each at least once per month.
Best part: All of these programs have free versions or offer free trials, so you can get the protection you need without spending a fortune on an annual license for Norton.
One way to make sure you’re keeping track of your drivers is to keep a bookmark file of the support pages for all of the manufacturers of the hardware in your PC and check those pages regularly. If you bought a pre-assembled PC, sometimes your manufacturer will have an online tool that will do the work for you.
But if you’re looking for the easy way to get it done, ReviverSoft’s Driver Reviver is phenomenal at scoping out what’s in your box and finding out if your drivers are up to date. The program will even install them for you.
I have to admit, the first time I ran Driver Reviver, I was a little upset that I didn’t have to do any work to update the 18 or 20 drivers on my system that were out of date. Then I got over it and spent the time I would have spent updating the drivers myself playing games instead.
Cache files, histories, cookies and saved images all accumulate faster than you think, and take up a LOT of space on your hard drive in the exact same places where your other programs and games want to be storing data. Even you’re careful and diligent, stuff will still accumulate. Crap Cleaner is the best at cleaning it up. And it’s free.
Bonus: Clean Boot
No matter what version of Windows you use, you can “clean boot.” While it’s not as efficient as programming a .BAT file in the old days of DOS, it will still give you the option of starting up with a minimum of unnecessary “helper programs” slowing things down.
For Windows Vista and Windows 7, simply click Start and type msconfig into the box. In the General tab, select Selective Startup, then click the Services tab. Here, you’ll want to select Hide all Microsoft services, then click Disable All. Click OK, reboot and you should end up with a faster PC that will do almost everything you want it to do – but faster.
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