Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Free Tips & Tools To Keep Your PC Running Better

Every few years I get a new laptop, and when I first turn it on I'm thrilled with the performance, however once I've been using it for a while some of that speed seems to vanish.

Sound familiar?

It's normal. As we add and remove programs the registry gets bigger, and more things begin to start automatically in the background. There are a few things you can do to keep your system running faster, and it won't cost you a penny.

First off remove any bloatware that came with your system. Computer manufacturers are notorious for loading a bunch of "Free trial" programs on everything they sell. It makes sense, the software manufacturers pay them for the privilege of having their apps pre-loaded.

Here's the truth: Most of it is junk. Unless you saw an app and went "Thank god, I have been looking everywhere for a program that does that!" you're best off to uninstall all the bloatware, it's just taking up resources.

Now let's look at what apps and processes are starting when you boot up your PC. Often things will be loading that you no longer use, or never knew were there and definitely don't need.

Microsoft offers a free utility called Autoruns, you can download it here.  No install is required, just double-click the correct version. (Autoruns64 for newer computers, Autoruns if you're on an older 32-bit system)

A window will open with a list of everything on your computer that is referenced at boot-up, and then tabs to let you sort by category.

Most people don't want to interfere with things that Microsoft requires to start their computer, so I suggest clicking on"Options" and selecting "Hide Microsoft Entries", just for safety.

At this point it's worth scrolling through the list. If you see anything you know shouldn't be starting automatically you can disable it by removing the checkmark next to it. If that turns out to cause issues you just fire up Autoruns again and put the checkmark back.

Doing this every 6 months or so can have a large impact on your computer's performance. I found references to software I had uninstalled over a year ago, and now things are a little snappier.

The next thing to look at is hard drive fragmentation. Windows puts pieces of files wherever it can find space, meaning your system has to go to multiple different points on the hard drive to load files.

Defragmenting your hard drive gets the files all in a nice row and can help speed things up.

With Windows 8 or higher you can schedule defragmentations to happen when you won't be using your system. To access this setting right-click on your C:\ drive in Windows Explorer, choose "Properties" and then "Tools".  Click the "Optimize" button to get the process moving.

I've had a lot of people complain their systems were slow and when I asked them what anti-virus app they were using the response was either "none" or "Well, it's outdated now but I use..."

That just won't do. These days bad guys write code to gain access to your computers, and from there they can use your computer to do nasty things without your knowledge.

They've monetized it, selling access to your information, storage, internet connection and more. All of these activities will slow down your computer, so if you've noticed a slowdown you should check that your anti-virus software is running and using current signatures.

Don't have anti-virus software, or don't want to pay $50-$100 for it? No problem, read my earlier post for how to get a free copy of Sophos anti-virus here.

One other item to keep an eye on is the amount of empty space on your hard drive. If you have less than 10% free space it can be having an impact on your speed. Windows writes a lot of temporary filed to your hard drive while it's working, and if there isn't much free space it can cause problems.

Depending on the size of your hard drive 10% might actually be gigs of free space which is more than you need free, but you should check.

Open Windows Explorer, right click on your C:\ drive and choose "Properties".

If you don't see a reasonable amount of free space it's time to do a little housekeeping.

The Disk Cleanup option will help you get rid of a few items to make some room, but that probably isn't a long-term fix.

Consider moving some of your larger files to external storage, on a USB drive, NAS, or to the cloud using services like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, etc.

I wrote an article earlier on free cloud storage services, you can read it here for some ideas.

One advantage to cloud services is they take care of backing up the data so you don't have to.
If you've got a ton of pictures and videos on your hard drive and that's the only place they exist you run the risk of losing them all, so using a NAS or cloud storage makes sense.

There are more things you can do to help keep your computer running it's fastest. Make sure it has access to good air flow, vacuum out any dust that might have accumulated in the fan vents, keep it out of prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. (Heat is not your computer's friend.)

These options are a good starting place for everyone, there are always more in-depth things that can help but I've tried to keep it fairly simple.

If you have any questions, or tips of your own on how to keep a system running quickly please drop them in the comments section.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

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