May 5th, 2011

Beginners Guide To Windows Optimization… or How to Make Your PC Faster

One of the most common complaints of Windows/PC users is that their computers always start to get slower after time. While some minor slowing down is unavoidable due to wear on parts and heat, the vast majority of it can be fixed by regularly doing some basic maintenance.  Let’s go over some of the basic ways to keep your Windows computer running like a charm.

1. Start by Rebooting

The first thing you should always do when cleaning your computer is to close all programs and reboot. Once your computer boots back up you should be ready to start.  Do not run any programs while cleaning your computer.

Rebooting is important because it cleans out any temporary files that your computer programs have made while running.  These files normally get removed automatically when you close the program that opens them, but sometimes for various reasons these programs do not shut down properly and the files remain. These temporary files start to build up over time and can cause problems for your PC. Most often these files just cause a slow down of the computer.

2. Remove Temporary Files

Let’s remove those pesky temporary files. We’ll call them “Temp Files” for short. The easiest way to delete Temp Files from your computer is to go to the folder (directory) they are stored in and delete them manually. To do this you’ll want to go to ‘Start‘, then click on ‘Run‘.

If you don’t see the RUN command on the START menu (it would be on the right side) then you may need to add it. This can be done by right-clicking on the START button and clicking  PROPERTIES. You should be on the Start Menu tab of the properties. Click on the Customize button. You’ll now see a bunch of options, scroll down until you see ‘Run Command’. Check the box next to it and click ‘OK‘. You will now see the RUN command on the START menu.

Once there, type “%tmp%” in the Run line, then hit the Enter key. This will open the Temp File directory in a new window..

Once in Temp File directory window is open, you’ll need to select all the files and delete them. This can be done by clicking on any file in the folder and then typing CTRL-A. Holding down the CTRL key and the A key at the same time will cause all the files to be highlighted (selected). You can then hit the ‘Delete‘ key on your keyboard to delete them all. In some cases not all of the files and directories will be able to be deleted. This is because some Temp Files are in use by your computer at this time and you can’t delete a file that is actively being used. That’s fine, just skip that file or files and delete the rest. Once that is done, you can close that window.

3. Empty the Trash

Now that we’ve deleted all of your Temp Files we should clear your ‘Recycle Bin’. In most cases your ‘Recycle Bin’ is where all the files you delete end up. They are not actually deleted from your computer until your clear them out of the ‘Recycle Bin’. To do this, go to your computers desktop and find the ‘Recycle Bin’ icon. Right click on it and choose ‘Empty Recycle Bin’. This will clear out all those files we just deleted (and any others that may also be sitting there taking up space).

4. Find and Remove Malware and Viruses

The next thing you can do to improve your computer’s performance is to run an Anti-Malware program. There are plenty of them out there and some even offer a free basic version such as the program  MalwareBytes. These programs will remove any malware on your computer that could be slowing your computer down. Its also good to run these once in awhile so that you remove any malware that could be spying on you from your computer (Ideally, you could get a paid version and have it always running and periodically scanning). Today’s biggest threats aren’t viruses; it’s the malware that hides on your system and collects information on you and performs tasks without your approval.

Run an anti-virus scan on your computer. Most major anti-virus companies offer trial versions of their anti-virus programs. There are also free basic version from some vendors. Examples are McAfee’s trial version anti-virus and AVG‘s and Avast‘s free versions. While most anti-virus programs do slow your computer down slightly, they are worth it as they keep viruses from slowing your computer down even more and causing worse problems like data corruption. They can also prevent you from having to re-install many programs due to a virus infection.

Choice of Anti-virus and Malware Protection Software

Another way to increase the performance of your system may be to consider your choice of anti-virus and malware software. Some anti-virus and malware software may use a large amount of resources even when not performing a scan. Two that are particularly lightweight (i.e. good for performance) are AVG anti-virus and Kapersky. Be sure to consider all of your options and test out different trial versions to see which one provides the best balance of features and system performance.

Choice of When the Scans Run

You may also want to consider when malware and anti-virus programs update and perform scans. Scans and updates can cause a lot of disk access which can greatly decrease the performance of your computer. In extreme cases your computer may even become unusable until the scan is complete. When choosing a time for your computer to perform scans, try picking a time you won’t be using the computer. It may even be best to pick a time early in the morning once a week. For example 2AM on a Saturday morning. Just be sure to leave your computer running overnight every Friday.

6. Reboot again!

Once you’ve done all this, give your computer another reboot. In Windows systems, rebooting is never a bad thing because it helps clear out many Temp Files and also empties out your active memory, which can contain programs that have not shut down properly. Programs that appear closed but are still running in memory can also cause your computer to slow down as less memory is available for use by the system.

7. Disk Optimization

The next step to take is called Disk Defragmentation. Also referred to “defragging” your disk, it re-arranges the way files are stored on your physical disk drive so that they can be loaded faster.  This can be done via the Disk Defragmenter program within Windows. You can get to this program in most versions of Windows by going to ‘Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools‘. There you’ll see the program Disk Defragmenter. Just follow the on screen instructions to run the program.

You should prepare ahead of time to run this process as it can take many hours to complete and is usually best run overnight when you are not using your computer.  The larger the hard drive, the longer defragging your disk will take. We could give a long detailed explanation of what disk defragging does, but all you really need to know is that it makes it easier for the computer to find the individual bits of the computer programs on your hard drives. The more fragmented (thus the term defrag), the longer it takes to load your programs.

8. Improve Web Browsing Performance

You can also speed up your web browsing experience by occasionally clearing out your web browser’s cache of temporary internet files and its cookies. Below is a link to a Google article that explains how to do this in most major web browsers.

9. Lastly, Stop Programs from Auto-Starting that Shouldn’t

Many programs that you install on your computer automatically start themselves every time you boot your computer.  The more of these that start, the slower your computer boots and the slower it runs (due to all of these things competing for resources).

You  can combat this two ways:

  • Remove/uninstall programs that are not needed. In your Windows “Control Panel” you can find an “Add/Remove Programs” tool that you can use to see what is installed and to uninstall programs that you do not want or no longer need.
  • Remove things from the auto-startup list.  By removing them from the startup list, they are still there and can be run manually when you need them, but you are not wasting resources the the rest of the time.  To remove them:
  1. From the Windows “Start” button, choose “Run”.
  2. Type in “msconfig” and press “Enter”
  3. Click on the “Startup” tab
  4. Uncheck anything that you do not want to auto-start on boot
  5. Press “Ok” and allow it to reboot your computer

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