Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Tune Up Your Computer without Spending a Dime

Most Windows computers, after a period of time get slower and slower, and slower.  When this happens, many people either take their computer to a repair shop to have it fixed, or they buy a new computer.  In most cases this is unnecessary because the computer can usually be brought back up to speed with a few steps that cost nothing as far as money goes.  Some of these steps take the computer awhile to complete, so it may be a good idea to do something else while the programs run.  This may be especially true for file system defragmentation.  Before doing any of this, one should make a copy of their important data such as pictures, music collection, and important documents in the rare event that something goes wrong.  In fact, it is always a good idea to do periodic backups.  Backups will be discussed in another post.

1. File System Check

On Windows XP and similar, it is usually run by clicking Start, Run, and typing in chkdsk /f and pressing enter. You will get a message stating, "Chkdsk cannot be run because the volume is in use by another process. Would you like to schedule this volume to be checked the next time the system restarts? (Y/N)?" Simply hit 'y' and press enter. Restart the computer and allow the chkdsk program to run. You may want to run the chkdsk program on all the partitions that Windows normally opens This can be done by using the command chkdsk /f D: etc. Now that errors on the windows file system are (hopefully) corrected, the other steps should be less complicated.

On Windows 7 and Windows Vista, checking the file-system can be accomplished in a slightly different way. Click on the start button, then choose computer. There should be a header that says, "Hard Disk Drives." If there are no hard disk (C: for example) listed, then double click on the "Hard disk drives" header so that the hard disk shows up. After that step, right click with the right mouse button on the disk to be checked (C: for example) and then left click on properties. On the window that opens next, click on the "Tools" tab. Next, click on the "Check now..." button. On the window that opens, put a check-mark in the box next to, "Automatically fix file-system errors" and then click the "Start" button in that same window. One last message will appear. It will say, "Windows can't check the disk while it is in use." Simply click the "Schedule disk check" button and restart the computer.

2. Clean the clutter off the hard drive.

If Internet browsing is slow despite having a fast connection, this could be due to the browser checking it's cache file to see if it has pages stored on the hard drive before trying to retrieve them on-line. If the cache folder is filled with lots of files, it can take the web browser a long time to sift through the files to see if any of them relate to the page being downloaded. With Internet
Explorer, since it is such an integral parts of Windows, this can slow down other aspects of using Windows as well. In addition, lots of files in cache folder can slow down the process of defragmenting the hard drive and anti malware scanning.  

The instructions for doing this vary for each version of software, but the following instructions should work with most versions.
To clear cache in Internet Explorer, Click Start, choose Control Panel, click on the Internet Options icon, click the "Delete Files" button then click the "OK" button. When the hourglass icon disappears, click the "OK" button and close out of the Control Panel. To clear cache in the Firefox browser, open the Firefox
browser and Click Tools, Options, the "Privacy" tab,, and then the "Clear Now" button. Uncheck everything but cache unless you have a specific reason to clear any of the other stuff. Now, click the "Clear Private Date Now" button. After it is finished working, click the "OK" button and close out of Firefox. You should do this for each user account on the computer by logging in and repeating these steps.

One of the best things that can be done to help speed up a computer is to clean the registry of bad entries. These bad entries can cause a computer to look for things that are not present or cause the computer to spend time doing things that are not necessary. A free registry cleaning program that that works well is "My Little Registry Cleaner." It is available at Before making any changes to the Windows registry, it is important to back up the current registry This can be done by clicking Start, run, and typing in regedit. Once that is opened make sure that all of the categories on the left side are collapsed. Then click on File, and choose export. You want to store the backup file in the root directory and not in the My Documents folder. Otherwise a user might see it and click on it to see what it is. Doing that will re-install all of the garbage that was there before cleaning. I tend to use backup-dd/mm/yy in the filename so that I know when the backup was done. Installing and running the registry cleaner is a good way to speed things up a bit. Another very good and also free of charge program is called Ccleaner. This program not only allows one to scan and clean up the registry as well as cache directories, it also allows one to cleanly un-install many programs. It is available at

3. Defragmenting the file system

Hard disk defragmentation can be one of the most time consuming processes when it comes to speeding up a computer. This is especially true if this task has not been done for a long time. Disk fragmentation occurs when files are written, deleted, changed, etc. What happens is that different portions of a file may be stored on different areas of the hard drive. When file fragmentation occurs, the hard disk drive has to move its read write head to each part of the hard drive platter where data is stored. In other words, if a file is stored at 5 different areas on the hard drive, the hard drive has to make at least 5 different mechanical movements just to load this one file. This takes time and also produces wear and tear on the hard drive itself. De-fragmenting allows all the file portions to be stored near each other on the hard-drive platter therefore requiring less mechanical movement in order to read the file. Hard disk de-fragmentation is usually very easy to accomplish It is recommended that a file-system check be done before de-fragmentation is attempted.

On Windows XP, One can de-fragment a hard drive by clicking on Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then Disk Defragmenter. Click Drive C and then Defragment. Do this with each volume listed.

On Windows 7 and Windows Vista, de-fragmenting the disk can be accomplished in a slightly different way. Click on the start button, then choose computer. There should be a header that says, "Hard Disk Drives." If there are no hard disk (C: for example) listed, then double click on the "Hard disk drives" header sothat the hard disk shows up. After that step, right click with the right mouse button on the disk to be defragmented (C: for example) and then left click on properties. On the window that pops open, choose tools. Then, click on the "Defragment Now..." button. After that is done, highlight the drive to be defragmented and then click on the "Defragment" button. Each hard drive listed should be defragmented.

4. Scanning for and removing malicious programs

Malicious software includes ad-ware, spy-ware, root-kits, bots, and a whole host of baddies on a computer. There are several products that can clean a computer up for free. These include on-line virus scans such as,,, as well as many others. Unfortunately, many of the on-line mal-ware scanning tools require Internet Explorer in order to work. Another great free ware program that does a very good job of detecting and removing malicious software is Mal-ware Bytes Antimalware. It is available at The author uses Antimalware to clean most of his clients' infected computers. If you suspect an infection, and nothing seems to clean it up then the author recommends an anti-malware bootable Linux CD to be used to clean up the computer. The reason for this is the fact that some malicious software embed themselves so deeply into the operating system files that they are are to trick the anti-virus software and prevent their detection and or removal. There are several free anti malware bootable CD's available on-line. These include, as well as many others. If the computer has anti malware software already installed, it should be checked to make sure that it is up to date and has the latest anti malware definitions downloaded. An out of date anti malware software package does very little good and can be worse than not having any protection. This is because what may be installed uses up system resources without providing protection and providing an illusion of protection that is not there. If out of date anti malware software is found, inform the owner of the computer that the software is out of date and why it is not good. Suggest that the owner update the software (if payment is required) or start using free ware programs such as Avast, AVG, Microsoft Security Essentials, ClamAV, etc. Avast and AVG can be used for noncommercial home use.  ClamAV can be used for any purpose. Avast can be found at ClamAV can be found at ClamAV generally does not provide real time protection out of the box, but real time protection can be set up with free browser and email client extensions. The Firefox web browser can use the Fireclam extension which is available at in order to scan downloaded files. The Thunderbird email client can use the clamdrib extension to provide real time incoming email protection. This extension is available at ClamAV also works with Microsoft Outlook (but not Outlook Express). One of the best feature of Clam Antivirus is the fact that is it free for both home and commercial use. In fact, many corporate Internet appliances that are used to protect business networks use Clam Antivirus as their defense against malicious software.

5. Remove malfunctiong security programs.
If, despite the previous four steps, the computer is still running at a snail's pace, the problem could be the antivirus, antispyware, or firewall program that is protecting the computer.  Such a malfunctioning program while working fine in the past can cause a computer to slow to a crawl.  It may be a good idea to completely uninstall and re-install the product (making sure to note any registration code needed to re-activate the software should its re-installation be desired).

The step listed above come out of my book.  They also fix a vast majority of problems with slow computers.  More information will be in my upcoming book, "Tech Tactics - Money Saving Secrets."

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