How To Clean Up A Sluggish Computer
WHY: After several months to a couple years, depending
on how much maintenance & how often you've been on the internet,
most computers become sluggish & don't operate as fast as they
formerly did & some programs might not work at all, or may not
work as well as they formerly did. The 3 primary reasons are viruses,
spyware (adware) & too many unnecessary
background services running which wastes ram & CPU
resources. You might think you need a new computer, but chances
are all you need to do is clean up the software in your computer,
or reformat the hard drive & reinstall a fresh copy of the operating
system (OS). While reformatting the hard drive & reinstalling
the OS is usually the quickest way to get your computer healthy
again & the most sure way of getting rid of bad stuff (like
viruses & spyware), sometimes a fresh install just isn't an
option. If you have misplaced your software discs for the operating
system or applications & you can't borrow copies, then a fresh
reinstall isn't an option. Likewise if you have large amounts of
personal data work files that you have no way of backing up to another
media or don't know where they are all stored, if you've highly
customized your OS, if you have software applications that require
a new serial number key for a fresh install but the company has
gone out of business, if you can no longer obtain drivers for hardware
such as your printer, etc., or if you simply want to learn what
messed up your computer in the first place, then here is a tutorial
on steps you might want to take to clean up your sluggish computer.
STEPS & DISCLAIMER: The following steps are
in the rough order you might want to try, but you may choose to
skip steps you don't need, or that you don't feel comfortable doing.
Disclaimer: this is only a tutorial of the steps I often use, they
come with no guarantees & you perform these procedures on your
computer at your own risk. You can have a computer store charge
you to do these steps, but the idea in this tutorial, is to save
you money & teach you more about keeping your computer operating
safely & cleanly. If you are concerned about losing any personal
work data files, save copies to another media (like CD or DVD or
another hard drive) for safekeeping. Installing the free or trial
software mentioned below will have to be done from a user profile
that has administration privileges. You might find it helpful to
print out this tutorial to help you through the steps.
DOCUMENT CURRENT CONDITION: The first step is
to document on a piece of paper important features of this computer
such as: how much physical ram memory does it have (found in Start\Programs\Accessories\System
Tools\System Information), how full is the hard drive (in My Computer
or Windows Explorer, right mouse click on the hard drive your OS
is in & menu to properties, note how much used & free space
there is, a drive should never be more than 85% full). Ask the main
users of this computer what isn't working, which programs they use
& which programs they no longer need, and make a list. After
a fresh boot & with no application programs running, open the
task manager to list what services are running in the background
(on most Windows computers, simultaneously press the Ctrl &
Alt & Delete buttons, click on the "task manager"
button, click on the "processes" tab). Click on the column
header "image name" to sort alphabetically. Now either
write down the services that are running, or print out a copy. To
print, either stretch out the Windows Task Manager box so you can
see all the services without scrolling, or click on the maximize
button in the top right corner, press the Alt & Print Screen
buttons together (which captures the image to the clipboard), open
up the program called "Paint" (Start\Programs\Accessories\Paint)
press the Ctrl & V buttons together to paste the image in, click
yes, then if you see the Task manager picture in Paint, menu under
File\Print to print the list. Keep this Task Manager list of services
handy to later trace down which programs you were able to turn off
& which don't need to be running in the background.
UNINSTALL UNNEEDED APPLICATION PROGRAMS: Do not
just blow these away from your hard drive, properly uninstall all
programs that are no longer needed, so you get out all the components.
If you're not certain what they are, then don't uninstall it. To
uninstall, (if your OS is set for "classic view" menu
under Start\Settings\Control Panel\AddRemovePrograms button), which
lists all the programs legitimately installed. One by one, click
on the programs you no longer need & uninstall them by clicking
on the Change/Remove button. When you have uninstalled all unneeded
DUMP ALL TEMPORARY FILES: Your computer probably
has a lot of old crap temporary (temp) files that aren't needed
any more, so let's dump them to make the steps below less time consuming.
Menu under Start\Programs\Accessories\Systems Tools\Disk Cleanup
& select the drive or partition that your OS is in. This utility
will list most but not all areas where there are temp files. Select
with a tick, those temp files you want to remove & click on
OK. Next open up your browser if it is Internet Explorer & menu
to Tools\Internet Options, or if you use a different browser go
to Start\Settings\Control Panel\Internet Options. Now click on the
General tab. Click on the "Delete cookies" tab, but remember
that besides getting rid of good & bad cookies, this will also
get rid of banking account numbers & some other passwords you
may have entered in your browser, so only click on this button if
you are prepared to retype them. The 'delete files" button
is to delete the browser temp cache files which you already did
in the procedure above, but try it again just to be sure. Next click
on the "settings" button & adjust the "Amount
of disk space to use" for temp internet files to 80 MB &
click OK. Any more temp storage than this, actually slows down your
internet browsing while it searches your hard drive to find out
if there is temp cache.
VIRUS CHECKER: If you have a virus checker application
installed, update it with the latest patches & run it to identify
any viruses. Isolate (quarantine) & delete any viruses if finds
as well delete any previous viruses that were found & isolated
(quarantined). Reboot & make sure you are now plugged into the
internet for a verification test with another anti virus program
(optional). Go to http://www.pcpitstop.com/antivirus/AVLoad.asp
& say yes to allowing it to install the Panda anti virus software
for testing (it's free & can be uninstalled later), allow it
time to update & install. Close any applications other than
the browser & click on the "Full Scan" button. This
make take quite awhile depending on how many files are in your hard
drive. When the scan is finished, copy the full results on paper
of any viruses it finds, or print them out. This PC Pitstop virus
checker will not remove viruses, but it does nicely tell you if
you have any, what they are called & where they are stored.
When you complete the entire checklist on this tutorial, you may
want to return to this site to verify that all viruses have been
removed. BTW, at this same PC PitStop site http://www.pcpitstop.com/pcpitstop/default.asp
there is a "full test" of your computer system that may
tell you other important things to check out.
REMOVING VIRUSES: After the test above, if you
still have viruses & you don't have an anti-virus application
installed, you can get free 30 day demo versions that can be temporarily
installed, that may remove the current viruses on your computer.
My preference is to not leave anti-virus software installed after
you have purged the viruses, because the anti-virus software itself
often runs several services in the background which can bog down
your computer & make it sluggish. Some anti-virus free trial
programs from Trend that you may want to try are "House Call"
(quite good), or "Micro Sysclean", or "PC-cillin"
(don't leave installed because it runs at least 4 background activities
at all times), at http://www.trendmicro.com
Another very limited but effective free anti-virus program is McAfee
AVERT STINGER at http://us.mcafee.com/virusInfo/default.asp?id=stinger After
removing viruses, reboot.
SPYWARE WHAT IS IT?: Spyware is also known as
Adware, Badware, Malware or Trojanware. Spyware is usually a program
with stealth scanning abilities, that reports on your browsing activities
& reveals more information about your computer use than you
would want to authorize, or it highjacks your browser start up home
page, or it highjacks banner ads & sticks it's own ads in place.
Sometimes it can be as invasive as a key logger which can capture
your passwords or other private info & used in illegal ways.
Spyware is often a secret component of free software that you have
installed, sometimes as simple as a free web search toolbar you've
installed or a peer-to-peer music downloading program (like Kazaa).
Spyware is often like a virus, but not called a virus because you've
inadvertently agreed to it by not reading the long terms & conditions
list & clicking on OK to installing the program. Sometimes Spyware
is installed via malicious Java applet code when browsing on dangerous
web sites (if you don't have the latest security updates for your
browser). Some cookies even cross the line regarding how much information
on you they report back & could be considered invasive spyware.
Spyware can really slow down your computer, cripple some legitimate
programs & cause lots of pop up advertisements.
REMOVING SPYWARE: So let's get rid of the spyware.
Keep in mind that getting rid of Spyware sometimes also disables
the free or shareware programs that installed it in the first place
(like Kazaa). Most anti-virus programs only catch viruses, but some
also have a utility to catch spyware, so give it a try if you have
one installed. Just like anti-virus programs, no anti-Spyware program
catches all the viruses, so you may have to use several. Two of
the best free anti-Spyware programs are "Ad-Aware SE Personal"
and "Spybot" http://www.safer-networking.org/en/mirrors/index.html
Download, install them, run the updates for the latest patches,
then run these anti-spyware programs to see what spyware they can
isolate & delete. Some other less useful anti-spyware programs
are HijackThis (good for picking up Spyware registry entries) http://www.download.com/3000-8022-10227353.html
(be careful what you select to delete), or CWShredder (not usually
very effective) from Intermute (now part of Trend Micro) which is
included in the Spysubtract program (very ram intensive & hard
to completely uninstall) at http://www.intermute.com/spysubtract/cwshredder_download.html
or "Home Search Hijacker" at http://www.hsremove.com
After you are finished removing spyware, reboot. I routinely have
Ad-Aware & Spybot check to see if there is any new spyware on
my computer. Other anti-spyware programs to consider are Spy
Defender. Click here for a
list of fake or rogue or suspicious anti-spyware.
REGISTRY CLEANERS: The registry stores information
on all sorts of stuff, like what programs should start when you
boot, where files are stored, which programs should start which
other programs, etc. After much use, the registry has a lot of old
unneeded entries that slow down booting, slow closing down, cause
programs to launch that shouldn't & cause error messages to
pop up because certain programs are no longer installed. Manually
cleaning the registry should be left to experts who really know
what they are doing because deleting the wrong files can make your
system inoperative (always create a safety backup copy of the registry
before manually cleaning it). Programs that automatically clean
the registry are usually much safer than manual deletion. Now that
you have eliminated the viruses & spyware with the programs
mentioned above, it would be a good idea to get rid of the registry
trash with a registry cleaner program such as these. “RegSupreme
Pro” at http://www.macecraft.com
has a 30 day trial period, does an adequate job & has other
tools built in. “Advanced System Optimizer” at http://www.systweak.com
has a free trial version I've heard is top notch & has lots
of extra tools. Reboot after cleaning the registry. StartupRunv1.22
INSTALL THE LATEST SECURITY PATCHES & SERVICE PACKS:
Microsoft provides free regular updates to keep your system more
secure from the types of problems that caused your computer to need
a good clean up. Download them from http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com
& install, then reboot. Keep going to this site after rebooting
until there are no patches left to install. Check back regularly
(at least once a month), or if you have one of the newer Operating
Systems, set it to automatically download & install new security
patches as they become available. If you have other Microsoft programs
like "Office", download the latest service packs for those
& install (you may need your original disks for this).
SAFE MODE: Don't forget to visit the PC PitStop
site again & run the anti-virus checker once more to make sure
you got everything. If there are still some viruses or spyware left,
you might have to reboot into "Safe Mode" (press F8 when
first booting) & run some of the above programs again. Safe
mode allows very few services to run & frequently will permit
the above programs to permanently delete viruses that would normally
rename themselves when not in Safe Mode. Occasionally you might
also have to manually delete a virus in Safe Mode, so this is where
your list from the PC PitStop virus checker comes in handy, because
it tells you where the files are stored. If you can't find them
in Windows Explorer, you may have to temporarily menu in Tools\Folder
Options\View\ & tick "show hidden files and folder"
& untick "hide protected operating system files".
Reboot into regular mode.
TASK MANAGER: Once again after having just rebooted,
with no application programs running, open the task manager to list
what services are running in the background & compare them with
the list you made before you started cleaning up your computer (give
it a couple minutes after rebooting before you look at the list)
(on most Windows computers, simultaneously press the Ctrl &
Alt & Delete buttons, click on the "task manager"
button, click on the "processes" tab). Stroke off the
services on your original list that are no longer running. A really
clean computer will often have 13 - 20 services running in the background
with no applications opened. To find out what the remaining background
tasks are for & whether they need to be running, look up the
names at either of these sites http://www.answersthatwork.com/Tasklist_pages/tasklist.htm
& determine if certain ones can be "disabled" or set
to "manually" turn on only when required in the utility
called "services", rather than "automatically"
turned on when booting. To do this in "Services" menu
to Start\Settings\Control Panel\Administrative Tools\Services then
double click on each of the "started" running services
to open it up & see what it is. If you find one you've identified
from your list that doesn't need to be running all the time, change
it to "manual" or "disable" as applicable, then
reboot. Open the Task Manager once more & see if you got the
unnecessary services turned off. Now click on the "performance"
tab & see how much "MEM usage" your computer is using
at idle. If this lowest amount of ram memory scenario is more than
about half of the real ram installed, you may want to consider buying
more ram so your computer will operate faster (often not essential
unless you are running ram intensive applications). When your computer
runs out of real ram, it starts to use "virtual ram" which
is basically memory storage space on the hard drive & VERY slow.
DEFRAGMENT YOUR HARD DRIVE: If you defragment
(defrag) your hard drive on a regular basis, the files won't be
in little bitty pieces, but instead will be larger contiguous pieces
& therefore faster for your hard drive to access, so your computer
operates a little bit faster. Most new OS have a defrager built
in which can be accessed at Start\Programs\Accessories\System Tools\Disk
Defragmenter. Make sure there is at least 15% of free space left
on the hard drive, or this defrag utility probably won't be able
to do it's job. Sometimes you need to run it more than once to repack
the files. The less full your hard drive is, the better job the
defrag utility will do. Run this utility about once a month. If
your main drive is getting full, buy an additional hard drive &
move your work data over to the new drive so you can free up space
in the main OS drive.
CONCLUSION: Hopefully the above steps will have
cleaned up your computer so that it is back to full functionality.
If you have comments about this article or suggestions of cleanup
programs that worked for you, please let me know. Now that you've
got your computer cleaned up, teach other users how not to screw
By Doug Hembruff.
April 12/2005. Last updated August 6/2005