Speedy PC, the EASY way!!

Hi friends!

Since this is the first time I am addressing you guys, I should admit that I am certainly not an all knowing GEEK, but sure can be of little help to guys who are new to PCs and are interested in making them work better……..also I may be of good help to guys who have been using PCs just for work or play and now want to get down to some serious experimenting….

I am going to start from sharing with you a couple of good tricks that I have leaned over the time. You have just finished formatting and reinstalling OS on your PC, now you got something like a plain paper to personalize according to your needs and taste… A customized Windows always gives an insight of YOU as a person J

a. The first boot: Soon after installing OS, you restart your PC. There are a couple of important things that must be taken care of during this restart. First you need to get into your system BIOS setup. This can be accessed by pressing DEL key during booting; this takes you to a DOS interface that is the heart of your PC’s operating mechanism.

1. If your PC doesn’t have a floppy drive, then disable “boot up floppy seek”. Since we normally don’t boot from CD/DVD drive, lest installing OS, we can save boot up time from changing the boot device priority. Change this and select your hard drive as the first device.

2. In “advanced” tab, confirm that your hard drive and optical drive are working in DMA mode. Enabling DMA mode improves performance by reducing load on processor during data transfers.

3. If your chipset has shared on-board graphics, you can control how much of RAM is dedicated to your on-board GPU. Since this amount of memory is reserved for the sole purpose of graphics, your OS and applications can’t use it even when system is memory starving. Thus, it is wise to reduce this dedicated memory in case you have less physical memory installed and may be increased if you have good amount of it.

4. You can customize your PCs response when you press the power button. It is by default set to turn off, you can change it to hibernate. Hibernating takes less time than turning off and system starts up faster when waking up.( But this shouldn’t be made a habit since Windows performs some crucial steps like scandisks and applications performs maintenance tasks during normal startup.)

Smart tip: Boot up time can be reduced by removing any boot screens that you may be using; they do more damage than they appeal to your eyes. Crease to use themes, since loading the new icon libraries take time. You can use vista if you like but don’t go for transformation packs. On a PC with moderate physical memory, these things can take your PC for a snail-ride.

b. Drivers: The first and the foremost thing are the drivers of your hardware…Every device comes with a set of compatible device drivers that act as an interface between the OS and the hardware. You may put a question that it’s obvious to install drivers first… But not just drivers, I strongly recommend going for updating your drivers. Hardware manufactures keep working on device drivers and come up with bug-free and better working versions that can greatly improve your overall performance….

Q. But I got latest hardware which came with the best drivers I suppose?

J I should appreciate your choice for latest hardware, but it is the drivers of the latest devices that are more frequently updated, fixing the bugs that may have crept in the first released versions.

Q. Bugs ….?

J Yes….Giving a practical example, I had a problem installing 64-bit windows XP on my desktop that was fixed when I updated my drivers, which came with 64 bit support. There are instances when though have some workable on-board graphics on your motherboard, compatible games doesn’t run…most of the audio and video problems and blue screen errors of your PC arise due to bugs in drivers.

Q. Update, from where?

J From the home website of your hardware manufacturer…Like Intel, Gigabyte, MSI etc provide drivers for VGA chipset present on board and also audio drivers are mostly of realtek… Just confirm who have made your hardware, demand drivers from them!!

Search in Google by writing the name of your device’s manufacturers name and the hardware name and model number, something sort of- “drivers for Sis 661fx mirage chipset”. And no need to visit third parties, since manufacturers provide drivers for FREE. Take drivers for your chipset, audio card, graphic card, modem and some other hardware which you may possess.

Q. How do I learn who is my hardware manufacturer?

J Use freeware utilities available, like CPU-Z for beginners…more details regarding your hardware can be found by using utilities like PC Wizard…

Q. I got a branded PC and my brand company’s site isn’t showing any update for my hardware?

J Well, most of the time, there are driver updates available. I have a personal experience of Compaq home site not showing any driver updates available, but when I visited home site of my motherboard manufacturer, I did find updates. This thing has repeated quite a couple of times…

Q. OK, I found the drivers online, how do I update them?

J Download the package, usually mid sized, of around 50mb. Sometimes they come compressed, usually .ZIP, which is windows XPs mainframe compression format, and wont pose a problem extracting. But sometimes they come compressed as .RAR, .TAR etc. Use a shareware client like WinRAR to extract them. Run the installer.

Audio drivers don’t pose a problem updating, some video drivers demand uninstallation of previous version before updating. It is better to boot in safe mode (press F8 during booting) and install them.

Smart tip: So, I ultimately convinced you to update your drivers. But this occasion comes once in a while; say once in a quarter of a year. But there are unfortunate times when you have to format and re-install your OS, and install the drivers one by one all over again. There is a smart way to avoid this delay. Once you are done installing your drivers today, download the software “Drivermax”, a freeware, and make a backup of all your drivers, in a single file. The other time you have to install drivers, show the location of this one file, and all your drivers are installed.

This software is also of good use when the drivers you use have become obsolete and updates aren’t available either. Re-installing OS in such a condition will make your hardware useless with no supporting drivers. In such cases the currently installed drivers on your PC can be backed up and can be restored after the formatting.

c. Installing applications the wise way: Having done with drivers, your OS is stable now and its time to install applications. The rule regarding installing applications is that install what suits you and what you need. Installing applications that aren’t suiting your configuration makes your system resources deplete and installing excess applications hogs up hard disc space and clutters the system registry with excess entries.

Antivirus: The first application I recommend installing is antivirus. No external media should be inserted nor is it advisable to go online till you have installed antivirus. The next step is to update its database. It absolutely doesn’t make any sense having an antivirus that is out of date. With new threats constantly being made, it is best practice to keep your antivirus database up to date.

Q. Which antivirus should I choose?

J That depends on whether you have internet or not, the configuration of your PC and your understanding of PCs. Some antivirus have a very customizable but complex interface, while some of them sport a user friendly look. While some has inbuilt link scanner which scans every site you visit and every file before you download it; others are simple desktop versions having only antivirus and anti spyware engines. There are those ones that eat up your CPU and RAM, and others are light on resources. Most importantly, some come with a price tag, while some provide a limited featured version for free. Scratch your head a little and choose the one that suits your needs and system configuration.

Q. Any suggestions?

J I have been using AVG internet security 8 for a while and found it to be OK. It’s light on resources (though resident shield scanning each file on access makes it a little annoying), and includes anti spyware, link scanner, firewall, e-mail scanner, web shield etc. Ever a free version is available which though sports lesser features, can be used with a little care.

NOD32, Kaspersky, Quick heal etc are also good picks and rest depends on your taste.

Q. Any No-No’s?

J Norton Internet security suite 08 and McAfee 2008 are fully equipped to take your PC for a snail-ride. With enormous CPU usage and a fat RAM consumption, they are leaders in slowing down your PCs. They slow down normal functioning; increases boot time and run a bunch of processes since startup. Beware!!

Q. I don’t have internet, how do I manage to keep my anti-virus up to date?

J Antivirus applications like AVG, Kaspersky etc have an option of updating data base from an update file, instead of totally depending on internet. Update packages can be downloaded from vendor sites for free and can be brought home and installed following simple steps as described on site. This keeps your protection up to date even in confinement to your PC.

Q. Any more tips?

J Follow these simple yet effective tips to keep your PC safe-

· Always scan the media before accessing its contents.

· Instead of auto running the device, click on explore, this avoids malicious code from being executed by mistake if it escapes anti virus data base.

· Beware of suspicious looking files. Always uncheck the “hide extensions for known file types” option in folder options.

[ Tools>Folder options>view>”Hide extensions for known file types”]

This lets you keep an eye on suspicious stuff like a folder with “.exe” extension, a media file with “.avi.exe” extension etc.

· Keep track of files that you have on your pen drive/hard disk. Any new file with a suspicious extension should be avoided to be innocently checked.

· In case you end up executing a suspicious code, check in task manager if you got a new process running. It can stopped temporarily from there. But the damage to registry can’t be easily undone.

· Always backup your data and registry and keep updating the backups from time to time. Bad times are also the most unexpected timesJ!

· Always try to recognize processes in task manager from time to time, especially when you install new applications. This helps you identify foreign processes running in case of a virus infection. Half the job is done when you identify the virus in processes.

Other must haves- Well, coming to installing applications, I guess speaking of installing MS office and Nero etc isn’t worth a mention. But the saga doesn’t end there. There are a couple of cool must have applications available that are nearly must haves. Listed under here are a few of them-

· CCleaner- This registry and temporary file cleaner cleans off clutter from your hard drive and what more, it has some more cool tools that can be used to monitor startup applications and manage installed applications. History of internet explorer, windows explorer and temporary files created by applications can be cleaned from your hard drive, sparing ever valuable space. The registry cleaner scans registry for possible invalid references arising from uninstalled applications and other clutter entries in registry, that can possibly cause a system slow down, and fixes the problems on its own. All this for free!!

· Defraglite- This disk defragmenter has been rated to be better than conventional windows defragmenter. When we store files on hard drive, they are stored in accordance with availability of free clusters rather than storing a file continuously in a row. When such files are accessed, they greatly degrade system performance. Hence, defragmentation becomes necessary. Active partitions where data is regularly added and removed, windows partition etc are the most vulnerable. Defragmenting your hard drive once in a couple of weeks is a good habit to keep your system healthy.

· TweakUI- This nasty little tool can be used to safely and efficiently tweak windows to suit your taste and needs. As a freeware, it has a couple of good tricks under its hat. Enthusiasts can rather go for Fresh UI, which have more options to be tweaked.

· Auto patcher- This free release contains all windows updates (functional and security related) and what more, you can update your windows without internet. It also has some other important applications like .Net 3.0, Java run time environment which are required by some applications to run. You can even tweak your windows interface to suit your taste.

· K lite codec– This codec pack includes a bunch of media codecs and a media player classic that can play almost all usual formats of media files including some rare ones too. A must have media player for all.

· Tune up utilities– This pack of utilities are a must have for enthusiasts. From customizing the look and themes of windows to maintenance of system on a single click, it is a one stop solution for most of system needs. Utilities includes a one click maintenance tool, data recovery tool, secure data erasing tool, registry editor, process monitor, a common error repair wizard etc and mush more. Pretty good thing that money can buy!

· Direct x update- Available on Microsoft’s site, the updates of direct x are a must have for a gamer. Updates are always available in a span of couple of months. Keep an eye and keep your system updated. But a good deal a of data to be downloadedL !

· WinRAR- This file compression client has become mainframe for windows file compression, leaving the actual .ZIP format behind. The .RAR format is so popular that most of compressed material is in .RAR format, which makes this application a must have. This application can also handle .ZIP, .TAR,7Z,ISO extension achieves, making it universal.

· Security kit: These tools are a must have to keep your system secure and deal against any virus infection-

o Unlocker- This tools adds an explorer extension that can be used to free a file from locking handles or when being used by another application. It also includes options to delete/ move/unlock the file.

o Process explorer- This is a windows task manager alternate that picks up tasks where task manager fails. Armed with a couple of good features, it provides a detailed report about each process being run and the location from where it is being run.

o Root kit revealer- Root kits are malicious codes that are hidden in DLL libraries of a software or application. These are harder to be found using anti viruses and this tool can be used to scan and remove root kits.

o Hijack this- This tool comes to your rescue when there is an explorer or computer hijack by spywares and you lose control of your PC. It scans and removes the spywares. A handy tool which is also easy to use.

o Killbox: Just point the file, this application can remove the locking handles and delete the file. A must have tool for virus busters. What more, it can even delete system files.

o Restoring registry defaults- Download this tool from downloads section. You can use it to restore defaults if your task manager, folder options and run gets disabled due to an infection. Most viruses try to hide from user by doing this.

· Learn about your PC– Tools like PC wizard, Z CPU or hardware monitor provide detailed report about your PC hardware and OS. This helps you develop an understanding of your PC which ultimately guides you to keep it in pink of healthJ!

Important: Having made windows the way you like it, it is always advisable to create a backup of the Windows drive with all programs and registry included. This can be easily done with Windows backup utility (can be found in system tools). The next time you install windows, the next step is to just restore the backup. And all your programs and drivers are restored, including the windows settings.

Fully armed and well trained, your PC is now ready for adventurous times!!!