Revitalize your computer

It’s been a while that you have been using your PC, but things aren’t the way they were before. It takes ages for your PC to boot and applications take a hell lot of time to start. Your games are running slow and applications often get hung up. Often at this stage people take up the painful task of reinstalling windows, but how often can we tolerate the process and be patient enough to get format and then get windows in the way you like it? Isn’t there a way out of this vicious circle?

slow-computer

Wise men would rather get windows revitalized than reinstalled. To begin with, what is choking your windows?

Applications starting at startup- Usually when an application is installed, it makes an entry in registry to start itself at windows startup. Though most of the applications ask us a confirmation to make a startup entry, we rather ignore it in our quest to finish the installation, pressing next again and again! Such programs increases the boot time of windows, and while running in back ground, make your current applications run slow.

The usual cure people adopt is looking for a file in startup tab and deleting it, but not all applications work in that procedure. Some applications make entries in registry and need to be tackled in another way.

The windows utility MSCONFIG provides convenience of managing startup programs. Just go to RUN and type MSCONFIG and strike enter. Click on startup tab, a list of applications that start at windows boot up are listed. They include antivirus, messengers, maintenance utilities and many more applications most of which are those you never realised are running under back ground. Taking care, letting important applications like firewall, antivirus etc enabled to start at startup, un-tick those which you seldom use. This eases pressure on processor and competition for memory.

Unwanted services: Apart from applications starting at startup, some applications run their child services in background. They too, if not desired, tend to eat up the pace of your computer. Open the services tab in MSCONFIG. Upon clicking hide Microsoft services; a list of third party services is displayed. Leaving antivirus, unclick the rest of unwanted services. These include those of MS office, media players, blue tooth services etc. Though MSCONFIG can be used to manage services, it doesn’t explain what job the service does, creating dilemma regarding what to do with the service.

For a more detailed review, the tool SERVICES.MSC can be used. Run it using the RUN command. It provides an explanation regarding what a service does, so that we can take a proper decision to mess around safely.

Eye candy and performance settings: Though not as gorgeous as Vista, XP still tries to please you with sliding or fading menus, shadows under pointers, showing windows contents while dragging, animating windows when minimizing and other stuff like that. But this eye candy costs you in terms of system performance. Sheer performance can be obtained if we switch to the 98 kind of view, but let’s not fall to that extent for performance. I have observed a few settings and noticed that upon implementing, there isn’t much difference in terms of eye candy, though performance increases dramatically.

Go to My computer icon, right click on it and enter in its properties. Go to advanced tab and click on performance settings. A window pops up showing visual effects settings. Choose custom settings and scroll down till the last of list. Tick on the last three options and un-tick the rest of them. Apply and press ok. You will observe that there isn’t much noticeable change done to visual effects, though your performance will increase.

Go under the advanced tab in the pop up window and click on change virtual memory. Virtual memory is that space allocated on hard drive that is used as RAM when there is a shortage of physical memory. Though hard drive doesn’t have data transfer speeds comparable to RAM, but while using RAM hogging applications like 3D modeling and games, it does benefit performance when you smartly use virtual memory.

Points to be kept in mind while allocating space for virtual memory are-

  • Once allocated, the space for virtual memory on the hard drive is reserved exclusively for the purpose and can’t be used in data storing purposes.
  • As a rule of thumb, set minimum size to 1.5 times your RAM size and maximum size to 3 times the RAM size.
  • Don’t keep page file on the partition where windows is installed. Allocate it on one which isn’t used frequently and is free from faults. It better be an NTFS formatted partition.
  • Don’t allocate page file on two-three partitions on a same hard drive. Use a single partition.

It is to be noted that when system usage of page file exceeds the size of RAM, system experiences an performance degrade. The way to achieve good performance is to add more RAM to your system. It is also to be noted that keeping virtual memory zero will also spoil performance by loading the RAM too much.

Clean the clutter: Though using a registry and temp cleaner like CCleaner will remove the temporary files and the invalid entries in registry, it can’t remove the .thumb, .dmp etc files that are created by applications when they run. Usually they are deleted shortly after termination, but sometimes they are left behind if application hangs up or was terminated abruptly. Though small in size, hundreds of such files spread across your PC will certainly sum to a couple of hundred MBs. It’s really a waste of ever precious hard disk space. Adding to the woe are the applications hooked up with your PC which didn’t come with an uninstaller or have left entries in your PC that doesn’t allow you to install applications of same sort. Like often after uninstall of Nero, a newer version doesn’t get installed sighting presence of an older version as reason. Similarly, after uninstalling AVG, few entries are left behind on your PC that doesn’t allow installing any other antivirus, warning that another antivirus is still present on your PC. You are left with just two miserable options, either to opt for an alternate software (Though it’s adventurous to experiment), or format your system (boo boo!!). Of course you can charge on your registry and delete those notorious entries, but for a normal guy this saga isn’t going to be easier than finding cradle of life!

There is this third option that hits two balls with a single kick, checking those notorious entries in your registry and deleting junk as well. And the name is Revo uninstaller. This little freeware can be used to delete those notorious useless files on your hard disk and uninstall your applications the smart way by removing all related entries in registry, cleaning all the files created by that application and removing those applications as well which didn’t come with an inbuilt uninstaller. For a PC gone bad, it’s a must do to scan it for temporary files and check for struck up applications.

Note: Using any decent registry cleaner like CCleaner is recommended to remove invalid references in registry. Utilities like PC Booster also do a good job by checking performance and improving it on a single click.

Defragment the hard disk: Every time data is added to your PC, system doesn’t always keep a file as a unit at one place. Instead it keeps chunks of file at first place available on hard drive. The same thing applies when OS is being installed. Hence right from the time you install your OS, your hard disk keep on fragmenting with every application you install and every file you add. If you use these fragmented files, like playing a game whose files are fragmented or watching a movie which is fragmented, result is greatly degraded system performance. This problem is more severe for people who are switching applications frequently, do a lot of gaming or are adding and removing a lot of movies (or large files) on their hard drive.

The solution is simple and has always been on your PC, defragment your hard drive. The windows in built defragmenter will do a good job, though better tools are available. Go to start-programs-accessories-system tools-disk defragmenter. Analyse the partitions and check for level of defragmentation. Though it may say it’s not necessary to defragment, do it. Keep in mind to do NOTHING while you defragment, else you may end up slowing the process. Let other things make you busy since it may take its own time to defragment.

When compared to windows defragmenter, many other defragmenters do a better job. One such tool is piriform defragmenter, which is also a freeware. If money isn’t the issue, O&O defragmenter is a better solution. Defragmenting your PC every now or then after a heavy file transaction makes sure you seldom see bad days.

>> Also read this newer post on page file and MFT de-fragmentation. <<

Digging in hardware: Though many people have this notion that performance is a software issue, hardware does play an important role in performance degrade. Give this a thought- you use CPU exhaustive applications like file compressors, games and audio/video converters that heat up your computer (precisely your processor), due to which the CPU thermal control reduces the clock speed of your processor to cool it down, leading to reduction in performance. Processor overheating is also responsible for fan blowing noise in CPU. The culprit can be any of these two- dry heat sink compound paste or dust accumulation in processor fan. Open up your cabinet and clean the interiors, use finer brushes to clean dust from processor heat sink and fan. Also remove RAM and blow off dust from slots. Even then the sound persists, remove heat sink from top of processor and replace the heat sink paste. Use a standard heat sink compound for best performance.

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!!!