You have a computer that is getting more and more sluggish as time goes on, and you want a checklist of simple tasks you can do to improve its performance? You are using Windows XP.
You say that you don't have a lot of time to spend on the computer, and while I understand this, (we all seem to live at breakneck speed these days), you may have to consider putting some time aside initially to give your computer a good old spring-cleaning. Once you have done it the first time, subsequent maintenance times will be considerably shorter, especially if you can create a regimen for doing it.
Spring cleaning a computer, in my view, takes two forms. Looking after the hardware, (the computer bits and pieces themselves), and looking after the software.
I am sure there are many ways to keep the hardware of your computer running smoothly, although I am of the opinion that if it isn?t broke, don?t fix it. Meaning, if your computer?s hardware components appear to run smoothly, I wouldn't do too much tinkering to rock the boat. However, there are little things you can do.
1. Keep dust away from the computer and everywhere around them.
2. Keep wires and leads tidy and out of harm's way as much as possible.
3. Make sure the computer case has plenty of ventilation around it, and that it is standing on a firm base.
4. Don't let your computer workspaces get cluttered up.
5. Don't eat or drink anywhere near the computer, printers, scanners, or keyboards. (Difficult I know, and I am the worst offender, but any crumbs in the keyboard or spilt drinks on the case or keyboard can do a lot of damage.)
6. Don't move the computer around when it are switched on. If you have to move it, shut it down first.
7. If you are feeling adventurous, and confident, remove a side panel from the computer and clear out any dust that has collected inside. But this is a risky process for someone who has not done it before, (for example, you have to be very careful to ground yourself first by touching any metal part of the case, before touching any of the printed circuit boards inside), and I would seek more advice if this is what you want to do but have never done so.
There may be other similar steps you can take, but the essence is, keep the computer area clean and clutter-free.
As to software and the operating system itself, there is much more you can do. Housekeeping is essential, and can greatly improve how your computer operates and runs. It seems to me that there are five main issues.
1. Keep the computer virus free and protected by firewalls.
2. Keep the computer Operating System, (OS), up to date.
3. Get rid of any unwanted or temporary files.
4. Keep the files you intend to retain on your computers tidy and easier to access by the OS.
5.Make sure you both understand the ''best practices'' for Internet Surfing, downloading and sharing files, viewing emails, and installing applications.
1. Keep the computers virus free and protected by firewalls
If you only do one thing, this is the one you must do. It is regrettable that the Internet is now swamped by idiots and malicious users whose only purpose in life seems to be to make our lives miserable with virus infections and attempted hacking into our personal property. Your computer is your own personal property and you must protect it. You need.
a) A firewall. There are many firewalls around, and they all help prevent hackers from gaining access to your computers and stealing personal data when you are connected to the Internet. The one I use is ZoneAlarm, from http://www.zonelabs.com. It is free, but it is by no means the only good one around.
You may already have a firewall installed on your computer. It is not advisable to have 2 firewalls installed on the same computer, as they can conflict and interrupt each other. With Windows XP there is already a basic firewall installed, but it is considered to be quite weak, and should be turned off if another firewall is used.
You need to check this. See the ?System tray? at the bottom right of your desktop where the time is displayed. How many small icons do you have in that system tray? If you have a lot, say more than 4 or 5, this may be too many. Each time you turn your computer on it loads certain programs into memory and displays an icon in the System Tray. Too many programs loaded into memory at start up will slow down your computer dramatically. Also they are unnecessary. If you need a program, say to play a music file or anything like that, you just open the program from the start menu, or from a desktop shortcut, and it will work ok.
You only need a few in there. You need the time, a loudspeaker for volume control, a Firewall icon, an Anti-Virus icon, and perhaps an icon that shows when you are connected to the internet.
Anything else is wasting your precious memory space. Try hovering the mouse over each icon until a little message displays, and writing down what each icon says. If that doesn?t tell you what a particular icon is, try right clicking the mouse over it, and reading what the menu is that is displayed. The menu may say something like ?Open xxxxx? where xxxxx is the name of the program.
If you have an icon either for Nortons, or McAfee, then you may have either an AntiVirus, or a Firewall, or both. Right click the icon and see what it says; eg, I have an icon that says ?Nortons Antivirus? So I know that I have Norton?s antivirus on my computer, but not Norton?s Firewall. (I don?t use Norton because I don?t like it, and I have disabled it).
If you have Norton?s Firewall, or McAfee Firewall, then you are pretty well defended. But you will need to check if there are updates available. Double click the icon to bring the Norton or McAfee program up, and search for an update option.
If you have neither, and no other firewall, go to http://www.zonelabs.com and download their free firewall, save the installation file to your desktop, and then double click it to run and install it. Once the installation is complete, you can delete the installation file from your desktop, but beware not to delete the ZoneAlarm program icon that may have been placed on your desktop during installation. When it is installed, ZoneAlarm will tell you whenever something is trying to access the internet from your computer, or whenever something is trying to access your computer from the internet. This will be a little pop-up just above the System Tray icon, and you can tell ZoneAlarm whether to allow or disallow.
For example, when you open up Internet Explorer to surf the internet, Zonealarm will pop up asking if you want Internet Explorer to access the internet. If you do, click ?yes?.
A word or two about the other icons in the system tray. As I said, you only need 4 or 5 icons there. If you have more then you have too many. Double click each icon one at a time to see what program comes up. Decide whether or not you want that program to load up each time you start the computer. You probably will not want it to. Explore the program, (eg the Tools menu, then Options, or it may just be an Options menu itself), and look for something that says, ?Load on start-up? or similar. Un-tick this, and click OK. The next time you start the computer, that program will not load until you want to load it. Do that with each icon that you don?t want in the System Tray.
You also need;
b) Anti virus (AV) protection. Whether or not your computer is connected to the Internet, you need anti virus protection on it. Viruses can infect computers through email messages, chat rooms, web sites, downloaded programs and other files, and through infected floppy disks or CD's that your friends or Harriet?s friends may pass around. Again, there are plenty of free Anti virus products on the Internet. I use AVG from http://www.grisoft.com, but there are other good ones around. (The actual link is http:// free.grisoft.com/freeweb.php , but forum policies do not allow links with the word ?free? in them, so remove the space between the http:// and free, and use that link).
If you have Norton?s Antivirus, or McAfee Antivirus, then you may be protected, but these programs need their virus definitions updated regularly, and they ask for a subscription after any free trial period. If you don?t want to pay this, (and I don?t), then these programs will not be protecting you properly. It is best to disable these, (you can do this by right clicking the System Tray icon, but this will only disable the program for the current session that the computer is on. To disable it permanently you may have to remove the program), and downloading and installing AVG.
Go to http:// free.grisoft.com/freeweb.php and download their free antivirus program. Save the install program to your desktop, and then double click it to run it and install the AVG program. Once the installation is complete, you can delete the installation file from your desktop, but beware not to delete the AVG program icon that may have been placed on your desktop during installation.
Its virus definition database needs to be updated immediately. Double click the icon in the System Tray, (or double click the program icon on your desktop), and choose ?Update? to download the latest virus definitions. Then run the ?Complete Test? option as soon as possible. AVG will scan your computer hard disk for any viruses.
The virus definitions need to be kept up to date regularly, (at least twice a week, although many people will say do it daily), and you should use the AV to scan the computer regularly, e.g. once a week. This is, singularly, the best way to keep computers virus free.
But AV's don't catch all malicious ?malware?. You also need anti ad-ware protection.
c) Anti Adware protection. Adware can be spread by the same methods. Adware places annoying ''pop-ups'' on your computer, advertising whatever they are meant to advertise. They also place programs on your computer that record your surfing habits, so they can target the ads you get when you visit web sites. The best anti adware program around is Ad-Aware by http://www.lavasoftusa.com. Again it is free. Again it needs its definitions updated immediately and a complete scan done right away, then updated regularly, and the computer scanned, but perhaps not so often, say once a month.
Use the same method as above to download and install the program. Remember to delete the installation program from your desktop.
d) You also need spyware protection. Spyware also spies on your surfing habits, but can steal details from you. I use two anti spyware products, both free, and they compliment each other. They are Spybot Search & Destroy from http://www.spybot.info/en/index.html Download and install as for the others, check for updates immediately and run the scan straight away, then update and scan regularly. If any spyware is found, Spybot has a button to ?Fix it? for you. Select the spyware from the list, and click that button.
And you need Spyware Blaster, from http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/ again, download and install, and update it. You don't perform scans with this program. It immunizes your computer in a different way, but it needs updating regularly.
I have a third anti-spyware application installed, from Microsoft. It is called Microsoft AntiSpyware and is proving very good. It is available from the Microsoft site here
e) I also have a start-up monitor installed. This warns me if anything on my computer that is installed, (either with or without my knowledge), attempts to set itself to start whenever I start up the computer. I obtained mine from http://www.mlin.net/StartupMonitor.shtml and it is a very useful little program.
2. Keep your OS up to date.
It is important to keep Windows up to date because it is an operating system that seems easy to exploit, and flaws and security issues are often found.
Windows XP must be updated regularly. It is the favorite OS for malware. You can set the XP system to update automatically, or you can visit Microsoft's update page manually by going to the Start menu, and clicking the Windows update link. There are many critical updates that need to be installed, and if you haven't done this before, be prepared to spend some time downloading the updates. (I mean a ''long'' time).
I don't mean to be alarmist in all this. But it is a sad fact that many thousands or even millions of computers around the world are not adequately protected, and this just allows malware to propagate and spread.
3. Get rid off any unwanted or temporary files.
Windows is a hoarder. It's worse than a magpie. It stores files all over it's system, and many of these can be temporary files that the OS and other programs only use once and are then meant to be deleted, but are not.
Each Windows OS has a utility called ''Disk Cleanup''. You will find yours in the Start menu folder. Go to Start Menu > Programs > Accessories > System Tools. Using this will empty the main Windows/Temp folders, and you can also use it to delete your Recycle Bin, and your ''Temporary Internet Folder'', which stores all of the objects that make up the websites you have visited. You don't need these and they can be deleted.
Alternatively you could delete these unwanted files within Windows Explorer, but If you do not know how to use Windows Explorer, (note that I do not mean Internet Explorer), then do a Search, (Start Menu/Search), and search for folders called, (without the ?? speech marks), ''Temp'', or ''temp'' or ''Temporary files'', or ''temp*'', (notice the star), and see what is contained in these folders. If you are satisfied they are old, or not wanted, delete them, but do not delete the folder itself.
Or in Internet Explorer, click the Tools Menu then click Internet Options, (or go to Start Menu > Settings > Control Panel > Internet Options), and under the General tab you can delete cookies, files, (temporary Internet files), and Internet history, (which keeps a record of the web sites you have visited recently).
You could also look at all the programs that are installed on the computer and see if there are any that you no longer need, and can be deleted, (or uninstalled). Doing this is a great way to free up hard disk space.
Go to Start Menu > Settings > Control Panel, and double click the Add/Remove Programs Icon. In this utility you can see a list of all the programs installed on each computer. If there are any programs that you know you no longer use or need, then highlight the program, and click the Add/Remove button, then follow any other instructions that may appear. If you are not sure whether you still use the programs, I would leave this alone until you can be sure. Beware though that very often only the major parts of the programs are removed, and some leftovers will remain in that program's folder which you will have to manually delete. You may have to reboot, (re-start), your computer after each removal, but the utility should let you know about this.
4. Keep the files you intend to retain on your computers tidy and easier to access by the OS.
One of the major things you can do to improve performance on the computer, (which means it does not have to work so hard, and will run more smoothly), is to ''scan'' the hard disk for errors, and ''de-fragment'' the disk at regular intervals. Scandisk scans the hard disk, (where all files/folders are stored), for errors, and will attempt to fix them all for you. Errors can be bad sectors that have become corrupt and need repairing, or marking as ''not for use in future'', or program/file fragments that no longer belong to anything, and Scandisk can help you keep your hard disks in good working order. Disk fragmentation is an occupational hazard with hard disks. The programs and files or data stored on the disk become fragmented over time, and the OS has to work harder to load the files when needed. The Disk Defragmenter recombines all these fragments into a more compact area, which makes retrieval easier.
Both Scan Disk and Disk Defragmenter are available by double clicking ''My Computer'' on the desktop, then highlighting the hard disk, (usually called the ''C'' disk), and right clicking that disk and choosing Properties, then Tools. If you have never run Scan Disk or Disk Defragmenter you should beware that these processes may take a long time to complete.
Before running either, disconnect from the Internet, (unplug the Internet cable or wire, but you should turn off the computer first, unless you can simply unplug the lead from the wall telephone socket), turn off any Screen Savers, and disable your firewall and AV programs, then reboot after each process is done, and after the final one is done, turn off the computer, re-connect your internet line, then turn it on again.
5. Make sure you both understand the ''best practices'' for Internet surfing, downloading and sharing files, viewing emails, and installing applications.
Best practices help you and anyone else using the comuter prevent coming across viruses and spyware in the first place.
a. One of the most important is to carry out a virus scan on ''EVERYTHING'' that you; download from the Internet and intend to install, or intend to install from a CD or floppy disk, or open any attachments from an email. I mean EVERYTHING. Even if you know where the file or groups of files have come from, check it first for viruses. This is easy enough to do. If you have a CD or floppy disk, before copying anything over to your hard disk or before installing anything from them, open up My Computer, highlight the CD or floppy disk drive, and right click, and choose ''Scan with AVG'', or whatever your AV is. If your AV does not install a right click option, open up the AV program, select Scan, and navigate to the drive to be scanned. Similarly with files received from download or from email attachments. First of all save them to a temporary folder. The desktop is a good place, but only for temporary storage. Highlight the file, and right click to select scan with your AV.
b. If you or anyone else is using a file sharing program, (one called Kazaa seems to be the most popular), to share files with other people, you must be aware that the program itself may have come bundled with spyware and adware, and that any files you or they download may not be what you or they expect, but may be infected themselves. You need to research the programs you intend to use, (e.g. in Google type in Kazaa, and stand well back when the thousands of Kazaa related articles appear), and find out what experts think of them. Do not trust a program just because the web site it came from looks good, or the program itself looks ''cool''.
c. A lot of web sites attempt to install files and programs onto your computer when you visit them. Use common sense when deciding which web sites to visit, and consider increasing your browsers security beforehand, (Internet Explorer/Tools/Internet Options/Security).
d. Beware of chat rooms. There is the obvious, (sadly), risk of young children being targeted by adults in chat rooms, but there is also the less obvious risk, especially in IRC chat rooms, or with Instant Messengers, of viruses ''getting in'' through the back door.
Understand what you are doing, and keep up the housekeeping regularly. There are many people here at the CNET forums who are willing to help any questions or problems you may have.
This is a very long reply, and it will look very daunting. But I am sad to say it is really all necessary to keep your computer working properly and safe from viruses. This first time all this is going to take a very long time, but once you have downloaded and installed everything, keeping them up to date and doing scans will be a lot quicker.
Submited by: Mark F. of Littleover Derby, United Kingdom