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Al's Guide to cleaning up your Windows computer

Alan "reasonably dangerous" Berman

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Al's Guide to cleaning up your Windows computer

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I was asked recently by a friend to help her clean up / speed up her computer. (Actually, I'm asked to do this by about half a dozen people daily at work, but that's besides the point.)

Rather than writing it out in an email, I thought perhaps a publicly accessible LJ post would be more useful.

Before You Start
You will need some little software tools and utilities to make your PC cleanup easier.
Download these free utilities:
CCleaner installs itself like a typical application.
Autoruns is a zip file containing a couple .exe files and a help file or two. Extract the autoruns.exe file and put it in the c:\windows\system32 folder.

Part 1: Programs on Startup

Windows programs like to install themselves to run on startup. Most of these items don't need to be running as soon as you turn your computer on, and quite frequently they don't need to be running at all, ever. They're what's known as memory resident
processes, and the less of them you have, the speedier and more responsive your computer will be. The autoruns application you just downloaded and copied into your system32 folder is perfect for hunting down extraneous applications set to run on startup.
  • Start > Run > autoruns > OK
If this is the first time you're using autoruns, it will probably prompt you with an OK button or two. You will then get a multi-tabbed window and it'll scan through your computer slowly populating a big list of technical looking stuff. Do not panic.
  • When the scanning is done, you should be able to click the "Options" menu item and select "Hide Microsoft and Windows Entries".
  • Hit the F5 key to refresh the list (it'll rescan).
This will (theoretically) prevent you from accidentally turning off something vital to making Windows work properly. It also makes it much easier to spot the extraneous stuff.
  • Select the Logon tab
The "Everything" tab is overwhelming and not really within the focus of this article. For our purposes we'll stick with the Logon tab.

There's really no right or wrong answer when it comes to what you should run on startup. It's entirely a personal preference thing. If you have antivirus software (you should) it's best to leave that running on startup, but you can probably do without things like skype, google talk, AIM, quicktime, itunes, winamp, and those sorts of things.
  • Uncheck the box next to any programs you would like to disable from running on startup.
  • You do not need to click save in autoruns. Just uncheck what you don't want, and close the window.
Part 2: CCleaning your registry and temp files
CCleaner (Crap Cleaner) is a great program which saves us both a lot of time and explaining.
  • Close all web browsers you have running. (Yes, even this browser window. Copy this into a word document or bookmark this page or something.)
  • Open CCleaner, it should default to the "Cleaner" tab.
  • In the "Windows" sub-tab, I like to select all checkboxes except for "Wipe Free Space".
  • In the "Applications" sub-tab, I check everything except my Firefox and Chrome cookies. (This just saves me from having to redo my preferences on various websites.)
  • Click "Run Cleaner" (The cleaning process can several minutes, depending on how much stuff it finds on your system.)
When the Cleaner finishes, it should give you a spiffy report saying how much hard drive space it freed up.
  • Change to the Registry tab in CCleaner.
  • All checkboxes should be checked.
  • Click "Scan for Issues"
  • When the scan completes, click "Fix selected issues"
  • I typically choose to fix all issues and say "no" when prompted if I want to save changes to a file. If you're feeling cautious, feel free to save the changes to a .reg file so you can undo them later.
Your machine should now be booting and running a bit smoother. Close out of CCleaner and reboot to let the changes take effect.

Part 3: Further cleanup - remove crap applications

There's no way for me to detail here all the applications which may have somehow found their way onto your Windows machine. Hopefully you have some idea of what software you use frequently and what software you find irritating. Chances are there might be some annoying toolbar(s) installed on your system you didn't intend to install, but piggybacked their way onto your machine when you installed some other program. Revo Uninstaller is like the regular Windows Add/Remove Programs on steroids. When you uninstall an application through Revo, it'll run the applications built-in uninstaller, and then after that's done, it'll scan to make sure every last remnant of the application is really truly gone. I use it in "moderate" mode, but if you're feeling cautious, go ahead n' use "safe" mode.

Part 4: Defragment!

So, defragmenting is not quite the panacea it's been trumped up to be, but it's still handy to do every now and then. Over time, your computer writes your data in various physical spots on your hard drive. When it can't find a big enough spot to write a full file contiguously in one location, it'll break it up into smaller bits to fit it wherever's available. This is known as fragmentation. The reason this is undesirable is that it means your hard drive's little needle has to jump all over the place to read that file back when you want to access that data. That slows things down for you. Defragmenting forces your computer to reorganize your data physically to avoid fragmentation. It's slow and typically takes many hours to do it, hence I recommend running it overnight while you sleep.
  • Start > Run > dfrg.msc > OK
  • Disk Defragmenter should open up. Click the "Defragment" button. Go to bed.

Part 5: Notes and Stuff
  • Ideally you should have at least 15% of your drive free for optimal system performance. This gives your computer enough space to shuffle things around for defragmentation.
  • You may also want to head over to the Microsoft Updates site to make sure your system is running all the latest fixes from Microsoft. They release security fixes on a pretty regular basis.
  • Run one antivirus software program. More is not better, in this instance. Antivirus programs running at the same time will compete with one another. I recommend Microsoft Security Essentials because it's free and doesn't slow my system down.
  • Don't use Internet Explorer if you can help it. IE 8 is better than previous editions, but IE is still the #1 entry point for viruses and malware to get on your system. Firefox and Chrome are much less vulnerable.
  • Be aware of what you have running in your system tray (that's the little area where the clock lives). Each of those little icons is a program which is running in the background. If you have more than half a dozen things running in there then it's probably time to examine what you're running on startup.
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