Don't Be Afraid of Your Computer

Scary Computer Logo

Vol. 01 - July 10, 2011

Microsoft Windows LogoCleaning Windows 7

* This works about the same for Windows XP.

Consider this your basic guide to making peace with Windows. Many of the problems that are normally treated by computer techs and retailers can be resolved or avoided by regularly running through this basic maintenance procedure. Bookmark this page and refer back to it when it's time for another tune-up.

Backup

It would be irresponsible for me to jump right into instructions on cleaning and upgrading your Windows machine without first mentioning backups. Regular, redundant backups are always recommended if you keep anything on your computer that you hold dear. Generally this includes photos, music, documents, downloads, videos, bookmarks and sometimes contacts and e-mails. By default, Windows puts all of your personal files in "C:\Users\[your name here]". If you save all of your files in the folders that Windows suggests, it's easy to locate almost everything that you'll want backed up. It's important to note that you cannot backup applications or games that are installed, so don't ask. This article isn't really about backups so I'm not going to go any further into how and where to keep data, perhaps another time.

Get Classy

Now that the responsible thing is done, let's wreak some havoc on your computer's tender bits. Don't worry, these actions don't commonly cause computers to break or crash. That being said, there's always the possibility that something will get lost or broken through the process of progress. If you're scared, relax and see above regarding backups.

  1. Uninstalling Apps and Windows Components
  2. CCleaner
  3. Windows Update
  4. Antivirus
  5. Simple System Settings
  6. Extras

Uninstalling Applications

To uninstall applications from your computer, go to the control panel and look under "programs" or "programs and features" for "uninstall a program"

You should regularly uninstall all of the programs that you won't be using in the near future. A quick search on the Internet will reveal everything that you'll need to know about programs that you don't recognize, do this before uninstalling anything that you may actually need. There's a good chance that you won't recognize all of the listed programs, don't let that scare you. Exercise extreme prejudice when coming across toolbars, expired trials and other add-on programs that frequently get installed nearly automatically when you are installing something else. While installing many programs, the application will try to install other software that you may or may not want. When you install new programs and games watch out for software offers, never install them. If you want the program that it's offering, it's best to find it on the Internet, download and install it separately. More on this at the CCleaner section, below.

Removing Windows Components

Windows comes pre-packaged with a lot of extra features that you may not use and they slow your computer and consume your resources. The extra features can be removed in the Uninstall Programs window by clicking on the "Turn Windows features on or off" link on the left side. Heed the previous warning regarding unrecognized items on this menu. After uninstalling applications or removing Windows components, you should always reboot.


CCleaner - The weapon of choice.

You can download CCleaner from the developer's website for free. If you'd like, you can buy and download the software, I support that decision but there is also a link to download the latest version for free. Besides antivirus, this is the only application that every Windows computer should have that it doesn't come packaged with. Installation is pretty straight-forward. Watch for ninjas!

Using CCleaner is easy and safe, your computer will love you for it. Starting on the "Cleaner" tab, you can clean most of the temporary files that regularly accumulate on your computer. The default settings are fine but you may want to look under the "Applications" tab and check extra options to get a deeper clean. Be careful with the "Wipe Free Space" check-box, it's useful but takes a really, really long time to run. When you're ready, click on "Run Cleaner". After a caution message, the program will go through your computer and clean up all of the junk that has built up in the gutters of your hard drive. When it's complete, you'll see a report detailing which files were cleaned and how much space was regained in the process.

CCleaner makes it easy and safe to clean the dark alleys that are really in control of Windows. The second tab on the left is where you can access this tool. The default options are good, just click "Scan for Issues" and let the software do the work. When it's done, you'll have a list of issues, they should all be checked. Click "Fix selected issues" to get down to business. You will be prompted to make a backup. This is a good practice but it's up to not necessary. The next window asks how to deal with each issue. Since reading is boring, click on "Fix All Selected Issues" and you're good to go.

The final stage to CCleaner's regular maintenance is the "Tools" tab. If you want to uninstall programs, I suggest you use the method laid out above. In the "Startup" window, disable anything that you don't want starting when Windows starts. Don't delete anything that's on this screen, instead click on an item and select "Disable" on the right side. This is incredibly useful and should be used liberally. There is bound to be some foreign information on this screen and a quick web search for the program name + "startup" will tell if an application is necessary or dangerous. Some programs (such as antivirus) and sync-able devices do require that your computer starts an application when it boots, so watch out for those but don't be afraid to try disabling to see what happens. If you disable something that you need, you will notice after rebooting and can re-enable it at that time.

After using any of CCleaner's tools, it's important to reboot your computer. At this point, Windows may boot faster that it did previously, which is good. If you encounter any errors, go back to the "Startup" tool and re-enable whatever matches the error message that you receive.

Windows Update

Keeping Windows current with updates is something that every user should be comfortable with. There are several ways to get to the Windows Update tool. It's located on your Start Menu under "All Programs" and it's also on the control panel. To start, on the left side of the Windows Update screen, click "Change Settings". On the next screen, you can should change the first option under "Important Settings", select "Check for updates buts let me choose whether to download and install them". This setting will keep Windows from downloading updates without alerting you first, saving your computer and Internet connection from slowing down abruptly while you're trying to do something important. The other settings on this screen can be set however you would like, I personally check the first three and not the last one.

Once you're back at the Windows Update screen you can see if there are available updates. Click where it tells you the amount of updates. I encourage everyone to make sure all of the important updates are selected to be installed. There are often "recommended" and "optional" updates also available and, if so, you should click on those links too. At least skim each item before letting Windows install everything. If you don't know what something is here, install it anyways. There are language packs and things that usually aren't required, these can be hidden by right-clicking on the specific item and selecting "hide updates".

When you're happy with your selections, click "Install Updates". After it's complete, reboot your computer and run Windows Updates again. There are often additional updates that won't be available until after running prior updates and rebooting. Keep checking and installing until Windows specifically says that there are no remaining updates. Always keep an eye on your task bar, next to the clock, for the Windows Updates icon letting you know that there are updates to download and install.

Antivirus

Simply put: If your using any version of Windows, you must always enable antivirus monitoring and scan regularly! Don't pay for antivirus software unless you're dealing with a specific virus that needs special attention. There are several free antivirus applications available that consistently rate higher than the big-name solutions. I personally recommend AVG Free Edition. Don't install the toolbar that come with AVG, though. Don't ever install extra toolbars, it's potentially really bad for your computer. Four of of five computer nerds agree,toolbars are viruses.


Simple System Settings - Set it once and forget it!

There are some Windows functions that can be changed from their factory settings to improve overall speed and reliability.

Customize Visual Effects and Set Virtual Memory

  1. On the Control Panel under "System and Security" click "System".
  2. Note the installed memory (RAM) then click "Advanced System Settings" (on the left).
  3. Select the "Advanced" tab and click the "Settings" button under "Performance".

The first tab controls how Windows animates and decorates your user experience. Selecting "Custom" and disabling some of these features can provide a pretty significant boost. Nothing on the "Visual Effects" tab will cause damage to your computer, it's all aesthetic and resource-hungry so think carefully about how pretty you want Windows versus how fast you want it.

Also in the system settings, on the "Advanced" tab, click "Change" under "Virtual Memory". By default, Windows comes set to "Automatically manage paging file size for all drives" but that's not ideal, uncheck that box. If C: is the only drive that's listed in the window, select it and choose "Custom size" from the options below. In both of the input boxes, enter the number that's listed as "Recommended" at the bottom of the window and click "Set", alternatively you can multiply RAM times 1.5 (that's what I do). If there are any other drives on your computer, you should set C: to "No paging file" and click "Set". Then select a secondary drive (D: or E: or whatever) and set the "Custom size" as previously described.

Disable Search Indexing

The Windows Search function is rarely used and notorious for randomly working in the background and slowing everything down. I highly recommend turning off search indexing to reclaim some power. By disabling the indexing service, Windows Search will still work but it won't browse through your hard drive while you're doing something else, locating and tracking all of your files, slowing down you machine. Do this:

  1. Open "Computer" via the start menu or desktop icon.
  2. Next, right-click on a drive (start with C:) and select "Properties".
  3. On the "General" tab, un-check "Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed ..."
  4. Click "Apply changes to drive, subfolders and files".
  5. Wait ...
  6. If you get any warnings, don't panic, click "Ignore All".
  7. ** Repeat for all drives **

As with every time you make changes to the Windows Operating System, it's important to reboot your computer and finalize the settings.

Extra Credit

Depending on how confident you are feeling at this point, there is a bit more that you can do to get an extra performance boost. Link to Black Viper for detailed information about Windows Services and how to really cut the fat of Windows.