For Windows users, there’s nothing quite like the speed of a new PC. The hardware is top notch; the operating system is newly installed; your software runs fast. Life is good.
But over time, things inevitably slow down, and eventually you’re left wondering whether the only way to speed things up again is to spend days reinstalling everything from scratch. Sometimes, that is indeed the only solution.
But you can avoid the system slowdowns and instability that plague many Windows users by learning the following rules to ensure the continued vitality of your PC.
PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
CREATE AN IMAGE
PC veterans known that a Windows computer can go from eminently usable to completely frustrating with one click. Make a bad decision to install a piece of freeware that ends up giving you blue screens of death, for instance, and you could find yourself scratching your head for hours — if not days — in an effort to restore your computer to the way it was.
Prepare for such a disaster early on by creating an image of your PC’s main hard drive. With an image file and accompanying recovery CD, you can restore your PC to a usable baseline state in a matter of hours. And that certainly beats the days you might otherwise lose to reinstalling an operating system, applications, and your files.
PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
The trick here is to act early. Get your PC to a state in which you could get all of your work done — with all of your essential applications installed, Internet connection working, printer and scanner drivers installed and functioning, and essential files readily available. Then reach for an imaging tool such as Acronis’ True Image (www.acronis.com) to create a snapshot of your computer on an external hard drive. Be sure to create a recovery CD, as well, so that you can restore your computer to a fully functioning state.
USE A SECOND PC
Don’t throw away or give away that old PC. Instead, consider using it as a machine on which to test software that you’re thinking about installing on your main machine.
Too often, by the time we realize that a piece of software has made our computers slower and less stable, it’s too late. The software is already installed and has done its damage. Even worse, the most poorly written software can be difficult to uninstall — or fails to remove itself completely from a computer even when the uninstallation seems to have gone without a hitch.
With a second PC, you can try out all sorts of software — shareware and freeware that you find online, office and utility suites that seem tempting, as well as games. You’ll see quickly just which packages are worth migrating to your main computer — and you’ll learn tricks about which options to install so that you can keep your computer running
SAY NO TO ADD-ONS
If you value snappiness in your PC, be suspicious of any software — free or not — that claims to add must-have features to your operating system or applications.
The following popular add-ons, for instance, will almost assuredly slow down your computer: browser toolbars, desktop search tools, gadgets or widgets, CD and DVD burning tools that add components such as drag-to-disk, PDF toolbars and add-ins, antivirus and anti-spyware monitoring tools.
Not all of this software will slow down every computer the same amount, but most of it will have a noticeable impact on performance. Install a full-featured browser toolbar, for example, and instead of having your browser start up in a split second, you might find yourself waiting for a few seconds for the browser to open. Add those few seconds up throughout the course of a day, and the result could be frustration.
The fact is that most of us neither need nor want the majority of add-ons that end up getting installed on our PCs — with or without our knowledge. Use that test PC — or create an image — before installing any add-in that you think you need.
PERFORM ROUTINE MAINTENANCE
Controlling what is installed on your PC is part of the challenge in keeping your PC humming. The other part is making sure the computer itself is running as efficiently as possible.
Over time, file fragmentation will occur on any PC, slowing down disk access and thus your entire computer. You can run Microsoft’s disk defragmenter, built in to Windows, on a monthly basis to keep things speedy, but the disk defragmenter that Microsoft provides is slow and can only be run manually. Auslogics’ Disk Defrag (www.auslogics.com/disk-defrag), a replacement for Microsoft’s disk defragmenter, is both free, faster, and more flexible.
Keeping your PC dust-free is the other type of routine maintenance that will ensure that your PC continues to perform well. Dust that covers vents and electronic components will hinder heat dissipation, and overheating can actually cause some PCs to throttle down preventively. Treat your PC like a piece of furniture, and wipe it off from time to time.
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