PC tune-up tips for the New Year

Published: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 5:24 a.m.
I have been seeing a lot of computers lately that have been running like molasses on a cold Vermont day. Many Windows users complain their newer PCs seem to slow down after only a few weeks or months of use. A New Year's tune-up can do a lot to bring back performance, and a few judicious upgrades can do a world of good to make systems run even better than new.
First, get rid of the junk. Many users tend to load their new computers up with added software as soon as they get them, and then never remove it. Each program that loads at startup consumes a small amount of memory and other system resources, and the more programs you run, the slower your system becomes. Go to the Add/Remove Programs icon in the Windows Control Panel and remove programs you no longer use. But be sure not to remove programs you're not sure about, and don't remove Windows components. It's better to be safe than sorry here. Be sure to do a Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter after the cleanup.
Good adware and spyware scanners can help remove unneeded programs as well. I continue to recommend Ad Aware and Spybot, both available through the Web at www.download.com, as the core of your PC fighting efforts. Another free program I have been using lately is a-squared (www.emisoft.com), which has a free edition that can serve as a third line of defense against the epidemic of adware and spyware running on the Internet. A-squared Personal adds additional features for $30, a free trial is available. One of the biggest sources of adware and spyware plugging PCs are add-on search bars that also serve as ad servers for your PC. It's often a safer bet to just visit a major search engine's home page than rely on a toolbar add-on that may be slowing your system down in the process.
Adding computer memory, especially to PCs using Windows XP, can make a major difference in performance. If you have a newer PC with Windows XP, a minimum of 512MB of RAM is needed to adequately handle the system and video needs, as well as run programs like AOL and others that consume a large amount of system memory. Nearly every new PC I see with 256MB, or in some cases even 128MB and Windows XP will perform much better with a memory upgrade. Adding 256MB of RAM can cost as little as $35 with rebates, etc. Many newer PCs use system memory to handle video, decreasing available memory for programs even more.
Speaking of Windows XP, it may now be time to consider upgrading your system. If you've been holding off, consider the following. Microsoft's support for non-XP operating systems is continuing to dwindle, and will eventually be reduced even further. If your system is a Pentium III or above and can handle at least 384MB of RAM (with a separate video card), it's a good time to look at upgrading to XP. XP has more stability and better security, and with the release of Service Pack 2, Microsoft has managed to get many of the bugs out and improve system compatibility. Visit the Microsoft Web site at www.microsoft.com and search for "Windows XP Upgrade Advisor." A free tool is available that can examine your system to see how many upgrades will need to be made to your system to make it compatible with XP. Most of the drivers needed to operate systems components with XP can be automatically downloaded and installed as part of an XP upgrade.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant whose column appears on Mondays in WorkLife. He can be reached at webgator@bellsouth.net or via www.tvccs.com. His columns also are available at www.gainesvillesun.com.

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