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PC Cleanup Instructions   March 7th, 2007

Is your computer running slow? Is it acting strange when you get on the Internet? Here are 10 steps to clean your PC.

1. Do you have an anti-virus program that is up to date?

A virus is a malicious piece of self replicating code that can corrupt your PC’s operating system and destroy your data. McAfee has recently classified their 200,000th threat. This includes all viruses since the late 1980s. They expect to double their threat database in the next two years (McAfee press release 7/6/2006).

If you don’t have an up to date antivirus program on your pc right now, chances are you have a virus. I recommend that you load ONE of three antivirus programs

  1. McAfee AntiVirus

  2. Norton AntiVirus

  3. AVG Free

If you don’t have one of these programs on your PC, load one right now! McAfee and Norton are the industry leaders. They will cost you about $40 for the software and an update subscription. AVG Free is free for personal home use. You may also have access to one of these programs through your internet service provider (ISP). Check to see if your service provides free antivirus software.

OK. You think you have antivirus software running on your PC. Is is up to date? Open your antivirus program. From the menu bar, click Help and then About (all three programs should work the same)…

An about box will display your version and virus definition files. If the date on your definition files is more than one week old, you need to update your antivirus program.

One last warning, you should not have more than one antivirus program on your PC. Multiple antivirus program on a single PC can cripple it. The rule is one and only one!

2. Are you running anti-spyware?

Spyware has become an epidemic on the web. It is a hidden computer program that is used to collect information about you and your surfing habits. The use of this information ranges from mildly legitimate to criminal theft. Too much spyware can cripple a computer’s performance.

Modern antivirus programs will remove some spyware. However, they are not effective enough. You should install several anti-spyware programs. I recommend three anti-spyware packages. They are all free for personal, home use. If you can, install all three.

  1. Microsoft Windows Defender

  2. Spybot Search and Destroy

  3. Ad-Aware SE

Microsoft Windows Defender is the latest version of the Microsoft Anti-Spyware program. This software will only run on Windows 2000 or higher (Windows XP). Your PC will be validated with Genuine Advantage (so you must have a legal copy of Windows). Windows Defender is an active program that is always scanning for spyware. It will also schedule a daily deep scan through Windows Update

Spybot and Ad-Aware are manual programs. You must periodically update the definitions, immunize your PC, and run a scan. I recommend updating and running these programs twice a month (once a week is even better).

3. Have you done all the Microsoft updates?

Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you are probably running Microsoft Windows. Microsoft is the “king of the hill” for operating systems. Macs and Linux are cool. However, most people run Windows.

Nearly every hacker in the world is gunning to exploit Windows. Microsoft does a huge amount of patching to fix problems and plug security holes.

Major patches are released on the second Tuesday of every month. This has become known as Patch Tuesday.

There are two ways to run Windows Update. You can run it from Microsoft’s website at http://update.microsoft.com. If you have XP, you can also schedule updates to run overnight. This can be set up from Automatic Updates in the Control Panel.

In the past, administrators would wait until a couple days after a patch was released to install it. This would give you a little time for other people to test the patch. At the time, this was smart. Removing a bad patch used to be very difficult. It doesn’t matter today, since patches can easily be removed through Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel. If Microsoft recommends a patch, you should probably have it installed.

If you are not sure of the last time your PC has been updated, run update now

4. Have you flushed your caches and temp files recently?

Your computer “temporarily” stores a lot of junk. Caches, temp files, and cookies are files that you don’t need to hang around. Go get CClean (crap cleaner).

5. How much crap is running at startup?

You probably have a half dozen worthless programs loading into memory every time you boot your computer. Most of these are waiting tell you to register, upgrade, or buy something. Some are junky little accessory programs that you occasionally use. Some may be collecting information about you, your buying habits, and your surfing habits (spyware). If your PC is low on memory, these programs can cripple your system.

Clean them up! I use Spybot to clean them. through the advanced tools menu, you can disable startup items without deleting them. If you disable something that you want to run on startup, you can always enable it. You can also use CClean. Caution: when you delete startup items in CClean they are gone.

I have also been playing with WinPatrol. It looks like a good utility to remove startup items.

6. Is your hard drive full?

If garage is stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, where do you put the car? Your PC needs free space to create temp or cache files. When you hard drive is full, you PC may start crashing on you. Open My Computer and find the top entry for your hard drive (usually Local Disk (C:)). Right click it and choose properties. The pie chart will show you how much free space you have. If it is less than 5 gb, you should probably remove/uninstall some junk from your PC. The Disk Cleanup wizard is a good place to start. Do NOT compress the drive (the performance hit is not worth the space you will save).

Hey! While you are in the properties screen, click on the Tools tab. Run Error-checking then Defragmentation.

7. How much memory do you have?

Today, the bare minimum amount of memory should be 256MB. 512MB+ is better. 1GB+ is best. If you are looking to upgrade your PC without replacing it, memory will provide the most bang for the buck. $50-$75 worth of memory could make it feel like a whole new PC.

8. Is your firewall turned on?

A firewall controls access to your PC. Your computer communicates using the Internet Protocol Suite. Application protocols like HTTP, SMTP, SNMP, FTP, Telnet, and SSH, are control by ports. A firewall helps you control how these ports are accessed from the Internet.

There are two type of firewalls. A hardware based firewall is a physical device. These are generally found in devices like network routers. Hardware firewalls can be found in most residential routers from companies like Linksys, Belkin, and Netgear. Most of these are controlled through a web interface.

Firewalls can also be software based. If you are running XP with service pack 2, you have a software based firewall on your PC. You can access it through the Security Center in Control Panel. If you don’t have XP or want a more powerful firewall, you can download ZoneAlarm free, a free firewall from Zone Labs.

A word of caution, a misconfigured router can cripple your ability to access the Internet or communicate on your network. Be sure you know EXACTLY what you are doing before configuring port access restrictions.

9. Broadband or Dialup?

Dialup is dead. The screeching of a modem connection is quickly becoming a nostalgic sound of the past. Even at the fastest modem speeds, updates to virus signature files and Microsoft patches can take hours. Many of these updates run in the background when you connect to the Internet. This makes your connection even slower.

If your dial up provider is offering a speed booster for $5 more a month, ignore them. The speed booster is an external proxy server. Most of the time, this proxy is not worth the extra money. The “speed boost” is nominal at best.

For dial up speed, the best thing that you can do is make sure that your updates are not running in the background when you connect. Learn about schedulers in your AV and update programs. Allow these programs to initiate the dial up connection. Schedule the updates for 2AM. Set your dial up connection to disconnect when the updates are done.

On my cable modem connection, the download speed can burst to over 5000 KB per second. A telephone modem can never be faster than 53 KB per second. If you upgrade to the slowest broadband, you are probably running 768 KB DSL. To me this would seem like the Internet in slow motion. To a modem user it would seem like warp speed. Einstein was right about the relativity thing.

OK, you want broadband. Now what. Time to shop. Most broadband connections will cost you from $30 to $100 a month.

DSL is usually the cheapest.

10. Is it time for a new PC?

 

You can only tweak so much on a PC. If you have gone through all the steps to clean your PC and it is still slow, you may want to think about a new PC. A cheap $500 PC may run a whole lot better that your old PC with $400 worth of upgrades.