Even if your PC runs smoothly, it shouldn't keep secrets from you. We include a utility that shows what programs load when you start up your PC, a Firefox extension that helps you track your Web movements, and a straightforward game to challenge your brain instead of your PC's resources.
Suss out startup freeloaders
The moment your PC boots up, it attracts a school of digital remoras--programs that attach themselves to your PC and start up automatically when it does. Msconfig, which is already on your system, lists each contributor to this free-meal frenzy of programs, but only in cryptic terms. The free Autoruns utility provides clear descriptions and a search function to help you make sense of this bewildering catalogue and see how some hitchhiking apps slow startup.
A program from Microsoft-owned Windows Sysinternals, Autoruns lets you view a list of all startup programs or look at subcategories such as Boot Execute, Drivers and Scheduled Tasks. A little gumshoeing can help you identify unnecessary items and (in some cases) malware.
From each Autoruns entry, you can initiate a keyword search via Google or (if you have it) the system utility Process Explorer, which elaborates on entries found in Windows Task Manager. Disabling or deleting entries is temptingly easy, but you must research an item carefully before acting. Autoruns, free.