18 simple, free fixes for your Vista or XP PC

Your ultimate PC repair kit

How to disable and remove spyware

First, you need to confirm the presence of malware. Press Ctrl, Alt, Del to bring up the Task Manager and check on the processes that are running. If you can't put your finger on what a program is and what it's up to, type the details into a search engine to learn more.

The same applies to Processes that are running. Click Start, Run and type services.msc to check on these. If a lot of network activity is taking place when your system is idle and offline, this is another telltale sign.

Perform a system scan using BitDefender Free-AV or Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool. Either will confirm whether spyware is at fault.

If you still aren't sure whether you've sniffed out any malware, try out Process Explorer or Security Task Manager. These apps can detect deep-rooted infections that have been written to hide from Task Manager.

HiJackThis is one of the best-known tools for identifying malware and letting you know whether you need to manually remove it. Post your results on the software maker's website and wait for a contributor to come to your aid.

Put some sizzle in your startups

Startup issues are often related to the faltering performance issues we've just discussed and caused by rogue software. As often as not, though, sluggish startups can be cured by pruning back what's on your PC. More particularly, it could be a simple matter of stopping unnecessary services from launching at startup.

Your computer could be loading device drivers for hardware you no longer use. To save on system resources, uninstall those drivers. Since a careless choice can cause your machine to lose an important function, however, create a restore point in System Restore before proceeding.

By default, Device Manager doesn't show devices that aren't currently connected to your system. To make them visible, press Windows, R to open the Run box, type cmd and press Enter. At the command prompt, type set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 and press Enter. Leave the command-prompt window open.

Now press Windows R again, type devmgmt.msc, then press Enter. In the Device Manager window, choose View, Show Hidden Devices. Click the plus sign (+) next to each branch to examine the drivers. Devices that are not currently connected appear with a pale version of the icon. If you come across a device you no longer use, right-click it and choose Uninstall. Follow the onscreen prompts to complete the process.

Map that

Once you've mapped a network drive to a letter on your PC, Windows will automatically restore the connection by default whenever you log on. Resuming network connections takes time, but you can speed up startup by dropping the connections you aren't using.

Press Windows, E to launch Windows Explorer, and type Alt, T, D to open the Disconnect Network Drives dialog box. Select which drives you want to disconnect, then click ok.

In the future, if you connect a drive for the current session only, simply enter its UNC path (this appears in the address bar in Explorer). If you use the Tools, Map Network Drive command in Explorer, make sure 'Reconnect at logon' is unselected.

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