18 simple, free fixes for your Vista or XP PC

Your ultimate PC repair kit

Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness

Having Vista's Shadow Copy function switched on can save your bacon in many work situations — but only if yours is a Business, Ultimate or Enterprise version of Vista.

Vista Home Basic and Home Premium omit this feature but save the data anyway, wasting CPU cycles and disk space. To stop the waste, store your documents and other files on a separate drive or partition. Click Start, type SystemPropertiesProtection and press Enter. In the list of disks, deselect the one that contains personal data.

Click 'Turn System Protection Off' when prompted, then click ok to close the System Properties dialog box.

Recover lost data

PCs have become seemingly infinite repositories, but just because the storage capacity is boundless, it doesn't necessarily follow that the PC's ability to store data safely and call it up on demand is too.

Hard-disk failure is far from a common occurrence, but laptops dragged from place to place as well as office workhorses that have seen years of service and interim upgrades are good candidates for this.

While we repeat our usual mantra about the need for a backup plan, we've also got some ideas should disaster strike. First, try a search of your hard drive. A seemingly lost file may have been renamed or shifted to elsewhere on your PC. Root through your Recycle Bin too, just in case.

Vista's built-in search tool is a lot more effective than the weedy Search Assistant puppy in XP. Beef up your XP search facilities with Windows Desktop Search, a free download from the Microsoft website. As with our desktop search tools, it needs time to index hard disk contents, so let it run while the PC is otherwise idle. You can also specify likely locations for the missing file.

Vista users can try out Previous Versions (Shadow Copies) to see whether a nearly up-to-date version can be retrieved. One of the more useful inclusions in Windows Vista is its Shadow Copy feature. This acts as a form of failsafe should you lose a file or accidentally overwrite it.

XP users are stuck with System Restore, which undoes damage but doesn't uncover items that may have fallen prey to their machinations. Instead, a third-party tool such as FreeUndelete 2.0 can find 'misassociated' files.

Any data lost to the great file graveyard in the sky could potentially make a fleeting reappearance with some encouragement from Restoration or Diskeeper Undelete5.

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Scott Dunn

PC World (US online)
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