Improve PC speed and security

Use file management and deletion software to clean your hard drive, and child-friendly tools to protect your family's privacy.

These easy tips will help you clear your system of clutter, improve its performance, and keep it free from malware and other security threats. You can also protect your kids through safe search software and a time management device.

Clean Up Windows With File-Sorting Software

Effort: Minimal
Cost: Free

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Admit it: You really have to get serious about organizing your PC. Let's start with your browser's download folder. For Firefox users, the Automatic Save Folder extension is a free add-on that automatically saves downloads into user-specified folders based on file extension or on the site the file came from. To obtain similar functionality for your entire Windows PC, try Belvedere, a free app that I personally created to bring the same automatic file sorting to any folder. And since you're cleaning, here's one more tip: You can dramatically speed your PC's boot time by removing any unneeded startup apps.

Wipe an Old Hard Drive via Boot and Nuke

Effort: Moderate
Cost: Free

Nothing can complicate your life quite as thoroughly as identity theft. So before you sell your old PC or return a bum hard drive, keep one important fact in mind: Deleting files doesn't guarantee they're gone for good. To clean your hard drive properly, you can't just toss the files into the Recycle Bin and empty it--you need to overwrite the data on the disks as well. We could get all technical at this point, but instead we'll just point you to Darik's Boot and Nuke, a free boot-disk utility that securely wipes any hard drive using any one of several tried-and-true methods. Once DBAN is done with your disk, you can be sure the data is gone.

Use KidRex and KidZui to Protect Your Children Online

Effort: Moderate
Cost: Free

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You can't spend your days and nights staring over your son's or daughter's shoulders, so let some simple software do the job for you. The Internet is loaded with search engines designed to provide a child-friendly interface along with-more important-child-friendly search results. Search site KidRex, for example, employs both Google SafeSearch and its own database of inappropriate content and keywords to keep things clean. Free Web browser KidZui, in contrast, is a complete kid-oriented browser, engaging children with a fun interface and protecting them with all sorts of built-in safeguards.

Limit Your Kids' Games With Time Machine

Effort: Moderate
Cost: US$40

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Protecting your kids from the dark corners of the Internet may seem like a breeze compared with the daunting task of limiting their time racking up achievement after achievement on their Xbox 360. To that end, we suggest looking for a little assistance from Time Machine, a handy gadget that serves as a vigilant sentry over your children's time in front of the television. Time Machine transforms the video game console into an arcade-style machine, requiring tokens that allow kids to play for a predefined length of time. When the allotment runs out, Time Machine shuts off the game. How's that for effective?

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