Ready when you are

Like most people, I'm always looking for ways to speed up my Windows computing tasks. Now that I'm expecting my second child in two weeks' time, I'm working even harder to streamline all my PC operations and get as much done as quickly as is humanly possible. There's nothing like an absolutely immovable deadline to concentrate the mind!

Perversely, I find that one of the biggest slowdowns occurs at the moment when we're theoretically at our most energetic - when we first sit down at our PC in the morning. We turn it on to start work and we wait while it boots... and we wait some more. By the time the computer is ready to handle some actual work, my initial burst of motivation is often gone and I can only weakly check my e-mail until the caffeine kicks in.

But there are a couple of ways that you can make your PC all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. I usually start the night before by not actually shutting down my PC, but by putting it into either Standby or Hibernate.

Standby leaves the PC running on low power and will instantly restore your session when you switch it back on again. Hibernate saves your session to disk, then completely turns off the power. Using the latter means that it takes a little longer to start up than Standby, but it's also a little more energy-conscious.

If you do need to shut down your PC every night, a good way to minimise bootup time is to stop Windows from loading unnecessary programs. Click Start-All Programs and then the Startup folder. If there's anything you don't need at startup, simply right-click on it and choose <Delete>. XP also has a neat option for bypassing these programs on a one-off basis. Simply hold down the Shift key during bootup and nothing from the Startup folder will run.

You might still be getting unwanted software loading itself. Here's another place to check for sneaky startups - click Start - Run, type msconfig and hit <Enter> and then choose the Startup tab - see Figure 1. Uncheck any items that you don't want to run automatically, then choose Apply. But don't just uncheck everything in sight - Windows can get cranky if you unselect "msmsgs" and you'll also need to be careful that you don't accidentally unselect your firewall or antivirus software. I recommend a quick Google search for each Startup item to make sure you know exactly what it is and what it does.

Now that your PC takes off like a sprinter, let's make sure it doesn't get bogged down during action. If it's acting a bit sluggish, free up some disk space. Choose Start-All Programs-Accessories-System Tools, then Disk Cleanup. Choose the drive you want to check and it will then run a quick diagnostic to calculate how much space you can save by getting rid of temporary Internet files, unwanted programs and Windows components, emptying the Recycle Bin and removing Windows temporary files - see Figure 2. Select what you'd like to remove and choose OK to start the cleanup.

Another slow performance culprit is a fragmented hard disk. Over time, files tend to end up scattered across the surface of your hard drive, so to reorganise them, click Start-All Programs-Accessories-System Tools and Disk Defragmenter. Choose the desired volume and select Analyse. It will then tell you whether it needs defragmenting - see Figure 3. The process takes a while and cuts into your system resources, so you might want to start it up before you leave work and let it run overnight. If you do this regularly (once a month is good), future runs will take much less time.

So, your PC is humming along, you've finished your work for the day and now you just want to skedaddle. To close an application, you don't need to go through the whole File-Exit routine. Right-click on the taskbar item and choose Close to exit. You can quickly close multiple applications by holding down the <Ctrl> key and then right-clicking the taskbar button. Choose Close Group to shut them all down at once.

If you'd like to try putting your PC on standby for a quick startup in the morning, you can make your PC's power button into an instant standby button. Choose Start-Control Panel. Switch to Category View and choose Performance and Maintenance, then Power Options. Click on the Advanced tab - see Figure 4.

From the "When I press the power button on my computer" drop-down menu, choose Standby and then Apply. You'll have your coat on and be halfway down the pub by the time everyone else clicks their way to the shutdown menu. Now that's productivity in action.

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Susan Pederson-Bradbury

PC Advisor (UK)
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