Treat the cause to cure your slow PC

Many is the letter or email I've read from a PC Advisor reader in despair over how to fix a PC that used to run like (very fast) clockwork and now chugs along like an old banger on its last legs. The crucial line has often been 'even after I reinstalled Windows'.

Wiping the disk clean can certainly make all the difference to how your PC runs. It's just that, unless you truly know what you're doing and take suitable precautions beforehand, it can make things far worse. You absolutely must make comprehensive backups and get hold of essentials such as the recovery disc.

Most times, it's better to address the cause rather than the symptoms.

A sluggish system is being hindered by something, whether it's simply laden down with far too heavy a burden of assorted files, held back by the onslaught of multiple autostarting applications or having to chase files and applications from pillar to post across a multitude of drives. If Windows is juddering along but continues to operate, it probably needs an overhaul rather than a full operating system makeover.

Finding out what's at the root of the problem can be a lengthy process, but it's worth going through and tracking down the cause.

Some things are easily fixed, such as adding a touch more RAM or archiving old files to DVD. In other cases, rogue files may be clogging up the system or conflicting with different programs. At this point, a deep breath may be required before you start a systematic inventory process in which anything that can't be readily accounted for gets the old heave-ho.

It may sound like a less efficient way of fixing an uncooperative PC, but it will give you a much better idea of what's actually going on inside and should make you aware much sooner the next time things start to slide.

BOOST SPEED BY DITCHING UNWANTED STARTUPS


1. One of the most obvious problems that can slow down Windows performance is having too many programs running at the same time. try switching off applications using the System configuration utility. Go to Start, Run, and type 'msconfig'. Then hit <Enter>.


2. Many programs load at bootup and run in the background, using resources. Some conflict with other programs and not all are shown in the system tray. Fortunately, it's easy to switch them off. Once you've opened the Systems configurations utility, select Startup. Untick items to stop them launching automatically.


3. Little needs to autoload, with the obvious exception of your antivirus and firewall. Windows Task Scheduler needs SchedulingAgent to run. Check whether anything is using it under Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Scheduled Tasks. We had nothing listed. For Windows Me, you need to keep StateMgr.


4. If you turn off Microsoft Messenger by unticking 'msmsgs', it can cause problems with programs such as Outlook and Internet Explorer. Of Windows 98 and Me's autoloading apps, keep selected LoadPowerProfile, SystemTray, ScanRegistry, PCHealth and TaskMonitor (include both instances of the former if it's present).


5. Consult the Startup tab's Command column to work out what application put an entry in your Startup list -- many will be stored in the parent folder for the program they relate to. Search engines can help you track down such information. If Windows gives you trouble, consider disabling such a program -- at least temporarily.


6. Some programs may continue to autoload even after you've specified they shouldn't. This is because the autoloading program sees what you've done and 'corrects' your mistake. In this case, launch the application and explore its menus, looking for a 'load at startup' option. When you find it, deselect it.


TIPS & TRICKS

RESTORATION JOB

Cleaning out the Registry can make a material difference. First, it's vital you back it up. Go to Start-All Programs-Accessories-System Restore in Windows Me and XP and create a Restore Point. To back up the Windows 98 Registry, select Start-Run and type scanreg and press <Enter>.

Once no more errors come up, click Yes and then OK. Windows 2000 offers no reliable way to back up your Registry, so you have to use third party software. Try the free Emergency Recovery Utility NT at www.larshederer.homepage.t-online.de/erunt


HELPFUL DOWNLOADS

VIEW WINDOWS 2000 STARTUPS Windows 2000 does not have a built-in tool to see what loads when your machine is waking up. Grab a copy of Startup Control Panel (www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml) to fi nd out what's going on when your Windows 2000 PC boots.

PART OF THE PROCESS Users of PCs running all versions of Windows will find it helpful to consult the repository - the WinTasks Process Library - when foxed by an unknown autostart application. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to know the purpose of every process (www.liutilities.com/products/wintaskspro/processlibrary).

FERRET OUT SPYWARE You need to regularly scan for spyware. No single app does a perfect job but Lavasoft's Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy are effective. Get the latest updates before you scan your PC. At SpywareGuide you'll find information on more than 800 spyware programs, too (www.spywareguide.com).


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Rosemary Haworth

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