A trouble-free PC is just four short steps away

I've been fixing Windows annoyances for more years than I care to remember. Now I'm going to fess up: Dumb, in-a-hurry, and just plain careless users -- like me -- often bring PC problems upon ourselves. Here's the good news: Four simple tricks can help keep your PC humming despite all your inadvertent efforts to destroy it.

Go virtual

I try many more free utilities and oddball programs than I should. (I may complain that it's a tough way to earn a living, but I love doing it.) Unfortunately, many of these paragons of the coding art put the kibosh on my system. So I use Microsoft's free Virtual PC 2007 to run another session of Windows within Windows. The internal session is where I try out programs I'm not sure are keepers.

This second version of Windows (called a virtual machine) loads and looks like any other app; imagine a window with Windows in it. It looks, acts, and crashes (of course) just like Windows. But if something gets hosed in your virtual session, you can just delete and reinstall Virtual PC (it's a file). Getting around the licensing limit of one version of XP on a single PC is easy: I simply uninstall and then reinstall Virtual PC just before its 30-day activation deadline.

Batten the hatches

A PC armed with the most recent updates for Windows and for your applications is less likely to suffer security breaches and related problems. I use Secunia Software Inspector, a free Web service that scans my PC and examines dozens of programs -- including Windows and other Microsoft apps -- for updates. It then reports on installed or missing updates, and lets me know where to get them.

Quick tip: If you have US$25 to spare, try TouchStone Software's Driver Agent service. It finds driver updates for your display, system board, and other hardware.

Catch the backup habit

I know you've heard this, but the smartest thing you can do is back up every day. Don't roll your eyes. It's not that big a deal, and I have a few easy ways you can do it.

The strategy that works for me is to start with a full-image backup, do an incremental backup every day (as well as following any major product installation), and create a new full-image backup once a week.

I use Acronis's US$50 True Image to back up my system's hard drive onto a400GB Seagate Barracuda internal SATA drive (US$112) that slides into a Addonics Snap-In SATA Mobile Rack (US$26). Backing up to and restoring from an internal drive is considerably faster than doing the same things with an external USB drive.

Once my full-image backup is in place, I click Operations, Schedule, Task To set a time to automatically back up just the files that change afterward. Unless I create lots of big files in a 24-hour period, the incremental backup doesn't take long.

Since I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, I also do weekly backups to an external USB drive that I store at a neighbor's. Hard-drive expert Jon L. Jacobi prefers to back up all of the PCs on his LAN to a NAS box.

Reader question

I have 82 $NtUninstall folders in my C:Windows folder. If my system is operating properly and I don't want to uninstall any Windows updates, is it safe to delete these folders?

Brad Loomis, Morro Bay, California

There's a neat way to remove the unnecessary ones. Here are instructions on manually removing the folders individually. My method is safer and easier: Grab XP_Remove_Hotfix_Backup, a free tool from Doug Knox. It's the surest way to delete the folders and their Registry entries while retaining essential hotfixes that you may someday need again. For $5, you get a version that lets you selectively remove hotfixes.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Steve Bass

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Shining a light on creativity

MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?