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General Computer Maintenance Information.

  1. Title / Intro
  2. General Info / Checklist
  3. Updates: Software
  4. Updates: Drivers
  5. Processes
  6. Hardware / Uses
  7. Common Issues
  8. F.A.Q.

A computer does not degrade in performance over time, but not keeping track of how things are running on the software-side can simulate it as things get "clogged". They're like cars, 20 years later they'll run just as fast as the day you got them as long as you give them proper maintenance every so often.

Imagine somebody bought a Ford Model T and "suped it up" to race other Model T's, they could win the race with it. Then, 100 years later (the original Model T was released in 1908 ), they take it to a race of today. It fails spectacularly, it has no chance of winning.

Does that mean it got slower? No. The tasks expected of it grew until they exceeded it's ability. While a web page 10 years ago might have involved some color and a few images, web pages today can have dynamically styled content, videos, even custom programming that runs within the page itself (sometimes multiple instances).

Doing a little checkup every so often can keep your machine running as well as the day you got it, and this guide will show you how.

This guide is for computers running windows only.
General Info.

At times you may be asked certain things about your computer. This post will show you how and where to get some of the most common pieces of information needed to help with a computer problem.

  1. Computer Specs (Specifications).
    One of the most helpful things to let us know would be what computer you are using. The model of your computer can be found on the tower. The tower is that (usually) rectangular bulky thing you stick CDs/DVDs into, it has the main power button on it. The model will be something like "Inspiron 3000" or "T2899". If there's lots of things and you're not sure, tell them all to us.

    If you're on a laptop, it might be on the underside.

    If you know that your computer has been upgraded since you got it in some way, tell us how, please. If you're not sure about that or don't know how it's been upgraded/modified, you can use this tool to see your specs, simply take screenshots so we can see the specific areas.

  2. Windows Version.
    To find what version of windows you are running, go to where you can see the "my computer" icon, either in your start menu or on the desktop. Right-click it, click "properties" in the menu that shows up, and after a second or two, a window should show up on your screen. That will tell you, among other things, which version of windows you are running. Common ones are XP, Vista, and 7. Right under the version will be other info that's useful, so please post a screenshot of that window for us.

  3. If it's a fully-custom computer...
    If, by some chance your computer is custom-built, then telling us what parts it's made of works. If you do not know, you can either use this program, or ask somebody that would know.

A few times, you might be asked to provide a "screenshot" or "screencap". That is giving us an image of what you see on the screen, so we can better know your situation since we're not there to see what's on your screen.
How to take a screenshot in Windows XP
How to take a screenshot in Windows Vista or 7

Safe Mode.
When helping, we may tell you to go into safe mode and try something, or tell you to see if something works "in safe mode". this page shows you how to get into safe mode. You'll most often want "Safe Mode With Networking", which will give you internet access (regular safe mode has no internet).


If your issue is not fixed...

You should have this handy...
1 - What model computer you have.
2 - Which version of windows you are using, in a screenshot.
3 - A screenshot of the running processes on your computer (from the Processes post).
4 - A screenshot of the startup list (from the Processes post).
5 - Info on what you do with your computer that it needs to be faster at.

And you should have made sure your computer was not infected, and be fully up to date.

If all that's done and ready, go post it back in your thread.

If you lost track of your thread, go to the main forum list, and at the top will be some links, one of which is "My Topics". Click it, and you will see a list of threads you have recently made.
Updates: Software.

Keeping your software up-to-date is important for a stable system. It's usually something you don't need to worry about, as the important security parts will be done for you automatically if windows update is on.

  1. Go into your control panel (switch to classic view if needed), and open the "automatic updates" section. Make sure they are on "automatic".

  2. Go to your start menu, and to the "programs" or "all programs" section. Find "windows update" in the main section, and run it.
    If you cannot find it, open internet explorer and go to http://www.windowsupdate.com and choose "custom", and get everything. You will probably be required to restart afterwards.

  3. If you have not, I recommend getting the latest version of internet explorer, and the latest service pack for your computer (3 for XP, 2 for Vista, 1 for 7).

  4. If a specific program you're using is having issues, go to the official website and see if there's a newer version than you're using. In most programs, of you go to the "Help" menu (usually the very last option) on the toolbar at the top which contains "File", "Edit", and so on, you can find an "About Program Name" option. Click that, and usually a new small window will come up with some info about the program. The info includes the version number. Write it down somewhere, then go to the program's website and see if they offer a newer version (it will have a higher number). Install that, and see if the issue with that program is fixed.
Updates: Drivers.

A driver is an instruction manual for an operating system (like Windows), it's job is to tell windows how to control your physical computer. Imagine that one day you woke up and found you couldn't use your legs! You'd need to go into rehabilitation in order to relearn how to use them. Without proper drivers, some things might not work correctly, and some things (like sound or internet) might not work at all! If you know that you're having a problem with a specific driver (such as your sound or video) that's already installed, I recommend that you uninstall it first. You can usually find them in the "Add/Remove Programs" or "Programs And Features" section of the windows control panel and will be able to uninstall them from there.

While there are programs you can buy that will attempt to find driver updates for you, they sometimes don't get the proper ones, and it's not worth the money when you can get the updates yourself for free in less time. In fact Windows Update is often better at getting proper drivers than those programs are, if that tells you anything...

  1. Go to the site of the company that made your computer, there should be a "support" or "downloads" section. Go there, find your computer model, and you should find downloads for it. If it mentions a "download manager", tell it NO.

  2. Most of what you find will be drivers. Download the most recent driver for the following things, depending on what it calls them.
    1 - Chipset/Motherboard.
    2 - Video/Graphics.
    3 - Sound/Audio.
    4 - Ethernet/LAN.
    5 - Wireless/WLAN
    There may be more categories, too, but you can ignore the "BIOS" one.

    If you see multiple different things listed for a category (Like if it lists both an ATI driver and Nvidia driver for graphics), download them both, only the real one will install, the other will be able to realize it's wrong and won't install.

    If you see multiple types for a single download, like there's "Driver", but also a version that offers the software+driver, get the version with the software as well (except for wireless cards, the software Windows has should work just fine).

  3. Install them (in that listed order if possible), you might be required to restart after each installation.

Now, this is a good thing to do in case you need the drivers at all, but if you need to update some drivers it may not be the best thing, as most companies rarely put driver updates on the site (just the initial versions the computer ships with). This can be pretty annoying, as you'll need to go around to individual sites to get the drivers. For example if you want an updated video driver and your video card/chipset is made by Nvidia, you'll want to grab the model number (from Speccy) and then go to Nvidia's site and get the video/graphics driver it offers.

I would not recommend googling "PART # drivers" because that will often just give you "driver sites" that intend to make you pay for them, or sites that will try to sell you a program to update drivers for you when you do not need it. Simply google the site of the manufacturer of the part (for example Realtek for Realtek sound cards) and they should have the latest drivers.

If you're having trouble finding drivers for a specific product, post the name/model and any info you can, and we'll look it up for you.

Processes running in the background can (not always) hog your processor, which will slow down other things. Memory (RAM) usage does not slow down your computer until 90% or more of your memory(RAM) is being used.

  1. Press the CTRL+SHIFT+ESCAPE key combination to open the Task Manager.

  2. In the task manager, click the "processes" tab, and you should see a large list. Click and drag the very bottom-right corner of the window to resize it, to show everything in the list. Click "show processes from all users" at the bottom, and then take a screenshot of the list, and save it somewhere.

    Do not be alarmed by the number of things in the list!
    It is normal to have at least 35-50 things in the list, and a lot of them are important!

    Some of them allow you to print, some control your internet, some control your sound, stuff like that, so don't go killing things at random!

  3. Look near the top of the process list. There will be column labels, like "Image Name" and "PID" and such. You can click them to sort by that column.
    What you want to pay attention to is the "CPU" and "Mem Usage" sections. Copy down the names of anything using more than 0 CPU, and anything using more than about 25,000K memory. If it's something you know should be running that you want to run, like firefox, then ignore it for this part.

  4. Go to http://processlist.com/ and look up anything that's using processor percentage or a large amount of memory. It should tell you what what process is and does. For example, "ashDisp.exe" is part of the "Avast!" anti-virus program. By searching that site (or the internet in general) you should be able to figure out what a process actually is. If you can't find it listed anywhere and you're on Vista/7, you can right-click it and choose "Open File Location" to see where it's located, that should give you a hint.

  5. Go to your start menu, and if you're on XP/2K, click "run". If you're on Vista/7, type in the white box at the bottom of the start menu. Type in msconfig and press ENTER.
    In the new box that comes up, go to the "startup" tab, and you should see lots of things, with some or most of them checked. Take a few screenshots for us, we need to see everything that's checked. The unchecked ones do not matter.

  6. Go through the list, look at each thing. Think to yourself "Do I really need this running 24/7?" If not, uncheck it.
    For example, if it's something like your anti-virus software, you want to leave that checked.
    If it's something you never actually use but recognize that you need, like wireless software, leave it checked.
    If it's part of a program you only use once a week, go ahead and uncheck it since you can run it manually from the start menu or by running it's icon on your desktop.
    If it's something you never actually use and know you can live without, uncheck it.

An important thing in telling you what to do to speed up your computer would be knowing what, exactly, you use it for. Please be detailed. Do you just use it for the internet and online flash games? Schoolwork or office work? Or do you like to play games with it, online or not? If you do like to play games with it,

If your computer is more than 2 years old, or if you have bad luck and ended up with one that's unbalanced, you may need a hardware upgrade, depending on what you want to use it for.

Not all parts will go in all computers, so if it turns out you do need a hardware upgrade, pleas stick around, for us to tell you the type of part you need specifically, and where it can be found, and the prices.

So please tell us what exactly you use the computer for, and stick around to learn if an upgrade is wanted or if it's fine the way it is.
Common Issues

  • Too many browser plugins, or browser plugins that are badly-coded.
    This goes for both Firefox and IE users! It's entirely possible to have plugins you didn't personally install. Some software will also install a browser plugin or toolbar for whatever reason, and a plugin can exist without having a toolbar visible on your screen. Some plugins are badly-coded and can cause errors, so we may have you mess with those.

  • Small infections or browser hijackers.
    There's multiple categories of infections, and a single antivirus scanner can't catch everything. Checking out the infection removal sticky and running through the basic removal steps is suggested, even if you don't think you're infected.

  • Flash.
    Flash is notoriously bloated and slow for what it does, and a single page can have 2 or more flash ads, each of which are constantly executing code. People tend to browse in multiple tabs at once, so slowdown from flash easily builds up and slows down the entire browser. The solution is to install a flash blocking plugin into your browser. This will make it so you have to click on something made with flash in order for it to load, so you can still watch videos on youtube or play games if you want, but the majority of flash things, which slow down the browser, are not loaded.

  • Running more than one antivirus program at the same time.
    An antivirus program can be a bit of a stress on your computer, but usually you barely notice it. If you have two running at the same time, however, they can be constantly getting in each other's way and making things a lot slower than they should be.

  • An antivirus program that's gone into an "Overbearing Obsessed Protective Mother" mode.
    Imagine your antivirus program as a parent constantly checking up on what you're doing, telling you whether you should or shouldn't do this or that. That's okay if it's only happening every few hours. Despite how annoying it is, you know deep down they only have your best interests at heart. But imagine what it would be like if that was happening every 30 seconds. You wouldn't be able to get anything done!

    If an antivirus program's detection settings, firewall restrictions, phishing filters, and such are set at too high of a security level you can get false positives (scans which find malware that isn't there), pop-ups warning you of threats which don't exist, and constant nagging for your approval. Lowering your overall security settings to something like "moderate" or even "automatic" may help your system feel more responsive and less annoying while still providing a decent level of security.

  • An antivirus program that's old and out of date.
    If the program has expired, it's basically useless and you should replace it with a free one that's getting proper updates. On the other hand even if you're still getting updates, if the version of the program you're using is old it might not be as fast as it should be. You should consider uninstalling it and installing the latest version from the company's website.

  • Overheating.
    Modern computers will downclock (run slower) when they're getting too hot in an attempt at giving themselves some slack so they can cool down. This can be caused by a buildup of dust, or an improperly-attached heatsink. A program like SpeedFan can monitor your temperatures and alert you if anything gets too high.

  • A fragmented drive.
    Fragmentation of a drive can slow down loading times of programs and make your entire system seem sluggish. While windows includes a free defragging program, alternatives like Defraggler can do more. It's often better to defrag in safe mode, because that way the defragger can fix up files that it can't touch in normal mode (because they'd be in use).

Q - Why don't you add (blank) to this?

A - If it's something you'd trust the average person to do (like use a program or giving a screenshot of some info I missed mentioning) feel free to suggest it, but if you're going to suggest something like repartitioning, remember that this guide is made for the average user, and the average user doesn't yet know as much as most people that help out in the C&T.

Before you suggest something, ask yourself this; "Would I give them the instructions and then let them do it to MY computer unsupervised?" If not, don't give them the instructions and tell them to do it to their computer unsupervised. If they're going to be doing something potentially harmful, they should be helped out personally, not just be reading premade instructions.

Q - What about (insert name of registry "speedup" program here)?

A - If you install a program, it scans and then tells you there's a bunch of issues, but it won't tell you where or what exactly they are, then wants to charge you to remove them, it's a scam. Not always an infection, but it's a good way to trick you out of your money. These programs can almost be classified as "scare-ware".

The registry is mostly text data. The size of it should not really concern you, a modern computer can deal with a registry three times normal size without much of an issue at all. I had a windows install that was over five years old, and my registry measured a little over 65 megabytes. It's not like I never did anything, my "program files" list was pages long on the screen, too.

There are parts of the registry that could be cleaned up sometimes, and there are errors that can happen, however they fall into one of two categories.

1 - The first are generic things, like useless file extension entries, incorrect uninstall information, things like that. Those are quite common and any registry cleaner will be sure to get them. These are not critical things, but they are nice to keep in check. Cleaning these things can speed up things like how fast your uninstall programs list from the control panel starts up, and other system menus like that. They can also speed up startup time by up to a few seconds.

2 - The second type are bad, critical errors. These are the things that most paid registry cleaners try to scare you with, and they do happen, but they are usually a symptom, not a cause. The root cause itself should be treated, and not by a mindless program.

The only registry cleaner I can personally recommend is CCleaner (which is a general computer cleaner that has registry-cleaning on the side). It will take care of the first type of errors, and properly alert you to the second type without charging you for information about your own computer.
Rhapsody Scarlet
Registry cleaners are one of those PC optimization products that I place in the 'snake oil' class of usefulness, an impression that seemed to be confirmed by a PC Pro review I saw of Norton Utilities 14:

To test the registry tools, we installed Norton Utilities on an XP system that had seen several years of heavy use, and which was now so bogged down it took 1min 10sec to boot even with a Core i7 CPU and 3GB of RAM. Norton found and repaired 907 errors in our registry, and the defragmenter then compacted its size by 3%. Afterwards we found our boot time had actually increased significantly, to 2min 12sec: not an encouraging result.

Unless you know exactly what you're doing and why you're doing it, leave the registry alone.

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