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Computer Care: Steps to help clean out and speed up PCs
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So you bought your spouse a new computer last month and now you realize just how slow yours really is. Or maybe you already knew it wasn’t as fast as it used to be. Even that brand new laptop may be bogged down with unnecessary enhancements. We’ve gone over some of this before, but talking about making your computer faster is worth repeating.

To make some basic adjustments, you don’t need a technician. With a few mouse clicks, your system could be more responsive. There are some trade-offs though. You may have to do without a menu fade or a transparent window. It sure is cool to see your folders spin by on your desktop like a Rolodex, but you sacrifice speed to do it.

What Microsoft calls visual enhancements, I call smoke and mirrors. All it really does in the end is leave you with less system resources to do what you need to do: compute.

Let’s start with XP. Go to My Computer and right-click on it. Go to Properties and choose the Advanced tab and then Settings. Choose Best Performance from there. Then add checks in the boxes with shadow options, leaving the rest unchecked. It just makes it easier to see the pointer and icons with shadows.

Click Apply and then OK. While you are there, look at the General tab to see how much system memory you have installed. About midway you’ll see something like 512 MB or 2 GB RAM. Make a note of it and go back to the Advanced tab where you can adjust the virtual memory.

Click on Change in the center of the box and set both values to 1.5 times what your RAM is, that figure you just wrote down. Click on Set, Apply, OK and close that box. It will then tell you that you need to reboot for it to take effect.

In Vista, right-click the desktop and choose Personalize and then go to Appearance, then Effects. Keep only the shadow option checked.

In Windows 7, right-click on Computer, go to Properties and then Advanced system settings, then first settings option.

A huge resource hog is the Sidebar. If you don’t really need it, you’ll reclaim much lost speed by turning it off. In Vista, click Start and type sidebar and then click on sidebar properties. Uncheck the top box to disable it.

In Windows 7, gadgets are independent of a sidebar. To customize or terminate gadgets, right-click on the desktop and then choose Gadgets.

Some techs don’t believe in defragmenting the hard drive anymore or using registry utilities. The arguments are that with the huge size of today’s drives, it just isn’t necessary to defrag like we used to.

I would agree if you have a 500 GB drive that is only 10 percent full. But there are still 60 GB drives out there and users with huge music and photo collections. They fill up a drive quickly. A hard drive likes contiguous free disk space to operate efficiently and that’s what defragging does. So unless you’ve got scads of empty space, I’d keep doing it.

Speaking of full hard drives; your system won’t run properly if your drive is almost full. Windows needs 15 percent of the disk to create virtual memory or a swap file in order to operate efficiently.

As far as the registry goes, it is indeed a dangerous place to go if you don’t know what you’re doing. In a few clicks of the mouse you can turn a new computer into a doorstop.

But if you use a registry utility cautiously, you can delete unneeded values and reduce the overall size of the registry by defragging it. But know what you are deleting as there is no undo button in the registry.

Consolidate your icons. If you have lots of addresses, docs or pdf icons all over your desktop, create folders for them. Right-click on the desktop, choose New, and then Folder. Name it and just drag the icons into it.

Remember to empty your Recycle Bin regularly and dump your temp files and system caches. There are many utilities that will do it for you.

A bloated system will also slow down to a crawl. If you have programs installed on it that you don’t use, get rid of them. Go to Control Panel and remove them from there.

The best way to speed up your system is to add more physical memory to it. It is inexpensive and (relatively) easy to do. If you’re not comfortable with popping the cover off and looking for your RAM modules, go to crucial.com or memory.com. Those sites will tell you how much memory you currently have, how much your computer can handle and what it would cost to upgrade. In many cases you could double your RAM for $50.

Even if you don’t add RAM, these few adjustments will add responsiveness to your computer. There are more tweaks as well as services to turn off, but like your computer, this column has reached capacity.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.

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