Revised: Speeding Up A Computer (Windows 7)

I’d do one for Windows 8, but the OS hasn’t been out long enough for anyone to have accumulated bloatware or many viruses, and I also have next to no experience with it. I’m not planning to add a touch-centric UI to my non-touch laptop.

This won’t be a whole lot of new information since my last one, but it’ll be updated with new screenshots (what with the old ones having been borked while transferring from site to site) and a bit of new information.

First: Virus Scan

Yep, this still applies. If you have antivirus installed, go ahead and use that. (If your antivirus asks you for money before it’ll let you do a virus scan, it’s a virus. Get on a different computer and use that to get instructions on how to remove it.)

Now, if you don’t have any antivirus software (gasp!), you very emphatically should. I highly recommend Microsoft Security Essentials – it’s free, lightweight, and fairly effective.

Assuming you’re using it, here’s how to do a full scan. Look in the bottom right of your screen – the edge of the taskbar opposite the Start Button. You’re looking for this icon: MSE Icon Right-click on it, and click ‘Open’

The window that pops up should look something like this:

MSE full

Now, we’re going to digress for a short moment. Take a look at the lower region of that window. Hopefully, there’s already a schedule set up. Read through that. If it doesn’t look like it’s set for a time when your computer will be on and not in use, I highly recommend you configure it to match both of those criteria.

Anyhow, we’ll move on to running a scan. This part is pretty easy – just select ‘Full’ in the options on the right of the screen shown above, and then click ‘Scan now’. Let that run – it’ll take a while. That’s the benefit of setting up the schedule – it can do that at off-peak times, when it won’t bother you if it’s using up processor time on your computer.

Once the virus scan has wrapped up, we’ll move on.

Second: Cleaning Up

Unless you’re using an OS X machine (in which case, why are you reading this? It very specifically says it’s for Windows 7!), getting rid of old files isn’t going to do a whole lot to speed your computer up. But it will make sure you’ve got plenty of space for important things.

Basic: Delete Old Things

This one requires the most manual labor of everything. Just go through your files and get rid of old stuff that you don’t need. Disclaimer: if you think you might need or want something later, don’t delete it! While it is sometimes possible to recover deleted things, it’s REALLY HARD to do, and has no guarantee of working.

Medium: Uninstall Programs

Programs have a nasty habit of running when you aren’t using them. In some cases, this is really good; for example, your antivirus software needs to be running in the background to completely protect your computer. And stuff like Evernote or Dropbox need to be running to keep things synced. But other things don’t really need to be switched on all the time. Some of them, you can switch this off. Others, the more annoying ones (often the kind of bloatware that comes with your computer), you can’t. My recommendation is that you uninstall programs that you never use. Go to the Control Panel (press Start, and there’s a Control Panel button on the right). Depending on how you’ve got it set up, look for either an ‘Uninstall a program’ link (under the ‘Programs’ heading), or ‘Programs and Features’ in the list of everything. Uninstalling things is fairly self-explanatory: find something you want to get rid of in the list, click it, then click the ‘uninstall’ button in the menu bar. Be careful when you’re actually uninstalling things, though – read through everything, don’t just click ‘next’ over and over. Some programs use tricky language to avoid completely uninstalling themselves.

Advanced: Registry and Startup

The Registry, in Windows, is basically a huge database of all the settings for everything in your computer. This ranges from the Control Panel stuff to the desktop background to what program should open when you double-click a ‘.doc’ file. Cleaning it out by hand is effectively impossible. Happily, the lovely folks over at Piriform have created some lovely software to deal with that. I’m referencing, of course, CCleaner. (While you’re on their website, you should also pick up Defraggler, we’ll be using it later.) One you’ve installed CCleaner (and, hopefully, Defraggler) open it up. The default window looks like this:

CCleaner

(It won’t say ‘New version!’ in the bottom right – I haven’t updated mine recently, which is quite naughty of me – you should keep your software up to date!)

At this point, you might want to set aside some time to do the full cleanout that CCleaner is capable of. While it can’t get rid of big files like the hand-deleting I mentioned earlier, it does get rid of a bunch of the hidden background things. The biggest of these is almost guaranteed to be your cache – a folder full of random images and files that your computer keeps while you’re browsing the internet. It’s useful for websites that you visit every day, but your computer caches everything. A lot of random things build up in the cache. and CCleaner helps to clear those out.

Once that’s done, click the ‘Registry’ button on the left. That’ll take you to this page:

CCleaner RegistryThis one is fairly easy to deal with, actually. Just click ‘Scan for Issues’. It’ll take a minute to do that. At the end, click ‘Fix selected issues…’ It’ll ask you if you want to make a backup of your registry, which I highly recommend. After you’ve made the backup, click the ‘Fix All Selected Issues’ button. A moment of processing, and it’ll be done.

Moving on. Click the ‘Tools’ button on the left, and then the ‘Startup’ option within it. That’ll take you to this page:

CCleaner StartupOf course, there’ll be things listd in the ‘Program’ column – for reasons of paranoia about privacy, I PhotoShopped out the names of things in there. Go down the list. if you see a program that you don’t want running every time your computer starts (and remember, running programs when it starts is what slows it down), click on the program and then click ‘Disable’. That way, it won’t be told to start when you switch your computer on, saving you that bit of time.

Third: Defragment

You already installed Defraggler, right? Well, it’s not entirely necessary, but it’s what I’ll be walking you through the process of using, so I recommend it. Open it now.

DefragglerAt this point, there are two things you should do. First: the schedule. In the menu bar, click ‘Settings’ and then ‘Schedule’.

Defraggler Schedule

Make sure ‘Schedule defragmentation for chosen volume’ is checked, and then fill out the schedule so that it’ll run when your computer is on but not in use. Mine is set up to run either right before or right after (I’m not sure, off the top of my head) the antivirus scan.

Now, go back to the main window. Select your main hard drive (probably ‘C:’) and click the ‘Defrag’ button down at the bottom.

Important note: if your computer has a solid-state hard drive (if you don’t know what that is, you almost certainly don’t have one) then you don’t need to do this.

Defragmenting has to do with how your computer stores files. You see, files tend to get broken up into pieces and crammed in wherever they’ll fit. While this makes sense – getting the most use out of the available volume – it also can make things run slowly. Think about it: if a file is spread up in little pieces all over the place, it’s going to take a while to find all the pieces and open it. And so, defragmenting: it gathers up all these pieces – these fragments – and puts them back together. While it’s at it, it’ll organize things in a volume-efficient way, as well. But if you have a solid-state drive, you don’t need to defragment. This has to do with how solid-state drives work.

A conventional hard drive has an actual disc in it, and a little arm which has to move around to read different parts of your hard drive. A solid-state drive doesn’t work like that, at all – that’s why it’s called ‘solid state’ – there are no moving parts. Don’t ask me for an explanation of how it does work, though, because I can’t give you one. It works because of science! What this means, though, is that defragmenting won’t help at all. In fact, it’ll do worse – defragmenting means accessing your hard drive quite a lot. This isn’t much of a problem for an old-fashioned hard drive, but since solid-state drives are still a newer type of storage, they’re still working out a few issues. One of these is that they’ll eventually wear out, and that process of wearing out is accelerated by accessing the drive a whole lot.

 

Well, folks, I hope you’ve got your computer working a bit faster now! I also hope that you learned a thing or two from reading this – I tried to sneak in as much information as I could.