Friday, October 29, 2010

Sluggish PC? NY Times Personal Tech Recommendations 10-28-10

If it gets too fat, you know what will happen ...
I like the Personal Tech pages within the Business section of the NY Times which appears on Thursdays -- generally they report on new, gadgety stuff -- and they clue you in to new products and possibilities you may not be aware of.

Today, though, I was  a little disappointed. In an article titled "Limber Up Your Sluggish PC", they were fairly confusing in their presentation of steps and solutions to the problem.  Several times the article states that all of the tools you need to speed up or fix your PC come with the the Operating System.

That's just not true. Some of the tools do. You can defragment, clean out excess files, and remove unneeded programs, but you can't fix your registry, remove the remains of old programs and registry entries that the PC doesn't recognize. There are 3rd party programs that do that.

I get the feeling that the author didn't understand some of what she was writing about. Too bad, because there are easy and quick things you can do to speed up you computer, some that cost no money, and some that don't cost an arm and a leg, and that'll make you think you bought a new PC.

I'm going to go over some of the points brought up in the Times article and try to straighten them out.

First the author talks about free and for-pay services such as are available from Staples and Best Buy. Staples' service is free -- you go there and they run some tools they license from Symantec/Norton -- and this is the quote from Staples' description of their free PC Tuneup:

"We'll boost the speed and performance of your PC by removing trial ware, adjusting key settings that may be slowing it down, and disk defragmentation and cleanup. When done in store, a PC Tune up also includes removal of dust and dirt buildup." They may do more than that, but that's all they own up to on the website.

They'll do the same thing at your home for 60 bucks, and remotely for $25.

The free service is not a bad deal, free doesn't cost you anything, nor are the other, for-pay services, either.

Per the description, anyway, Best Buy's Geek Squad service, computer Tune-Up at $50 online, or $40 in store (In-Home is N/A), seems to be more thorough.

It includes those items the free Staples Tuneup mentions, and also the creation of additional acounts, Windows updates, program shortcut (Desktop Icon) creation, Quick Launch and Taskbar Cleanup , Menu Navigation cleanup, and Startup and Shutdown Optimization, as well as making sure Security is enabled in both Windows and Internet Explorer. The do some sort of test and verify of hardware and software. You get what you pay for I guess -- you pay nothing for the Staples Tuneup, remember.

So the upshot is the Staples Tuneup is insufficent since it won't take care of the the above and following things

Most PCs that have been run for a while not only have Trial Ware, dead ended Registry Settings, Fragmentation, and a Cluttered Disk, but also weird and useless startup programs that sap CPU horsepower, duplicate and obsolete data which is the big disk hog, and maybe some level of infection and/or improper security software installation. These all need tech and user collaboration to resolve and while some may be caught by the free service; I doubt they all will.

The Geek Squad Tuneup should take care of all of the things listed above, and it may be worth your while to dump the problem on them, if you are at all uncertain about what to do.

Also you can set up a modern PC running Vista or Win7 to defragment itself when you are not using it. Just place your mouse cursor on open DeskTop background and hit the F1 key, and then in the search window type in "defragment" choose your solution, and follow the instructions on how to set up a schedule.

Not mentioned in the Times article, but important to note is the fact that hard disks are cheap these days -- I've seen 1000 GB (1 TB) disks advertised for 60 bucks. How easy is it to just upgrade to a bigger, faster disk, if too much useful data is your problem? See my prior articles on disk cloning -- you can clone your old disk to your new disk, and go from a 250 GB disk to a 1000 GB disk in under an afternoon. You can put a lot of movies on that extra 750 GB. Bigger hard disks with more free space defragment faster, too, and are easier to keep unfragmented. Anybody pushing the limit on his/her (I do dislike saying they as a singular pronoun) hard drive and not wanting to delete precious data and programs should not fear upgrading to a bigger and faster disk.

The Times article does mention a very nice program whose most apparently nice feature is that it shows you how much of your hard drive is committed to to certain file types, the utility. Download it and install it from the preceding link and you will see that if you have, say, 650 GB of mkv, wmv, avi, mov, and jpg files, which are all Video and Picture files, and only 100 GB left on your 1000 GB disk, you may want a bigger, or additional hard disk.

OK then. Do all of the recommended things for your PC.

Make sure you have an up-to date Anti Virus Program installed, such as Norton 360 V4 or Anti Virus 2011. 360 will clean up your registry. Or AVG Free, or Avira Free, or Avast Free. All are good. Or have Staples or the Geek Squad do it. Clean out all those old and duplicated files and programs. Get rid of all of those little helper programs that are supposed to start up with your computer and monitor something that you don't care about and never use. In Vista and Win7 go to the Control Panel and click on the Programs entry and go down the list of installed software -- I'm sure you will recognize a bunch of stuff you do not need!

One bad recommendation or at least misleading is the suggestion that using a stripped down alternative Media Player such as VLC instead of Window's own Windows Media Player will somehow save you disk space. Guys! The space is really taken up by the data files, that is, the movies, and you are not going to uninstall Windows Media Player from your system. Give me a break!

Also, let's be clear, it is not true that the biggest culprit in slowing down our computers is our insistence on new and bigger versions of our favorite software, although that doesn't help. The real problem is our insistence on installing all kinds of useless and sometimes conflicting, and sometimes even malevolent software on the fly.

We see some taskbar utility mentioned as we are cruising the internet, or decide our machine needs protecting from something, and on a regular basis, and without real vetting of the program or attention to how much other garbage we have already installed, happily add the Solar System Defense Widget, or the Pound Malware into Submission Widget, from a really cool Ukrainian website, to our Taskbar alongside the 26 other widgets we have installed over the last 11 months.

OK. I'm exaggerating. But not by much.

And we wonder why our computers are slow!


PS Take a look at your Taskbar's System Tray -- how much of that stuff do you really use?

Hey! It's just common sense!

PPS Casper 5 is now Casper 6 -- the article above is 2 years old -- but the link above will still take you to Casper and  disk cloning is still a good idea

Photo Credits: 
Exploding PC is from various sites

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