Dennis Halnon of Barkhamsted CT, is a 20-year veteran of the computer business and work fors Biznuzz IT Services in Winsted, CT. He volunteered to answer readers’ questions about why their computers were so slow and their browsers even slower.
He has provided us for free programs and advice on how to improve the speeds for PCs and Macs as well as for browsers.
If we ask nicely in comments at the bottom of this column, my guess is that Dennis will answer your questions and maybe prompt him to write more columns for us.
Thanks Dennis – George
1. While computers do need to be “cleaned” (e.g. have caches and temporary files cleared), this is fortunately no longer as onerous a task as it once was. Windows users can get a free utility called CCleaner which will take care of this as needed (the URL is http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner ). Mac users can get an equally free utility called Maintenance (the URL is http://www.titanium.free.fr/ ). Windows users should run CCleaner once a month, Mac users can run Maintenance maybe 3 or 4 times a year. In both cases, if inexplicable problems crop up, cleaning might help (but then, it might not).
2. It used to be that defragmenting your hard drive was needed on a regular basis. This is no longer the case! Modern file systems such as what’s found in current Mac and Windows versions are not hindered as much by fragmentation as older file systems. Any defragging that’s needed, will get done by the system itself, in Mac OS 10.4 or later, or Windows Vista or later, so user intervention isn’t needed.
3. An inexplicably slow Windows system is more likely to be affected by malware (viruses, spyware, adware, etc.) than it is to need “cleaning.” There are many free virus-cleaning utilities available. Spybot is helpful (http://www.safer-networking.org/ ) for dealing just with spyware and browser hijacks. For viruses, Avast 5 Free is available http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download and has a “boot-scan” capability that can rescue a computer so infected that it can’t even start up. (Yes, that happens; I’ve dealt with it a lot.) No other free anti-virus product has this boot-scan capability … that I know of.
3a. Once you have Spybot installed, be sure to run its active protection module (called “Teatimer”). Also, the first time you run it, be sure to “Immunize” your computer. And you need to schedule regular scans, in Avast 5; a “Quick Scan” once per week is needed, at the very minimum.
4. It is always a terrible idea to run any computer with an operating system version that’s no longer supported by its developer. Without ongoing security updates, such computers can easily be compromised. Not to mention, third-party vendors will no longer write or develop for them. This includes Windows 98 and ME, and as of last month, Windows 2000. If your computer is running one of these, it’s time for a new one. Upgrading your computer to a more recent, still-supported version of Windows (such as XP) may be possible, but as a rule is NOT recommended. Get a crowbar, pry open your wallet, and buy a new computer. You will be much happier in the long run.
4a. And when you get your new computer, if you get a Windows system, leave Windows 7 on it. Don’t roll back to XP unless you have a VERY specific reason for doing so. Windows 7 is a terrific product. Yes, even if some “knowledgeable geek” has told you to run XP instead. And yes, I know, Vista was a disaster … but Win 7 is great. Use it and enjoy it.
4b. Oh, and it’s no longer the case that brand-new computers need to be “optimized.” Immediately walk away from any salesperson who tells you it’s “necessary” or that your computer “won’t work right” without it. It is NOT necessary, and your computer WILL function just fine. Consumer Reports has demonstrated that “optimization” is a racket (http://consumerist.com/2010/01/consumerist-investigation-best-buy-optimization-is-a-big-stupid-annoying-waste-of-money.html ). All computers sold today will work well, right out of the box. Windows owners will have to add some kind of anti-virus program, such as Avast (see above) but beyond that, not much else is needed.
4c. PC buyers may also appreciate PC Decrapifier, which will remove unneeded and promotional titles that come pre-installed on new Windows machines. Get it here: http://www.pcdecrapifier.com/
5. While Firefox is preferable to Internet Explorer in terms of security, understand that it’s a resource hog, and may bring even a well-maintained computer to its knees. I used to run it on all my machines, but no longer can because it’s just too bloated. (This includes a Core 2 Duo 2.6 GHz iMac with 4GB memory.) If you can run Firefox without trouble, that’s great; but if you find it burdens your computer, or you just want something else, try Google Chrome (http://www.google.com/chrome ) or Apple Safari (http://www.apple.com/safari/ ). Both are free, and based on the same lean “browser engine” known as Webkit. (Mac owners already have Safari.)
6. Older computers running currently-supported operating systems, which act sluggish in spite of being kept “clean” of malware and bloated caches, might be helped by having memory (i.e. RAM) added. Putting the added memory into the computer is not difficult, and not very expensive; what is difficult is knowing what type of memory is needed, how much your computer can handle, and finding what it already has. It may take a little research but the benefits can be remarkable. Your goal should be to put the maximum amount in that your computer can use.
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