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Windows PC Optimization Guide -1

This three-part series is designed to help everyday computer users improve their productivity by optimizing their computer's performance, making use of handy shortcuts in the Windows operating system, and creating and maintaining a backup schedule. Let's get started with part one, improving performance.

The first part of this guide will cover optimizing computer performance. The directions are aimed at Windows Vista and 7 users; XP users can also follow along though not all steps will be the same.

Remove Unnecessary Startup Programs
Performance benefit: High
Difficulty Level: Medium
Windows PC Optimization Guide msconfigA program is typically only run when needed -- for example, only running Microsoft Word while typing a document. Unfortunately, many software vendors think that their software needs to run all the time in the background for whatever reason, checking for updates, pre-loading, and so on. My response to these vendors is: No. There are specific programs that need to run all the time -- antivirus, mainly -- but no reason that applications such as Apple's QuickTime need to sit around and take up resources. We are going to prevent these programs from starting up with Windows (and therefore slowing down your logon time). The programs will still function fine; they will simply not run when not needed.
Press and hold down the Windows Key and then press R; this will open up the Run prompt. In the box, type msconfig and click OK. This will bring up a System Configuration window:
Click on the Startup tab:
Windows PC Optimization Guide msconfig startupThe startup tab shows all programs that can start with Windows; if an item's box is checked, that means it is run during startup.
If your computer is like mine, there are a lot of programs installed on it and chances are a lot of startup items to complement them. Our goal is to reduce the number of startup items to a minimum.
The hard part is determining which items can be disabled. Some items have a descriptive name such as "GoogleToolbarNotifier", but others may not even have a pronounceable name. I am not able to provide a full list of what can be unchecked, but in general the following can be without consequences:
  • GoogleToolbarNotifier (associated with the Google Internet browser toolbar)
  • Jusched (Java update scheduler)
  • Acrotray (associated with Adobe products)
  • WinZip Quick Pick (associated with the WinZip compression application)
  • Qttask (Apple QuickTime)
  • iTunesHelper (Apple iTunes)
The items listed above are nothing but a complete waste of your computer's resources (RAM) and add extra time onto startup -- disable them by simply unchecking the boxes and clicking Apply. Exit msconfig when done and restart your computer to finish. You can disable as many items as you want at one time.
To find if you can disable more items, do an Internet search for the name and see what comes up. Be sure to cross-reference the results to verify what you are reading is accurate. By reducing the number of startup items, your computer's boot-up and log-on times and RAM usage will be greatly reduced.
Uninstall Unused Programs
Performance benefit: Medium
Difficulty: Easy
Windows PC Optimization Guide uninstall programsAs noted I install a lot of programs on my computer, yet I rarely use most of them. These unused programs take up hard drive space and may be eating up additional resources if they are running in the background. They also clutter the programs list. It is time to do a little housecleaning.
The first step in this process is figuring out which programs you need and do not need. Click Start and then All Programs; make a list of them.
Now let us get rid of the programs you do not use. Click Start and then Control Panel, then "Uninstall a Program" under Programs. It may take several minutes for this window to load completely.
Get started -- remove the programs on your do not use list. Double-click the item in the list and follow the accompanying wizard to uninstall it. Be careful -- do not uninstall programs blindly. If you do not recognize an item then do an Internet search for that item and cross-reference the results. Only uninstall items you are sure are extraneous.
Clean Out and Organize Your Documents
Performance Benefit: Little
Productivity Benefit: High
Difficulty: Easy
Windows PC Optimization Guide My DocumentsThis is another chore I always put off -- cleaning out and organizing the "My Documents" folder. I download a great deal of programs and files from the Internet, and every time I save something I blindly dump it in My Documents. After a few months, My Documents gets uncomfortably crowded and finding items becomes nearly impossible without using search. Last week I finally got fed up and organized everything.
While organizing files has little performance benefit, the productivity benefit is high. Organized folders make it far easier to locate files, which save time.
Everyone will have a different style of organizing their personal documents; I order by category (for example, my Pictures folder is organized by the location where I took the pictures) and then by date -- this makes it simple to drill down into different categories. Regardless of your organizational style, remember the idea is to keep the number of clicks required to get to commonly-accessed content to a minimum.
Clean Out Your System with CCleaner
Performance Benefit: Medium
Difficulty: Easy
Windows PC Optimization Guide CCleanerThis final step in this guide is probably the simplest of all. CCleaner is a freeware application -- it can bedownloaded here. Install the program once downloaded and launch it (click Start, Programs, CCleaner, CCleaner).
This program will scan your computer's hard drive for unnecessary files and other items strewn about by careless programs (temporary files and so on). The program defaults are safe; if you want to save your Internet Explorer browser history, be sure to uncheck that box. For Firefox users, click the Application tab and uncheck the same box under Firefox.
To clean the hard drive, click "Run Cleaner" and let the program go; it may take some time to run.

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