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Zarathustra217:
After evaluating a bit on the topics on the Server discussion, I realised a new forum for tech specific questions and support would be handy.

Obviously, we are all here frequent users of computers, and could probably learn a lot from eachothers experience and knowledge etc. I am myself a bit of a performance addict, so I got a good handful of tips and tricks to share for making the computer experience less aggravating. I'll use this post to summarize that. Feel free to add, though I will try to compile the thread to keep it easy to overview.

Zarathustra217:
Cleaning up and staying clean[/u]

Before you start worrying about doing any other performance optimizations for your computer, it's a good idea to start by making sure your computer is totally free of any malware, addware or spyware etc. First of all, it is the most typical reason for computer slow down, but having it present can also interrupt and interfere with the other optimizations you do, so it's good to start by getting rid of it, since otherwise you might have to do it over later.

Anti-Virus

Just being connected to the internet can make you exposed to vira of all forms. You don't even have to be browsing or downloading, and though Windows XP got more safe with Service Pack 2, it shouldn't keep you from installing anti virus. There's even several freely available.

I personally, from a performance viewpoint, recommend Grisoft's AVG Anti virus. It might not be as fancy looking as other, but it's very stable, smooth running and doesn't occupy as many resources as others. Download it from here:

AVG Anti Virus Free Edition

Spyware and Addware removal

These things can come both by simply browsing the internet, but a much more critical version is when the camouflage themselves in what might appear as innocent programs. As a thumb rule, never ever install anything you come across on the internet unless you got it recommended by someone you trust and that you know are not related to the company behind the program. A lot of these programs even claim to be addware removal tools or claim to be performance enhancers. Others are things like PrecisionTime, browser search bars and everything coming from the Gain publishing company (got I hate those).

Some of these things are kind enough to allow you to remove them by an uninstaller or by the "Add/Remove programs" menu from your Windows control panel, so you can always start that way. However, it's rare that this actually remove the addware completely. The best way is to go grap the free removal tool from lavasoft called Ad-Aware. Download and install from here:

Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition

Registry Cleanup

As a final part of the cleanup phase, it's a good thing to cleanup the  system registry, especially if you have haven't had your computer operating system reinstalled recently. The system registry is a database where the OS keeps track of all software installed, as well as a lot of other dynamic info. This is loader on every startup, and optimizing can shorten the duration of that considerably, besides helping general performance once you're there.

There are several trial software available across the internet that can do this for you, but Microsoft surprisingly released a good free tool for this a long while back. They, as expected, never did much to  promote it though. It's a bit old, it will still be able to cover your needs.

RegClean

Disk Cleanup

This is less important since most people have more than enough HD space these days, but still not irrelevant since it can actually have a  performance impact, abeit a small one.

Windows XP comes out of the box with an auto-cleanup tool for doing this. It'll be located at Start->Programmes->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Cleanup.

Once you run the program, it's safe to check everything it propose to be removed, but you should consider excepting the 'Compress old files' because it will cause a performance hit if you ever get to need those.

When to reinstall...?
A lot of people recommend to reinstall your computer every 2 or 3 months for performance, but if you once every month or two do the things I've listed here, it shouldn't be necessary. My own computer still runs the Windows XP that I installed 4 years ago without problems or slowdown. Of course, a reinstall won't make it worse, but if it's purely for performance reasons, it's hardly worth it.

All for this time...

Midnight:
This is a follow up to Soren's listing and to be used along with the programs he listed above.

A-Squared[/u]

Trojans differ from viruses in many ways, and many trojans are not detected by virus scanners, so you need a dedicated trojan scanner as well. I personally use and recommend A-Squared to scan for trojans. It is one of the best free trojan scanners out there.

During the installation of A-Squared, you will be asked to register a free user account. You should do this to both allow you to complete the installation, as well as let you download further updates to A-Squared. The account process is simple and there is no catch, (although I recommend unticking all the boxes at the bottom of the account screen before creating your new account). 

Each time you run A-Squared, select the 'Update a2 Online' option, then click the Next button. The program will download all the latest updates - each one is incremental so all of them need to be downloaded.

a-squared free


Spybot[/u]

This is another spyware scanner that works great in conjunction with Ad-Aware SE personal.  While both individually are good, together they can't be beat.  They tend to search for different types of spyware and adware, and almost always locate stuff that the other missed.

Spybot Search & Destroy


Windows Defender (Beta 2)[/u]

Well, depending on if you are running a "legal" copy of Window's XP (easily discovered by windows Genuine Advantage which is no harm to your system if it isn't legal or genuine when the check is done, but if it is you can get little offers such as Windows Defender), you can take advantage of this free utility offered by Microsoft.  It also checks for different types of malware that may be missed by Ad-Aware and Spybot (that little extra cushion of protection never hurts) and can give you information on where they may be located - though still being in the beta phase it may not be able to remove some of the newer malware.  However, it does give you the exact location of the offending item (usually located somewhere in System Volume Information\_restore) and you can go in manually and remove them.  It is updated often (though the only way to properly update it is if you have Automatic Updates turned on in the security center which is located in your control panel).

Windows Defender (Beta 2)


Update all of these each time you use them, and I'd recommend scanning regularly with all of them roughly once a week (perhaps more or less often, depending on how much you are online and how active you are on different sites).  There is no set pattern to scan, or what program you should use first, but I've had the best results performing scans in this order:

- Ad-Aware SE personal
- Spybot Search & Destroy
- A-Squared
- Windows Defender
- AVG Anti-Virus
The reason I scan in that order is because I've scanned with AVG before all the others and nothing was detected when the scan was finished.  However, when I then ran Ad-Aware a virus was discovered by AVG (by Ad-Aware scanning through particular registry folders and awakening the virus) and thus prompting another scan by AVG to make sure there were no other viruses to be found.  So I just scan with AVG last to save time.


Disc Defragmenting[/u]

This goes hand in hand with Soren's recommendation to clean your disc.  Defragmentation is good to do usually whenever large files or programs are added or removed from your computer. As information is written to, and deleted from, your hard drive, parts of individual files will become fragmented and physically spread out all over the hard drive. This increases the time your hard drive takes to access information when using Windows or any application. The greater the fragmentation of the drive, the greater the stuttering and loading pauses you will also experience in games for example. 

The default Windows defragmenter is good to use and generally serves the purpose of cleaning and defragmenting files.  To access the Windows Defrag utility, go to Start>Run and type "Dfrg.msc" (without quotes) and press Enter, or look for the Disk Defragmenter icon in your Start>Programs>Accessories>System Tools menu. Make sure there are no open applications or games running in the background and then in the Defrag window simply click the Defragment button to begin defragmentation.  Do not do anything else while this process is being completed. It may take quite a while to complete so be patient. The longer it takes, the more good it is doing your drive. If tweaking a new install of Windows, make sure to run Defrag immediately after installing the system drivers and core software as this will move all the important system files to the start of your hard drive where drive access is fastest.


PageDefrag

If you are looking for a little more advanced defragmentation, I may recommend a free defrag program called PageDefrag.  It is fairly simple to use, and upon launching it you can see at a glance how many fragments your major systems files are in - to be optimal they should all be in 1 fragment each. To run a defragment using PageDefrag, launch the program and click the 'Defragment at next boot' option, then reboot. This will defragment your major system files, which can only be done at boot time - something which the regular Windows defragmenter cannot do. However even the author of PageDefrag suggests you use it in combination with other defragmentation software, such as Contig, which is also released by the same author.

PageDefrag

Contig


Diskeeper Lite (version 9.0)[/u]

While a toned down version of Diskeeper 9, this version is still better and more precise in defragmentation of your harddrive than the default Windows Disk Defragmenter.  Diskeeper is produced by the same company that provides the Windows Disk Defragmenter utility, and in fact the standard defrag that comes with Windows XP is actually a cut-down version of Diskeeper, which renders it completely compatible with the operating system.  It's use is fairly intuitive and you'll note there are many other features that are available (though greyed out in the lite version) that can help you to keep your harddrive working optimally.

This is a sort of "hidden" version of Diskeeper lite, available in the large Intel Desktop Utilities package - weighing in at 89 MB.  However, the version 9 Diskeeper lite is only available in this download, so if you want it you'll have to download the whole Intel package (scroll down and click on the 'Full Version - Intel Desktop Utilities v2.1.9.66 [EXE 88.9 MB]' link), then unzip and pull out the Diskeeper version from one of the folders.  If that seems like too much work for you, there is also a lite (free) version of Diskeeper 7 available at Majorgeeks.com that you can also use.

If you get either of the lite versions of Diskeeper, I recommend you use the Page Defrag utility mentioned above in conjunction with it for a boot-time defragmentation of your files which cannot be defragmented while your OS is running. 

Also, there is a trial version of Diskeeper 10 which introduces a new technology called I-FAAST (located in the 'Professional Premier Edition 32-bit' version of the trial).  You can download and try it for 30 days for free to see if it makes a difference on your machine.                    Once it is installed, it will take the place of the standard Windows Disk Defragmenter located in Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools.  Also note that Diskeeper 10 comes with 'Boot-time defragmentation', a superior utility to the free 'Page Defrag' program, but as mentioned, Diskeeper 10 is only available for free for the first 30 days - afterwards, all functionality shuts down unless you purchase the full version (costing about 99 US dollars).  Once the 30 day trial ends, just access your 'Add/Remove hardware' and remove Diskeeper to restore the default Windows Disk Defrag.

Diskeeper lite 7.0

Diskeeper lite 9.0

Diskeeper 10 Professional Premier Edition (30-day trial)

Midnight:
System Specs[/u]


One of the first steps in optimizing your PC is to find out precisely what hardware components you have, and what their various capabilities are. To do this, you require a general System Information tool. Information about your system specifications is vital - for example you must know the model and chipset type of your motherboard before you can upgrade your BIOS, or to install the correct motherboard drivers.

There are a few ways to check on your system information.  One is to go to Start>Run and type "msinfo32.exe" (without quotes) and hit Enter.  This will display your system information, though some of it can be a little difficult to understand, or very well may not even be what you're looking for.  There are also some free utilities that will give you some system information listed below.

Everest[/u]

This is one of the best as far as free information about your system and components goes.  There are several nice features that come with this program, and you can even run memory benchmarks under the Benchmark section of Everest to test your RAM.

Everest


CPU-Z[/u]

Another useful free utility that tells you your system specifications, simply run CPU-Z.exe and the CPU-Z Utility will provide you with everything you need to know about your CPU, such as its precise speed, voltage, packaging type, cache sizes etc.

CPU-Z


AIDA32 System Scanner[/u]

This is yet another free utility that scans and reveals system information, and comes with a pretty linear user interface.  

AIDA32


Nero Info Tool[/u]

This utility is used to display detailed information about your CD/DVD drive with the main use being to give you precise information about the capabilities of your CD/DVD drives under the Drive tab, such as the types of media the drive(s) can read from and/or write to, and their current firmware version.

Nero Info Tool


System Information for Windows (SIW)

And last, but certainly not least is my personal favorite - SIW.  This is a relatively easy to use program - the interface is quite intuitive; click the items in the left pane to see more details about them. For example, to find out more about your motherboard, click the Motherboard item under the Hardware section. After a short pause, the details will be shown in the right pane. Alternatively, you can access these items by going to the Software or Hardware menus at the top of the screen. To find out more about the various functions offered in SIW, go to the Help menu and select Online Help. You can also check for updates to SIW under the Help menu.

SIW


Sandra 2007[/u]

The System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant, otherwise known as Sandra 2007 is a very helpful tool to Analyze your system hardware and software, and comes with some useful benchmarking utilities and helpful tips for system optimization.

Sandra 2007

Midnight:
Avast! Anti-virus[/u][/size]

In the interest of broadening my horizons and not limiting myself to one brand or type of software, I decided to test out a new Anti-virus.  I've been running Avast! 4 Home Edition Free Anti-virus for the last 6 weeks along side my AVG installation (yes, you may hear that it is not recommended to run more than one primary Anti-virus as they can sometimes conflict with each-other, and this may in fact be true for system intrusive programs such as Norton: Anti-virus and the like.  However, there was no problem running AVG and Avast! simultaneously on my system, though I don't recommend it if you have low system memory or really for any other purposes than testing).

As for the results, I had AVG serve as my primary scanner for the first 3 weeks, and Avast! serve for the last 3 as primary.  Doing some surfing in less than reputable areas of the internet (for the sake of testing, I assure you, and isolated incidents where my other prevention software was disabled for testing :wink: ) brought about 3 attempts for Trojans to find their way into my system.  Of those 3 attempts, AVG noted and alerted about 1 instance as the primary scanner, Avast! notified me about all 3 (1 as the secondary scanner and 2 as the primary scanner).  Even after a scan of the file where the virus had embedded itself with AVG, the virus managed to stay hidden, where as Avast! found it's exact location and took preventative action to ensure it didn't spread throughout my system.

Thus, while AVG may be decent in the free realm, and while having a relatively simple user interface, I recommend giving Avast! a try.  There is a little more 'leg work' that needs to be done to understand Avast!'s structure - however as far as real time protection goes, it's one of the best free AV's I've seen.  Also, for us gamers, there is a feature that allows us to easily disable the Resident protection to reduce memory usage and potential stuttering while in games.  And once out of game, just turn the Resident protection back on and you're good to go.  :wink:



The various features have been color-highlighted in the screenshot.

- Resident Protection (Aqua Green) - background scanning for fast response time in alerting to virus intrusion.  3 Settings - Disabled, Standard, High.

- Separate scanning sectors (yellow) - The ability to scan 3 different  sectors; Local Drives (top), Removable Media (middle), and Selected Folders (bottom).  As well, each sector is also given the ability to determine the strength of which you want it scanned via 3 settings:  Quick Scan, Standard Scan, and Thorough Scan.

- Settings Menu (purple) - This menu allows you to access the scanner settings, select automatic updating, and customize it's appearance via skin selection (a plus for me personally as I'm very into themes and customization) as well as other standard features found in AV's.  

Give it a try, and if you're not satisfied you can always switch back to which ever scanner you were using before.  And if you don't currently use an anti-virus software, I highly recommend you get one as soon as possible, be it AVG or Avast! free editions, something is always better than nothing.

This is the skin I chose as it matches my current theme, but there are dozens of skins to choose from.  



Avast! 4.7 Home Edition


Note  I have also updated some of the content above.  See the sections on a new free disk defragmenter - Diskeeper lite version 9.0, as well as a link to Sandra 2007 system analyser.

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