Friday, June 24, 2011

Official MamaLand Guide to… Windows computer being Bad or Slow

Reflections from a week of fixing my mother’s aging computer.  Just because your computer is going on 6 – ancient in computer years – doesn’t mean you can’t still have wonderful computing experiences with it.  Follow these tips and see if you can’t get it back up and running almost as well as it used to.

WARNING:  Before you try any fixes or even scans, create a System Restore Point so that if you mess everything up, you can get back to where you started.  (Open Windows Help and type in “System Restore Wizard.”  In the wizard, click Create a Restore Point and follow the prompts)

System Restore won’t protect your data – your photos, word processing files, PDFs, music, etc.  So if you want to be super-safe, back that up, too.  But in an emergency, I’ve found that it’s almost always possible to scoop it off a hard drive that hasn’t gone into total physical failure.

So!  First of all, what’s slowing your computer down?  Go through the following areas, in the order shown.  Try not to jump around.  The order is important.  Oh, and do only one thing at a time.

Initial Security Check

Is it malware (ie the bazillions of baddies, viruses, adware etc out there on the wild Internet)…?

  • Do a virus scan using Eset’s online antivirus scanner.  It isn’t a permanent solution, but it will help you get a good start on things.  Let the scanner deal with whatever it finds; don’t keep it – just get rid of them all.
  • Download, install and run MalwareBytes Anti-Malware.  Run a quick scan and do whatever it says to get the first pass of baddies off your system.

Housecleaning

Now for some housecleaning – these are important for your ongoing security:

  • Windows Update – get latest version and enable Automatic updates (or download with manual install, like I do, but then be sure to actually DO the install whenever it pops up that you have a new one)
  • Make sure you have the latest updates of:
    • Any web browsers on your computer – AVOID IE>7 if possible, in my experience.  I choose Firefox but others close to me swear by Chrome.  Whatever you have, update them ALL, not just your primary browser. They all have security holes that need patching.
    • Java – or update via the Control Panel:  click on Start-> Control Panel (Classic View)-> Java (looks like a coffee cup) -> Update Tab -> Update Now.
    • If you choose to use them:
      • Adobe Reader
      • Adobe Flash Player
      • etc
  • Background Programs:  Check the lower-right-hand corner of the screen (system tray).  Is it full of little icons?  There should only be a few listed there.  Do you need all of them?  Every one of those icons runs in the background and slows your computer down a little bit.
  • Unnecessary Programs:  From the Windows Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs – remove every program you don’t know or don’t use.  Many come installed, many install themselves.  You probably don’t need them.  Let’s hope you don’t.
  • Hard drive cleanup – from My Computer, right-click on your main hard drive. 
  • Defragment your hard drive.  Nowadays, this is a last resort that doesn’t usually fix anything.  Hard drives are so big and defragging is so slow that it’s rarely worthwhile… but if you’re nearly maxed, it could be helpful.
  • Clear your Java cache: 
  • Click on Start-> Control Panel (Classic View)-> Java (looks like a coffee cup)

    • On the General tab, under Temporary Internet Files, click the Settings button.
    • Next, click on the Delete Files button
    • There are two options in the window to clear the cache - Leave BOTH Checked
        Applications and Applets
        Trace and Log Files
    • Click OK on Delete Temporary Files Window
      Note: This deletes ALL the Downloaded Applications and Applets from the CACHE.
    • Click OK to leave the Temporary Files Window
    • Click OK to leave the Java Control Panel.
  • Run TempFileCleaner to get rid of temporary files:
  • TFC(Temp File Cleaner):

    • Please download TFC to your desktop,
    • Save any unsaved work. TFC will close all open application windows.
    • Double-click TFC.exe to run the program.
    • If prompted, click "Yes" to reboot.

    Note: Save your work. TFC will automatically close any open programs, let it run uninterrupted. It shouldn't take longer take a couple of minutes, and may only take a few seconds. Only if needed will you be prompted to reboot.

Internet Connection

Your Internet connection may actually be the weak link…

It may not SEEM like Internet connection is the problem, but the Internet could still be your weak link, as it is for my mother.  Even when you’re not “using” the Internet, many programs now connect behind your back to download updates and information in a way that is supposed to be unobtrusive, unless you have a slow 5mbps connection and suddenly the unobtrusive background connection bogs down the whole system.

  • Check your connection speed at SpeedTest.net.  My download speed at the moment is 13.02; it sometimes goes as high as 20-ish.  My mother’s is painfully slow at around 5.  Run the test 3 times, preferably at different times of day.
  • You can also try the CNET Bandwidth Meter.  My line speed is usually just under 20,000, but the laptop on the same line is only around 6,000.  Run the test 3 times, preferably at different times of day.  This site lets you compare your result to see how it stacks up compared to other types of connections.
  • If the results seem very slow, contact your ISP and find out what you’re paying for.  You may need to invest in a faster Internet service.

Virus & malware “Protection”

Finally… virus protection isn’t perfect (here’s an old article I wrote on that very topic), but still - protect your system in any way you can.

  • Re-run Eset’s online antivirus scanner.  Let the scanner deal with whatever it finds; don’t keep it – just get rid of them all.
  • Run MalwareBytes Anti-Malware.  Let it remove whatever it finds.
  • There are other programs that are often recommended for one-pass scans – they use different algorithms, so doubling up is sometimes helpful.  I find a nice mix is alwyas
  • If your virus software is out of date, and has not been paid for, is no longer downloading updates because your subscription has been expired, and you don’t feel like renewing it, it is WORSE than useless.
    • Uninstall it.
    • If you want to buy software, you can.  Check the ratings first.
    • If you don’t want to pay, then install AVG free.  It’s MUCH better than nothing.

Advanced (or get a geek to do it for you):  Replace your HOSTS file.

  • Here’s a geek step that can be very helpful – it manually blocks a hard-coded list of known malware sites.  The list, with all the necessary accompanying geekery-pokery, can be found here
  • I’m not going to give step-by-step directions for this step because if you can’t figure it out from the info provided, you shouldn’t be messing around with this step.  What a snob I am!!!
  • Update your hosts file from this site every few weeks.

…Hey, you’re almost done!

Remove Startup Programs

  • * Advanced users only:  download, install and run HijackThis.  Remove any startup entries you are comfortable deleting.
  • Download, install and run WinPatrol Free.  Click on the tab for Startup Programs and read through the list.  Most should be from Microsoft or company names you recognize.  If you don’t recognize a program or company name, don’t remove it right away!  Google it.  Ask around on a forum, like bleepingcomputer.com.  Some obscure programs are necessary and will destroy your system if removed.  Have I scared you?  Good!

I think that’s it, and if you have done all this, your system should be running tickety-boo!  If it’s not, well, you may just have to call somebody, or better yet, post a question in the appropriate forum at BleepingComputer.com

The admins there are VERY helpful, but they are all volunteers.  Be patient – they take up to a week to reply to your first post, but then once they’re on your case, they are sometimes quite fast.  Follow all their suggestions and tip them with a PayPal donation if they manage to fix your system.

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