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Optimizing Windows

The following tips can help improve computer's performance and help make computer run faster. The examples in this article are for Windows XP. However, these procedures work for all versions of the Windows operating system, with some slight variations from version to version.

Clean up disk errors

Run once a week

Whenever a program crashes or you experience a power outage, your computer may create errors on its hard disk (sometimes referred to as a hard drive). Over time, the errors can result in a slow PC. Fortunately, the Windows operating system includes several PC tools, including a Check Disk program, to identify and clean any errors on your computer and to help keep it running smoothly.

Note: You must be logged on as an administrator to perform these steps. If you aren't logged on as an administrator, you can only change settings that apply to your user account.

Run Check Disk:

  1. In the Start menu, click My Computer.

  2. In the My Computer dialog box, right-click the drive you wish to check for errors (for most of us, this is the C: drive, unless you have multiple drives on your computer), and then click Properties.

  3. In the Properties dialog box, click the Tools tab. In the Error-Checking section, click the Check now… button. A Check Disk dialog box appears.

    Image of the Check Local Disk (C:) dialog box
  4. In the Check Disk dialog box, select all the check boxes, and then click Start.

  5. You will see a message box that says you can schedule the disk check to start the next time you restart your computer. Click Yes. The next time you restart your computer, it will automatically run through a disk check before displaying your login screen. After the disk check finishes, Windows will automatically bring you to your login screen.

    Note: Check Disk can take more than an hour to check and clean errors on your computer.

Remove temporary files

Run once a week

Your computer can pick up and store temporary files when you're looking at webpages and even when you're working on files in programs, such as Microsoft Word. Over time, these files slow your computer's performance. You can use the Windows Disk Cleanup tool to rid your computer of these unneeded files and to help your PC run faster.

Run Disk Cleanup:

In the Start menu, click My Computer.

  1. In the My Computer dialog box, right-click the drive you wish to check for errors (for most of us, this is the C: drive, unless you have multiple drives on your computer), and then click Properties.

  2. In the Properties dialog box, click Disk Cleanup.

    Disk Cleanup button in the Local Disk Properties dialog box
  3. Disk Cleanup calculates how much space you can free up on your hard drive. After its scan, the Disk Cleanup dialog box reports a list of files that you can remove from your computer. This scan can take a while depending on how many files you have on your computer.

    Disk Cleanup dialog box, listing possible files to be deleted
  4. After the scan is complete, in the Disk Cleanup dialog box, click View Files to see what Disk Cleanup will discard (if you accept the suggestions). You can select and deselect check boxes to define what you wish to keep or discard. When you're ready, click OK.

  5. You can also select the More Options tab within the Disk Cleanup screen to look for software programs you don't use much anymore. You then have the choice to remove these unused programs.

Optimize your data

Run once a week

As you add programs and files to your computer, it often breaks files side by side to increase the speed of access and retrieval. However, as files are updated, your computer saves these updates on the largest space available on the hard drive, often found far away from the other adjacent sectors of the file.

The result is a fragmented file. Fragmented files cause slower performance because your computer must now search for all of the file's parts. In other words, your computer knows where all the pieces are, but putting them back together in the correct order—when you need them—can slow your computer down.

Windows includes a Disk Defragmenter program to piece all your files back together again and to make them available to open more quickly.

Note: Windows 7 and Windows Vista are preconfigured to run Disk Defragmenter on a weekly basis. If you would like to run the tool manually or to adjust the schedule, click the section for your specific operating system.

Run Disk Defragmenter:

In the Start menu, click My Computer.

  1. In the My Computer dialog box, right-click the drive you wish to check for errors (for most of us this is the C: drive, unless you have multiple drives on your computer), and then click Properties.

  2. In the Properties dialog box, click the Tools tab, and then, in the Defragmentation section, click Defragment Now....

    The Check Now button in the Tools tab
  3. In the Disk Defragmenter dialog box, select the Volume (most likely your Local Disk C:) at the top of the screen, and then click Analyze.

  4. After analyzing your computer, the Disk Defragmenter displays a message stating whether you should defragment your computer. Press Defragment to clean up your computer, if necessary. The Disk Defragmenter reorganizes files by placing them together and sorting them by program and size.

    Disk Defragmenter dialog box showing disk defragmentation in progress

Make Internet Explorer run faster

The Internet is everywhere—from the home to office to the classroom. We use it to communicate, to work, to play—and even occasionally to waste time.

Yet there's nothing more frustrating than having this technical marvel at our fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, only to wait while our computers access it at a crawling pace. Thankfully, Windows Internet Explorer provides some useful options for quicker web surfing.

Reduce the size of your webpage history

Internet Explorer stores visited webpages to your computer, organizing them within a page history by day. Although it's useful to keep a couple days of web history within your computer, there's no need to store more than a week's worth. Any more than that and the collected webpages can slow down your computer's performance.

Note: Depending on which version of Internet Explorer you're using, the steps outlined and images shown may vary slightly.

Don't save encrypted webpages

Encrypted webpages ask for user names and passwords. These pages scramble information to prevent the reading of sensitive information. You can configure Internet Explorer to not save these types of pages. You'll free up space by saving fewer files to your computer, in addition to keeping secure information off of your computer.

Automate Windows Update

Configure once

Microsoft works constantly to release updates to Windows and other Microsoft products, including Microsoft Office. With Windows Update, you can find and install all these updates—not just the critical ones. Often, the updates can improve your computer's performance.

You can make life easier by automating Windows Update so that your computer downloads and installs all the updates without you having to worry about them.

Automate Windows Update:

In the Start menu, click Control Panel.

  1. In the Automatic Updates dialog box, select the Automatic (Recommended) check box. You can define the time of day that your computer should check for updates. If the computer finds any updates, it will download and install them automatically for you.

  2. Click OK.

    The Automatic Updates dialog box

Remove spyware, and help protect your computer from viruses

Download once, and get automatic updates

While you're busy surfing the web, spyware and other types of malicious software (also known as malware) are collecting personal information about you, often without your knowledge. The result is that your personal information could possibly be compromised. At the same time, spyware and malware can slow down your computer. 

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