Keep Your Windows PC Running Smoothly With These Apps
Keeping a Windows PC running fast is tricky, because it seems to slow down over time simply by using it. There are a lot of companies out there offering to speed up your PC, but they are usually scams or have dubious value. This post collects the tools and techniques that I use on a regular basis.
- These tools are all free, though many have paid (premium) versions.
- The only thing I run all the time is my anti-virus (Avira). But, I’m careful about clicking on things on websites or in my email. If you’re less careful, or don’t want to be bothered with manually running these apps, you can usually opt to run them in the background. But keep in mind that you trade performance for convenience.
- You can use the Windows Task Manager to monitor system performance and pinpoint problem areas. Search for “Task Manager” in the Start menu, or type Ctrl-Alt-Del and choose it from the menu.
File system integrity checks don’t seem to be as important nowadays, with recent versions of Windows and better disk hardware. Still, it’s probably worth running the Scandisk tool once in a while. Simply navigate to (My) Computer, right-click on each local disk, choose Properties, then go to the Tools tab and click the “Check Now” button under “Error-checking”. (This may vary depending on your version of Windows.) You can have it automatically fix errors, and even look for bad sectors (though this is much slower, and I don’t bother). Sometimes the disk may be unmountable or in use (such as the C: drive), so you can just schedule it to check the disk next time you reboot your computer.
Having a lot of programs and services running in the background can really slow down your PC. Luckily, Windows comes with a handy utility to review and disable these programs. Just go to the Start menu and search for “msconfig”. Under the “Startup” tab you will see all the apps that start when Windows boots up. These programs are always “nice to haves” — disabling them won’t break your computer, but they might disable some functionality you like. Most of the time, these are just programs to make certains apps startup faster, check for updates periodically, or add icons to the system tray. You can disable them freely. Some useful tray icons, like your anti-virus program or Dropbox, you will probably want to keep enabled.
When finished, click the “OK” or “Apply” button. It will remind you that you need to reboot your PC for the settings to take effect; choose “Exit without restart” (unless you actually want to reboot immediately). If you realize that you made a mistake, you can always open msconfig again and re-enable those items you want.
You may also want to review the “Services” tab. These are usually more important than simple “startup” items, but may include some programs that are okay to disable. Click the “Hide all Microsoft services” checkbox at the bottom to make it easier to find these third-party services. Again, if you make a mistake, you can always return and re-enable those items.
Not sure what a program or service does? Web search is your friend. Just type the name of the item or its command into Google, and you’ll probably find an explanation of what it is.
You’ll want a decent anti-virus program running in the background at all times. I use the free version of Avira; you may opt for the pro version with extra features. Once in a while I also run a full scan, just to double-check.
CCleaner is a great app that cleans up files on your computer. The free version has 2 tools that I use regularly. The cleaner itself will delete temporary files, caches, and other files that aren’t strictly needed, both in Windows and in apps it knows about (Firefox, Chrome, Adobe apps, and many others). Careful: You may not want to delete everything — things like cookies and internet history may be useful to you. Start with the default items and include others as you feel comfortable. Luckily, CCleaner gives you a summary of what it will delete before it actually deletes anything.
The other tool I use is the registry cleaner. Windows and apps regularly add stuff to the system registry without ever cleaning it out. The cleaner scans for issues and deletes unused/invalid data. You can make a backup of the data before it deletes anything.
CCleaner also has some other tools up its sleeve, such as an app uninstaller and startup remover. These are similar to Windows’ built-in tools, but are a bit more comprehensive and effective.
Malwarebytes is simply an app that scans for malicious software. It is a good complement to an anti-virus program. I’m pretty careful, so I don’t run it all the time, only running a scan once in a while. You may choose to keep it running in the background.
Files on disk drives become fragmented pretty quickly. This free app will optimize your hard drives so that Windows can find and read your files faster. Depending on the size of your drives, it may take a while, so be prepared to let it run overnight.
Running old, outdated software makes your PC more vulnerable to viruses and other attacks. In addition to letting Windows Update do its thing, you should check for updates to the apps you regularly use. Often there is a option inside the app to check for, or even install, an updated version. If there isn’t, go to the app’s website and look for a download option there.
Of course, less is more. Deleting files you don’t need any more makes it easier to find and optimize the file system. And you can use CCleaner or the built-in “Uninstall a program” to remove apps you don’t use. Be careful not to delete apps or files you might need (again, Google is your friend)!
If you are bumping against hardware limitations, then you may need to upgrade or replace your computer with newer hardware. Every few years is normal; five or more years is stretching it. You can use the built-in “Performance Information and Tools” (under the Control Panel) to give a clue on which hardware is slowing you down.
Finally, no matter how much you clean up Windows, it’s going to be a mess internally after a few years. Reinstalling the OS is the only way to fix it.