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Being the computer guru that I am, I have found myself many times helping my friends with their computers, and I often find myself absolutely appalled when I see what shambles their computers are in. And this seems rampant among the computer owning population! In any case, I guess it could make sense, for who can expect everyone to be such a guru as myself? So that I can help them when I do not have time, help others, and perhaps divert some traffic to my Translation Agency in the process (I am also becoming a guru in search engine ranking optimization), I have prepared these extensive instructions for all facets how to make your computer run fast and more efficiently, how to avoid viruses, and all the basics to help set up a monster computer for you. I will try to divide things up so that those who already know some things can skip those sections and move on to parts they might not be aware of.
I'd say the greatest crime of the computer industry as that shops readily sell the hardware without the software already set up properly. If computers were sold set up properly, with some basic instructions for the new owner, there would practically be no viruses on the internet, or few computer problems.
How Strong is Your Computer?
Let us start at the very beginning to see how strong your computer is. When you turn it on, get ready to press the PAUSE button. You might see some details, such as its RAM, what Pentium it is etc., processor speed, and how much HardDrive space you have. But first, a general explanation of how the computer works, which some might want to skip over.
The Pentium II/AMD part is like a person's intelligence. You might ask a person to do a particular task, and they will use their intelligence to accomplish that task, but with fewer steps, meaning they accomplish it faster, because they took less steps to do it.
The processor speed (ie 2.8 GHz) is like the speed at which the person thinks/moves. So even if they are less intelligent and end up doing more steps, they perform each of the steps faster. Of course, a balance is always required. In computer land, you often can't add a super processor to a dumb motherboard (the Pentium part), because either the different technologies are not compatible, or it is a wasted/impractical investment (think of a production line where one super fast person is always waiting in sequence after the super slow person).
you have the harddrive space, like a big bookshelf to work with before
you. The larger your harddrive/memory, the larger your bookshelf and the
more information, data and programs you can put in it.
RAM can almost be the most important of all of these, and what is often not appreciated so much by people when they buy their computer, and which can often slow down the computer the most. Imagine you are the most intelligent, fast thinking person, but after a war injury you only have one finger.
You want to do a lot of complicated things, so you pull out a book from your bookshelf (the speed at which your computer can withdraw this information from your harddrive, meaning the quality and speed of your harddrive, therefore also plays a factor), open it to page 57, quickly read it, and then realise you need to make a reference to another book. So you put that book back into its place on the bookshelf, grab the other book, leaf to page 109, and then read that. This is how your computer has to work if it does not have enough ram. Instead, it is better to have many arms, so that you can have 10 books open at once, all of them open to the page you are interested in, so that you can just scan back and forth between the pages of these open books, instantly, using your fantastic and fast intelligence!
For those who use, for example, Windows XP, that operating system can be pretty fast, because it likes to work with a lot of ram, storing lots of information in RAM, and as such it is generally recommended to have at least 500 MRAM when using this operating system. Although I've gotten away with a mere 163 MRAM on a Pentium II computer, but I'm a guru, remember? And you can read later how to tweak your computer to turn any slug into, a MONSTER!
If you like to work with a lot of programs running at the same time, bouncing between them with lightning speed, each program having some large file or database open, then you might want to pump that up to a juicy 750 MRAM or more. Ram is not really that expensive. Otherwise, if you usually only use a few programs at a time and not have large files open, you can get away with less (as long as you always close your program when you are done with it - don't waste precious RAM!).
Now the computer geek way how to check out your ram is through the famous old CTRL ALT DELETE (press these three keys at the same time). In XP this is a very useful tool and which I will cover in greater detail later under Task Manager (also on older versions of Windows, but not as powerful). Through this you can see how much total ram you have (actual hardware), how much you are using up, and how much you have left available. Once you start to use up most of your ram, Windows creates a temporary space on your harddrive where it stores some of the information you are working with, so your "available ram" might not be accurate, because it does not take into consideration that some of the information you are working with is actually no longer in ram. And what does that mean? Well, back to putting information on and removing them from your bookshelf, and slowing things down.
You can look at these figures when you first turn on your computer and once your Windows is fully running, and compare it to when you turn on various programs and open various large files, to help give you an idea whether or not you have enough ram or need to purchase more.
But before this, first make sure your computer is clean and squeaky. Meaning you do not have a lot of viruses and junk programs running, which will only hog up your ram. Therefore, before you get excited about rushing out to buy more ram, make sure your available ram is not hogged up by a lot of garbage!!!
Cleaning Your Computer
Now that you have a better idea how your computer hardware works, lets start focusing on the software. You can be the most intelligent, fast thinking, multiple armed person on your block, but if you are bogged down by stupid and contradictory requests, with stupid instructions from programs which were not designed well, or inflicted with a hundred viruses, you aren't gonna be too effective, are you?!
So, let us start our little examination in the Startup menu. You should find this through the Start menu, under Programs. What do you see there? A lot of programs? Well, every program put in there is a command to Windows to turn on those programs every time you turn on your computer, and hog more ram! Do you really need these? Of course, many programs you install on your computer would just love to have their little representative working all the time, and heck, perhaps it might even speed up their program, but if you do not use that program often or do not think you need that feature, ERASE it from the Startup menu. You are not erasing the program but only erasing that start-up command. You can always turn on that program manually whenever you will need it. Look through your Programs menu, to the relevant program folder, and see if that particular startup program is in there. If not, you can move or copy it there (instructions in Organising your Startup menu) for later if you ever decide to turn on the program manually.
On a side note, many times it has happened that, on a slower computer, such programs in the startup menu caused complications with Windows. Windows was not even finished trying to set up, when already it was getting requests to turn on five other programs, all of them trying to open up at the same time, while Windows itself is still trying to get organised, resulting in goulash and an improperly set up and unstable Windows environment! So if you have a slower computer and you notice these problems, let your Windows turn on, and after it looks like it has settled down <look at the ram gauge and the harddrive light on your computer> , then you can manually turn on what programs you need, ONE at a time.
Once you have removed all the necessary programs from your startup menu, you might get excited to restart your computer and compare the difference in ram, performance, and startup speed, or just continue with this exercise.
The next exercise is to get rid of those nasty programs which start up with Windows but are not in the Startup menu. These often end up in the system tray menu in the bottom right of your monitor, such as:
Got a lot of icons there? Guess what? Each of them are programs, you guessed it, running and hogging up your ram. So single, double, or right mouse click on each of these program icons, go into their configuration files (this is assuming you decide you do not want these running automatically on startup either, which is often the case), peruse the various options, and figure out the secret way how to stop it from starting automatically with Windows.
Once you have removed these as well, you can get excited by restarting your computer, comparing things using the CTRL ALT DELETE console, or just continue in this rather lengthy exercise (now you might understand why I bothered writing all this down. Sure, the free beers, nachos and nice company is pleasant, but I get rather tired of doing the entire mundane procedure every time).
Now you want to remove all those nasty viruses and spyware which like to hide craftily and not let you to turn them off or remove them. Some wont even let you turn them off through the CTRL ALT DELETE console!
But before you start with this cleaning session, you might want a little background information on those nasty elements (researching Processes in the Taskbar), to help you avoid getting them in the future. And generally how to practice, what I like to refer to as, safe computer.
So let us start with Spyware. Nasty scripts which can install on a computer in the background, without you knowing about it, just because you did the indecent thing of clicking on a picture of some well endowed female while surfing the internet! Or any picture for that matter. Or any website. Who knows. So download the latest freeware of Spybot, install that on your computer, update it so that you have the latest definitions (when someone thinks up a virus, the good people think up an anti-virus, and you must occasionally update the anti-viruses onto your computer to be protected), press the "Check for problems" button, and once that process is completed, then the Cleanup/Fix (or whatever button). It can take a while for it to scan through your entire computer, so you can do this at night or when you go out. Make sure all programs are turned off, so that it does not conflict with anything. Once this is completed, and you will be asked to restart your computer, because it cannot shut down a virus or spyware when it is already running and must kill that bug before it gets a chance to startup, meaning this Spybot program has to start before anything else does. Once you have removed all spyware etc. using this program, there should also be a Quarantine button. Get that going (press the button twice) to protect yourself in the future, and occasionally run the program to update the definitions (database of anti-viruses) and do another thorough scan of your system. And stop clicking on pictures of well endowed females!
Another option is to download Spysweeper,
which is constantly running and which prevents these spywares from infiltrating
your system, but this program is not free (about a hundred bucks a year
to be able to download their updated definitions) and I was told by my
super computer guru that it is not better than Spybot. Up to you. But
the feature which blocks certain things from happening can be useful.
Well, now, after forcibly restarting your computer several times, you will hopefully notice a pleasant difference in its performance. And make sure to check out the ol' CTRL ALT DELETE console, so you can compare the changes.
Another version of viruses are popup windows. Those annoying little advertisements that constantly pop up in your face while you try to surf the internet. One way is to download for free the google toolbar, but last time I tried that it took forever, tried to download other features I didn't want, and then just disappeared one day. So you might be better off with Firefox, a good free browser for surfing the internet. Has its own built-in popup blocker, with a box in the toolbar for searching google. With CTRL T and CTRL W you can open or close Tabs, so you can see all the pages you are browsing at once, without having a hundred MS IE windows open at the same time. But some sites don't work well with Firefox, such as when logging into bank accounts etc., so always have your MS ready and handy if need be.
Well, now you must be getting excited and happy with your new clean toy, no? Big improvements I'd say so far, but let's not stop here and we can go a good ways further! Now we are getting into the tweaking part, which can help the fastest or slowest of computer, but actually bring old and slow slugs back from the dead and make decent little monsters out of them!
Tweaking Your Computer - Further Tips on Overall Performance
So once you have squeaky cleaned your computer of viruses and unnecessary running programs and got it working nicely, lets tweak things further. You can still do a few things which will make a big difference in your computer's performance.
First of all, lets remove programs you don't need on your computer. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs. Examine all the programs you have on your system and remove/uninstall those which you no longer use, or which have proven to be unstable etc. They only clutter up your Windows registry. Which is like a special place in its brain, and if that is cluttered up unnecessarily, your computer just can't think so well and clearly. You might also consider removing some Windows Components you do not use, in this same window.
Once you have done that, I was rather impressed with Registry Cleaner, once a free program and really lets you get into your computer's brain and clean it up there. Simply follow the instructions when the program is running, at the top of each window/tab. Fairly easy to use and seemed quite good. Since it is not free anymore, I found some other ones which seem good and which were free the last I checked: Ccleaner and XP Tools. If those are no longer free, you can go to download.com and do a search for "registry cleaner" or "xp tweak", peruse that and the related search results, and choose programs based on how many times they have been downloaded, and on the user, publisher's and editor's remarks.
Now that you have cleared out a lot of programs you don't need, lets clear out a bunch of files and information you do not need. Go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. This might be slightly different on older versions of Windows, but it should be there somewhere. This will help you remove files you don't need. Try to remove all the internet ones too, because this is a one-time cleaning operation, so get thorough, because you only need to do this once in a while.
Once you have removed all that, then look around your computer at other stuff you don't need. I'm not talking about erasing files in a program folder just because you do not know what it is. Heavens no. I am talking about files you know what they are but don't really need them there. Perhaps you don't need them often, so you might consider burning them onto a DVD or something. Before doing this, or after removing files and cleaning out what you just added to the Recylcle Bin (right mouse click onto the Recycle Bin and press Empty), go to My Computer, right mouse click on your C drive (or D drive if you have a second harddrive), press Properties, and take a look at what you see. How much space do you have remaining? Windows should have at least 300 MB of free space available so that it can work well for you. Such as for storing temporary ram memory, when you start using it up.
For this next operation, the more free space you have available, the better. If you do not have enough free space, the program will inform you. Technically, even if it did inform you that you lack free space, you could still proceed (if you are really having a problem creating space - in which case it might be a good time to go out and buy a bigger or additional harddrive - hence the D), but it will take much much longer and may run into problems.
Anyway, before I commence to this last of the important steps of making your computer super fast, I'd like to explain how the computer stores information in its bookshelf. For us humans, we would logically think that the computer would keep the book together in its neat little binding and carefully place it back into its allotted space on the bookshelf. NOT. What it actually does is, imagine you have a very nicely organised bookshelf. But then you decide you don't like a book anymore, so you remove it and throw it in the garbage, or give it to a friend or charity. Now you have this little empty space on your bookshelf. And then you do this a few more times, adding and removing/erasing books, so that over time you have a lot of various sized spaces on your bookshelf. One day you buy a real big encyclopedia, but when your computer goes to put it on the bookshelf, there is no longer any available space big enough for it, so what it does is it starts ripping up your brand new encyclopedia into little pieces and shoves the various sized sections into the slots it finds. Over time, when you move or copy files from one location to another, get another robust portion of emails for the day, only to erase most of them later, or move some to different folders, soon enough your bookshelf does not look like a bookshelf anymore but a junkyard with all sorts of indistinguishable papers rammed into different places. Sure, your computer is real smart and can remember what belongs where, but imagine trying to remove a book from your bookshelf (hopefully not with only one finger anymore), to temporarily piece the individual papers together in your hand, only to have to store it somewhere else in a temporary ram folder (itself scattered all over into various little available pockets on the bookshelf), just to grab another book and try to work with that as well? Well, my friends, THIS is the state I find a lot of people's computers in (including everything else I mentioned above). An absolute disaster. No wonder their computer was barely working! Sometimes their internet would barely work, because it was so busy hogged up and serving all the viruses, sending out spam around the world, or confidential information on their computer to various snoopy people. Yes folks, this is the world of computers that we live in. It is not advisable to be a naive consumer, go to the store to buy a computer, and just install various, often hacked or copied programs, and surf away bare naked to the world. If you do, I wouldn't store your credit card information on your computer if I were you.
Anyway, now that you have so wonderfully cleaned up everything, removed as much garbage as possible and created as much free space on your computer as possible, it is time for the wonderful and tasty defragmentation!
Go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Defragmentation. You can do an Analysis first, to see if you really need to perform this procedure. When you do decide to proceed, basically your computer is going to spend the next several hours moving pages and chunks of books around, moving them to empty spaces and piecing them back together, and then organising them neatly next to one another, starting from the top left part of your bookshelf. Actually, I know I'm a total computer geek, but I'm always excited every time to watch this in action, as Windows shows you a nice little coloured graph of its progress.
Great fun to refer to occasionally as you go about your daily non-computer routine. Again, make sure all programs are turned off and not running, because the defrag program can't move and organise something that is currently being used. When the defrag is finished, you can look at the outcome.
Still see a lot of red? Sometimes I run mine one or more times, and it seems to get rid of the last trouble makers. Otherwise, make sure to read the log results file at the end. It may refer to some troublesome files.
Some 300 MB file that makes no sense. Probably a result of your computer getting confused at some point, trying to deal with this mess of a bookshelf, holding various pages in its various hands, in the middle of some complex operation, only to suffer a power failure! Or the user just restarts the computer (not healthy, try to avoid) because something didn't seem to be working fast enough. With a power failure or user forced restart during such complex operations, when the computer is holding all the pieces of information in its various hands, all the papers fall out as the computer collapses and faints to the floor. Once it restarts, it has to sweep up all these loose papers and information and cram them into some empty slot on the bookshelf - possibly creating some massively large and nonsensical file which cannot be defragged and which should just be erased.
Therefore, analyse these problem files as shown in the defrag report, perhaps temporarily move them somewhere else to see if moving or erasing them screws up the relevant program, and if everything seems fine, either erase them or keep them for a while in the new location.
Once you have moved or erased the problem files, you can try another defrag, and then stare with pride at the solid blue line, with lots of clean white and available space to the bottom right of your bookshelf, and start using the full potential of your computer, the way it was designed to!
The above suggestions are the basics, yet you can go still further. One program which was and may still be free is Cacheman. This program helps you better manage your RAM, and has wizards to help you further optimise your system. I like to have it set up so that it shows the available ram in the system tray, so that it defrags in the background when the computer is not working hard, and so that it recovers memory every hour (you can also recover the memory manually any time you want by right clicking on its icon in the system tray).
In short, as explained above, ram is very fast and the many arms of the computer juggle the programs and the information they work with. If a program does not use some information for a while, the computer might place that information back in a temporary folder (cache) on the bookshelf, so that it can free up some more arms for other purposes (swapping). Managing this process well will make your system run faster.
Another useful program which was free when I downloaded it was Sandra Software. It analyses your system and gives you lots of useful tips, such as concerning your setup, hardware, and BIOS - that scary screen you access by pressing DELETE a bunch of times while your computer is starting up.
If the above two programs did not make the following setting tweaks, you can do them yourself as explained here. Note that if you have a fast computer these might not be necessary, but why not make things faster, eh?
If you are desperate for more performance, you could consider replacing Windows's shell. That is basically the Task bar - the strip usually found at the bottom of your monitor where you see the Start menu, the quicklaunch, your running programs and the system tray. The shell also does other things and is a basic functioning part of Windows, but the one that comes with Windows isn't that good and uses up more ram than necessary. Ever get that window informing you that Explorer.exe is not responding and find you have to restart Windows for everything to work properly again? Well, this is that shell thing, and I don't get that window anymore since I switched to Litestep. But it's a bit more complicated to set up. Perhaps weigh this decision and consider it only if your computer abilities are a little more proficient, and your computer is an old one and really needs the extra help (like I did with my Pentium II, 163 RAM running Windows XP). In any case, the program has a feature where you can easily switch back to the Windows shell you are used to, although it requires you to restart your computer.
You could also examine the programs you use and how much RAM they swallow to operate. You could count how many seconds it takes for the program to fully start up, or compare the RAM before and after you turned it on. If it is a big resource hogger, you can try switching to a lighter program which accomplishes the same. For example, instead of Outlook you could consider Pegasus Mail as an email client. Or just close programs and large files when you do not need them.
Well, after performing all of the above, you must certainly feel satisfied and a bit of a computer expert, eh?
Now you are ready to launch yourself into all your favourite work and be satisfied with the amazing and efficient speed everything is operating in. But when doing so, why not make yourself more efficient?! You just spent all this time making your computer run faster, but your computer is only a tool, the usefulness of which is limited by the hand which wields it. For this reason there are other tricks you can learn which would affect your own behaviour, or the way you operate, and also greatly speed up your work. For these tips go to Further Computer Tips.
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Published - June 2010
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