Refresh Your Windows (SPEED UP)
Does your PC seem to be inexplicably slowing down? If you?ve scanned your PC and ruled out viruses and malware, then it is the invisible, undetectable detritus that has collected on your hard drive which is mucking up the works. Incompletely removed software, unnecessary background tasks, malfunctioning device drivers and other such pesky problems can seriously slow down your machine. Let?s look at how to get your Windows back to its quick and reliable self?and solve an unfixable Windows setup.
A Windows Treatment
If windows stumbles but doesn?t fall, your PC likely needs only refurbishing, not a full operating system makeover. In fact, machines with startup problems can usually be repaired without a last gasp reinstallation. (Of course, if your PC experiences problems before Windows loads, chances are they have nothing to do with the OS). Follow these steps to reinvigorate your current Windows setup.
CUT BACK ON AUTOLOADS
You may be amazed at just how many programs load automatically at Windows boot-up and then run in the background as you work (not all of them appear as icons in the system tray, either). Each of these programs uses memory and other resources, which might even cause a conflict with another program.
To view your list of autostart apps, select Start, Run, type msconfig, and press Enter to open the System Configuration Utility. (Windows 2000 lacks this utility, download Mike Lin?s free Startup Control Panel alternative for that OS from www. mlin.net). Click the Startup tab Uncheck items in this list to keep them from autoloading.
Windows 2000 needs no autoload programs, and Windows XP requires only one?sort of. If you don?t use Microsoft Messenger, you may want to uncheck ?msmsgs?, but doing so can cause problems with Outlook, Internet Explorer, or other Microsoft programs. Windows 98 and Me have several autoloading applications. In these versions, keep LoadPowerProfile, SystemTray, ScanRegistry, PCHealth, and TaskMonitor selected (including both instances of the first one if it?s listed twice, which can occur as part of Windows? boot process). If you use Windows? Task Scheduler, don?t uncheck SchedulingAgent (to find out whether a program is using the applet, select Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Scheduled Tasks and see if anything is listed).
For Windows Me, keep StateMgr. Determining whether you need your other autoload apps requires a bit of detective work. You can usually figure out what application put the entry in your startup list by reading the information in the Startup tab?s Command column. For instance, if you see that the loading file is located in the Roxio folder, it?s a good bet that the entry is a Roxio program. Keep checked any listing related to your firewall or your antivirus program to make sure they?re always running in the background. On the other hand, some autoloaders put an icon in the system tray for launching an application that you could just as easily launch from the Start menu. Having these programs autoload is a waste of resources, so uncheck away.
Sometimes it?s a judgment call: If a utility enhances Windows in a way you like, running it at all times could be worthwhile. But even then, if Windows gives you trouble, consider disabling such a program?at least temporarily?to see whether it?s the culprit; life may be better without it.
Unfortunately some unchecked programs have a way of reappearing checked and autoloaded, even though you just unchecked them. Why? The application that installed the autoloading program sees what you?ve done, and responds by ?correcting? your mistake. If this happens to you, unchecking the option will just create a cycle of frustration. Instead, launch the application and explore its menus, looking for a ?load at startup? option. When you find it, uncheck it. If you don?t find such an option, check the vendor?s Web site. If you discover that there?s no way to turn off the autoloader, and you have no good reason to leave it on, ask yourself how badly you want that program on your PC. And uninstall it.
UNINSTALL UNUSED APPS
A program doesn?t have to be running to mess up Windows? performance. Getting rid of all the applications on your PC that you no longer use is a good idea. Doing so isn?t always easy, however. Most programs have their own uninstall routine.
Unfortunately, these routines seldom remove everything. All too often installing a program gives you both benefits and problems, and uninstalling it removes only the benefits. Nevertheless, the program?s own uninstall routine is the best place to start the removal process. You might find a shortcut to the uninstaller on the program?s Start menu entry. If not, select Start, Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs (in Windows XP) or Start, Settings, Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs (in all other Windows versions). Find the program you want on the ?Currently installed programs? list (under the Install/Uninstall tab in Windows 98), click the Add/Remove or Change/Remove button and follow the prompts.
You haven?t really gotten rid of the program yet. Reopen the System Configuration utility to see whether the uninstalled application still autoloads anything; if it does, follow the steps in ?Cut Back on Autoloads? above. Next, open Windows Explorer and delete the program?s folder inside the C:\Program Files directory (if it?s still there). And if a shortcut to the program is still on the Start menu, right-click the item and then select Delete.
PARE THE REGISTRY
There?s no bigger rat?s nest on a well used Windows system than the Registry. Whenever you install software, change hardware, or download something from the Web, you pour gunk into this vast, loosely constructed database that Windows relies on to work properly. Cleaning it out can make a world of difference in Windows? performance. Before you start, make sure you can restore the Registry to its previous state should you delete the wrong key.
Windows 98, Me, and XP (but not 2000) back up the Registry automatically, but it doesn?t hurt to make an extra backup before doing something that could hose your PC. With your personal data, it makes sense to store the backup at another location, but that?s not the case with the Registry backup. If your hard drive goes bad, it?s pointless to restore this Registry backup in another Windows setup. In Windows XP and Me, you can use System Restore to back up the Registry. Select Start, All Programs (Programs in Me), Accessories, System Tools, System Restore, Create a restore point, and then follow the prompts. To back up the Windows 98 Registry, select Start, Run, type scanreg, and press Enter. When you see no more errors, click Yes and then OK. Windows 2000 offers no reliable way to back up your Registry, so you have to use third-party software. I recommend Lars Hederer?s free Emergency Recovery Utility NT (ERUNT) that you can download from
Click Here To Download
Start Anew in Windows
Sometimes windows is beyond recovery, and there?s nothing left to do but reinstall it. If all goes well, you?ll be done in only a couple of hours?but be ready to survive without the machine?s services for a day or two if you need to troubleshoot the reinstall.
Before you do anything, back up: Make a copy of all your data files and place it on a CD or other removable medium. For optimal results, use a disk-imaging program like Norton Save & Restore or Acronis True Image, which duplicates your hard drive so that it can be quickly and easily restored if necessary. Next, locate your Windows installation CD (or the restore CD that came with your computer), plus the discs for every application that you want to keep. If you don?t have a restore CD, look for a restore utility on your PC, which likely has an option to create a restore CD.
If you downloaded a shareware program and don?t have a CD, make sure to track down the registration code needed to turn the free trial into the fully functional, unlimited-use version. With luck, you won?t need the CDs that came with your hardware, which are neither easy to access nor up-to-date. Put all of your current device drivers in a separate folder, away from C:\Windows, before the reinstall. But be forewarned: If a set-aside driver doesn?t work, you may still need the outdated one from the vendor?s CD.
Take a deep breath, insert your Windows or restore CD, and reboot your PC. Restore CDs vary from vendor to vendor, so we can?t give you specific instructions. At their best, the discs are fully functional Windows CDs holding all the drivers you need. But at their worst, they only allow you to return your hard drive to its factory condition?with Windows but without any of your data and programs. If the only option on your restore CD is a fresh factory installation, make doubly sure you have your data backed up before you reinstall. After the reinstall, you?ll have to restore your data from this backup.
If your CD has a full copy of Windows XP or 2000, you?ll be prompted to ?Press any key to boot from CD?. Do so. In the setup program, pick the options that will leave the previous file system in place while deleting (as opposed to repairing) the old operating-system files. Follow the other prompts. You?ll eventually be asked for your user name, as well as for the names of other users. Enter just one name?not your real name (problems can arise if Windows tries to make new folders with the same names as existing ones). Instead, enter the name ?fake?, which you?ll delete later.
MATCH USERS TO DATA
When you?re back in Windows logged on as someone named ?fake,? open Windows Explorer to C:\Documents and Settings, select Tools, Folder Options, View, Show hidden files and folders, and make sure ?Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)? is unchecked. Click Yes, and then OK.
Now you?ll see six or more folders, among which will likely be ones named All Users, All Users. WINDOWS, Default User, Default User.WINDOWS, and ?fake?. There will also be a folder for each of the old installation?s log-in names. Open the Default User folder and look for one or more files named ?NTUSER? (they may have different file extensions). Delete these files, press Ctrl-A to select all the remaining files and folders, and then drag them all to the Default User.WINDOWS folder. At any dialog box, select Yes or, better yet, Yes to All. When you?re done, delete the empty Default User folder. Repeat the process with the All Users folder, copying everything except the ?NTUSER? files (if they exist) to the All Users.WINDOWS folder. Return to the Documents and Settings folder and rename each of the folders for an actual user (rather than the All Users, Default User, and ?fake? folders) by adding the extension .old to the name.
For instance, rename the folder ?Lincoln? to Lincoln.old (click the folder name once or use the F2 key to rename folders). To create the real accounts, select Start, Control Panel, User Accounts in Windows XP or Start, Settings, Control Panel, Users and Passwords in Windows 2000. Create an account for each user from the previous install. At least one of the accounts must have administrator privileges. In Windows 2000 you may have to check ?Users must enter user name and password to use this computer to create users?.
Once all of the users are in place, log off ?fake? and log on to each new account one at a time. In XP, select Start, Log Off, Log Off; in 2000, click Start, Shut Down, Log off fake, OK. If you are the only user, log on as yourself, log off, and log on again as ?fake.? If there are multiple users, first log on as one user, then log off and log on again as the next user, then log off again, and so on, until you?ve logged on and off as each user before logging back on as ?fake.? XP users:
Resist the temptation to use the Switch User option (which does not exist in 2000); you need to completely log off each user, not just switch users. Once you?re logged back on as ?fake,? your Documents and Settings folder should have two folders for each real user: ?login name? and ?login name.old?. Delete the ?NTUSER? files and move the others as described above for Default User, but this time from the ?login name. old? folder to the ?login name? folder. In other words, if the user?s name is ?Lincoln,? you would enter the ?Lincoln. old? folder, delete all the ?NTUSER? files, and drag the remaining files and folders to the ?Lincoln? folder. When you?re done, log off ?fake,? and then log on to one of the system?s real accounts with administrator privileges. Finally, return to Control Panel?s User Accounts applet and delete the ?fake? account, using the option to delete files.
FINISH THE JOB
The last step is to reinstall your drivers. Listings with a yellow question mark need an update. But other drivers may be out of date as well. To reinstall a driver, double-click its listing in Device Manager and choose Driver, Update Driver. Select the option in the Hardware Update Wizard that lets you choose the location of the search and select the driver (the wording varies). Uncheck the option to search floppies, CDs, and other removable media, and direct the wizard to look in the folder c:\olddrivers. Click Next, and follow the prompts.
If you are prompted to insert a particular CD, click OK and point to c:\olddrivers, which is where your drivers are stored. If that doesn?t work, simply tell the installer to skip that file. The driver will likely install properly despite Windows? inability to find that specific file. However, if the device doesn?t work, dig out the CD that came with it and load the driver from it. When all the drivers are in place, delete the c:\olddrivers folder, or move it to a removable medium for safekeeping.
Your applications are still on your hard drive and listed on your Start menu (that is, unless your restore CD reformatted your hard drive), but most of them won?t work because Windows can?t see them yet. Reinstall the applications that don?t open when you try them. If you no longer want a program, delete its shortcut from the Start menu and remove its folder from the Program Files folder. You don?t have to properly uninstall the app this time.
At some point, you may have to reactivate XP. Since your hardware hasn?t changed, this should be no problem. And last but definitely not least, you should update Windows and your applications.
Conventional wisdom urges us to frequently update our drivers?the programs that tell Windows what to do with hardware. If your PC is running well, there?s no reason to update your drivers. But if you?re having trouble, a driver update might help. First, open Windows? Device Manager by right-clicking My Computer and selecting Properties. In Windows XP and 2000, click Hardware, Device Manager. In Windows 98 or Me, click Device Manager.
Look for entries with yellow question marks or red exclamation points: The question mark indicates that Windows is using a generic driver for that device instead of one designed for it, and an exclamation point means that the device is not working. The drivers for graphics boards, sound cards, and printers are most likely to need an update. Drivers under ?Computer?, ?Disk drives?, and ?Keyboards? rarely require updating.
To update a driver, double-click the component listing and choose Driver, Update Driver in the product?s Properties dialog box. The Hardware Update Wizard will search for an updated driver on your local drives as well as on Microsoft?s Windows Update site, and it will install the driver if it finds one.
Even if the wizard doesn?t find one, a driver update may be available. Search for a new version on the vendor?s Web site, or enter the full product name plus the word driver in a search engine. When you find an update, make sure it works with your version of Windows. Either the new driver will install automatically after you download and run it or it will provide you with installation instructions.
It is possible that updating a driver could make things worse. In Windows XP, click Roll Back Driver under the Driver tab in the Properties dialog box to return to the previous version. If you regret updating a driver in 98, Me, or 2000, your only option is to replace it with a generic driver (at least until the vendor releases a bug fix).