10 Steps to Efficient Computing
(In no specific order…)
1. Cold re-boot (One of the Greatest tech tips of all time) This is one of the most effective tips we know of and it remedies many PC related problems.
There have been too many occasions over the years when we would get a phone call for service and tell the (potential) client to re-boot their computer. We would tell them to call back if that didn’t fix their problem. More times than not, we wouldn’t hear back from them. Talk about mixed emotions….. When your PC seems to be lagging and every action takes 10s of seconds to complete, it may be time for a re-boot. We prefer to “Shut down” (which involves shutting down the PC completely) as opposed to “Re-start” (which simply cycles the operating system through boot-up without removing power).
10 Steps to Efficient Computing
This is also true of all other peripherals (printers, modems, etc.)
This is a throw-back to the old days when a cold re-boot was required to clear memory. While the latest advents in software may have resolved this need to remove power completely, we still prefer to shut ‘er all the way down.
2. Microsoft Security Essentials There are many anti-virus programs out there that, for the most part, do a good job of protecting your system from virus attacks. In most cases, however, there is a trade-off. For this protection you will probably pay a price in either memory or CPU usage. While you do not want too many programs running at the same time, we do recommend what we call a ‘multi-pronged approach’. What we mean is that it is better to use several different methods to ensure that your PC is virus and mal-ware free. We like Microsoft’s offering. We also like to visit WWW.TrendMicro.com for a free online scan. These, in conjunction with Windows Defender have a much better chance of catching any bug that may be in your sytem.
3. Disk Clean-up. Right-click on your “C” drive to get the dialogue shown below. Click on “Properties”. (Click for larger view) Click the”Disk Cleanup” button shown below on the resulting dialogue. We do not recommend compressing the hard drive as it will slow the computer. (Click for larger view) It may take a little while for the computer to calculate the disk space you will be able to free, and an indicator will appear as below. (Click for larger view) In the next dialogue, you’ll need to select the files to be “cleaned” (removed/erased). (Click for larger view) The only files you may want to save are the MS Office installation files. Leaving them will save you time if you need to add more features to Office and don’t want to have to go find the installation CD.
4. Don’t fill up your hard drive! IDE hard drives will start to ‘bog down’ if they are over 90% full. Take your total hard drive size and multiply it by .9 (Period excluded for readability.) If your hard drive is 120 Gbytes (Gigs) and it has 13 Gigs free, then your free space would be 10.8% (13 divided by 120). You are very close to having serious performance issues. IDE hard drives move data around all of the time (“housekeeping”). They use extra space provided by the manufacturers as a sort of ‘scratch pad’ (swap file). They need to have some room to work, so filling them up over 90% really annoys them and they become obstinate.
This can result in 50% to 80% loss in performance.
5. Remove unused/unnecessary web browser toolbars. One of the main reasons web browsers slow down is because they are loading too many toolbars. Each toolbar you have installed acts much like its own web-page. So, if you are running 3 (for example) toolbars in your web browser, you may expect the browser to take as long to open as 3 consecutive web-pages. (Click for larger view) Right-click where indicated in the image above to acquire the dialogue below. (Click for larger view) You will notice the check marks indicating active toolbars, and the lack thereof indicating disabled toolbars. Some toolbars tend to install as a “side offer” that comes along with other software (typically free software).
Before long, you can find yourself with 5 or even more toolbars that reduce browser performance and also take up valuable viewing real estate (every active toolbar takes up space that could otherwise be used to view web pages). We recommend disabling all toolbars, then going back in and enabling only the ones you need.
6. Remove unused/unnecessary Windows programs. The most basic Windows installation includes several applications that the general PC user probably has no use for.
7. Avoid (at all cost) the temptation to install “Freeware”. You’ve probably heard the old expression “Nothing’s free.” It is true in this field too.
More times than not, the freeware you install will bring along some ‘baggage’. Some of this baggage will be merely annoying while some of it is downright nefarious (think viruses (virii?), trojans, and other malware). There are (few) exceptions to this ‘rule’ (Yahoo! toolbar, for example has a few useful features as do MS and Google’s toolbars).
8. Windows update in automatic mode.
Microsoft puts out updates to most all of its software periodically. These updates are generated by MS engineers based on internal studies of each piece of software designed to improve its performance and functionality, as well as user feedback.
With updates in automatic mode, you are assured to have the latest fixes for any software issues that may arise.
9. KeepIt.com (online automatic back-up) We like these folks because their coverage is continuous and instant. If you change a file in a directory you have them ‘watching’, it will be updated on their online server. You have to do nothing whatsoever.
This is the most efficient way we know of to meet the needs of ‘off-site storage’ requirements. You might be wondering why you need ‘off-site storage’. We can think of two relevant reasons. One, if your PC burns up in a fire, your data (and any back-up media directly connected to it) will be destroyed.
With KeepIt.com, it is stored safely at a remote location. Two, if your PC is stolen, they just might take your (connected) back-up device as well. This is not an issue with KeepIt.com. At the time of this writing, KeepIt.com is charging $5/Month for unlimited storage. You can back up your entire PC if you wish and reload it whenever an event might warrant it. The idea behind KeepIt.com is to protect the most important things that you use everyday. Photos and songs can be backed up to other media. On the other hand, at 5 bucks for unlimited storage, back up what you want and don’t worry about it. (They do also have a plan for $3.95/month plus $.50/Gbyte for those with multiple PCs). Visit KeepIt.com for more information.
10. Don’t run as an administrator unless necessary. Running as an administrator leaves your PC vulnerable to many different types of attack.
(More steps to come as they become available.)
This ad’s price varies by 10% or so, but usually it is LOWER than the $499 listed. ($429 as of this writing). These are AWESOME machines! Find it! Here’s a tip for you that you will use in the future.
The document you are now reading is going to grow into a monster. This is going to make it difficult to find anything of use without reading hundreds or thousands of words. We have a solution for that! Near the top left of your browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) you will see the normal “File Edit View Etc.” buttons. When trying to find a specific piece of text or word click on “Edit” and select the “Find” option (Hot-Key = Ctrl-F).
This allows you to type in a word or words and search the entire document for it/them. Try it now by searching for the word ‘power’. If that word was buried 50 paragraphs down, it would have taken you a good deal of time to find.
After clicking the “find” button (or hitting “CTRL + F”) a dialogue will appear for you to type into. If you are looking for a shorter word that may be incorporated into another longer word, try adding a space after the word to avoid false results (looking for “the” will also result in “theatre”, “them” and more, while looking for “the ” will give you just that). Keep your PC clutter free
A relatively new player in the field is Piriform software.
Their CCleaner software cleans your browser’ cache, cookies, temp files, and also cleans the registry removing unused/unneeded registry entries which helps to keep your PC running at optimum efficiency. Another thing we like about Piriform’s software is that it’s free, unlike so many registry cleaners that tell you all about your problems, then ask for $30 to fix them. This one does it for free with no BS. Also check out their Defraggler for hard drive defragmentation which increases overall system performance by organizing the bits and bytes on your hard drive for speedier data access. top Data Back-up We’ve heard horror stories about people/companies losing their entire hard drive to this disaster or that without back-ups. In some cases it takes a good deal of time to get the point across that the data is gone forever. I’ve actually seen a CEO in tears. The good news is that this can be proactively remedied. After much research, we’ve come upon what we feel is the best online backup free solution. Stay tuned to this info box for the next couple of weeks. We will reveal the winner of our tests..
Open Office So you need a ‘productivity suite’ but you can’t (or don’t want to) afford Microsoft Office (Trademark of Microsoft Corp. as if you didn’t know… Please don’t hurt me Bill!?!?!). Never fear, there is OpenOffice by Sun Microsystems (WWW.openoffice.org) and it is free. It is not quite as refined as MS’s offering, but it is effective. Disk Defragmentation
In Windows Vista, defragmenting is done by the operating system (Windows) when the system is idle (i.e. you’re not doing stuff). In Windows XP, however, defragmentation must be done manually unless you have your task scheduler do it on a regular basis. In the early days of DOS (Disk Operating System), when data was written to the disk (disc), it was written in a somewhat haphazard manner.
There was no real planning involved as the data was plopped down wherever the read/write head happened to be. From there, data was written basically wherever there was an open space on the disc, not really considering that someone may want to read that data again someday. Therefore whenever data needed to be read, the computer would have to ‘read a map’, so to speak, to find all the data as it was spread about the drive somewhat arbitrarily. Defragmentation involves reading the data on the disc (from all of the various locations it was originally written to) and then writing it back to the disc in an orderly fashion.
This dramatically improves read/write times, thereby improving overall PC performance. You’d think that they would have the data written at first in an orderly fashion, but they don’t. Don’t shoot the messenger… Windows Vista™, as mentioned above, automatically defragments the drive(s) when the system is idle. It is not necessary to manually defragment the hard drive in Vista. Windows XP™ does require defragmentation on a somewhat regular basis for optimal performance. To get to the disk defragmenter, open ‘My Computer’ and hover the mouse over the boot drive (generally the “C:” drive). Right click and select “Properties”. Select the “Tools” tab on the resulting dialogue. In the middle of the dialogue box you will see “Defragment Now…” This will bring up the disk defragmenter. Check this link for an interesting history of data storage. Task Scheduler The task scheduler is a useful tool that automates almost any task you can access with your mouse and/or keyboard. To open Scheduled Tasks, click Start, click All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and then click Scheduled Tasks. From there you can set any task to be performed at any time with recurrences if so desired. System Restore System Restore is a feature of Windows that allows you to (almost literally) go ‘back in time”. Since windows ME, Microsoft has offered this feature as a way to ‘undo’ mistakes made by either the user or maybe a piece of software, or even the operating system itself. System restore happens automatically in the event of a major Windows Update, major software installations, and on a pre-scheduled basis (every so often). You can initiate a system restore manually by; (NOTE: Always be sure to have current back-ups of your files before initiating any major operation.) 1. Log on to Windows as Administrator. (You should not have to worry about this) 2. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and then click System Restore. System Restore starts. 3. On the Welcome to System Restore page, click Restore my computer to an earlier time (if it is not already selected), and then click Next. 4. On the Select a Restore Point page, click the most recent system restore point in the On this list, click a restore point list, and then click Next. (Note A System Restore message may appear that lists configuration changes that System Restore will make. Click OK.) 5. On the Confirm Restore Point Selection page, click Next. System Restore restores the previous Windows XP configuration, and then restarts the computer. 6. Log on to the computer as Administrator. The System Restore “Restoration Complete” page is displayed. 7. Click OK. (From http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306084) top Hot Keys These are very useful when it comes to time saving and efficiency. If you look at the traditional “File – Edit – View – etc” menus across the top of most all programs you will see things such as “Ctrl+S” (Save), “Ctrl+Shift+S” (Save As), etc. It is in your best interest to gradually learn these hot keys and, in time, you will find that you use them consistently. The Ultimate PC Setup Ok, We have found what we consider to be the ultimate PC setup and we’d like to share it with you. Parts needed: Pick a laptop, any laptop. Check out this page. The laptop will need to have an external monitor port (VGA, HDMI, etc.) and at least two USB ports. It is also convenient to have a remote control for the laptop so you don’t have to open the laptop to turn it on. Remotes are generally standard on media center PCs (or, with the advent of Vista, you’ll have to check each laptop for this feature). A flat panel monitor. The prices on these have been falling for some time, and you can get a decent 19″ for about $100USD. A wireless USB keyboard mouse combo. These can be had for as little as $50USD. Speakers. You can get a decent set of 2.1 (2 speakers and a woofer) for around $50USD. Any USB printer.
The idea here is to be as versatile as possible. With this type of setup, you have a laptop (portability) and a virtual desktop computer. With the power of laptops increasing at an exponential rate, there is very little trade-off with speed and processing power between a traditional desktop and a laptop. For most people (excluding serious gamers, graphic artists and animators, and serious number crunchers) this setup is ideal. You can use it as your main desktop, and when you’re ‘on the go’ you can disconnect the monitor and keyboard/mouse and ‘go’. CD Tray Etiquette CD trays are actually rather flimsy (easily broken). It is for this reason that we recommend using your mouse to eject CDs/DVDs where ever possible. The above image (click it for a larger view) shows how to eject a CD/DVD in most versions of Windows. In “My Computer” right-click on the CD/DVD and select “Eject”. We also recommend using the button (where possible) on the CD/DVD drive as opposed to pushing the tray in.
This will extend the life of the drive. Another thing to consider when caring for your CDs/DVDs is that the data is actually on the image side of the disc (as opposed to the clear side). In the image above, you see the true fragile side of the CD (the side where you would write information relative to the disc). While you can scratch a CD on the clear side and have it still work, a scratch that is visible on the print side of the disc can make it unusable. If you find it necessary to clean a CD/DVD, you are invited to use your T-Shirt (a common practice). You’ll want to make sure there are no patches of stucco, paint, or other obvious abrasives on your shirt first. When wiping the disc on your shirt, you’ll want to wipe in and up and down motion, or side to side motion.
The idea is to avoid wiping in a circular motion as this may scratch exactly along a data path on the disc (it records in a circular pattern, so wiping in the same pattern can be problematic). Sign up to our email list! By signing up to our emailing list, you will be informed when new tips/tricks are published. We will NEVER sell or share your information with anyone else. Period!
Also, in order to better serve those visiting this site, We use names such as Microsoft, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Grisoft, etc. and their respective products. Let us be perfectly clear (Nixon-esque face wobble)… These are the trade names of their respective companies/products.