It’s a common problem among computer users: after a few months, our computers become weighed down by programs and all sorts of other junk, and inevitably become sluggish. For the less tech-savvy users, this may induce thoughts like “Why is my computer so terrible?” or “I guess I could always upgrade this… what-cha-ma-callit RAM thing”.
Regular maintenance is usually required to keep a computer optimized and running at its best. Here are four programs that will make your computer faster, and four trade-offs to help make the best use out of the amount of RAM that’s installed on your computer.
For those who despair endlessly that their computer lags too much at start up yet don’t know how to go about fixing that, taking a look through MSConfig would be the place to start. Msconfig can by accessed by hitting Windows-R, which brings up the “Run” dialog, and typing in “msconfig”. Under the “Start Up” tab, there is a list of programs and executables that are launched when the computer starts up.
Having a lot of programs that start up when the computer boots is one of the main reasons that boot times are so long, for most PC users. Thus, the remedy would be to go through the entire list and uncheck anything that is unnecessary to have on boot up. If there are any entries you are not sure about, be sure to check them thoroughly on the internet before messing with them, as unchecking the wrong entries could potentially mess up the functionality of some of your programs.
CCleaner stands for “Crap Cleaner” and that is exactly what the program is great for. Over time, temporary files bog down your system, and take up unnecessary space in your harddrive. Thus, it is good PC maintenance practice to go through your computer once every while, and delete all the temp files.
It is incredibly simple: just navigate to the Cleaner tab in CCleaner, check everything you want to clean up (it would be best to leave the “Advanced” section alone, unless you know what those entries refer to), and then clean Analyze. You’ll then see an overview of what CCleaner is about to clean up and delete, and how much space CCleaner will free up for you. To permanently erase the temp files off your computer, simply click “Run Cleaner,” and all those temp files will be history.
Temp files aren’t the only junk files cluttering up your computer, however. Broken registry keys also pose a huge problem when it comes to useless files clogging up your system. Fortunately, CCleaner also has the ability to keep your registry clean.
To do this, use the “Registry” tab in Ccleaner. Once again, select all the entries you want CCleaner to prune, and let it do its thing. The only difference between this type of maintenance and clearing temp files is that if you accidentally delete a key that is still being used by your system, your computer can begin to function strangely. With that said, you should back up your registry settings before you give CCleaner the go ahead to torch everything. When you click “Fix Selected Issues” to delete the faulty registry entries, CCleaner will prompt you to back up your registry, and you should always click ‘yes’.
CCleaner was also discussed by Stefan in his article How To Uninstall Applications Efficiently And Remove Obsolete Files.
Revo Uninstaller is like the on-steroids version of your own Add and Remove Programs option in the Control Panel, but it also scans your computer for any files that the default uninstaller doesn’t catch, and deletes them. Revo’s layout is pretty much exactly the same as the Add and Remove Programs dialog, so it should be simple to navigate.
Revo also has a panel that lists all of the clean up tools that are provided with Windows systems. This menu can be accessed by clicking the Tools icon, and then the Windows Tools tab on the left.
For a more in-depth review of Revo Uninstaller, check out Jimmy’s article Revo Uninstaller Will Hunt Down Your Bloatware.
So once you’ve cleared all of the unnecessary files from your computer, there are now a bunch of holes where the data for those files used to be. While this may seem like no big deal to most people, having random gaps of empty space can also slow down your computer, because the rest of your files are still splintered into many different pieces, and the newly generated empty space isn’t being used efficiently. The more pieces a file is split to, the longer it takes the computer to access that file, so it makes sense to put all these pieces back together, once space has been cleared up to store whole files.
Defraggler is one of the best free defragmentation tools on the market. The visual representation of the space on the computer as pieces of files are being reunited is extremely enlightening, because most people don’t realize the extent of file splintering on their systems.
But cleaning up your computer isn’t the only thing you can do to optimize how fast your computer runs. Believe it or not, the programs you choose to perform daily actions such as chatting, or opening PDFs, can also affect your computer’s running speed.
Best Program Trade-Offs
This section discusses several alternative applications that perform more efficiently and provides your computer with the speed boost that it needs. Especially on slower computers, the difference is quite noticeable. Try it them out for yourselves!
If you don’t mind the spartan interface, Pidgin is a great multi-protocol IM client with a light footprint. Unfortunately it doesn’t natively support video chat, but it does have a plug-in for Skype (although you’ll need to have Skype running to use it).
I recommend this switch not just based off memory footprint, but also because both Firefoxand Chrome trump IE when it comes to customization and start-up times.
3. Foxit Reader vs Adobe Reader
Adobe Reader is notorious for its slow load times, especially when it comes to huge documents. Being a student, I regularly load 500+ page PDFs (the digital versions of my textbooks), so having to wait ages for them to load would be severely detrimental to my productivity. Foxit Reader, however, is so snappy that a 500+ page PDF loads almost instantly, and the browser integration is much smoother and faster than that of Adobe Reader. Once again, the interface is a bit more spartan, but Foxit definitely packs more features, and is a very worthy switch.
Click here for Guy’s article on more light alternatives to Adobe Reader.
4. VLC Player vs Windows Media Player
VLC is like the Pidgin of media players in that it supports a multitude of different video formats, and has a quick loading interface. Another great, recently implemented feature of VLC is that it can now be skinned to fit in with your windows theme!
5. Foobar2000 vs iTunes
The great thing about Foobar is that it is so customizable: everything from the layout of the interface to the plug-ins to extend the program’s capabilities can be tweaked. Many people worry that without iTunes, they wont’ be able to sync their iPod or iPhone, but Foobar actually has a plug-in to support iPod syncing.
Today, I’ve covered eight of the best programs for de-crapping your computer and maximizing your available RAM. Hopefully you’ve found a few of these programs to your liking, and decide to trade out your slow, sluggish apps for something a bit more snappy. Here they are again: