Simple computer performance tips

There are many things that can be done to make an old laptop, or even a brand new machine, run that little bit faster. Some of them are complicated or risky, and best left to experts who can perform complete backups before attempting them. However others are simple enough for anyone to do for themselves.

Here are a few things that you can try to keep your PC clutter-free and working smoothly.

Don’t install things that come free unless you really want to.

Nowadays, many software providers (especially free software) make a bit of money on the side by bundling in other company’s applications with theirs in the hope that people will automatically install them. This is particularly true of browser toolbars.

A browser toolbar will add a line towards the top of your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome etc.) to give you “added functionality” like search boxes, and buttons to do “useful” things. These toolbars invariably use up system resources and slow down your machine.

Always try to avoid installing things you don’t really need.

Examples of such apps are: Google, Norton and Yahoo Toolbars.

Remove installed programs that you don’t use.

In Control Panel, go to Add or Remove Applications (XP) or Programs and Features (Vista, 7). This will show you a list of installed applications. If there are things in this list you know you don’t use or need, click on them and then click Uninstall.

On XP, DO NOT install Windows Search.

Windows Search is offered as an update to Windows XP. This is meant to give you similar functionality to the search features that are built into Vista and 7 that were not originally available in XP. The attempt to bolt this functionality on top works less well, to say the least. I have seen XP machines slowed to a crawl simply by installing this update, and as soon as the update is removed the machine jumps back into life!

If you have already installed it, remove it.

Use Antivirus that won’t slow down your machine, and only use one product.

Some Antivirus and computer security software can significantly slow down your machine as it runs scans, or simply sits there monitoring your activity. I have investigated very slow machines in the past and found the single biggest contributing factor to be the Antivirus.

Installations of Norton, AVG, McAfee, BitDefender and Kaspersky have all been found to be a significant element in bringing older PCs to their knees. (Although I have also seen installations of all of these working perfectly well, so it does depend on individual circumstances.) Norton Internet Security has improved significantly in recent versions, but I still wouldn’t recommend it over alternatives.

Free Antivirus is sufficient if you are technically minded. I have used Microsoft Security Essentials on all my machines until recently, and never had a problem. This can be downloaded from here.

If you want more piece of mind then paid for software can be well worth the expense. Having discovered ESET security products, I have been so impressed that I have been exclusively recommending them for a while now, started using them myself and have recently become an Authorised Reseller. It happened in that order too, honestly! My weapon of choice is ESET Smart Security 5, and details can be found here. Antivirus without the extras (firewall, internet security etc), and business-level security software is also available. A review can be found here. If you’re thinking of buying  and you’re in my vicinity, contact me (contact details available at www.holmpc.co.uk) and I’ll see what can be done on price. I normally only supply to people local to me as it’s important for me to be able to provide a decent level of support.

Some people think that more is always better, but this isn’t true of computer security. If you install more than one Antivirus product at once, they clash with each other when it comes to accessing files, and can lock up completely. Always only use one Antivirus product at a time, and if you are replacing one with another, make sure that the one you’re replacing has been thoroughly removed. The provided uninstaller is not always sufficient to remove all traces of the application. Norton provide a downloadable uninstaller, the Norton Removal Tool 2012, so you can be sure you’ve completely removed their products, and this can be found here.

There is almost always more that can be done to improve the performance of a machine, but once the simple remedies have been tried, it’s a matter of knowing when to pay for an expert to improve things, and when to cut your losses and buy a new shiny toy. I’d like to think that people wouldn’t throw away a computer that still has life in it though, so we’re here to help!

I’ll try to add to this list when I can, but as always, suggestions are welcome.

All instructions are followed at the user’s risk, and HolmPC takes no responsibility for any loss or damage caused as a result. Always back up your data as thoroughly as possible before attempting to follow any instructions found on the Internet, and if in doubt, take the computer to an expert. If you feel there is any inaccuracy or confusion in this article, please let me know and I’ll do my best to put it right.

Windows keyboard shortcuts

Using the keyboard to accomplish simple tasks such as opening, closing and switching between windows, copying and pasting is quicker and easier than using the mouse and navigating your way through menus to get to what you want.

Computer Repair Dorking

Figure 1 – The Windows key is used for many keyboard shortcuts.

There are many shortcuts available, and you can also create your own for tasks you carry out particularly often.

These are the shortcuts I find most useful. Most are available in all versions of Windows.

The Windows key is the key to the left of Alt, which is just to the left of the spacebar, with a symbol on it similar to a “flying” window, as shown in Figure 1. Older keyboards will have a slightly different symbol, but it’s similar. It is referred to in this article as WinKey.

Desired action Keyboard shortcut
Open Windows Explorer WinKey + E
Close all Windows to show Desktop WinKey+ D
Switch between open windows Alt + Tab
Open the Run window WinKey+ R
Open the Start menu WinKey on its own
Open search window WinKey + W
Copy selected text or object Ctrl + C
Cut selected text or object Ctrl + X
Paste selected text or object Ctrl + V
Undo Ctrl + Z
Close the current window Alt + F4
Set selected text as Bold Ctrl + B
Set selected text as Italic Ctrl + I
Underline selected text Ctrl + U
Lock the computer WinKey + L
Refresh the current window F5

There are many other keyboard shortcuts available, but these are the ones I would consider to be the ones that will make the most difference to your productivity using Windows. Any others that you find useful?

FAQs

Here are some quick and simple tips on how to do basic tasks and find information in Windows.  Ideas for new ones welcome!

Q – How do I find out what version of Windows I am using?

A – Click Start and the right-click on My Computer (XP) or Computer (Vista and 7). The windows or dialog that comes up will tell you which version of Windows you are using, and the level of Service Pack, if relevant.

Q – How do I stop a CD from running when I put it in the CD drive?

A – To stop it each time, hold the shift key down when closing the CD tray. To make the change permanent in Windows 7, open Control Panel, choose to view by Small Icons, and click AutoPlay. Uncheck the box that says Use AutoPlay for all media and devices.