Dealing with a snailpace computer

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PC Maintenance, managing folder sizes and slowing iBooks

Q. Following the advice in your article on PC maintenance I downloaded and paid for a copy of Regcure. However, neither your article or the Regcure website made mention of the fact that what I was purchasing is a 1-year licence. Frankly, this seems to be a complete rip-off! I have since asked for and received a refund for my purchase.

As a matter of interest I looked at some other registry cleaners on the web and they all seem to adopt the same strategy:

1) Offer to download a scan program for free

2) The scan program reports various errors and says you have to pay for a licence to fix the problems

3) Somewhere buried in the small print is a note that the license is for a limited period (I guess a year!) - which you probably wont spot unless you are looking for it.

It seems there is a nice little ‘cartel’ going with these things.

When you consider that I can buy an unlimited XP-home licence for about $150, $30 or so for one small program for one years use only seems rather exorbitant.

I did, however, do a bit more searching on the net and found two sites which appear to offer unlimited usage of the programs (two of them mention an additional amount for lifetime upgrades, but I assume if you don’t want the upgrades the initial product will continue to work indefinitely). They are Registry Clean Expert (registry-clean.net), Registry Clean Pro (www.registry-clean.com) I also found a free registry cleaner, which I downloaded and used (and appears to work) Eusig Free Registry Cleaner 1.1 (www.eusing.com) This does not have the ability to modify windows startup behaviour, but it seems you can do that simply enough by running msconfig (on XP at least).

I am actually rather amazed that MS do not provide a suitable tool within the OS, when you consider how quickly the registry can become cluttered.

Tim

A: I totally agree with you that software vendors, like other companies, should state clearly and upfront what you are buying when you purchase a software license.

The two other programs you mention, Registry-Clean Expert and Pro are very similar programs – they both cost $30 after 15 and 30-day free trails respectively.

Thanks for also finding Eusing Free Registry Cleaner which does indeed seem to work smoothly and well and is certainly worth trying. I particularly like the fact that like most paid-for registry editors, it automatically makes a backup of any repaired entries. That means users are able to restore any changes made using the software.

Microsoft does include a basic registry editing tool (Registry Editor) as part of Windows but unless you are an expert, editing the registry this way can be quite dangerous, particular if you do not make a backup first so it is probably best to stick with one of the third party editors.

Q. I’m somewhat surprised that in your article you never once mention spyware as being a main reason for computers slowing down. Are you just pumping someone’s software or what? Sounds like it to me, Spybot and Adaware are free and in most cases take care of the problem.

Don Barlow

A: Hi Don, actually I did raise spyware as one possible cause but unfortunately space was tight and it got lost in the editing process.

You are quite right, spyware is often the culprit if you do not have anti-spyware software installed. I can however assure you that I have no interest in ‘pumping’ anyone’s software. I do write about anti-spyware software often and recommended the two programs you mention (though used in combination they can conflict and list false positives).

Q. If I get your point PC maintenance utilities suite packages typically include tools that clean the hard drive, reduce fragmentation and un clutter widows registry. My question is how long the downloaded utilities suite can stay in the PC?

A. Generally once you download and install a PC maintenance package you should run it on a regular basis – at least once a month for example. There are not usually any restrictions on how often you can run the program, though typically you may want to upgrade the software when a new (and hopefully improved) version comes out.

Q. I wondered if you could look into how to clean up / manage the startup programmes that much software automatically loads into Windows. A recent Adobe Acrobat upgrade did this.

I have been shown the XP msconfig utility but it seems expert help is necessary to know which of these programmes can be excluded. Is there software that can help do this?

You mentioned that slow start-up was an issue for you and my perception is that loading all of these programmes is a major factor so it may be possible to free up RAM by reducing these.

Doug Stokoe

A.Thanks for the question. You are correct, when you install new software (including Adobe Acrobat) it will often load in the background automatically when Windows fires up. Over time this can dramatically slow down startup times and cause system freezes.

Sometimes you can solve the problem by going to editing the ‘startup’ file. In Windows XP You can find this by right clicking on the ‘Start’ button, chosing ‘open’ then ‘programs’ then ‘startup’.

However not all programs show up this way and other particularly annoying software programs (particularly spy and adware) will keep reinstalling themselves no matter how many times you uninstall them.

Aside from the Windows Systems Configuration Utility (msconfig) that you mention, you can also manage what programs start up by editing their registry settings, though once again this is a last resort and should not be attempted unless you know what you are doing.

But in addition to the various tools provided with Windows, some PC maintenance programs also provide tools to manage and control startup files.

One excellent freeware program that includes a startup manager is WinPatrol (www.winpatrol.com)which allows users to tightly control which programs automatilly start up when Windows is launched. (WinPatrol is also an excellent additional tool for helping to block spyware, adware and other nasty software that may attempt to infiltrate your system.)

Alternatively consider installing a dedicated startup editor like StartUp Control Panel (http://www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml) a nifty little free control panel ‘applet’ that allows you to easily configure which programs run when your computer starts. It’s simple to use and highly recommended.

Q. Having read your very interesting article about restoring speed of PC’s I wonder if you could let me know some useful websites or contacts regarding and iBook from Apple. My iBook is getting slower and slower although it has the maximum memory installed.

Claire Slater

A.In my experience, Apple machines suffer less than PCs from slowdown and often any problems can be fixed by upping the amount of RAM (one way to check out what is happening to the system is to take a peak at the check activity monitor.) However you mention that you already have the maximum amount of RAM installed.

You may also find that restarting the machine from time to time if you leave it switched on, and trying to make sure you have at least 10Gb of hard drive space available at all times will improve the speed, particularly if you have an older iBook.

There are several Mac forums that mention slowdown problems. Two I came across are MacOSXhints (http://forums.macosxhints.com/archive/index.php/t-1769.html) and MacRumours (http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=217050)

However it is also important to defragment (optimize in Mac speak) the hard drive from time to time. (see the MacNN forum - http://forums.macnn.com/archive/index.php/t-238843.html) You don’t mention which Mac operating system you are running but assuming it is OSX, there are severl utilities that will optimise your files in a contiguous order - Drive 10 (http://www.micromat.com/drive_10/drive_10_introduction.html), Tech Tool Pro (http://www.micromat.com/tt_pro_4/tt_pro_4.html), both from a company called Micromat and my favourite, iDefrag 2.2 (http://www.coriolis-systems.com/iDefrag-2.php ) a $30 program from Coriolis Systems.

As with Windows, OS X’s built-in optimization will do the job for smaller files provided the journaling feature is turned on (it is by default) but it won’t reorder the whole disk like these utilities do.

Hope that helps.

.

Q. My computer’s hard drive has filled up and I can’t find a simple way to display the size of the folders, and therefore decide what to delete.

I only seem to be able to see the size of the files in a folder by going to each folder individually in Explorer and right clicking properties. However as you know there are too many folders for this to be a sensible option. Also I have done this most of the obvious folders such as music, pictures, and programs and can only find about 70% of the stored files.

I appreciate that you don’t provide help desk support, but I thought that a solution to this problem would be of general interest to your readers.

Rick Di Mascio

A. Thanks Rick. You are right, it can be quite difficult to figure out the size of all the files and folders on a PC. There are quite a few third party utilities that will provide the additional information you are looking for but one of the easiest and most elegant solutions I have come across is actually a small free download called Folder Size for Windows 2.3 (http://foldersize.sourcforge.net)

Folder Size for Windows adds a new column to the ‘Details’ view in Windows Explorer. The new column shows not only the size of files, but also the size of folders and it keeps track of which folders you view, and scans them in the background so you can see complete size of all files within the folder. It is very useful when you want to clean up your disk.

The URL above provides details on downloading and setting up this clever little software tweak.

If you want a more fully featured and powerful program that adds features like a visual display of what files/folders are taking up the most space and lots of different ways to look file and folder data my favourite is KeyMetric Software’s FolderSizes 3.6 (www.foldersizes.com) which costs $40.

Q. Your piece on keeping PCs up to speed with basic maintenance is the most useful thing I’ve read in a newspaper in ages. My PC’s been getting slower and slower and increasingly inclined to crash, but I had no idea what was causing it, or that it was something I could do anything about. And I wouldn’t have known a defragmentation programme from a hole in the head, let alone that I already had one.

Cathy Cooper

A: Thanks for your kind comments. I would recommend running the Microsoft defragmentation tool once a month at least.

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