|Turbocharge your PC|
Is your formerly speedy PC moving like a snail? If so, don't upgrade your processor quite yet. More than likely, your hard drive just needs to be defragmented. And if you're new to the world of Windows, you may not even know what fragmentation is or how to deal with it.
Fragmentation happens gradually. Each time you access the information on your PC, your computer writes information to whatever areas of the hard disk happen to be free at the time, breaking the information into several different fragments. For example, your word-processing program files might be spread over many such areas on different parts of your hard drive, slowing down the load time of the files each time you access them.
Defragmenting puts all the fragments of each file together on the same part of the disk and puts the areas of free space together as well, thus speeding up access time and making more free space available on the hard drive.
To defragment your PC, click Start, then select Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and finally Disk Defragmenter. Once you're there, you can choose which of your hard drives to defrag. Make sure to do this at least once or twice a month to insure the best overall performance from your hard drive. And plan to do it overnight; it can take a while.
Sorry, that didn't help
But what if defragmenting doesn't solve the problem? There are several other areas that might be slowing down your PC.Your hard disk might have a physical problem or key files might be corrupted. To get the skinny on the health of your files and hard disk, run Scan Disk. To run Scan Disk, click Start, then Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and finally Scan Disk. Click the Thorough and Automatically Fix Errors boxes and then start the scan. While ScanDisk takes less time than defrag, you'll still want to run it over your lunch break.
If errors are found, Scan Disk will fix them. If the surface of your disk drive has problems, the program will lock out the affected areas of your hard drive, thus improving future performance. Many programs load themselves into your PC's memory every time you reboot. Programs like ICQ, AIM, and other instant-message programs are sometimes the culprits, as are virus checkers, system monitoring programs, and media players such as RealAudio. If you no longer use the programs that are loading when you boot your PC, removing them will speed up your computer, especially on boot-up. Check to make sure your PC is configured for optimal performance. Right-click on My Computer, select Properties, then click on the Performance tab. The display should read: "Your system is configured for optimal performance." If it doesn't, you should instead see a description of the problem and tips on how to get things up to speed again. You may have too little available space on your hard drive. If Windows isn't able to write temporary files to your hard drive because the drive is full, it can slow down the system. Periodically, Windows should warn you that the available space on your hard drive is low and ask your permission to clean things up. Heed your PC's warnings and let Windows do its job. If all else fails, you might have a virus. There are several different viruses that can slow down your PC by forcing your system to add random garbage to the ends of your files or to write unnecessary data to your hard drive. Make sure the virus profiles for your virus program are current, and then scan the entire system. If the virus checker finds a virus, follow the instructions that the program gives you and clean up your system accordingly.
If none of these solutions apply to you, then you might consider simply adding more RAM to your system. RAM, even more than processor speed, determines how fast your computer responds to requests. If you have 128 MB or more, you should be all right. But if you're running RAM-intensive programs like Photoshop or CorelDraw, or even some of the more graphics-extensive games, the more RAM the better.
Maintenance made easy
If you're like most Windows 98 and 2000 users, despite all the warnings and reminders, you'll forget to defrag your PC on a regular basis. But there's a way to make Windows do this for you, and you don't have to download third-party shareware program to do it.
Use your Maintenance Wizard. The program is already part of your Windows PC, and is accessible by clicking Start, then Programs, System Tools, and Maintenance Wizard. You should see two options: Express and Custom. If you choose Express, you'll then only have to choose a time frame for Windows to run maintenance (nights, days, or evenings) and click Finish. After that, Windows will defrag your drive, speed up your most frequently accessed programs, and delete temporary and other unnecessary files from your hard drive every night during your chosen time.
If you choose Custom, you'll have a few more choices to make. First, you'll be allowed to choose a more specific time for Windows to run maintenance, and you'll be able to remove unnecessary programs from the Windows start-up routine. Most important, you'll be able to tell your OS exactly when to defrag your drive and run ScanDisk, and which types of those aforementioned pesky temp files to delete from your drive. The custom options give you more control, but take a little more time and forethought to set up.
You've probably already noticed that the Maintenance Wizard saves your defrag, scan, and file-deletion instructions in the Task Scheduler program, which should probably be floating around in your Windows task bar. (If it's not, click on My Computer and you should find it there, under Scheduled Tasks.) What you might not know is that, with a little tinkering, you can automate just about any conceivable task that you could do while sitting in front of your PC.
To use the scheduling service, right-click and Open the Task Scheduler icon in your task bar or double-click on the Scheduled Tasks folder in My Computer. Once the program is open, double-click the Add Scheduled Task. The Scheduled Task Wizard will open and guide you through setting up your first custom task.
Once you start the Wizard, you'll see a list of all the programs that you can run on your PC. This list will probably be pretty long, so be prepared to wade through program names (all in alphabetical order) in order to find the program you want.
As a real-world example, let's pretend that you wanted to have your PC load the Netscape browser a few minutes before you woke up in the morning so you could browse the ComputerUser.com Web site before going to work. First, you'd find Netscape Communicator in your program list, then select the options to tell the PC when and how often to run the task you're scheduling.
If you want to do something more than just open a program--say, automatically load a specified profile and open to the ComputerUser.com Web site--make sure you click the Open Advanced Properties radio button before clicking on Finish.
By selecting the Advanced Properties dialogue, you can add command lines to the program you want to run--in this case, Netscape. Command lines for each program will be different, so be ready to search help files to find out how to tell the program in question what you want it to accomplish. In this example, you'd add the following command line to the Run dialog box after the words (something like "c:\progra~1\netscape\commun~1\program\netscape.exe") that are already there:
The result in the Run dialog box would look something like this:
"c:\progra~1\netscape\commun~1\program\netscape.exe" -P"profilename" -h
Once you've saved the scheduled task, Netscape will start every day at 6:30 a.m. (or whenever you told it to load) with the proper profile and with the ComputerUser.com Web site loaded and ready for you to browse.
With a little patience and research, you can make the Windows Task Scheduler not only keep your PC in optimum running condition but also automate tasks that you'd normally do by hand. If you take advantage of all that it can do, the Task Scheduler can be a powerful customizing tool while also helping to keep your Windows PC lean, speedy, and free from clutter.