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Optimizing Your PC
Optimize Your PCDegrading performance is one of the most common complaints amongst average PC users. Over time, many people notice that programs on their computers aren't loading as quickly as they used to, that basic functions are taking longer than they should and that their productivity is suffering as a result. If your situation sounds similar, it's probably time to do some fast and easy PC optimization.

Optimizing your PC can be done a variety of different ways. While there are some truly advanced techniques out there that similarly advanced users make use of to attain the absolute best performance possible, for most people, a few simple steps will keep your computer functioning at a satisfying and acceptable level.

(Note: this guide is meant for Windows users only)

1. Uninstall programs that aren't needed. This sounds simple, but it can be surprisingly effective at boosting your computer's performance. People regularly install programs on their PC that aren't needed or simply aren't being used. If you see these littering your desktop, or, in particular, starting up whenever you boot windows, your first step should be to ask yourself if these are essential programs or if they are simply there because you've never thought to remove them.

NOTE: Advanced users may want to try editing the startup configuration directly. This can be done through the command prompt by clicking start, then run, and typing "msconfig." In XP and Vista, this will bring up a window which should contain a tab named "startup," where all programs that start when windows boots up should be listed. They can be unchecked as the user sees fit; however, this should only be done if they are aware of what the programs they are unchecking are and what they do.

2. Run a registry cleaner. The list of problems that can arise from an infected or disorganized system registry are virtually endless. Viruses, spyware, and even regular programs can create entries in the windows registry that will slow down performance and, in some cases, damage your system. Cleaning the registry is a fast, simple and effective process.

A popular registry cleaning tool is Reimage, which can be found here:

http://www.pc-cleaners.com/

3. Check for spyware and viruses/malware. Anyone who uses the internet regularly is at risk for spyware or virus/malware infection. Downloading infected e-mail attachments, running unsafe executables or even visiting websites that transmit viruses through internet browsers can lead to an infection, and infections can in turn lead to a multitude of problems - though, most of the time, people whose computers have been infected don't even know it. This can, however, be a significant cause of poor performance. Some forms of malware, such as keyloggers, can record things like credit card numbers or passwords and can compromise your security.

There are several reliable anti-malware programs available, and while the best ones must be purchased, there are plenty of free alternatives that will get the job done. Here are a few:

Spybot Search & Destroy (Free, and excellent for removing spyware):

http://www.safer-networking.org/

Malware Bytes' Anti-Malware (One of the most popular general anti-malware programs):

http://www.malwarebytes.org/mbam.php

avast! Anti-virus Protection (offers several packages, including a free, basic anti-virus package, as well as a fairly inexpensive package that offers very good generalized protection):

http://www.avast.com

4. Get a decent firewall. Most internet users, especially broadband users, are unaware of just how vulnerable they are to external attack. The average internet connection can be compromised relatively easily by an experienced attacker, and while most people simply don't plan for this, that's no excuse for you to be unprepared. A good, high-quality firewall can be adjusted to suit your needs and security preferences, and greatly reduces the chance of someone successfully violating your privacy. Here are two of the most popular (though there are many others available):

ZoneAlarm (limited free package, and much better packages that can be purchased):

http://www.zonealarm.com/security/en-us/home.htm?lid=en-us

Comodo Firewall (excellent free package as well as enhanced products):

http://www.comodo.com/

5. Run a disk defragmenter. Prolonged use, as well as the frequent installation and uninstallation of programs, can leave an operating system trudging along with scattered and disorganized files that slow down performance. Defragmentation reverses this by scanning your hard drive (or hard disk) for pieces of data that are out of place, and then organizing them in such a way that they can be accessed more quickly. This can do wonders for overall performance. Windows does include a disk defragmentation tool, but there are also free alternatives available, such as Defraggler:

http://www.defraggler.com/

6. Be smart. This is the single most important step involved in keeping a computer healthy. Be mindful of what you install, be cautious about opening files that you aren't sure about (many scanners, like MBAM or avast, give you the option of scanning a file or even entire folders before opening them), and make sure to keep yourself protected by using a firewall of some kind and by running virus and malware scans regularly to keep malicious software off of your computer. Combining the above steps with common sense and good judgment will improve both your computer's performance and your overall security.

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