Does your PC run slow? Are you seriously contemplating taking it into a computer repair show where they'll charge you $100+ to speed up your system? There are a few things you can do before you succumb to the computer "repair" shop.

PC Tuneup

Websites that claim they'll scan your PC for free if you download their software are nothing than money mongers — seriously, it's a rip off. Even if you have a fresh install of your operating system they'll claim you have viruses and other malware. If you think you have malware see this lovely article on malware. There is also an article on virus removal if you know that your system is infected.

The Tools

Windows utilities don't always have a good reputation with users (whether they are computer savvy or not). Utilities like Task Manager, Disk Cleanup, Disk Defragmenter, and Services Panel, Event Viewer, Windows Explorer, and System Restore.

These utilities can usually be found in the System Tools portion of the Accessories menu. All of the highlighted items are essential pc tools that you should be aware of.

PC Tune Up
Though this OS is Windows 7, the location of the tools is the same for Windows XP and Vista.

Step 1

The first step is something quite obvious but is commonly overlooked. You need to ask yourself, "Do I have the most recent updates for my PC?" As it was stated before, this may seem like a dumb question but it is not. Sometimes, problems due to speed or hardware not working are caused by out-of-date drivers and software patches. To see your most recent service pack, open Run by pressing Window Key + R or opening it via the start menu and typing winver.

OS Service Pack
Windows XP Service pack 3 (all but XP Professional X64)
Windows Vista Service Pack 2
Windows 7 None to date

PC Tuneup

This shows you the version of Windows OS you are currently using and the Service Pack which is installed. As we can see from this example, we have Windows Vista with Service Pack 2 installed.

A Service Pack is a major OS update that updates core files of the OS. They are different than a regular OS patch. One key difference is the size of the update. Most service packs are well over 100MB in size.

To check and see if you have any updates, navigate to control panel and select Windows Updates.

For XP users it will be on the left-hand bar menu and for Vista users it will be under System as the first option. For Windows 7 users, click on System and Security and then on Windows Update.

Click on "Check for Updates" and Windows will check for any updates that you might need. If it finds any updates, be sure to install them and then restart your computer if you are prompted to do so.

Step 2

The next step is to remove unnecessary files from your system using Ccleaner which is a free and open source utility for all to use. It comes with a windows system cleaner and a registry cleaner together. This is a great utility to install and to run at least once a month.

PC Tune Up

Ccleaner will clean up various applications and various windows items that you select. Looking at the image, we can see that there are several applications and windows items that are using quite a bit of space on the hard drive.

Step 3

Next we want to defragment our hard drive. There are two utilities that are excellent and blow away the Windows Disk Defragmenter. Auslogics Disk Defrag and Piriform's Defraggler. Personally, I prefer Auslogics over Defraggler because it comes with an optimization option and it is usually faster.

These examples are screen shots of Auslogics before defragmentation and after defragmentation.

Before After
Fragmented Hard Drive Defragmented Hard Drive

But what exactly is fragmentation of the hard drive? First we need to understand how a hard drive works. Most hard drives that we have are called magnetic hard drives which consist of one or more platters and a read/write head. Data is written in these 512-byte slots on the hard drive called sectors. The amount of space on the hard drive is determined by the number or sectors in each track. A track is a full rotation around the disk platter.

Data is stored as a magnetic spot in the hard drive and the absence of data is stored as a non-magnetic spot in the hard drive. This is also known as storing data as binary (0's and 1's). The presence of a magnetic spot is "1" and the absence of one is a "0". 8 bits = 1 byte, so each sector can hold 4096 bits or 4.096 kilobits of information. Translated into the terms of bytes, each sector can hold 512 bytes of information.

When we write information to the hard drive, the information sometimes gets scattered because it is using the closest sector with free space. More notably, when we uninstall programs or delete files, that frees up the spot on the platter so data gets written to that spot where the old data used to be. This allows for data to get placed in different sectors on the hard drive and thereby increasing the access time for the read/write head to get the data we need.

The defragmentation process places data in the proper sectors and tracks there the majority of the data is for that particular file or program is found. Auslogics does a little bit more with the optimization option, however. The optimization option "compresses" the free space we have instead of merely moving data to the right spot. This places all of the data we have in a single compacted block on the hard drive to further decrease the access time. Read more about the defragmentation process here with Auslogics' great explanation.

These images below depict the fragmentation, defragmentation, and optimization process.

Fragmented Hard Drive Deragmented Hard Drive Optimized Hard Drive

Step 4

msconfig. Though this seems somewhat daunting, fret not PC users. Run is a great tool and is the gateway to many PC features and shortcuts. We must open Run by pressing the Window key + R or by opening run manually. Type msconfig and then navigate to the Startup tab. Hide and non-windows startup services (if you have the option) and begin unckecking all non-windows startup services. Leave core services like video drivers and wifi drivers checked. Items like iTunes, Adobe, Quicktime, and other programs can be unchecked because we don't need them to startup right when our OS loads.


All of the items that are highlighted are things we don't need to be loading during the startup process. There is a more advanced way of going about this; however, this is the practical and easiest way of increase your systems speed during startup.

Notice that we leave the NVIDIA, touchpad, google update, and our anti-virus programs checked so they launch during the startup process. These are all items we want to loading during the startup process.

Step 5

Run a virus scan with your existing antivirus software or by using Microsoft Security Essentials or you can browse paid anti-virus programs. But if you're running any version of Windows, AtomicPages commends and endorses the use of Microsoft Security Essentials.

PC Tune Up

Be sure to update your virus definitions daily and scan your system at least once a week and stay off of websites with bad reputations. If you want to check how reputable a website is, we recommend the WOT Plugin for Firefox/Chrome/IE/Safari. This plugin check to see how reputable a website is from community votes. This plugin will warn you if you are visiting a website with a poor reputation.

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