OWNER'S MANUAL

Cheap Ways to Make an Old Computer New Again

Sprucing up the office computers is a lot more affordable than replacing them.
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Your PC is a year or two old. It takes forever to boot. It runs slower. And you’re running out of disk space.

Time to buy a new one, right?

Nope. The problem isn’t your computer—the problem is what you’ve allowed to happen to your computer.

According to Chris Cope, the founder and CEO of SlimWare Utilities, a company that provides a suite of products to clean, repair, update, and optimize personal computers, removing optional applications and unnecessary start-up items can increase boot speed by over 40 percent—and free up a ton of hard drive space.

So I asked Cope for simple ways to dramatically increase the performance of any PC.

We'll start by pretending—since the same advice applies to an old computer—that you just bought a new computer and want to get off to the right start:

What to remove: New computers come with a variety of pre-installed programs. Many run at start-up and stay running in the background. Applications you probably don’t need include games, programs that provide support and documentation, online shopping applications, a browser (or two) you’ll never use, games, and some antivirus software.

Go to Control Panel –> Add or Remove Programs and remove what you don’t need. Or use SlimWare’s SlimComputer; it’s free.

Keep in mind most pre-installed antivirus programs are the result of an arrangement between the computer manufacturer and the antivirus provider. Since you need antivirus protection, first determine if the installed program is one you already own, since many subscription-based applications can be transferred.

If you don't own antivirus software and don't want to pay, there are several good free antivirus programs. Microsoft Security Essentials is one, and AVG and Avast are also very popular.

“Decide which antivirus software you’ll use,” Cope says, “and make sure you uninstall any you won’t use, including, if you’re not going to pay for it when the trial runs out, whatever came pre-installed. A lot of people have two or more antivirus programs installed, and leaving two running is a leading cause of lockups, blue screens, and other problems.”

What to update: Always keep Windows updated. Go to Start –> Programs –> Windows Update and turn on automatic updates.

Then update your installed drivers; some have bugs that have been fixed. If you don’t know how to find and update your drivers, try SlimDrivers, SlimWare’s free driver maintenance and update utility.

Then update Adobe Acrobat (or Reader) and Java. “Adobe and Java are two programs that, if not updated, create significant risk of infection,” Cope says. “When a security flaw is found, they update their software and announce the reasons for the update. If you don't install the update, that’s a little like telling criminals how to break into your house. Always keep those two programs updated.”

What to install: Then install any programs, like Office, that you plan to use if not already installed.

“Just don’t install ‘maybe’ programs,” Cope says. “You won’t remember to uninstall them.”

Then once your computer is cleaned up, updated, and antivirus protection is in place, use imaging or back-up software to create an optimized back-up. Norton Ghost is one popular product.  That way if something happens later you can easily restore your computer.

Now let’s look at how to improve the performance of an older computer.

What to clean up: Start with files. “Computers that haven’t been cleaned in about a year,” Cope says, “typically have about 10 gig of data files: history files, log files, temp files, recently stored files, etc. That makes your hard driver work harder and perform slower.”

One way to clean up old files is through Start –> Acessories –> System Tools –> Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter. Or you can use SlimWare’s SlimCleaner, a tool that uses community-sourced feedback to clean and optimize PCs.

Then focus on removing unused applications and programs. You may have installed a program by accident or downloaded a program you stopped using and never removed. Check out all your applications and make sure they’re still relevant and necessary.

Then check out your browser. Over time you probably installed a number of plugins, toolbars, and extensions that not only slow down your browser but also clutter your screen—and make you more vulnerable to viruses, especially if you don’t keep them all updated. Remove what you don’t need (which, if you’re like me, is about 80 percent of what you’ve installed.)

What to add: “Once your computer is clean,” Cope says, “the best way to further boost performance is by adding RAM.”

In most cases you can double the amount of RAM on your computer for $100 or so. (I tripled the RAM on my old computer for about $130.)

How it turned out: I decided to test Cope’s advice on a computer in my office that’s at least eight years old. (Hey, it's a great conversation starter.)

I’m reasonably computer savvy so I started by removing programs and drivers manually. That got old really fast so I tried SlimWare’s free tools: First I ran SlimComputer, then SlimDrivers, then SlimCleaner.

They're easy to use, and they work. I found a lot of stuff I didn’t know was on the computer. And it was cool to see what the SlimWare community says about specific programs and applications. In some cases I took the crowd’s advice, in others I didn’t, but either way I learned a lot.

So what were my results? I freed up 33 gig of hard drive space. I removed 17 programs, including four that ran at start-up. Even before I added RAM the computer booted up in less than half the time, applications like Photoshop started up about 20 percent faster, and memory-intensive functions within Photoshop also ran a lot faster.

Performance improved even more after I added RAM.

Time to buy a new computer? Nope.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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