Computer use 101…. Keeping it running

So I was on a boating forum I’m a member of and as seems to happen a lot the conversation turned to computers, almost everyone has them and uses them from basic internet use to being parts of their navigation systems on boats nowadays. Since I do computers for a living someone asked me how to keep a computer clean… The conversations was over the automated registry cleaner programs such as CC Cleaner or others of it’s ilk that I recommend against.

The question was

Can you recommend a process for a non-geek to use to keep a computer clean?


My answer that I thought might be valuable to some here also.

its actually simpler than you would think and a bit harder.

 First.. The # 1 rule is don’t install software on your computer. If you actually read the license agreement that you have to accept to use windows on your computer it specifies that Microsoft doesn’t warrant windows to run if you install anything on it.. including their other products including Microsoft Office, etc….  When I sold computers and provided a warranty on them, we specifically didn’t warranty the OS or software and showed clients that because Microsoft wouldn’t warranty windows that we wouldn’t warranty software. We did warranty the hardware. If we replaced a piece of hardware to get a computer operating again it was covered. If we could fix it by fixing the software it wasn’t covered. How could I reasonably give a warranty on a product that the companies making wouldn’t give. You will find that now days almost every piece of commercial software sold has the same we don’t warranty it to work if it’s installed on anything or with anything verbage.

 So we all know that a computer isn’t worth much if you can’t run the software you need on it so we all do install programs… However let the above tell you to only install what you absolutely have to get the job done that you need to get done. Never install or let other programs install any tool bar to your web browser. Never install applications from sites that help you use the website better. Most websites make money from sharing information or affiliate marketing and the apps built to help you use one site will help send you to other sites or will download other software to your computer. Keep it basic… If some piece of software you use starts nagging you to buy or download other pieces of software then I would un-instal it and find something different to do what it was doing for you.

 Don’t go to download sites such as some of the torrent download sites or porn sites. If you absolutely have to then use a computer that you don’t care if it gets eaten. Use  something that you boot off a bootable cd with ubuntu or other similar OS. This keeps the many spyware and virus at bay a bit better. Then anything you downloaded you use anti-virus to scan before you look at it or open it. Don’t download software or executable files from the pirate sites. If you need to run a program with an exe extension from one of them, then it is 99% likely that it will infect your computer.

 Do go to the control panel on your computer and uninstall any toolbars no matter what they are.. google, bing, yahoo etc…. anything that is a search helper gets installed also. One I have run into a lot lately is called search conduit… uninstall it. Now uninstall everything else in there that you do not use. You can leave stuff related to your video card, your sound card, java, adobe reader, flash etc.. if it is directly from one of those companies.

 Next…. this is a big one. most of even the stuff we need to use such as adobe, and a lot of different software drives, office, etc…. all load a piece of themselves into memory when your computer boots and suck up resources even when you not actually using them. This is why your computer slows down over time is even all the good software acts as parasites on the OS.  This is a bit trickier now.. you can open up the run command box or in a dos box/command prompt type in “msconfig” this command starts up a utility in every version of windows since windows xp at least that will allow you to change what things start up automatically and other start up options. There are several tabs.. ignore most of them as they can get you in trouble. don’t change any service start up options, nor your main options on the first tab.. Instead to to the startup tab.. this takes a bit of thought… there are things in there that are needed but aren’t labeled well. you can do a Google search on most of them by searching for the executable file listed in the file listing for each thing if you need help. anything about Office, adobe, java, or any other program you use you can disable. All those listing do are run stuff like automatic updating features, or load the program in memory so that when you click on your program it opens up in 10 seconds instead of 20 seconds to give the user a perceived performance increase for that application. However when you get enough stuff loaded up already all it does is slow everything down. Technically you can disable everything in this list with out damaging the computer fatally. However there are some video drivers, mouse and keyboard drivers etc.. and a couple windows processes that I tend to stay hands off of and let run as it does seem to work better. I would leave anything that references your antivirus or anti spyware software in there. The other place to look for stuff that runs automatically is in the start up folder under the home/all applications/start up folder. You can delete most of whats there unless it does something you want it to do. none of the software you use requires there to be a entry in either of these places to make it work. It just loads faster if some part of it is loaded into memory already. If in turning something off from loading on startup does cause you problems just go back in and turn it back on. You have to reboot the computer each time you change something and then when the computer boots back up you will get a pop up saying that a selective startup was done. You can check a box on that ot not remind you each time the system boots from then on if you want. So this is the most powerful thing I will talk about as anything more is pretty dangerous if you don’t know a lot more about the guts of the OS. Even this can cause some problems depending on the software but is usually pretty easy to back out of if needed.

 My recommendation of anti-virus is Microsoft Security Essentials downloaded from their website you can go to to install it. All it does is anti-virus, it is one of the leanest ones that does the least impact performance wise on the system that I am aware of. Not saying others aren’t ok but stuff like symatec/norton or AVG are serious bloat ware and in my opinion just about border on virus like damage to computers sometimes in and of themselves. Not to mention the microsoft anti-virus is free!

 next I use spybot sd to do anti spyware immunizations. There is a free version that does the immunizations and manual scans. It helps stop you from going to known bad websites as well as does a impressive job of finding bad stuff when you run it. The paid for version isn’t that expensive and offers anti-virus as well as automated scans and updates. On a clean system it can do a white list of everything on the system to speed up future scans. I also use the free version of malware bytes at to do scans on infected systems. No one product will totally protect you. You can scan with one of these and it will say your computer is clean but the other two will find stuff or visa versa. If you think your having a problem you need to do full scans with all three, if anything is found reboot after you have deleted stuff and rescan again until it is clean with all three.

 Do run a defragment job on standard hard drives every month or two. SSD drives should not need that done to them as their hardware architecture is different than regular hard drives that need this done. A de-fragment job on a SSD just put unnecessary wear and tear on the drive.

 If your computer is slowing down after doing all this look at how much memory your computer has vs what is being used by the OS and all applications. If they are trying to use more than you physically have then add memory or get a bigger better computer.

 If you have enough memory but it is still slowing down as a last resort you can take it to someone or use one of cc-cleaner type programs as a last resort…. backup everything you need before doing so though as you are at risk of losing everything if it goes wrong and I have seen it go wrong many times. the last resort is to back everything up and format and do a clean install of windows and your applications. This always works unless your hardware just isn’t adequate to the demand of the software you are needing to run, but it is a major pain in the you know what in time and effort to do and then get all the stuff reinstalled and updated and configured back the way you like it.

 So to summarize keeping a fast running computer without viruses on it.

  1. Don’t install software (well at least any unnecessary software),
  2. Don’t let stuff automatically start on bootup,
  3. Don’t go to bad websites with your computer or run stuff from them 🙂
  4. Do basic clean in of the computer by un-installing everything your not using,
  5. Using the msconfig command to stop even stuff you want install from starting up automatically.
  6. Use anti-virus and spyware software.
  7. De-fragment your hard drives periodically
  8. If after a few years your computer still slows down upgrade memory or do backup and use one of evil programs we started out advising against.
  9. If all else doesn’t work format and reinstall after backing everything up.
  10. If that doesn’t work F#@& it and buy a better computer…
  11. if sticking to windows get windows 7 not windows 8

At some point a virus will get through all the protection in the world because the guys that write the viruses are kicking the good guys asses all around the globe. I know this because I used to work with the good guys and the ones I still keep in touch with tell me it is getting worse not better. Once your computer has been compromised, even if you you clean it with anti-virus like I recommended above this doesn’t mean it is totally fixed, just that you think it is. It might be or it might not but. If you use it for the next 30 days and don’t see any weirdness then maybe you got it. The only way to be totally sure is to format and reinstall windows and then scan everything you backup and are putting back on the computer with two or three different utilities before putting it back on the computer and using it.

This is the basic stuff most anyone can do that covers 95% of what you run into.. the other 5% takes 1000% more effort, knowledge and dollars to fix or get around and I don’t feel like writing a dissertation level paper on it. So here is more than I planned to write in the first place in answer to the question addressed to me. 🙂


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