Friday, January 8, 2010

Top 10 Tech #3: Unleash The Beast: 10 Key Concepts Of Pc Optimization

by Dennis Faas Senior Editor
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I get asked all the time, "What is the best way to speed up my PC?"
The answer, of course, depends on many factors.
This report discusses key concepts in computer science; you don't have
to be an advanced computer user to understand the methodology -- in
fact, I've gone to greath lengths to make it as easy as possible for
anyone and everyone who owns a computer to understand. That being
said, it's important that you read this report from start to finish as
each step builds upon the previous.
1. Buy More RAM
RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is a key hardware component
inside your computer. The rule of thumb is: the more RAM you have, the
faster your computer can access recently used data and therefore
process information faster. Using a word processing document as an
example, this is how your computer processes data:
a. A document is stored on the harddrive.
b. When you want to make changes to the document, it is retrieved from
the harddrive and loaded into RAM (memory), along with the word
processor program.
c. As you make changes to the document, it is processed by the Central
Procesing Unit (CPU) or "processor."
d. Changes to the document are made in "real time" via RAM (memory).
e. When you save the document, it is read from RAM and written back to
the harddrive.
In simple terms, RAM acts like a buffer between your harddrive (the
"C" drive) and your processor. The more RAM you have, the more "stuff"
that stays buffered (in memory) for longer periods of time. Because
computers rely heavily on accessing related information or doing the
same the over and over again, RAM is therefore crucial to overall
computing performance.
In terms of data aquisition / access time / speed, RAM is ultra fast
compared to harddrives -- by about 1000 times. If your computer does
not have enough RAM to process a task (for example: the loading of a
document), the harddrive is used as a temporary dumping ground to
offload what was previously in RAM in order to free up additional
resources. This is where a PC can start to crawl, as the result of
access time differences -- including file fragmentation (described
further down).
Here is a very general rule of thumb for the amount of RAM you should
use with a Windows PC:
Windows 98: minimum 128 MB of RAM (256+ MB recommended), maximum 2GB.
Windows XP: minimum 512 MB of RAM (1+ GB recommended), maximum 4GB (XP
Windows Vista: minimum 1GB of RAM (2+ GB recommended), maximum 4GB
(32bit) / 8-128GB (64-bit).
2. Uninstall Useless Programs
The more programs you download and install to your computer, the more
cluttered your harddrive becomes, the longer it takes to store and
retrieve information.
Why? The simple explanation is to think of your harddrive as a wall of
a bricks, where each file stored on the harddrive represents a brick.
Files are stored sequentially on the harddrive: similar to that of the
way bricks are layed and cemented one after another to form layers of
a wall.
When a file is deleted, its space (location) becomes available... and
just like a brick wall, all the other bricks surrounding it will
remain unmoved -- cemented in their locations.
When you save a file to your harddrive, the first available space is
claimed. If the file is too large to fit in the available space, it is
segmented across multiple locations of the harddrive.
The more segmented a file, the longer it takes to retrieve from the
harddrive due to the read/write head constantly moving from one
location to the next. This is referred to as read/write head access
time and is measured in milliseconds.
Simply put: the less space available on your harddrive, the more
fragmented it will become.
3. Defragment Frequently
Defragmenting your harddrive essentially relocates all your files so
that all available empty spaces are placed at the end of the
In theory, the less "looking" the harddrive has to do to locate/place
a file, the faster it will be to retrieve/store that file. An optimum
file read/write involves the read/write head of the harddrive moving
only once.
If all new files are stored at the end of the harddrive, they will
always follow one another and will never be fragmented -- that is,
until you start deleting / adding new files again, which is why you
should defrag at least once a week.
4. Upgrade to a Larger Harddrive
If you are constantly running out of space on your harddrive, then it
also makes sense that your files are also likely fragmented because
you are likely deleting and adding new files constantly.
To avoid fragmentation altogether, you need lots of available space on
your harddrive. Therefore, upgrading to a significantly large
harddrive can speed up file access -- this is because the harddrive
will likely never have to segment files in multiple locations in the
first place (because of the available space).
5. Optimize the Windows Registry
The Windows Registry is one of the most important components of the
Windows Operating System. Like a warehouse, The Registry is database
that stores everything about your computer, including: all your
installed applications, hardware drivers, program settings, and the
When a program is installed to Windows, its details are added to the
registry. When a program is removed, its details are *supposed to be*
removed from the registry. The problem is that not all programs are
installed or uninstalled properly -- and this is usually the fault of
the software developer.
To resolve this issue, you should use a registry cleaner to search for
and remove defunct / obsolete / incorrect registry entries. Doing so
optimizes the registry and decreases the chance that your computer
will attempt to retrieve incorrect or outdated information -- again,
this has to do with harddrive access time. Furthermore, incorrect
registry information can produce strange error messages, cause system
stability issues, or even crash your computer.
For cleaning the registry, we recommend Registry Mechanic or Registry
6. Streamline the Startup
Often when a program is installed for the first time, it will add
itself to the Windows Startup so that it is automatically loaded each
and every time you turn on your computer.
Having frequently used programs launched at startup is convenient, but
too many programs launching at Startup can not only depleat resources
(RAM), it can also have a severe drag on the time it takes your
computer to finish booting.
By removing some startup programs, you can reclaim resources and shave
seconds -- or even minutes off your boot time.
If you are an advanced Windows user and are keen on which programs are
launching at startup, we recommend StartupCPL by Mike Lin (freeware):
If you need help in deciding which programs are necessary for your
startup, we recommend WinOptimizer by Ashampoo: it also defrags your
harddrive, removes junk files, optimizes your startup, optimizes the
registry, and a heck of a lot more:
7. Regularly Scan for Spyware / Malware
Malware is "malicious software, a program or file that is designed to
specifically damage or disrupt a system, such as a virus, worm, Trojan
horse." (Source: Malware is also interchangeably used with
the term "Spyware."
Malware often overrides regular system functionality in order to take
control of the users' experience; in doing so, the system becomes
bogged down from the extra activity. For example: some malware can
monitor keystrokes and serves ads to your PC based on words you type.
It is not uncommon for a system to crash or "hang" perodically from a
malware infection. As such, it is recommended you scan for malware /
spyware as part of your regular system maintenance.
To avoid being infected with malware in the first place, we recommend
using real-time anti-spyware protection. This type of software will
alert you before the malware has a chance to install deep into your
system (and is often very difficult to remove once infected).
PC Tools Spyware Doctor comes highly recommended by PC professionals
around the world and has won countless awards.
regularly recommends Spyware Doctor in our email newsletters to our
8. Update Software Drivers
A software driver is a program responsible for controlling a hardware
peripheral via the operating system (Windows). For example: a printer
driver is software used to configure / operate a printer.
Software drivers are released on a regular basis by manufacturers:
often the result of optimization or bug fixes. Some bug fixes can be
severe and it is not uncommon (especially for video drivers) to be
unstable and crash the system.
It is therefore recommended that you update your drivers regularly to
ensure optimization and stability. Software drivers are usually
available from the hardware manufacturer's web site.
If you are unsure what hardware components are inside your computer,
we recommend you download and install Belarc Advisor (free):
Depending on your system configuration, monitoring and updating
drivers can be a pain -- especially if you own multiple peripherals
developed by different manufacturers. To ease this burden, we
recommend Driver Scanner: an innovative and automated driver update
program by Uniblue.
9. Use TweakUI (MS PowerToys) for Windows XP
TweakUI (Tweak User Interface) is a software program developed by
Microsoft professionals used to tweak components of Windows and
belongs to the "PowerToys" group.
From the microsoft website: "TweakUI gives you access to system
settings that are not exposed in the Windows XP default user
interface, including mouse settings, Explorer settings, taskbar
settings, and more. One of the best optimizations that TweakUI offers
is to shut off the minimize / maximize animation, thereby increasing
the time it takes to open and close Windows."
If you're a power user like me, you'll love TweakUI and other
PowerToys offered by Microsoft -- and best of all, they're free!
10. K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Short and Simple!
The K.I.S.S. principle states that design simplicity should be a key
goal and unnecessary complexity avoided. It serves as a useful
principle in a wide array of disciplines, such as software
development, animation, journalism, photography, engineering, and
strategic planning. Common variants of the acronym include: "Keep It
Simple, Stupid!" and "Keep It Sweet & Simple" (Source:
K.I.S.S. is probably one of the most overlooked "simple" rules you can
follow. In terms of software installation, using only the most
essential tools will not only keep your desktop uncluttered, it will
make using your computer that much more easier, efficient, and less
prone to file / registry fragmentation, and malware attacks.
So do yourself a favor -- Keep It Short and Simple!
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