There are several surprisingly simple tasks that even the most novice computer user can undertake, to keep their PC running efficiently and safely.  Here are a few of our favorites, culled from thousands of McAfee TechMaster interactions:

 

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  1. Uninstall programs you aren’t using
    Many PC applications automatically execute certain processes in the background, every time you start your computer.  You might not see them, but they’re there.  And they are taking up precious resources on that aging PC, potentially slowing you down.  Among the biggest offenders are ‘search bar utilities’ that attach themselves to your browser.  These are often bundled into other pieces of software, and may be getting installed silently.  Get rid of the programs you aren’t using by opening the Control Panel in Windows, Start > Control Panel (in pre-Windows 7, Start > Settings > Control Panel), and selecting the option to ‘Uninstall a program’ (in pre-Windows 7 PCs, it is labeled ‘Add or remove a program’).  Start with the programs you recognize, but aren’t using.  To avoid uninstalling something important, a Google search of the program name will likely give you the information you need.  Fewer programs and processes running will let you squeeze some more performance out of that PC.
    A helpful, free utility with the descriptive name PCDecrapifier, removes a lot of the so-called ‘bloatware’ that comes preinstalled on new PCs.  Receiving praise from the New York Times and other respected media sources, this app can be very helpful.
  2. Clean your temp folders and registry
    This may sound like ‘computer-speak’ to some novice PC users, but it’s not a difficult task to handle.  First, a bit of explanation:  Temporary or ‘Temp’ folders contain records of your most recent website visits, including copies of pages you have visited.  The idea behind temp folders was to help speed up web-surfing by storing local copies of frequently visited web pages.  But over time, as these folders get stuffed with data, it can have the opposite result – slowing you down.  The Windows Registry, which is unrelated to Temp folders, is similar in its impact on PCs.  The Registry is where settings and configuration options for your programs are stored.  Designed to help your PC run programs more efficiently, it too can end up causing problems.  As Registry items become outdated or corrupt, it can have a negative impact on PC performance.
    There is a manual way to remove Temp folder contents.  Open Internet Explorer > click the ‘Tools’ pull-down menu on the top of the page > click ‘Internet Options’ > under the ‘General’ tab, which should be the one opening by default, click the ‘Delete’ button under the Browsing History section.  But why do it manually, when there are free options to be found?  Both Temp and Registry folders can be cleaned with free or low-cost utilities. 
    1. McAfee QuickClean:  Included in every McAfee software suite for PCs; found under the ‘PC and Home Network Tools’ folder, it comes with a ‘scheduled scan’ option to regularly clean your system.
    2. Microsoft Fix It:  Free, downloadable tool at http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9746384
    3. CCleaner:  Free tool found at www.ccleaner.com.  Originally named ‘Crap Cleaner’, this long-time free tool is a favorite among tech-savvy computer users – but is easy to use.
  3. Defragment your hard drive
    This tip is good for nearly all computer users – with exception to the small number of early-adopters who have moved to solid state hard drives (the kind without any moving parts inside).  Unless you’ve got a brand new, top of the line computer, it’s safe to assume you’ve got a standard hard drive. 
    Think of a hard drive like an old LP record on a turn-table.  The needle, in this case called the ‘head’ pulls the data from the spinning platter.  Here is where the problem comes in.  Over time, your files and programs get broken up, with pieces of a single file strewn around on the platter of your hard drive.  The ‘head’ has to bounce around to different places on the platter to put together the pieces of a single file or program.  Disk Defragmenter puts all those disparate pieces of files back together.  This Windows utility, found at Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools, reorganizes the contents of your hard drive platter, so each file or program is written in one contiguous section.  Therefore, accessing a file or program becomes a little faster, as the head doesn’t have to bounce around to put all the pieces together.  Note: this can be a time-consuming job for your PC so it’s best to start it before going to bed, or any time in which you won’t need your PC for a few hours.
  4. Use a surge protector
    Sudden increases of voltage fed into a computer can cause file and data corruption.  This can result in slower processing time, and worst case scenario, a complete system failure.  One easy and inexpensive way to avoid this kind of trouble is to use a surge protector
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    Most look like a power strip, with multiple power plugs for connecting several devices into a bar.  But don’t be fooled.  Not all power strips contain surge suppression functionality.  Found at most computer and hardware stores, a surge protector should be clearly marked as such.  Sometimes referred to as a surge suppressor, this small investment can help you avoid potentially big trouble.
  5. Back up your data 
    This tip can prevent the loss of important files, and can help keep your hard drive from filling up.  A full hard drive can slow down a PC, and prevent you from updating files and storing new ones.  And every so often, a hard drive may fail, leaving you with nothing but lost files and plenty of regrets.  Easy fix:  back up your important data to an external source.  The two most popular ways to back up data are:
    1. Online Backup, also referred to as Cloud Backup:  There are several online backup options available, including offers from McAfee Online Backup, Dropbox and Mozy.  Google, Amazon and Microsoft have also introduced online backup solutions.  Nearly all offer some free storage, but for most PC users a premium upgrade will be needed to make it worthwhile.  The best options include those offering automatic backup of new or edited files.  This way you don’t need to remember to initiate regular backups. 
    2. External hard drive: To avoid ongoing fees, and keep all your data stored locally, an external hard drive may be your best option.  Found at nearly all electronics stores, an external hard drive typically connects to your PC via USB cable.  Many contain some form of automatic backup software, built-in.
      If your hard drive is at or near capacity, you may consider keeping large but replaceable files only on your back-up destination.  Content like movies, video and music, which you also have stored on DVDs and CDs are a good example.  Need help finding out what files are taking up most space on your computer?  Install WinDirStat; a free utility that gives you a graphical representation of all your files.  Click on the largest items, and if they’re unnecessary you can delete them with a key stroke. 
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  6. Use Anti-Virus Software 
    Using a PC without protection is like playing electronic Russian roulette.  Play long enough and you’ll lose.  To avoid the endless list of problems brought on by viruses, Trojans and worms, there is no substitute for reputable, up-to-date security software.  An out-of-date trial version of AV software does not count.  Once the subscription lapses, so do the updates, which are needed to protect you from any new variants of malware.  The antivirus software should preferably include anti-spam technology, as well.  As a McAfee employee, I’ll bet you can guess what product I’d recommend.  I do like McAfee because every antivirus suite includes QuickClean, which handles the issues described above, under point #2 – Temp and Registry cleaning.  But there are several reputable companies in this space.  Make sure it’s a name you recognize, and check the reviews online if you need more guidance. 
  7. Microsoft Windows and Office Updates 
    Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office are ubiquitous, and therefore a target of hackers worldwide.  For this reason, security updates are released frequently.  Don’t ignore them.  Better yet, configure your PC to automatically install all ‘critical security updates’.  Start > Control Panel > System and Security (or Windows Security Center, pre-Windows 7), is where you will find options to check for updates, install them –or- configure your system to automatically install updates. Other common applications, like Adobe Reader, require updates to close security gaps.  When you see the prompts, don’t ignore them.
  8. Shut-down and restart Your PC 
    Sounds so simple that it often gets ignored in lists like this…but the results of a restart can be significant.  Nobody likes to wait for a PC to start-up, so many of us are in the habit of leaving them on.  Desktops will go into sleep mode after a while, and closing the laptop lid will do the same.  However, the simple act of web-surfing and running programs can activate new processes and plug-ins in the background, which won’t stop until a restart has occurred.  You need to completely shut down your computer and restart it, at least every two or three days, to ensure it is running more efficiently.  

 

Hope this helps you squeeze some more life out of that PC.  Remember, if your problems exceed your technical ability to address, McAfee TechMaster is ready to help.  TechMaster is open for business in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom, with plans to expand to more countries soon.

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Tracy Romine is the worldwide Product Manager for McAfee's Consumer Support and Services business.

He likes tennis, UFC and killing computer viruses.