The one-page Windows fix

Here’s what to do to improve Windows’ performance.

Although Windows 7 is a big improvement over its predecessors it still gets bogged down with junk, infections and messed up files. The procedures here apply to Vista and XP as well as Windows 7.

Run antivirus and anti-spyware programs

Update and run your antivirus at least once a week. It may be automatically updated but if it’s not, get onto it. Find out the best program for your antivirus use on this page. In addition to antivirus you need more than one anti-spyware program. I use three and run one of them every 2 or 3 days. Here are the best ones.

Run Disk Cleanup

This is mainly to free up disk space, but it can help unclog Windows. To run it, click: Start » All Programs » Accessories » System tools » Disk Cleanup. In Vista and Windows 7 you can just tap the Windows key and start typing disk cleanup, after a few keystrokes—in my case just 2—you’ll see something similar to this:

Starting Disk Cleanup

Press Enter or click on the Disk Cleanup icon and you’ll be presented with the window below. Check the boxes for the files you wish to get rid of and click the Clean up system files button.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup

There are more options available for Disk Cleanup if you “Run as administrator” See my Disk Cleanup post for more info on this.

Run System File Checker

Have your Windows CD or DVD ready to insert if prompted when a repair is necessary. If you don’t have a Windows disc, you can borrow someone else’s for this purpose, although it will have to be the same Windows version. i.e. If your install was XP Home SP1, that’s the CD you need, if it’s Windows 7 Professional 64-bit that’s what you need.

If you wish to create a Windows disc there are a number of sources online for the ISO files necessary to burn a disc. Here’s a source for Windows 7.

System File Checker is really useful to restore and repair any Windows files which have become corrupt or gone walkabout:

For Vista and Windows 7

You’ll need to run SFC from the Command Prompt as an Administrator.

  • Tap the Windows key, start to type command,
  • right-click on the Command Prompt icon when it appears,
  • Select Run as administrator from the pop-up menu,
  • Type sfc /scannow at the prompt and press Enter.

For XP

  • Click Start » Run » Type sfc /scannow. Note that there’s a space before the /.
  • Click OK.

For the full story on SFC see this mistywindow page.

Microsoft’s System Configuration Utility

You can run the Microsoft System Configuration utility from the Command line. Press the Windows key or click on the Windows orb and type msconfig. Press the Enter key and you’ll get this:

msconfig

If you click on the Services and Startup tabs you can uncheck items that you suspect are unnecessary and are clogging the cogs of Windows.

If you’re not sure what’s bogging things down you can get a good idea by looking at the Windows Task Manager. Open it using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+Esc.

Autoruns screenshot

Msconfig’s OK, but there’s a more useful tool: the free Autoruns from Microsoft subsidiary Sysinternals:

Autoruns

You can download Autoruns free-of-charge from here: AutoRuns for Windows. It’s a mystery to me why it’s not included as part of the standard Windows installation. It’s a stand-alone program which doesn’t need to be installed. Just run the downloaded file from anywhere on your computer. I’ve written a little more about Autoruns here.

Disk Defragmenter

Note: this does not apply to solid state hard drives. Most experts agree that defragging SSDs is unnecessary and contributes to the drive’s deterioration over time.

XP needs regular defragging of files which get split up and scattered over vast reaches of your hard drive. Vista and Windows 7 are much improved in this regard but you should still run a defragmentation program every month or so. Start » All Programs » Accessories » System tools » Disk Defragmenter or, as before tap the Windows key and type in this instance, defrag. The Windows Defrag utility is useful but there are better options. Auslogics Disk Defrag is the current champ amongst the freebies and you can download it from here.

Auslogics Disk Defrag

Process Monitor

Process Monitor is a bit geeky. If you’re having real trouble figuring out what’s taking over your system you can use it to see what’s running in real time. Read about all it on this mistywindow page.

Try Check Disk

This will run a check on all files next time your computer starts.

There are three ways to run chkdsk — first method:

  • Click the Start Button (the Orb) then » All Programs » Accessories
  • Right click Command Prompt.
  • Select “Run as Administrator”.
  • At the Command Prompt type:
  • chkdsk /f
    (there’s a space before the /)
  • Press the Enter key.

Alternatively:

  • Open Windows Explorer (keyboard shortcut: Windows key+E)
  • Right click on the icon of the drive you wish to check. Usually the C: drive.
  • Select “Properties“.
  • Click on the Tools tab.
  • Click the “Check Now” button.
  • Click “Start“.
  • Click “Schedule Disk Check“.

Or:

Boot from your Windows 7 or Vista DVD and run chkdsk using the Windows Recovery Environment. Full details here: How to use the Command Prompt in the Vista Windows Recovery Environment

Uninstall unnecessary programs

Go to Uninstall Programs in the Control Panel. In Vista or Windows 7 you can click the Windows key and type:
uninstall a program. By the time you reach “p” you’ll see the appropriate link at the top of the list of programs.

Anything in the list of installed programs that you’re unlikely to need should be uninstalled. Many laptops and proprietary computers from companies like Dell and HP include a lot of utilities that aren’t good for much except bogging down Windows. Get rid of them.

Restore from an Image

The single best thing you can do to secure your Windows installation is to create an image after the initial setup and maintain a reasonably current image thereafter. When it all turns to custard just restore your machine from an image and in 20 minutes everything is fixed. See my imaging page for a full description and some excellent options for free and paid software.

Repair install

If nothing helps to clear your misty Windows installation you can do a Repair Install. This only applies to Windows XP. Sadly, you can’t do it with Vista or Windows 7:

Repair installation of Windows XP.

When all else fails, this type of installation leaves all your programs and data intact while reinstalling Windows.

  • Boot the computer from your XP CD (if this won’t boot, you may need to change the order of boot devices in BIOS setup).
  • Eventually you will see the “Welcome To Setup” screen. Press the Enter key to start Windows Setup.
  • Be careful NOT to choose R, which is “To repair a Windows XP installation using the Recovery Console”. That is what you don’t want!
  • Accept the License Agreement.
  • Windows setup will search for existing Windows installations.
  • Select the XP installation you want to repair (there is usually only one) and now press R to start the repair.

Then just follow the prompts.

More complete instructions on how to do this, complete with pictures, are here on Michael Stevens’ excellent site .

The best laid schemes ‘gang aft agley’ so back up your data first, just in case!

Clean install

Sadly, sometimes Windows gets so scrambled that the best solution, when even a Rep[air Install fails to save your bacon and assuming that you have a Windows CD or DVD and a valid Product Key code, you just have to bite the bullet, reformat your hard drive and reinstall it.

Sorry.

Don’t be afraid. It’s not brain surgery.

Then again, you could always follow in mistywindow’s footsteps and switch to the Mac.

🙂