Before reading any further, check how long it takes your computer to shutdown and restart. Click the Start button, Turn Off, and Restart.
Make the same test after performing the simple tune-up steps described later in this column.
The tweaks are intended to improve your computer s overall performance, allowing it to load programs and web pages faster, for example. The time needed for a computer to shutdown and restart is a rough measure of performance.
Computers really do slow down with age, as the hard disk fills up with programs and files containing documents, web pages, digital images, and digital music.
Files stored on the disk also get fragmented. Pieces of a file get socked away in different parts of the disk almost like Page One stories in a newspaper that continue inside. The disk mechanism must search, collect the fragments of data, and piece them together.
That takes time.
Other things also hurt performance. Some programs, for instance, are configured to start automatically when the computer starts. They may include programs that you seldom or never use. That s a topic, however, for a future column.
These instructions are for computers with Windows XP. People with older computers can use the built-in Help feature to get their own directions.
Let s begin the tune-up by removing unused programs, which can free up enormous amounts of space on the hard disk.
Click the Start Button, Control Panel, and Add or Remove Programs.
Never remove a program unless you know what it does and are certain you will not need it. In newer computers, a click the program name tells how often you ve used the program in the past.
Don t put much faith in that information. Programs that I need and use constantly including Adobe Acrobat (which displays and prints certain files from the Internet) are listed as rarely used. Programs that I ve never run are listed as used often.
When you are sure, click the program name and the Remove button. Unwanted games are one good target.
Now use the Disk Cleanup tool in Windows XP to free up more disk space. Find the My Computer icon on your desktop, click on it, right click on Local Disk, and click on Properties. Under the General tab, click Disk Cleanup. It will analyze your hard disk and show how much space can be freed up.
The next step involves reuniting those fragmented files on the hard disk.
Open My Computer, right click on Local Disk, click Properties, and on the Tools tab click Defragment. Wait for the analysis of how much defragmentation exists on the disk. If the files aren t very defragmented, it won t be worthwhile to continue.
Defragmenting can easily take several hours. You can continue with other work by minimizing the defragmenter program. Just click in the upper right corner. Also consider defragmenting at the end of the workday, when you re done with the computer.