If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll realise that I’m the geek. If ever there’s a techy question I’m usually the first call from friends and family alike. Whether it be on home-automation, home cinema, computer problems or advice, I normally get the nod. I seem to be fielding a lot of questions and fixing a lot of issues regarding laptops and desktops running slow at the moment. I guess working from home has given people more time to focus on their systems and with the increased desire by companies to load onto your computer any number of widgets or software programs to capture and monetise your data, a lot of perfectly good hardware is being bogged down.
With this in mind, I’ve put together a a little tutorial to help those who have computers that could do with a spring clean. I will run through a range of things that I like to do to my own windows machines, starting with the obvious and moving on to more aggressive forms of cleaning in part 2. You may disagree with my methods, or know of better programs to use. That’s fine, there are many ways to skin a cat. I will also refer back to some other articles I’ve posted which I think are still relevant today in terms of keeping your machine clean and healthy.
I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING YOU DO TO YOUR MACHINE. THIS IS AT YOUR OWN RISK.
ALWAYS HAVE MORE THAN ONE BACKUP.
I have my most valuable documents and data backed up on dropbox (free), google drive (free), an external drive at my house, and an external drive at my parents. Why? Because disks are cheap (or were before Chia) and things fail. What good is having your data backed up on an external drive sitting in the same bag as your laptop and the bag gets stolen or lost? What if you have a house fire (heaven forbid)? In fact I’ve switched my entire windows documents folder to one in dropbox, so I don’t even have to think about it. There’s no excuse today not to have backup as well as dropbox and google, one drive and Amazon are also giving away free storage to be used.
What causes a machine to run slow?
There could be any number of reasons why your computer is performing poorly, or not as good as the day you bought it. A simple explanation is over time, more and more things get loaded onto it, using up more and more resources, eventually forcing the computer to have to delay operations whilst it’s finishing the previous ones. You can normally tell quickly if this is the issue by looking at task manager (right mouse click on the task bar and select task manager. Make sure “More details” are shown (bottom left) and then click on the processes tab. You’ll see percentage utilisation for both the CPU (processor) and Memory (Ram). If you see your memory pinned at more than say 80% and you’re not doing anything particularly intensive, then it’s a good indication that your system is being overloaded.
Take a look at the processes to see what’s using the most resources:
- Internet browser. Do you like to leave 100 tabs open at the top? The more tabs you leave open, the more resources it uses.
- Anything else there you don’t recognise? Do you have a virus?
- Anything you still have running despite not needing any more? Maybe you once had a Brother printer, but now have an HP. Did you forget to uninstall the brother software?
- Do you have antivirus running? Do you have more than one antivirus program running?
We will tackle the above and more below. If this is the first time looking at task manager then familiarise yourself with it. It will tell you what’s going on with your machine and when work unexpectedly, it’s the first place you should be going to look for clues.
Built in Windows Tools
By default, windows bundles in some tools to help you cleanse your system. As well as being able to add or remove programs directly, you can also use disk cleanup to help remove some unwanted junk.
Let’s start by looking at the programs you’re running.
Press the windows key on your keyboard and select Add or remove programs
This will give you a complete list of applications that are installed on your system. Take your time and go through them to make sure that you don’t have anything unwanted on the list. There might be some obvious ones, others less so. Start with the obvious ones. Click on the application and uninstall (proceed through the steps). We’ll take the easy wins now because the quicker you reduce stuff on the system, the quicker the system will respond to the rest of the cleaning tasks we have ahead of it. Please note some of the programs might not have the option to uninstall. This could be microsoft doing its best to prevent you from removing their gaming software, despite you never owning an Xbox. Don’t worry about that, we can still remove it, but more on that in Part 2. Depending on how slow your system is, this could take 5-10minutes, or a couple of hours. Take your time, this will all pay dividends in the end.
You may have to restart a couple of times in the process, but that’s all part of the pain am afraid.
Now let’s clear out some old temporay files or remnants from Windows upgrades that Microsoft has allowed to accumulate on your hard drive.
Bring up Windows explorer (windows key + e).
Right mouse button on your hard drive, and select properties (at the bottom).
Select Disk cleanup (bottom right).
Now assuming you don’t keep files you actually need in the recycle bin, I would highlight every option here and hit ok. Then hit delete files when you get the inevitable warning.
After a while, the files will be gone, and the dialog boxes will be closed. We’re not done just yet. Right mouse button on the hard drive again and hit properties->disk cleanup. This time, click on system files. You will probably see larger files here this time around.
Proceed to delete these too. This could take a fair while longer, so go and make yourself a cup of tea or grab a beer.
So far so good? For now, this is as far as we’re going to go with windows built in tools, we now need some third party help.
Third Party Tools
This is a small cleaning application I’ve been using for probably 10 years already. Previously, I used revo uninstaller, but this seemed much more capable, and quicker to use. Download the free version from here. Don’t ever download applications from third party sites. If you try and search for CCleaner in google, you’ll find loads of sites offering to provide it. Always go to the company’s website direct. Who knows what other stuff could be packaging inside the application you think you’re downloading. Download and install the free version. Note do not install any other additional toolbars or widgets, we want the bog standard CCleaner app. Note, I am aware that 4-5 years ago, CC got hacked and some of their software got compromised. Nonetheless, I stuck with it, and have been happily using it continually.
Once installed click on the Run Cleaner (bottom right).
Let it do its thing, and after a while it will report back how much stuff it’s removed. I usually find if you’ve never cleaned your pc before, this will remove a ton of things like temp files, browser cookies etc. My record to date is removing 4.4gb of unwanted files, in one click!
Next, click on tools on the left, then startup
What we will now do is disable some things from starting up when you boot up windows. Note this is not the same as uninstalling. For example, maybe I have Spotify on my machine and like to listen to music on occasion. I don’t want to remove it, but I don’t want it to start up and be sat there in the background every time I’m using my pc, because maybe I use it only a few times a month. I will disable the program from starting up automatically. It will still be available in the windows menu when needed. Rather than delete the start up entries, I tend to just disable them instead. That way if you change your mind it’s easy to flick it back on (enable) or if you break something, you can revert without needing to reinstall. Here you can see the things I’ve disabled (greyed out). That should hopefully make a difference to your start up times.
Next, click on tools on the left, then Browser plugins
If you’re using google chrome, or firefox or any browser really, this will give you an idea of extras that you might have installed and that are causing things to slow down at best, or monitoring everything you do online or worse. Take a look and see if there’s anything there that you don’t want or don’t need? I personally would remove any type of search toolbar as ultimately, they’re just stepping in between you and google and capturing your data or directing you to chosen results. Yahoo toolbar? Bing search etc all that jazz, get rid. Here I would delete, or at least disable if you’re not feeling so confident.
There’s still one last thing I would do with CCleaner, but that’s Part 2, for now, lets skip back to Windows.
Anti Virus Removal
This is contentious, but hear me out.
Most machines come with anti virus software installed. Packages like Norton Utilities, McAfee, AVG, Kaspersky, Bitdefender etc… You might normally get 3mths or even a year free, but then you need to keep paying to keep it current. I’d suggest that most people at that point stop paying, at which point you’re not running the most up to date protection anyway. Did you know that windows 10 has its own antivirus built into it? Windows Defender Security Center. Yep, you already have AV software baked into Windows. I am happy running with this alone. I assume that Microsoft knows a thing or too about computer security, and frankly speaking, most antivirus packages out there are Soooooo resource heavy, that just uninstalling them should get you a decent performance boost on their own (McAfee am looking at you!).
What I like to do is to remove any third party AV software via Window’s “add or remove programs” and then run a scan using a third party tool which I have used for many years and is free, called MalwareBytes.
When uninstalling any AV packages, be sure to capture all of them. For example, Norton might have 2 or 3 applications that need to be removed. They’ll often be called something sexy like “sentry” or “protection agent” etc… doesn’t matter, if its by Norton or McAfee etc, it gets uninstalled. Now these types of software packages are so baked into the system that quite often you’ll need to restart maybe even a couple of times before they’re totally removed, but stick with the cause. Once removed, it’s common to see a yellow exclamation mark in the Windows Security setting. Don’t worry, just click on Virus & Threat Protection and either switch it on or do a scan, whatever it’s asking of you. It was probably deactivated before by the other software and Windows just wants to take back some control. Let it do its thing and you should be rewarded with 100% green ticks!
At this point, I will download a malware/virus removal tool.
Download the free home version from here. I think of MalwareBytes as simply removal when I need it, as opposed to something sitting in the background continually scanning and blocking. As I mentioned above, we have Windows Defender to do that part for us, so why reinvent the wheel. Install the package we just downloaded, be mindful to not just blindly click through. We don’t want additional widgets/plugins/toolbars etc. Just the bog standard program.
Once installed hit scan, and it will update itself and get to work. Go and grab another beer, and kick back. Now remember, they’re going to try to get you to pay for something. Ignore it. Put the credit card down 🙂 The free version is more than enough for our needs. It will tell you after a few weeks that you’re going to be exposed once the trial runs out. Just hold the line! We don’t want real time protection, we just removed it, we have Windows Defender.
Hopefully the scan should go through without a hitch. If this is the first time you’ve cleaned in a while, or you’re browser toolbar has more things hanging off it than a christmas tree, there’s a good chance you might find somethings under Detections (bottom right on the main scan screen).
Not to worry, better we know about it than not. So follow the advice the program gives. Put the files in quarantine, then delete. Do be mindful though, if you use your machine to mine cryptocurrency some of the software involved there (e.g. nicehash) might be flagged as a threat. If this is the case and you’re happy/confident that what you have isn’t dodgy, then just choose to ignore it etc and move onwards. Once you’ve removed any detected threats. I would normally restart the machine, and run the scan again. Continue to repeat until you’re clear.
Internet Browser Clean Up
I touched on this earlier when I spoke about CCleaner, but I want to go through it again. Your internet browser is key when it comes to assisting you online. Surfing the internet should be a safe but fun activity, and we want to make sure that we keep a tight control over the portal we use to do it. Firstly, how many browsers do you have on your machine? Often people will keep installing new ones without even thinking about it. Microsoft Edge is the main one in Windows 10 (internet explorer can me removed), but I personally prefer Chromium which is open source and based on Google Chrome. If you want to really take back control of your privacy and take the Google out of Chrome, then I suggest you have a quick look at my post here. For now though, let’s assume you’re happy to run with standard Google Chrome, which statistically was the most popular over the last few years (source: Statista).
Open Chrome, and click on the jigsaw icon on the right hand side of the bar… this should bring up another box that will show you what extensions you’re running.
Do your best to remove as much as you can without compromising your browsing experience. If there’s anything in that list that you don’t understand, remove it. You can always add it back in afterwards. Anything that even resembles “toolbar”, or “search” etc, needs to go. In fact there are only a handful of extensions I will use:
HTTPS everywhere – ensures that if you click on an http site, it will move you to the https version which is more secure.
Ublock Origin – helps to block tracking cookies and other naughty things nosey companies like to try
Privacy Badger – as above
DuckDuckGo – privacy essentials (basically google without the tracking)
The only other extensions I might conisder would be something like Google Translate, or Bitwarden (a password manager), else I try and keep lean and clean. For my main search engine, I use DuckDuckGo. So I ensure that is the default search engine in the bar, and my homepage. The above help me retain some degree of privacy as well as a smooth internet experience. Most of the extensions above will be in firefox also, so apply as needed.
Stage 1 Clean Recap:
Thus far we have:
- Removed any unecessary installed programs in Windows
- Cleaned out any temporary files or cookies via windows disk cleanup
- Removed any old windows update files or system fragments using disk cleanup
- Deleted cookies, other temp files, fragments and tracking data using CCleaner
- Uninstalled third party antivirus tools and re-enabled Windows built in AntiVirus protection.
- Scanned for and removed any detected threats using MalwareBytes.
- Cleaned out any unecessary browser extensions using CCleaner and manually.
At this point of the process your machine should be noticeably quicker. Depending on how bad things were initially, it might even be quieter and cooler as it’s not working as hard as it was before.
For the average user, this will probably be where you stop. If you’re an enthusiast or you simply want to rip out some more performance out of your machine, stay tuned for Part 2 where we crank things up a bit and remove the training wheels! Let me know if this helped you in the comments and if you have any recommendations for other software I’ll always take a look.
If your interested in sharing your own solutions, tips and tricks with like minded people perhaps you’d consider joining our facebook group. The aim of this group will hopefully be more show and tell rather than support, but that’s not to say we can’t lend a helping hand!