We all have days when we just can't get anything done, but that doesn't mean we have to tolerate it of our PCs

This article appears in the May 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Just about any computer will start to lag after a while. Your once speedy machine will demonstrate signs of fatigue as you install and remove applications, fill up your hard drive and download goodies from the web. To put some pep back into your PC, here are some simple tips.

The starting point is to clean up and defragment your hard drive. As bits and pieces are installed on your PC they become scattered across your hard disk, so the drive heads have to do that little bit extra to locate files and applications.

You can access both Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter by going to Start, Accessories, System Tools. However, you may not derive much of a performance gain from what is quite a time-consuming process.

Many applications you download will decide they're sufficiently important that you're bound to want to use them all the time, so they take it upon themselves to start up automatically once Windows loads. Many are resource hogs and don't necessarily need to run in the background at all times.

For better performance you should also remove unnecessary programs that run automatically by going to Start, Programs, Startup and deleting any shortcuts you don't need.

Advanced options

These basic options will provide some performance improvement, but to get real benefits you have to be more ambitious. The following performance-boosting exercises can be risky, so ensure you back up first.

The Windows Registry is a database of applications installed and running on your PC, but as programs are removed sometimes traces remain behind. Some benefits can come from optimising the Registry, but if this goes wrong it could prevent Windows loading (which is why you should make a backup first).

The easiest way to do this is to use a package such as Norton SystemWorks to make simple fixes to the registry. If you don't have Norton, Cleanreg will fix most problems.

The sheer number of applications, services and processes that are launched at Startup, often without your knowledge, can also cause your operating system to slow down. If you want to modify these, go to the Control Panel, Administrative Tasks and double-click the Services icon.

In the righthand pane you'll see a list of services running on your computer. Some of these should be left alone, but you'll also see many services for installed applications that you don't run on a regular basis.
To stop these, click Stop the service in the lefthand pane. Then, double-click on each service marked 'Automatic' and, under the General tab, change its startup type to Manual, rather than disabling it. This way, if you ever launch the application from the Start menu, any relevant services will be loaded as necessary.

Track down problems

System crashes and freezing applications can be a major headache and are even more frustrating when you can't pinpoint the reason for them. Head straight to the Event Viewer, which you'll find has made a note each time this happens.

These can be tricky to decipher, so it's best to swot up beforehand rather than when you really, really need to know what's going on and are, let's say, less than calm.

Keep an eye on events

Event Viewer is accessed from Start, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer. Its System node logs Windows issues – particularly networking ones – while the Application node logs issues with other software.

The date and time of each event is logged along with its source and miscellaneous data about the issue. Most events will be listed as 'Information' and are generally safe to ignore. 'Error' and 'Warning' entries are what you should concern yourself with. Double-click an event to open its Properties page. Here, you'll find detailed information about the error and a link to the Microsoft support site. For more detail on the error types and what they mean, turn to the web. Input the event ID into EventID.net, search for key phrases in the error message, and try looking for clues to your problem by using the 'Source' field in the Event Viewer log as a search term.