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75 free ways to refresh Windows XP & Vista

Get a new PC for free

Even a PC that starts life with the pace of a champion racehorse may slow so fast its owner considers putting it out to pasture. At PC Advisor we hate such needless waste. Try our simple, cost-free remedies to fire up Windows XP and Vista, all over again. You may even save the cost of a new PC.

When you buy a new PC, it will usually run like a dream. Boxes open instantly, programs launch into action as soon as you click on an icon and the Windows operating system starts in seconds rather than grinding along for minutes.

Over time, however, that delightful and fresh experience is replaced with grudging responses. Things become increasingly sluggish. Installing more programs, letting data clutter your hard drive – these things and more contribute to slowing down your PC.

Clearly, such a situation can't be allowed to continue. There are myriad ways of making your PC run more smoothly. Most involve only a few simple tweaks to your Windows setup. Other problems are better served by a third-party program written precisely because Windows doesn't offer quite as much control as other PC users have deemed desirable.

It's that simple.

Here we've assembled 75 tune-up and streamlining tips, focusing on Windows XP and Windows Vista. Some of our suggestions will be familiar; others less so.

And lest you're concerned that applying 75 changes to the way you work is a surefire shortcut to computing chaos, don't worry: you shouldn't need nearly all of them.

To continue the equine theme, these Windows performance boosters are very much horses for courses, so read on and simply choose those tips that are most relevant to getting your PC back on form. And remember to back up your system before making major changes.

Defrag and error checking

Defrag and error checking tools are available under Properties

Revitalise Windows

Find out what's tapping PC resources: A simple way to check on which programs are running is to press Ctrl, Alt, Delete and click on Task Manager. You can then hit End Process to kill off any you decide are eating up precious resources.

Unfortunately, doing this often has no effect. And if there's something stealing all your PC's RAM, you want as much detail about it as you can get. FileMon provides this, recording what each application does and when. This can be invaluable when trying to establish what's causing your PC to lock up.

Don't start me up Programs that insist on starting up along with Windows can be a huge drain. Go to Start, All Programs, Startup to view those that deem themselves worth of auto-starting. Any you don't want can be removed from this folder. When you next turn on your PC, they shouldn't launch. If they do, try a third-party tool to prevent this, alter the preferences in the program itself or consider getting rid of it altogether.

Other sneaky startups While some programs that autolaunch are listed in the Startup menu, others that fire up along with your PC aren't. Click the arrow on the taskbar at the bottom of your screen and you'll see a host. Click an icon to find out what it's all about and stop it running. Go to the Options menu for the offending program to alter its status to 'Manual startup'.

Wash them out Unnecessary programs and services running unbidden are a major cause of PC slowdowns. Ashampoo StartUp Tuner helps rid you of the most annoying and persistent of these without you having to hunt through your hard disk for the culprits.

Clean up after yourself One big Windows slowdown is probably caused by you, if you download and install software you're not using. Be ruthless and go to Add/Remove Programs to get rid of any you don't use.

Spruce up your hard drive Sometimes performance can be impaired by files becoming scattered across your hard drive, while location errors – when a file is deleted or moved – will cause problems. To solve the former, be sure to defragment your drive by going to Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter.

For the latter, right-click your hard drive icon, select Properties and, under Tools, click Check Now. Make sure 'Automatically fix file system errors' is selected before you click Start.

Faster Windows startups Defragmenting your hard disk to free up blocks of memory can boost speed, but it's not the only thing you can defrag. The prefetch file can be defragged too. Go to Start, Run, Enter and type in defrag c: -b followed by Enter.

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