Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Despite years of refinement and the collective experience of millions of users, Windows remains as buggy, enigmatic and failure-prone as ever. Each new release of the operating system (OS) adds a little glitz and a handful of new features – and just as many headaches.

Sometimes Vista's new features and improved functions seem to be more trouble than they're worth, and older sibling XP certainly isn't getting any easier to live with as it ages.

Fortunately, you don't have to spend hours researching the cures for Windows' ills. We've distilled the most important fixes and slick improvements into steps that you can implement in mere minutes.

These tips will accelerate your startups and shut downs, automate system maintenance and get you browsing at full throttle.

Fix your PC for free

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Spyware and adware

A wobbly Windows machine that judders along, sometimes smooth, the next minute stuttering, may be just that: a wobbly Windows machine. Poorly written software is as likely to be to blame for erratic computing performance as it is to be symptomatic of a poorly PC.

It's not without cause that Windows is derided for its bugs and glitches – it's a hefty and complex OS even before you start installing programs and filling up disk space.

However, another common reason for PCs acting sluggishly is that there's some sort of malware running behind the scenes. Even if you suspect you've simply laden down your PC with far too much gunk, it's worth checking there's nothing malignant at play.

Malware takes many forms – hence the catch-all phrase for anything designed to do harm to your system. Keyloggers and spyware can be used as part of an identity theft attempt, while adware is more of a bane as it hobbles your system with its continuous attempts to attract your attention.

Adware can often hide malware, while an extreme version, sometimes termed ransomware, prevents you from using your PC until you pay to release it from the attacker's grip.

Fighting back

In all cases, the advice is the same: run a scan of your system using a recognised tool, then follow its instructions about deleting and quarantining any suspicious files. Having cleaned your machine, prevent future attacks by investing in or downloading an effective arsenal of security tools.

Norton Internet Security Suite 2008 won our most recent group test of all-in-one security software, but you'll find other tools on our DVD that you can use with immediate effect and for free.

For example, you could combine Comodo's firewall with AVG's free antivirus program and Spyware Blaster to create a sturdy defence team. But it's worth researching the security applications you decide to use.

As well as some worthwhile and effective disinfection tools, a number of less well-intentioned products are available over the internet that open up your PC to attack rather than defend it. Post queries on respected forums – such as those at the PC Advisor Helproom – just to be sure.

spyware

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

How to disable and remove spyware

First, you need to confirm the presence of malware. Press Ctrl, Alt, Del to bring up the Task Manager and check on the processes that are running. If you can't put your finger on what a program is and what it's up to, type the details into a search engine to learn more.

The same applies to Processes that are running. Click Start, Run and type services.msc to check on these.

If a lot of network activity is taking place when your system is idle and offline, this is another telltale sign.

Perform a system scan using BitDefender Free-AV or Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool. Either will confirm whether spyware is at fault.

If you still aren't sure whether you've sniffed out any malware, try out Process Explorer or Security Task Manager. These apps can detect deep-rooted infections that have been written to hide from Task Manager.

HiJackThis is one of the best-known tools for identifying malware and letting you know whether you need to manually remove it. Post your results on the software maker's website and wait for a contributor to come to your aid.

Task Manager

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Put some sizzle in your startups

Startup issues are often related to the faltering performance issues we've just discussed and caused by rogue software.

As often as not, though, sluggish startups can be cured by pruning back what's on your PC. More particularly, it could be a simple matter of stopping unnecessary services from launching at startup.

Your computer could be loading device drivers for hardware you no longer use. To save on system resources, uninstall those drivers. Since a careless choice can cause your machine to lose an important function, however, create a restore point in System Restore before proceeding.

By default, Device Manager doesn't show devices that aren't currently connected to your system. To make them visible, press Windows, R to open the Run box, type cmd and press Enter. At the command prompt, type set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 and press Enter. Leave the command-prompt window open.

Now press Windows R again, type devmgmt.msc, then press Enter. In the Device Manager window, choose View, Show Hidden Devices. Click the plus sign (+) next to each branch to examine the drivers. Devices that are not currently connected appear with a pale version of the icon. If you come across a device you no longer use, right-click it and choose Uninstall. Follow the onscreen prompts to complete the process.

Map that

Once you've mapped a network drive to a letter on your PC, Windows will automatically restore the connection by default whenever you log on. Resuming network connections takes time, but you can speed up startup by dropping the connections you aren't using.

Press Windows, E to launch Windows Explorer, and type Alt, T, D to open the Disconnect Network Drives dialog box. Select which drives you want to disconnect, then click ok.

In the future, if you connect a drive for the current session only, simply enter its UNC path (this appears in the address bar in Explorer). If you use the Tools, Map Network Drive command in Explorer, make sure ‘Reconnect at logon' is unselected.

slow startup

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Startup: lose lingerers

You can free up memory and recover processor cycles by clearing out the clutter that starts each time you log in to Windows.

Some programs do little more than flattering their maker's vanity by launching every time you start Windows. Kick these into touch immediately by knocking them from the 'run at startup' list. Click Start, Run, type ‘msconfig' and press Enter. Click on the Startup tab and untick unwanted programs.

To distinguish useful startup programs from useless ones, consult Autoruns' research tools or the Startup Applications List.

Shut down instantly

As well as making you wait around at the start of the day while it readies itself for use, your Windows PC takes its time shutting down. It's possible to reprogram its power button to exit Windows, without any prompts (except to save unsaved work) needed.

In XP, open Control Panel. In the ‘Performance and Maintenance' category, launch Power Options and click the Advanced tab. Under ‘When I press the power button on my computer', select

Shut down. Then click ok.

In Vista, click the Start button, type power options and press Enter. Click ‘Choose what the power button does' and, next to ‘When
I press the power button', select Shut down. Finally, click Save Changes.

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Mind your memory

Poor performance may signal problems with your system RAM. Windows Vista will prompt you to use its Memory Diagnostic Tool if it detects a problem, but you can run this utility whenever you want.

Choose Start, All Programs, Administrative Tools, Memory Diagnostic Tool. Click Continue if prompted by User Account Control. To check your system, click the first option, Restart now and check for problems (recommended).

The tool will reboot your PC, and you'll see a text-based screen. Press F1 for more options. You can choose from three types of tests: Basic, Standard or Extended. Highlight your choice to select it and then press Tab to move to the next section. This should be the Cache settings and the Pass Count, or the number of times you want the test repeated.

If your PC gives no indication of problems, we recommend the Basic test with the defaults for the Cache and Pass Count. Press F10 to start the test with these settings.

The memory test can take several minutes. After it reboots your PC, Vista displays the results; if no problems are found, Windows will start and show a pop-up in the system tray to report that fact. If it reports errors, replace the memory modules.

Vista performance tool

Vista comes with a diagnostic tool to show you just how poorly it's performing. Head to Start, Control Panel and click on System and Maintenance. Choose to ‘Check your computer's Windows Experience Index base score' or check on the details it lists.

The scores that Vista assigns your hardware will be within the range of 1 to 5.9 (based on the hardware configurations Microsoft envisaged when it coded Vista). Even our well-specified dual-core dual-SLI gaming PC built three months ago achieved just 5.3, while our 2.4GHz Athlon 3800+ with 1GB RAM scored a paltry 2.6.

While the Performance Index does a good job of showing up underperforming system components, there's also the option to invoke Vista's system tweaks by clicking on the Performance Information and Tools option in the System and Maintenance screen.

Mind your memory

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness

Having Vista's Shadow Copy function switched on can save your bacon in many work situations – but only if yours is a Business, Ultimate or Enterprise version of Vista.

Vista Home Basic and Home Premium omit this feature but save the data anyway, wasting CPU cycles and disk space.

To stop the waste, store your documents and other files on a separate drive or partition. Click Start, type SystemPropertiesProtection and press Enter. In the list of disks, deselect the one that contains personal data.

Click ‘Turn System Protection Off' when prompted, then click ok to close the System Properties dialog box.

System Protection

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Recover lost data

PCs have become seemingly infinite repositories, but just because the storage capacity is boundless, it doesn't necessarily follow that the PC's ability to store data safely and call it up on demand is too.

Hard-disk failure is far from a common occurrence, but laptops dragged from place to place as well as office workhorses that have seen years of service and interim upgrades are good candidates for this.

While we repeat our usual mantra about the need for a backup plan, we've also got some ideas should disaster strike.

First, try a search of your hard drive. A seemingly lost file may have been renamed or shifted to elsewhere on your PC. Root through your Recycle Bin too, just in case.

Vista's built-in search tool is a lot more effective than the weedy Search Assistant puppy in XP. Beef up your XP search facilities with Windows Desktop Search, a free download from the Microsoft website. As with our desktop search tools, it needs time to index hard disk contents, so let it run while the PC is otherwise idle. You can also specify likely locations for the missing file.

Vista users can try out Previous Versions (Shadow Copies) to see whether a nearly up-to-date version can be retrieved.

One of the more useful inclusions in Windows Vista is its Shadow Copy feature. This acts as a form of failsafe should you lose a file or accidentally overwrite it.

XP users are stuck with System Restore, which undoes damage but doesn't uncover items that may have fallen prey to their machinations. Instead, a third-party tool such as FreeUndelete 2.0 can find ‘misassociated' files.

Any data lost to the great file graveyard in the sky could potentially make a fleeting reappearance with some encouragement from Restoration or Diskeeper Undelete5.

Lost data

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

System Works file recovery

File recovery programs can save your behind when Window behaves erratically. Our juddering XP system peremptorily decided multitasking was for fools and shut down everything including Windows Explorer, leaving us aghast at our unsaved Outlook messages, partially completed spreadsheets and half-written feature.

Thankfully, Norton System Works had put a watch on our recycle bin so that anything that went west could also be retrieved.

Restoration comedy

To use Restoration, specify a folder location or instruct the program to search the whole drive. Unlike your PC's built-in search tools, it should track down the ghosts of files past and will do its best to recover the lost data. The program needs no installer and is so small that you can run it from a flash drive.

For your best shot at recovering lost files, try and do nothing with your PC in the meantime. Creating and saving new files will only increase the chance of your missing file(s) being overwritten.

Finally, for matters of life or death, companies such as Ontrack can access your PC remotely or take your hard disk away for forensic examination.

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Web connection woes

Updating your web browser and checking for updated tools for your current web browser can bring instant benefits to your web-surfing experience. Other online glitches can be solved by disabling and enabling add-on browser tools one by one to check for hold-ups and incompatibilities.

An antivirus tool or Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool can address other browser-based issues.

Refresh your IP address

If you use ADSL or cable broadband, you probably have a dynamic IP address. This refers to the fact that your PC's internet address changes each time you log on.

From time to time, however, this process doesn't behave as dynamically as its name implies. Sometimes a new address isn't assigned at bootup and the last assigned address remains. Since a fresh IP address is necessary to reach the internet, all you will see when you open your browser is an error screen stating that the PC can't establish a connection to the internet.

Whether your system is connected directly through a modem or via a router, the first step involved in getting an IP address assigned to it is to right-click the network icon in the system tray. From the resulting menu, select Repair. Windows will automatically flush the old addresses and request new ones from your router or ISP, depending on the way your PC is connected.

Most of the time, this operation works like a charm. But when it doesn't, you'll have to troubleshoot the situation manually – and this requires a certain knowledge of the ins and outs of IPconfig to help you quickly get your connection up and running.

Click Start, Run and type cmd. In Vista, you can save a step by simply typing cmd in the Start Search box.

At the command prompt, type ipconfig; the DOS window will then display your currently known IP address, the subnet mask, and the default gateway for all adaptors. Other adaptors might include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards, although these may be listed as disconnected.

By itself, IPconfig does nothing more than display information. To make it actually do something – such as refreshing your IP address – you must add parameters preceded by a space and a forward slash. The two parameters that do the most effective job are /release and /renew.

Typing ipconfig /release instructs the server to erase the existing IP address for all adaptors, be they ethernet or wireless. The process should take a few seconds, confirmed with a display in the DOS box showing all zeros for the IP address and subnet mask.

Now type ipconfig /renew. If the command is successful, a new IP address, subnet mask and the default gateway will appear along with the DNS suffix.

Web connection woes

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Disgnose your web connection

Many of us feel as though we're paying a certain amount for our broadband but aren't getting all the bandwidth we're due. As well as the issues over distance from the phone exchange and contention ratio, it's possible that the router could be slowing things down.

You can check on this using Microsoft's Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool. This can tell you whether your router supports faster connections, but be aware that if you're contending with a firewalled network you won't get accurate results.

Click here and follow the instructions. You'll need to read through Microsoft's list of caveats about the test and agree to have non-personally identifiable data analysed during the process in order to use the tool. You also need to have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher. Note too that the test can interrupt running connections.

If the results show that your system doesn't support many of the technologies listed, you might want to look into the possibility of purchasing a newer router or (if you are an XP user) upgrading to Vista.

The Microsoft site just happens to include links to routers available for purchase that have earned the Windows Vista logo.

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Speed tweaks

Having cleared out the crud and cut down on the auto-startup apps, it's time to add some refinement to your PC and make it seem not just squeaky clean but smooth too.

The option usually cited at this point is to defragment your hard disk – something we won't deter you from doing but that arguably has minimal effect on everyday computing. However, if you do want to try defragging your disk, it makes sense to run the wizard when you're not using your PC.

First, create a Scheduled Task by going to Control Panel and clicking on Add Scheduled Task and following the prompts. Next, edit the command line in Advanced Properties to read: cmd.exe /c defrag c: -f -v > “c:\doc\report.txt” (your switches and the path to your report file may be different).

In Vista, change the text in the ‘Add arguments (optional)' box to /c defrag -c -f -v -w > “c:\doc\report.txt” (again, your switches and report path may differ).

A clean sweep

More usefully, you can run Windows' built-in tools, such as the Desktop Cleanup wizard, to declutter your desktop, group genuinely useful items where you can instantly launch them from the taskbar or a hanging pane at the top of your screen. Assigning shortcuts to quickly launch the most useful and frequently used applications will also help your general organisation.

Use Windows own speed tweakers

In previous versions of Windows, tweaking settings to get the fastest system possible used to require bouncing from one arcane dialog box to the next. Though Vista makes most system information easier to find, many of the tools that will put your PC into overdrive remain buried.

A new Control Panel applet collects the tools you favour for analysing and revving up your system. Click Start, Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Performance Information and Tools, and click the links on the left to access tools.

Few of these tools are unique to Vista, and there are XP options available.

Ramp things up the easy way

Adding more memory is an effective way to increase your PC's ability to cope with several things at once. Vista's ReadyBoost makes use of the flash memory of any USB 2.0 device as if it were internal memory.

To use ReadyBoost simply enable the option on your laptop. While it won't make a huge difference to performance, when a lack of memory stops you in your tracks it can save the day.

Network tools

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot

Whether your PC is truly ailing or has a classic case of hypochondria, PC Advisor has 18 simple, free ways to ensure your Windows XP or Vista system is raring to go.

Windows won't boot

Ever since Microsoft came up with the bright idea of adding online activation, it's been causing users headaches. It therefore pays to be able to lay your hands on your product key, just in case Windows throws a wobbly or you need to prove the validity of your Windows setup in order to receive updates or download software.

Not only that, but if you don't have an activated version of Windows XP or Vista, you won't be able to use your PC.

Get your product key

One day you might need to retrieve your product key for your Windows installation or for Microsoft Office. Save yourself a headache by running Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. It's free but supported by donations.

Random reboots tell you what's up

If your PC's latest trick is to reboot for no particular reason, you'll need to do a bit of digging around to establish a cause before you've any chance of fixing it. We've found malfunctioning USB devices can sometimes be to blame for sudden shutdowns, but there can be any number of causes.

If you're using Windows 2000 or XP, right-click My Computer, choose Properties and click the Advanced tab. In Vista, click the Start button, type System, Properties, Advanced and press Enter.

Next, click the Settings button under ‘Startup and Recovery'. Deselect the ‘Automatically restart' box and click ok twice. The next time the problem occurs, instead of rebooting you'll probably see a text screen reporting a system error. Jot down any information it contains and see whether you can find related information by entering details at a PC support website.

Attachment issues

It's not a good idea to have your USB plug-in drive attached when you fire up or restart your PC as it can confuse Windows (which assumes it should try and boot Windows from the USB port). Instead, let Vista load before you plug in any peripherals.

There's also a known issue with some hardware configurations that can prevent things working smoothly with ReadyBoost in action. If you find this to be the case, head to Click here and request a hotfix patch be sent by email.

  1. PC Advisor's ultimate PC repair kit
  2. Spyware & adware
  3. How to disable and remove spyware
  4. Startup issues
  5. Startup: lose lingerers
  6. Memory matters
  7. Stifle Shadow Copies' wastefulness
  8. Recover lost data
  9. System Works file recovery
  10. Web connection woes
  11. Disgnose your web connection
  12. Speed tweaks
  13. Windows won't boot