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How to keep a new computer from getting bogged down over time
October 12, 2012 7:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I set up a Windows 7 PC to be clean and stay clean? I don't want file bits and temporary files to clog it up, I don't want a million image files the size of a dot. I don't want this computer to run like molasses after a few years of web browsing and use. What is the best way to do that?

Should I get an external hard drive and make sure to run everything off that? I can obviously set the browser to delete all files when I close it, but are there other files that get stored that are problematic? What bloatware should be instantly taken off?

I also thought I remembered there being a file on a computer that just logs everything over time, and it gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

What are the best ways to keep a computer running fast, and keep it from accumulating files and bits and pieces of files, and other things that are useless on a day to day basis?

My aim is to mostly browse, and I am installing as few programs as possible (antivirus, itunes, printer, office software, and maybe one or two others).
posted by cashman to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
CCleaner! It takes the cruft away by erasing log files, clearing out temporary internet files out of whatever browser you use, and deleting things that should be deleted. Be careful with some of its options (like the one for wiping the free space), but it's the only product I endorse for what you're wanting to do.

Also, the Event Viewer is what you're thinking about that logs things, but there are file sizes that it does not surpass, and it's not something you wanna monkey with any way.

As far as setting a new computer up out of the box, you can uninstall most of the bundled in crapware that comes on it. Alternatively, you can reinstall Windows as soon as you get it, but if you do it with the factory restore discs, that crapware is baked into those.
posted by deezil at 7:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks deezil. I do use ccleaner. I guess I'll just keep using it.
posted by cashman at 7:29 PM on October 12, 2012

Also Malwarebytes and Microsoft Security Essentials.

And a common recommendation is to reinstall Windows every year or two.
posted by megatherium at 8:03 PM on October 12, 2012

In general, computers get slower over time mainly because people install more software on them, and software gets more demanding of hardware because more and more features get added to it.

Things like the number of files on disk really don't make much of a difference, as most software never looks at most files. Even the windows registry, which people like to blame for slowness, isn't accessed that often by most software.

I am a professional software engineer, and I can tell you a lot of reasons a particular piece of software might be slow, and the number of images files on disk is almost certainly not one of them, unless the software in question generates image libraries or something.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:07 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Make sure that all your browsers and apps always use the built-in Downloads folder when saving files. The more apps that use the same folder the better: it makes it easier for you to find your stuff but should also improve disk performance.

You don't need to clear the browser cache on exiting the browser, that just makes your next surfing session a bit slower.

Run defragmentation once disk fragmentation reaches 10%. Win 7 should actually defrag the hard drives automatically but sometimes it doesn't.

Remove as many apps as possible from autostart. The best app for handling this is Autoruns for Windows (free).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:07 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites] can uninstall most of the bundled in crapware that comes on it

For the delete-shy among us... Is there a list somewhere of safely-deleteable crapware? I've spotted some of it, but am reluctant to remove anything I can't easily recognize. (Like, no, I'm never going to play these games, but which of the "helpful" HP/Microsoft programs can I nuke without regret?)
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:17 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Deepfreeze it. Set your machine up exactly the way you like it, and Deepfreeze will keep it that way by completely restoring it with every reboot.

Your computer will chug along happily for years.
posted by davey_darling at 8:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

The 'reinstall Windows periodically' strategy is a pretty good one, since Windows does have an ever-expanding 'log' file. Here's one way to make that easier for yourself.

Step 1, partition your hard drive. Leave the OS on the C: partition and tweak your other software to use the D: (or other letter) partition for saving all your personal files (iTunes library, photos, documents, etc). Step 2, get everything set up clean and personalized and 'just so' on your system. Step 3, use the free Clonezilla software to clone/image (=make an exact copy of) your C: partition to an external hard drive.

This way, D: becomes the important personal stuff you need to worry about backing up - everything else can be reinstalled just in case. C: is where Windows lives, and since you cloned it at some point when it was just as you liked it, you can restore that clone/image back if you ever have concerns about something being wrong with Windows. You will end up having to catch up on any Windows updates that happened between when you took the clone/image and when you restore it, but at least you're starting from a known-good state.
posted by bartleby at 9:07 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mr Bluebelle says to just use Ubuntu instead.
posted by bluebelle at 9:19 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know bluebelle's suggestion may seem outside the scope of your question, but do consider it. I was a windows user fro years, then a linux user for nearly a decade, then back to windows for professional reasons.

Now that I have switched back to linux, the difference is clearer than it ever was before. And working at 100% forever is basically the core linux feature. So, if your software needs allow it, seriously think about switching.
posted by 256 at 9:28 PM on October 12, 2012

I installed Windows 7, updated it, installed the programs I need, and configured it how I like. Then before doing anything else, I imaged it with Partclone. Now, whenever something goes even vaguely awry, I can just restore from the image in about 20 minutes and I'm back to a fully functional, clean state. Much better than re-installing from scratch!

(Partclone is available as part of Clonezilla, mentioned above. You could probably use something like Ghost too, I just used what I'm used to.)
posted by vasi at 9:55 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

When it comes to removing unnecessary programs (even from a brand new machine, if you get a pre-built), I'd highly recommend the awesomely-named PC Decrapifier. Even if you knew the entire list of programs you wanted to remove, the Decrapfier will automate the process in a much more convenient way than searching for and waiting for the uninstallation of each one.
posted by EKStickland at 11:08 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Windows has had a pretty good maintenance program since XP, buried away in System Tools: Disk Cleanup. It will clean out your temp folder (but only for files older than a couple of weeks, to be safe), clear old restore points, icon thumbnails, and some other kinds of filesystem cruft like logfiles and crash reports. It doesn't reduce the size of the registry, but then, it's pretty conservative. It still typically finds several hundred megabytes of space to free up.

2. Since XP Windows has generally been a lot better about running well over time without having to reinstall. It still does tend to slow down, but most of that is the more fault of the software you install than anything else. For example, programs that dump icons in the tray that you'll never use (each one has to be loaded at start up, and consumes some memory or swap space forever depending on its function), or use system services to help themselves update and load faster. Both Chrome and Firefox now do this. (At least Firefox's is set to Manual.) Microsoft Office has long used an always-running helper program to get itself into memory faster. OpenOffice used to do it, but more recently makes that optional. I don't think LibreOffice does it. iTunes installs multiple services: Apple Update, an iPod hardware helper, and Bonjour, regardless of whether you have any Apple devices! You can remove many of these things using msconfig (enter that in the Start menu's text box to start it quickly), some more by disabling them in the Services snap-in (enter "services" into that same box), but some programs will just reenable them the next time they're run. Notably, Adobe Reader uses an invisible daemon to load faster, and if you remove it using msconfig it'll just put itself back the next time it's run. (It's usually only malware that resorts to that particular trick.)

3. Fewer programs these days try to sneak bloatware onto your system if you neglect to uncheck a random checkbox, but one program that does it, horribly, is the installer for Flash Player, which tries to install McAfee, yet another reason to hasten its exit from the internet. You have to uncheck its box before you download, not during installation. Microsoft is getting into the act now with its accursed Bing Bar, which is actually an optional component from Windows Update!

4. One particular reason trying to sneak an installation of McAfee by is bad? Because you should NOT keep more than one memory-resident virus/malware scanner on your system at once! It will be bad. And if your scanner is Norton or McAfee, dump it today and get Microsoft Security Essentials. It's free, lightweight, and pretty good.
posted by JHarris at 2:17 AM on October 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

My main home PC (dual boot Windows/Mint Linux) is still XP on the Windows side, mainly because I dread the job of reinstalling all the stuff I have on it. (Start Menu /All Programs is now four top-to-bottom columns; next time it wraps around it'll be too big for the 1280x1024 screen.)

This system has survived an immense number of, uh, adverse events** and vast amounts of software installed and it's still just as snappy as it ever was. My monthly process is:

= boot from CD (Ultimate Boot CD 4 Windows)
= with DriveImageXML, make a dirty C: drive image as a safety net

= Back in Windows normal boot mode
= full AV scan #1 (I use MS Security Essentials)
= full AV scan #2 (Malwarebytes, this one has to be updated manually first)
= uninstall anything you want to get rid of now. For uninstalling, Revo Uninstaller free version is your tool. Software vendors' uninstall routines always, always leave crap behing. Revo will find it wherever it lurks.
= update anything that needs updating, like your firewall/HIDS version (Comodo here)
= run autoruns.exe, super free utility from Sysinternals. It will tell you absolutely everything that's autostarting at boot time and offers an easy way to disable any of it temporarily as a test or delete the entry permanently if you're sure. All the automatic startup and systray junk other software installed without asking, autoruns is your one stop set-phasers-to-kill solution. Oh, and like all the other Sysinternals tools it's stand-alone, no Windows installation required. Can't say enough about the Sysinternals folks.
= optional, but really useful: DriverView and RegDllView, free from Nirsoft, and export the output against any troubleshooting need. Nir Sofer is the only Windows internals guy I know of who really seems to be in the same class as Sysinternals' Mark Russinovich ( who MS had to hire because he knew too much. ) N.b. some of the other NirSoft utilities, though not these two, use such low-level snooping methods they are sometimes called out by malware/AV checkers as evil. I turn my AV off when using them. In 10-odd years of using Nirsoft stuff these warnings have always been false positives.
= CCleaner pass to get rid of junk and temporary files and fix registry issues. IMHO the Ccleaner registry checker really hits a sweet spot between not doing enough on the one hand and cutting too deep and breaking stuff on the other.
= run chkdsk c, no repairs, just so you'll know if it sees anything wrong
= run chkdsk c /f (repairs turned on.) It'll demand a reboot.
= reboot so chkdsk can run
= back in Windows normal mode
= run the System File Checker (sfc /scannow). Most convenient if you've copied in the /i386 directory from your Windows install CD to your hard drive somewhere; doesn't have to be on C: but the registry will have to be fixed in a couple of places to point to it, wherever it is.

= Boot UBCD4WIN again.
= Defrag. Auslogics is on the CD and does a fine job.
= make a clean DriveImageXML C: drive image. Store it on a different drive/partition from the one where your c: resides. External USB hard drives were born for this job.
= run Double Driver; save to (preferably) USB HD.

= Back in normal Windows
= run HjackThis and save the output, just for documentation purposes.

= Done. While all these steps were going to completion you were also doing your monthly housecleaning so you can put your vacuum away now too.

Now obviously a lot of this needs to be revised for Win 7 and 64 bit. Much of it has already been fixed (CCleaner, Revo, Sysinternals, NirSoft) but not all of it. There isn't ever going to be a 64-bit UBCD4WIN, alas, and I'm frankly still dithering about what to use as an external boot device for Win7 and later systems. Also dithering greatly about how to handle the ever-growing, no-deleting WinSxS directory structure problem, since it makes c: drive images start at too big and progress to enormous. Even with all the sh*t I have installed on XP here, a DiXML c: image with low compression is only 18gb. Recommendations would be welcomed gratefully!

* *(including believe it or not a lightning strike resulting in a new motherboard. After the new mobo was in place I figured well, it won't cost me anything but a little time to try just once to recover the old install so I restored the most recent C: image, booted straight to safe mode, deleted every device driver in sight, and only then tried booting normally. XP re-recognixed just barely enough of the new hardware to give me 640x480 4-color OMG DESKTOP! But that's all it takes to be where you can install all-new device drivers and proceed happily onward.)
posted by jfuller at 9:26 AM on October 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

Ya know jfuller, hunt up a few links for those tools and you'd have the makings if a good FPP there!
posted by JHarris at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I just replaced a 4.5 year old laptop that ran Windows like new. I'd still be using it if it hadn't failed at the hardware level. And I'm a computer programmer both by trade and hobby; I care about the performance of my machines. I switched from XP to 7 somewhere in that time frame, but otherwise did no special work to keep it working well except the setup which is simple:

1) Format. First thing. Reinstall from Microsoft Windows disks, not OEM ones. No manufacturer bloatware/crapware preinstalled that way.
2) Don't install it. No matter what. Don't install anything. (Ok, almost).

Even all the hardware drivers, most of those are bloated these days*. Don't install it. I've seen SnagIt 7 and SnagIt 8 installed on the same machine at the same time ... blech! Most commercial software these days wants to "own" your machine, be up in your face, be always running to update itself, to respond to button presses, to do things "faster" or "easier".

The result is that every piece of hardware (driver) and every piece of software you've ever used is still lying around wasting resources. So don't ever install it! ESPECIALLY if its website makes a big deal about being free. (Besides the rare quality open source software that makes an unusual point of that, a website talking about software being free is the biggest tip-off that this is something you'll regret installing.) All those background processes add up.

In general, prefer an online tool (no installation!) to a downloaded one. Prefer open source tools (but beware scammer's copies) to commercial ones.

I also keep a virtual machine around (VmWare Player and Microsoft Virtual PC are both free -- though you might be cheating a bit on the "second" windows license) to install junkier things into. When I shut down the virtual machine, it can't be slowing anything else down.

* I downloaded just the important drivers for my new machine. Over a gigabyte! The Intel WiFi drivers are over 300MB on their own?! I'm going to be extra careful with "drivers" like those and try to pare them down. Sometimes you can extract them and just install the hardware driver from the .INF file, without running their setup tool that installs a bunch of other junk.
posted by arantius at 12:23 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep your files on a shared network space, like Google Docs/Google Drive, or Dropbox, or anything like that.

Keep a document of what things you have installed.

Once every two years or so, reinstall your computer. Go down the list of things you had installed, reinstall as necessary. Either that, or buy a Mac every two years or so, from my experiences, at least.
posted by talldean at 4:25 PM on October 16, 2012

> 2) Don't install it. No matter what. Don't install anything. (Ok, almost).

Very much agree. There's a good selection of OSS portable no-install apps for PCs now and that's probably going to be the main part of my solution to MS's winsxs fuckup. I don't think it'll have to be forever; slowly the knowledge of how to safely prune winsxs will leak out of redmond or be discovered independently. My memory goes back even to the Elder Days when NT came out and the registry suddenly became much more important than it had been. MS's official line on hand-editing the registry then was exactly the same as their line on hand-pruning winsxs now, namely "Don't even THINK about it, the damage is instant and terrible!" But there were ways, and the ways became known, and now registry hacks are a way of life. The cycle may not repeat but I don't think it's a bad bet. Until then a combination of portable and web apps keeps the C drive's beer gut minimized.
posted by jfuller at 4:55 AM on October 17, 2012

First, Windows 7 is a LOT less susceptible to software entropy than Windows XP was. Second, buy an SSD. SSDs hide a LOT of performance issues, in a good way.

As to your question, I would just plan for reformatting every couple of years. For most people, there are a core of a dozen or fewer apps they actually use regularly. Back the data for those apps up, (which will help if you ever lose your drive) figure out how to reinstall them fairly quickly ( helps) and just reformat every 12-24 months. You'll spend less time doing that than fighting to keep your machine 100% cruft-free.

Reinstalling Windows (or OS X and this happens on OS X as well) takes less than an hour, putting your basic apps back is maybe another couple of hours. Reinstall the other stuff as you need it.
posted by cnc at 5:32 PM on October 18, 2012

Everything important's been covered. Defrag has the biggest effect. You can help defrag by not creating the biggest branchiest filetree in your computer (folders within folders). I tend to burn lots of stuff to DVDand delete it to clean up my computer and clutter up my bedroom.

But can i recommend a firefox addon called ecleaner? I use a lot of addons, and dump most of them. I accidentally found this one, which cleans up the extensions (name?) all the old addons i dumped left behind in firefox, and should you happen to be like me, you will find a notable increase in performance after you delete a surprising amount of junk. (You have to click on the addon's 'options' and just close after, i think, it's not immediately obvious.)
posted by maiamaia at 6:23 AM on December 2, 2012

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