Help me rid my computer of clutter for faster performance.
January 9, 2009 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me rid my computer of clutter for faster performance.

My computer says it only has ~7MB free, 35 used. Lately the performance has been less than's quite slow, actually.

Over the past two years I've added a number of programs, but not THAT many. As far as I know I've got MS Office, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, several photo managing programs, printer software, a PDF maker, camera software and some miscellany. (It's annoying that every add-on and peripheral requires installation of another memory hog, but anyway I digress). In any case, I'm unsure of what has used up so much space. I had a lot of images on it but I've moved these to an external drive.

For troubleshooting, I've run two different spyware removal programs (Spybot is one of them) plus CC Cleaner. I've also tried to degfrag, but I haven't noticed any improvements.

How can I figure out what is cluttering up my computer, and then how can I remove it? What steps should I take to get the performance back up? I've tried to remove programs that I don't think I use, but there are several that I don't recognize and I'm afraid to screw something up.

FYI, its a Windows laptop running Vista.
posted by mintchip to Technology (14 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: P.S. I didn't find any Spyware, just a few cookies that Spybot recommended I remove.
posted by mintchip at 9:27 PM on January 9, 2009

It's unclear what you mean by "35 used".

Add RAM. It's cheap.
posted by intermod at 9:32 PM on January 9, 2009

Windirstat will give you a good idea of what is occupying your hard drive, and Windows task manager is the easiest way of tell you want is using your RAM.

Printer and camera software are pretty notorious for being bloatware, so you may not want them to start at startup. You can use CCleaner to fiddle with that.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 9:36 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you have windows, the forums at are good for care-and-maintenance advice, and have a whole article devoted to "what files can I get rid of".

Give that a read and try a couple of their suggestions; you could get rid of rather a bit that way.

Another program that's more of a spacehog than you'd think is Norton's Anti-virus; I got a freeware anti-virus version of AVG that takes up much less space and is just as good. (But try the thing first, if you're a little leery of tinkering with your virus protection.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 PM on January 9, 2009

I don't quite understand. You say you have 7MB free and 35 used, but.. of what?
There's no way you've got a 42MB HDD, and I doubt you've got 42MB of RAM, either.

First thing to do, though: Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:16 PM on January 9, 2009

Start Menu --> Run --> Type msconfig into the text box that appears and hit OK.

A program called System Configuration Utility will open. Click on the Startup tab. My bet is that everything under this tab will be ticked and in all likelihood, not everything here needs to be checked. Often when you install a new program, it will add something here to startup when Windows boots. It's crazy to have a program start up automatically if you don't need it, especially when you consider the drain on system resources that having all these programs running represents. Common programs that do this include Adobe, printer programs, Java and most anti-virus programs.

Without seeing a screen shot or having a list of everything that's listed under the Startup tab, I can't be of more help, but if you can post a picture or a list then I would be happy to help further. The only thing I can recommend is that you look through the list, see if there's anything that you just instinctively know dosen't need to start when Windows boots and un-tick its box.

If there's anything you're unsure of, Google the item. For instance, a common program listed here is a program called CTHELPER.EXE. If you type CTHELPER.EXE into Google, ihe first search result is the Liutilities site, which provides you with information about what the program is and whether or not it should be disabled (in the case of CTHELPER, it should not be disabled).

Once all that's done, your computer should probably be running a bit faster. Make sure you also delete all unnecessary temporary files and consider installing and running Autopatcher for all the latest fixes to Windows. Also go to Add/Remove Programs on the Control Panel and see if there's any programs in there that can be deleted.

Also go to Control Panel->Administrative Tools->Services. Disable any "started" services you don't need, like Fax Support, Remote Registry, etc. etc. Be a bit careful, though, read the descriptions before you go berzerk and like before, if you're unsure about any of the items and whether they are essential files or not, Google them.

If all of this doesn't help, consider the fact that at some stage in their life, Windows installations just get slow and clunky and need to be nuked from orbit. This can happen as early as six months but if you're lucky you might get a year or so before you need to just bite the bullet and format/reinstall Windows. Just make sure you back up any documents you can't live without (word files, pictures, purchased iTunes songs, etc) and, if you have the time, look in the Add/Remove Programs on the Control Panel and make a list of programs you'll definitely want to reinstall when you get the new installation of Windows back up and running. Trust me, doing these two things when reinstalling Windows can save you a lot of time and will help prevent any big headaches.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:27 PM on January 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

I don't quite understand. You say you have 7MB free and 35 used, but.. of what?

It seems obvious that the OP is suffering from Non-geek Unit Confusion Disorder. He means GB, not MB.

(Being a geek, I don't understand this disorder at all. MB vs GB is as obvious as fl.oz. vs gal to me.)
posted by Netzapper at 10:30 PM on January 9, 2009

I'm guessing 7 GB is what you mean, because 7MB left on a hard disk means utter fail. I second Windirstat.

If you really just want to start over and start clean with only the few programs you know you're going to need, you might as well format (as long as you still know where your Vista/Dreamweaver/Photoshop discs are). This should be a lot easier considering you have an external hard drive, so you can also move over all your important files that would be lost in a format.
posted by azarbayejani at 10:31 PM on January 9, 2009

I'm guessing Mintchip means 35GB used, 7GB free, of HD space...

One thing you can do to free up hard drive space, if this is the case, (though, frankly, ~42 GB sounds suspiciously small for any computer sold in the last three years...) is to download SequoiaView.

It's a hard drive space visualizer, that will analyze your drive and show you, in BIG GIANT BOXES where your space is. I've found that when you can visualize space across the entire drive, it helps you INSTANTLY track down culprits you may have forgotten about. Large ZIP files that I have since unzipped, installed, etc, are frequently problems for me.

With regards to other cleanup and speed up, make sure you check what programs are launching at startup. To do this in Vista:
Start --> Type "defender" --> Select Windows Defender --> Click Software Explorer --> Select Category "Startup Programs" --> Click "Show For All Users" --> Start looking at programs that aren't "disabled" and determining if you think they need to launch at startup. If you're not sure, you can leave them, but realistically, almost nothing *needs* to launch at startup. If you turn something off and a device stops working, turn back the item most likely to be related to that device. Play a bit carefully, but it's all easily reverted. If you want, you can take a System Restore point.

Remember, merely having a program *installed* doesn't use any resources other than hard drive space. (And having a ton of free hard drive space won't do anything for performance, unless you're running low on virtual memory, which Windows itself will warn you about.) Instead, programs that launch, either at startup, or which run what are called Services (and which reside in the background) actively use resources and slow things down.

Is your hard drive light blinking all the time, even when you're not using your computer or any software? Something might be running in the background that's "paging" (or reading) your drive. When this happens, it effectively forces other, legitimate requests to wait in line. If you're low on RAM, and really as a matter of course, Windows will move some things out of RAM (which is fast, short-term memory that it needs to access right away for programs you're actively using) and into what's called "virtual memory", which is space on your hard drive that is considerably slower, but is formatted in a way that it can be restored to RAM when you start using a minimized program again, or some such.

If you have 1GB or less of RAM (hold Windows key and hit Pause, look at "system memory" to see), you need to upgrade to at least 2GB to get your mileage out of Vista. RAM is pretty cheap, feel free to MeMail me for deets. You can tell if you're habitually running low also by launching the Task Manager. (Right click somewhere empty on the task bar and his "task manager," alternatively, Ctrl + Alt + Del --> Start Task Manager) From Task Manager, click the "Performance" tab. Look at the Physical Memory field. Total is your total ram in KB (so ~2046 is 2GB) and you can see what's available roughly by looking at the Cached total.

Vista tries to guess what you'll use your memory for and loads some frequently used programs into your RAM so that they'll launch faster. This is why your "free" RAM is very small. Vista is very fast at overwriting the cached memory if it turns out you need something else, but still, if your cached number is low AND your free number is low, something is amiss. ("Low", for the sake of this discussion, is likely under 500.)

Defragging isn't necessary on Vista, strictly. That's why it's kind of a pain to fine. (That is, Vista is supposed to do several things that help keep the disk unfragmented through regular usage, including defragging itself at regular intervals. This is likely why you haven't noticed huge performance gains from your own Defrag.

Also check what programs you have actively running by doing that Task Manager thing I described above, clicking Processes and seeing if anything looks completely ridiculous. You really can lock down culprits by clicking on the Memory column header twice to sort by RAM usage DESC--this will show the programs using the most RAM at the top. It's not unusual for Firefox or IE to get into the 80-200MB (or, as it will read, 80,000 or 200,000) range, but if you just booted up your machine, haven't launched anything and you see a program over the, say, 60,000 mark... you should look into what it is and see why it's using that much memory doing nothing. Vista describes the programs pretty well, so you'll know what it's talking about. If it's something you know you don't need open, first take down its name so you can nix it from startup launching as described above, and then click on it and click "end process." It'll warn you, but click okay. (Naturally, don't end a process you're actively using, like if you're in the middle of a Word document or something.)

Hopefully some of these tips help. Let me know if you have any other questions.
posted by disillusioned at 10:45 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Download a trial version of Tune-Up Utilities and run a bunch of the scans and optimizers, particularly the ones that have to do with the registry.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 6:51 AM on January 10, 2009

Empty the trash folder. (The trash can on the main desktop view - right click and select empty).
posted by Xhris at 8:38 AM on January 10, 2009

How does the trash folder slow down the computer?
posted by gjc at 9:16 AM on January 10, 2009

Disable all the eye candy.
posted by katrielalex at 10:09 AM on January 10, 2009

My computer says it only has ~7MB free, 35 used. Lately the performance has been less than's quite slow, actually.

I assume you mean GB instead of MB, and has others have noted this isn't related your your perceived performance. I don't use Vista, but here are tips that have worked on friends' computers.

If you need more disk space

1) Right-click your recycle bin, select properties, and reduce the amount of space it has reserved.
2) Delete all but the most recent system restore point.

To improve perceived performance

1) Disabling all startup programs as others have described.
2) Disabling aero.
3) Disabling the sidebar.
4) Buying more RAM
posted by PueExMachina at 11:28 AM on January 10, 2009

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