What FREE things do you do to keep a Windows 7 PC running fast?
September 23, 2016 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm comfortable with computers, but far from an expert. But other people see my comfort and presume that I'm a total pro and ask that I take a look at their PC, because "its running too slow". What FREE bit of software would you recommend to optimize a person's Windows 7 PC so runs a bit faster or smoother? These users all use the Microsoft Suite and Firefox. Is there FREE software on the PC that deletes old caches or files or something similar?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
CCleaner - free version

Also, a general virus and malware scan including, but not limited to:

Malwarebytes
posted by bluecore at 9:10 AM on September 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


The above for sure, and also anything that can help mitigate startup programs that aren't strictly necessary (CC Cleaner may do this, and there are built-in ways to do this in windows, although somewhat obscure). Especially if people have a habit of shutting down their computers when not in use, that initial startup can feel super laggy until all of the programs that have decided to come along for the ride are up and running. A number of those unwanted (at least on startup) programs can also hog processing resources if they are running in the background.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2016


Definitely CCleaner, which can also do selective startup as well as clean out crap files.

Uninstall any junk programs that came with the computer.

The best thing I've found for PCs is to wipe them clean and reinstall Windows every 2 years or so.
posted by radioamy at 9:19 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Look at the startup menu and get rid of things you don't use. For instance, I rarely use the cd burner and don't need that software running. I rarely print, so I don't keep the printer tools running. 0Many vendors add all sorts of junk that you will seldom, if ever use. See what toolbars and extensions are enabled in Firefox, many are useless and some use too much memory. Visit the vendor site and check for newer drivers and potentially updated BIOS - this is mostly for security.

Best pieces of advice you can give anybody -
Back up. Back Up Right Now. Have a backup plan and follow it.
Update your passwords. Especially after the Yahoo exposure of account info.
If the memory usage is generally above 50% on a regular basis, you'll see a noticeable improvement with more RAM.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


A lot of the time, non-experts end up installing software without really intending to do so (like clicking through software installers that bundle other software) or installing software that is just barely on this side of malware (like the screen savers that also scrape web browsing history, but say they're doing so in the EULA).

Autoruns will show all the software that's launching itself automatically - going through and cleaning up software that's running in the background and doing nothing useful for the user will often speed machines up.

If the memory usage is generally above 50% on a regular basis, you'll see a noticeable improvement with more RAM.

As an asterisk to this, memory usage should generally be high, because Windows will automagically use unused physical RAM to cache frequently used files. It's when actual use gets high that you'll get big performance gains by upgrading the RAM. This article is aimed at server administrators but discusses how to view how much of the RAM being used is caching files.
posted by Candleman at 9:44 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


While it's laudable that you want to help others, I strongly, strongly advise you to leave people to their own devices, especially because by your own admission you are not an IT professional, and particularly because the complaint "it's running too slow" is so vague. Once you touch another person's computer, anything that goes wrong with it afterward magically becomes your fault, even years later, on the grounds that you were the last person to work on it and "it didn't do that before." Just don't go there unless you want to provide these people free technical support for the rest of their lives.
posted by kindall at 10:23 AM on September 23, 2016 [16 favorites]


When I had a corporate job, I would create tutorials (preferably one page in length) with screen shots and clear, simple instructions to help people do things like clear their cache. Then I would email it to them if they complained to me about certain kinds of problems.

People who use computers need to learn a few basics. No software in the world can protect against rampant ignorance. I think it works better to spoon feed them a few basics rather than offer to fix the problem for them because the problem is likely to recur and, beyond emailing them the tutorial again, I don't want to deal with it 500 more times.
posted by Michele in California at 10:49 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


You can set CCleaner to autorun. Tweak the Firefox settings so that it keeps the cookies for their most-used sites, or they'll complain about having to log in to everything again after the program runs.
posted by AFABulous at 10:54 AM on September 23, 2016


CleanUp!

Keeping all your software up to date really helps. With a doubleclick Ninite will update/install a bunch of software.

Install SpyBot with Ninite, and run the immunize tool.
posted by gregr at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Once you touch another person's computer, anything that goes wrong with it afterward magically becomes your fault, even years later, on the grounds that you were the last person to work on it and "it didn't do that before." Just don't go there unless you want to provide these people free technical support for the rest of their lives.

Yes, this.

I do this for a parent, and I'm not about to be anyone else's tech support buddy. Even then, it's lead our relationship being overly focused on technical support issues -- with my parent, who I've known for my entire life and we surely could have other things to talk about sometime? Maybe ask how I'm doing and what I've been up to lately?

It's not something I do for random people who are asking for help. It seems like a good way to make new friends, but actually it just leads to people being upset with you for things that aren't your fault, or perhaps are your fault -- that cleaner program which deletes all the saved web browser cookies will mean they are logged out of everything, and many less computer savvy folks don't keep good track of what their passwords are. If you don't know about how someone prefers to use their computer you might end up doing things that they actually really wouldn't want done. (Yes, they should learn to manage passwords better, but explaining that and why they shouldn't use dictionary words even though "it's hard to guess" and "who would want to break into my account" takes a lot more time than running a program.)
posted by yohko at 1:33 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I strongly, strongly advise you to leave people to their own devices, especially because by your own admission you are not an IT professional, and particularly because the complaint "it's running too slow" is so vague.

Trust me when I say this has already been considered, I have no problem drawing boundaries and this will be a quid pro quo relationship with benefits for both sides if I decide to help.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2016


If you have the responsibility issue sorted, then absolutely the way to have Windows running at full speed is to reinstall from scratch, and whatever apps you really use installed afterwards, then documents restored from backup. I used to do this every year without fail and never had a problem, always made a dramatic improvement.
posted by tillsbury at 10:57 PM on September 23, 2016


Windows Update could be running continuously when the PC is on, consuming up to half of the CPU. Easy to verify. Set Windows Update setting to 'Never check for updates', reboot, then see if the PC is faster.

This is a known problem with Win7. The solution is free from Microsoft, but not simple or obvious. The problem is a moving target, sometimes with the fix changing each month. Check Ask Woody for the latest.
posted by Homer42 at 1:19 AM on September 24, 2016


There are loads of things that can slow a Windows box to a crawl. The most frequent ones I see are:

1. Antivirus suite loses its mind after a failed update. Fix: download latest installer for AV suite, uninstall existing AV suite, reboot, run downloaded installer.

2. Windows Update loses its mind. Fix: various (consult Google). Most common fix that works for me: open an administrator's cmd window and run the following commands:

net stop wuauserv
net stop bits
rmdir /s C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution
net stop cryptsvc
rmdir /s C:\Windows\System32\catroot2
net start cryptsvc
net start wuauserv

Be very, very careful not to hit the Enter key prematurely when typing the rmdir commands.

3. Hard disk drive develops bad sectors, causing lengthy retries on disk reads. Diagnosis: use PassMark DiskCheckup to read the drive's SMART info, and look for nonzero Raw Value numbers under Current Pending Sector Count and Uncorrectable Sector Count. If you find some, evaluate the health of the drive by looking at the Raw Value for Reallocated Sector Count. If that value is under about 20, the drive is probably worth repairing (technical skill required); if over about 200, it wants replacing as a matter of urgency. In between is a judgement call.

4. Installation is crawling with "optimizers" and toolbars and trojans and assorted foistware. Fix: uninstall everything with "toolbar" in its name and everything from Uniblue, then install and run the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and have it delete everything it finds. Then teach the user to scrutinize every dialog box on any installer they ever use, looking for optional "special offer" and "bonus software" and "set home page" and "set search engine" checkboxes to turn off. Also introduce them to Ninite and persuade them that it should be their preferred method for installing any of the packages it supports.

5. Disk is heavily fragmented. Windows versions since Vista have had periodic background defrag built in, but it's not very thorough. I like MyDefrag. Running its System Disk Monthly defragmentation script every couple of months will generally yield noticeable improvements in boot speed and responsiveness. During installation, turn off the checkboxes for its screensaver and scheduled task options.

MyDefrag can take a long time to run, so I will generally also install Insomnia so that the PC can be forced to stay awake while it does so.
posted by flabdablet at 8:04 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reinstalling Windows, by the way, is all very well until you find yourself reinstalling a version that's a few years old, at which point the new installation will just get hammered by Windows Update.

If you're working on more than a handful of PCs, get yourself a copy of WSUS Offline Update, stick it on a nice big external drive, and run its inbuilt updater every so often. It will grab offline copies of pretty much everything available on Windows Update, and give you the ability to apply those to any number of other PCs without their needing to hit the Internet for them.
posted by flabdablet at 8:14 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


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