Keep Your Computer Running Smoothly

Every couple of days, I get a link via e-mail to a new online video from a pro-family group. It may be a promotional spot for an upcoming conference, it may be a constitutional attorney commenting in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, or it may be me, fumbling my way through one of my Stoplight video commentaries.

Sometimes, they play smoothly enough; other times, they stutter and stop and freeze-frame and stall.

Working with video, audio and large documents online can bring many computers to a halt. As content gets more bandwidth-intensive, it becomes more important to keep your PC tuned up the same way you have your car tuned up before taking a long trip.

So far in this series, we’ve talked about software and technology you can use or acquire. This time around, we’re going to talk about getting the most out of the tool you probably use most often for activism: your home PC.

The following suggestions are all pretty simple, and, except for the last one, they’re all free.

Number One: Clean the House

The longer you have a computer, the more cluttered the hard drive gets, and the more cluttered it gets, the slower everything runs. Windows computers have a Disk Cleanup utility that will clear out the junk and help everything run better.

Click on Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and select Disk Cleanup. It will think for a few moments and then offer to clear out lots of leftovers, such as temporary Internet files. Look over the list and consider what you’d like to leave in or clean out. Generally, there’s nothing in the list you can’t live without. Then click OK.

This is good to do on a monthly basis.

Number Two: Clean the Attic

If you’re like most of us, there are lots of programs on your computer that either were already installed when you bought it, or that you installed a long time ago and no longer use. It’s a good thing to go through now and then and delete the ones you no longer use or never knew were on there to begin with. Remember, the less stuff you have on your hard drive, the faster it goes.

There are two parts to this one: First, click on Start, All Programs and look for programs you no longer want or need. If it’s something that came with your computer, consider for a moment whether you’ll ever want to use it, because it may be difficult to reinstall. If it’s something you bought and for which you have the disk or download file, it’ll be simple to reinstall if you need it again. Anyway, if you see an “Uninstall” selection, click that and let it go through the process of removing the software from your PC. Then continue down the list.

The second part is to click Start, Control Panel and select Add or Remove Programs. This is where you can get rid of the ones that didn’t offer that helpful “Uninstall” option. Take your time and examine the list one by one. Games you no longer play are often the ones that will free up the most space. If you absolutely cannot figure out what something is, it may be best to leave it alone. Click Change/ Remove to excise the ones you no longer want or need.

This is good to do once or twice a year.

Number Three: Tidy Up Startup

This is an easy one. There are some programs that automatically load when you turn on your computer. Once or twice a year, Click on Start, All Programs and look in the Startup folder. Here you’ll find a few of those programs. If you see any you can live without, right click on them and select “Delete.” This just deletes the shortcut to the program, not the program itself.

Some programs, such as the Adobe Reader and most media players, ask whether you want them to load a little startup program each time you turn on the computer. I’ve found it’s generally best to say “no” when you’re installing them. If you already have them installed, search for the option in the program to turn it off again. Your computer will boot more quickly and will have more free memory.

Number Four: Unshuffle the Deck

Alright, now that you’ve got all that accomplished, it’s time for defragmentation. If you wanna sound hip, just say “Defragging.”

When a hard drive is new, all the files on it are saved in a nice, orderly fashion. It’s easy and quick for your computer to call them up. But over time, as information is added and deleted, added and deleted, parts of all the files are scattered all over the drive, and your computer has to go searching hither and yon to call them up.

It’s analogous to a new deck of cards that has all the suits lined up. When you first take it out of the pack, it’s simple to find all the hearts in order. But once you shuffle, shuffle and shuffle again, you really have to go digging to find all those hearts and get them ordered up.

Defragmentation puts the pieces of files scattered all over your hard drive back in order. That means your computer will boot faster, and programs and documents will load faster. It’ll even speed up your Internet connection. Really.

First, pick a time when you’re not going to be using the computer for a while. Turn off your screensaver by right clicking an empty spot on your Desktop, select Properties (or Personalize), then select the Screensaver tab. Select “(None)” for your screensaver. Then close all of your open programs.

Click Start, My Computer, then right click on your hard drive. (It’s probably labeled the C: drive.) Select Properties, click on the Tools tab and click Defragment Now. A program window will open, and you’ll get to select the C: drive again. Then click the Defragment button. The process can take a few minutes or more than an hour, depending on the size of your hard drive, how full it is and how fragmented your files are. I usually start it late in the evening, turn off the monitor and just let it run.

Defragging is good to do every month or two, depending on how much you use your computer.

Number Five: Thanks for the Memory

OK, now the one that will lift a few dollars out of your wallet: The most cost-effective upgrade to improve a computer’s performance is to increase its memory. It will help your computer boot in less time, help programs load and run more quickly and allow you to have more programs open at the same time without everything going into slow motion.

The Windows operating system loves, loves, loves lots of random access memory (RAM). Right out of the box, many computers are equipped with 512 megabytes of RAM. But Windows XP runs best with at least twice that, meaning a gigabyte or more. (One gigabyte equals about a thousand megabytes.) For Windows Vista, you should have two gigabytes or more.

To see how much memory your computer has, click on the Start button, right click on My Computer and select Properties. Among other helpful stuff, you’ll see how much RAM is installed. If you have 512 megabytes or less, consider upgrading.

Check your manual or your computer manufacturer’s Web site to get the specifics on the memory your computer uses. There are many variations, and you must buy exactly the right kind. If you’re fairly computer savvy, you can install it yourself. If not, most stores that sell memory upgrades will also install it.

Mark Your Calendar

If you make the first four steps part of your routine, your computer will be happier, run faster and you’ll get more done. If you don’t, just repeat quietly to yourself: “Computers are here to make our lives easier and more productive.” l

Mr. Shepard is managing editor of CitizenLink. This article appeared in Citizen magazine. Copyright © 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.