7 Tune-Up Tricks to Improve PC Performance

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print


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A grim economic outlook has forced many companies to delay new PC purchases. Can solution providers turn that negative into a positive by breathing new life into old PCs? These 7 tune-up tips will help.

The economic downturn has hit both solution providers and their customers in the pocketbook. Many businesses are delaying purchasing new PCs and are stretching out their replacement cycles to five years or more. If your customers aren’t buying new PCs, any revenue and profit from hardware sales goes right out the window.

There are ways to turn that dearth of new hardware sales into a positive by telling customers to hold off on new purchases, and still realize out some revenue. The answer lies with something as simple as a tune-up. Just like in automotive maintenance, tune-ups can improve performance and extend the life of equipment. Many mechanics recommend sinking a few maintenance dollars into a vehicle instead of seeking a replacement. That same idea can be applied to the lowly desktop PC, and no one is better equipped to perform those tune-ups than a solution provider.

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Of course, there are many ways to go about tuning up a PC, and there are many software packages that can be used for tune-ups. However, there’s no one method or piece of software that can automatically fix all ills. Solution providers will need to take a pragmatic approach, which guarantees results and won’t cost the customer an arm and a leg. With that in mind, there are some simple tricks and freeware packages that can offer substantial PC performance improvements.

Tip 1: Remove Unnecessary Apps
The first thing to do when tuning up a PC (especially an XP machine) is to evaluate all of the installed applications and remove any that are not needed. Many are surprised at the number of applications that an Internet-connected PC can accumulate over time and how unnecessary many of those applications actually are. Be sure to document what was installed and check the usage of the application in the Add/Remove Programs dialog box. If a good backup has been performed, a technician can take a relatively aggressive approach to removing programs. This is pretty basic, but can offer some real-world performance improvements and give some insight into how the PC has been used over its lifespan.

Tip 2: Find & Remove Orphans
Even though an application is uninstalled, odds are crumbs are left behind in the registry, INI file and orphaned directories. CCleaner, a freeware tool, is a powerful ally in removing unlinked file entries, perform a registry cleanup and numerous other tasks, all of which can help improve system performance. While using CCleaner, make sure to check what applications are being loaded during startup and remove any that are not needed. CCleaner offers the ability to check for third-party installed applications and may even uncover some items overlooked in Tip 1.

Tip 3: Vanquish Malware
Check for and remove any viruses, spyware, adware and other malware. Few PCs—desktop or notebook—operate without some form of malware protection. But even the best antivirus and antispyware applications can’t keep everything out—especially if their signature files aren’t kept up to date. Particularly pesky are rogue and malicious adware apps that often elude antivirus apps. Solution providers should use conventional security software to scan for malicious code. They should then use freeware apps such as AdAware by Lavasoft or SpyBot Search & Destroy to remove the unwanted bits of software.

Tip 4: Update Everything
Everything from the BIOS to third-party application drivers requires periodic updates and patches, and not everyone is updated automatically. That means applying all software patches, updating the BIOS, installing updated drivers and verifying that all of the associated settings are optimized for speed. For example, boot time can be reduced by turning off the full memory test diagnostic that is run by the BIOS, many drivers also have settings that impact performance – ranging from enabling DMA for IDE drives to color depth and resolution for a display adaptor. Of course all of this is dependent upon the hardware installed and the systems configuration. Surprisingly, significant performance increases can be realized by paying extra attention to those details.

Tip 5: Optimize Windows
Many people complain that Windows—particularly Vista—is a resource hog. Perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be the case. Some relatively simple registry tweaks could help maximize performance. A good source of information for registry performance can be found at www.tweakxp.com. Solution providers should also consider disabling some of the Windows services that are not needed. The Web site www.blackviper.com offers a plethora of information that can help solution providers determine what services can be unloaded or not loaded to improve performance.

Tip 6: Defrag
When in doubt, defragment the disk drive to improve performance. A defrag should be the last step of the performance enhancement process and will often speed things up a little, but more importantly – the defrag process also tests the hard drive and can uncover any potential problems. Depending on the system, a defrag can take several hours, so it is one of those processes that is best left to run overnight.

Tip 7: Upgrade Memory & Hardware
Any XP system that has less than 384 MBs of RAM will benefit from a memory upgrade. The good news is that RAM is really cheap. The bad news is that the system will have to be opened up to install the memory and that could introduce other problems, especially if regular maintenance has not been performed on the system. Opening up a system that has been untouched for years can lead to some surprises; technicians have been known to find dust clogging up cooling fans and filters, or even worse – spider webs or mouse nests. So you may want to offer a memory upgrade as a last resort and may want to consider upgrading other hardware at the same time, such as installing a discrete graphics adaptor. But, be careful with hardware upgrades, after all is said and done, a new low-end PC may prove to be a better performer and less expensive than upgrading a four- or five-year-old system.

The idea behind these seven steps is to help solution providers to build a tune-up business that is easy to do and offers measurable results, while saving customers a few dollars by delaying new PC purchases. More importantly, PC tune-ups help to give a solution provider "face-time" with customers and also help the solution provider to better understand their customer’s environments. With relationships solidified and systems taken care of, it should be much easier for solution providers to garner new sales in the future or even sell hardware and software upgrades. Simply put, tune-ups can create a situation where everybody wins.


Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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