/ 15 April 2008

Free tune-up tools keep your PC humming

Making a Windows-based computer truly personal takes both time and money. Not only do you have to buy the computer, but you also spend many hours setting it up just the way you like it.

That’s why it’s frustrating when, over time, your well-tuned Windows box starts to get sluggish or unreliable.

The good news is that there’s rarely been a better time to take advantage of tools freely available over the internet to help you keep your machine running its best.

Gone are the days when you had to lay out good money to buy a bloated suite of utility programs, many of which you might never use, in order to perform some specific maintenance. Now you can pick just the type of tools you need, download them and be on your way to more productive times.

Defrag the fast way

Disk defragmentation is a fact of life for Windows users.

Eventually, thanks to the constant reading from and writing to your hard disk, parts of files becomes scattered across the platters of a hard drive, resulting in slower read times and sluggish performance.

All current versions of Windows come with a built-in defragmentation tool. The only trouble is that defragging with Microsoft’s utility can take you hours — if not days — to complete. And the matter only got worse with Vista, which may include the most reviled defragmenter that Microsoft has yet released.

Enter Auslogics’s free Disk Defrag, which works with Windows XP, 2000, 2003, and Vista.

Disk Defrag is one of those rare utilities that both costs you nothing and saves you time. Its primary advantage over the built-in Windows disk defragmenter is speed — it’s faster than most disk defraggers on the market. Add ease of use and a handy HTML-based report once defragmentation is complete, and Disk Defrag becomes a must-have tool in your software toolkit.

Cleaning your registry

A bloated Windows registry may just be the number-one cause of system slowdown and instability. The registry is Windows’ gargantuan, cryptic storehouse of everything that relates to how the applications on your PC work.

Whenever you install or uninstall a program or hardware device, customise Windows or change the behaviour of an application, Windows either adds to or subtracts from the registry file.

Over time, this file grows, becomes fragmented, requires more time to read to and write from, and generally slows down your computer.

A registry cleaner can help, and the TweakNow RegCleaner is both well regarded and

free. Install this little application, run it and it will analyse your Windows registry to find and remove obsolete entries. And don’t worry: before you run it, the program will create a back-up copy of your registry should anything go awry.

Removing unneeded files

You’d be surprised at how many unnecessary and unneeded files accumulate on your hard drive over time. Temporary files from Windows, your web browser and your applications are supposed to be deleted, but often they’re not. The result can potentially be hundreds of megabytes in space that’s no longer available for the storage of legitimate data.

You could take the time to search through the folders of your hard drive to find temporary files that have been left behind, but there’s a better way. Use a free tool such as CCleaner to start the job the easy way.

CCleaner will scour your hard drive and remove all sorts of temporary files, including those created and then left behind by popular applications such as Word, Excel, Acrobat and WinZip. It even comes with a registry cleaner that you can use in conjunction with RegCleaner.

Delete the doubles

It’s amazing how, over time, the same file can crop up in several places on your PC. Sometimes duplicate files are necessary, but often they’re just taking up valuable space.

There are plenty of duplicate-file finders around, including some good free ones. DoubleKiller is one of the best.

DoubleKiller will search through your hard drive in a flash and find all duplicates. But it won’t make rash decisions. You’ll get a listing of duplicate files and get make the final call about which ones to delete.

If you make a mistake and delete a file you need, no problem: DoubleKiller gives you the option of moving duplicate files to a temporary directory while you decide whether the files are really not needed. — Sapa-dpa