A Beginner's Guide to MS Windows Optimization

Purpose of the guide: Fast and comprehensive tips, how to speed up your PC with MS Windows. Its written for normal (non-geek) people, so the geeks don't have to help them do the same thing over and over and over and over again.

Why should I read this?: Have you noticed that your PC is working much slower than it used to? I mean MUCH slower? That you have time to make dinner before some programs start? There may be a solution for this problem not involving purchases of a new PC, or spending money on support, or buying programs (possibly buying more RAM memory). Try to read through the whole guide and try to understand it, most of the words/terms that you don't understand can easily be found Googleing or on Wikipedia.

Why did I write this?: Well, the reasons are many, but the main one being to help people with the common problem of slow computers. I tried to write this as easy as possible, keeping the text usable for the normal PC user. The text contains my own points of view, mainly to help people on the right track, so please don't delete them.

One more thing before we start, as a normal user you should know that the PC is a very complex electronic device, and you may be required to read other articles to fully understand this guide. If you are using a PC you need to know what a processor (CPU) and hard drive (HDD) is, I am sorry. Having a driver's license you most probably know what the engine does in the car, and what wheels are responsible for, without knowing more complex structures. Its the same in the PC, just the basics. And remember, this is just a guide, every PC is different, I will just try to give you the tools, and the rest is up to you, and all you do is on your own risk. So please, don't skip Step 1.

Step 1: Backup!! - Keeping the life vest on edit

Always always have a backup of your valuable data (pictures, documents, videos, music etc.) on a separate medium (CD, DVD, USB drive, external hard drive). If you don't, then do this. And yes, it has to be external, don't just copy it over to another partition, cause if you format the disk or drop it to the floor, you may lose the data anyway. And data recovery is expensive.

The easiest way to do backup, in my opinion, is to create a separate folder on the desktop, and then copy everything you want to keep over there. So you have everything in one folder. Its easier to check if you didn't miss anything this way. Then copy the folder over to the external medium. Nowadays the USB drives are very cheap and easy to use. Before you go and buy one, check how big the backup folder is. You do this by right clicking on the folder and choosing properties. Then get a Usb that is 30-40% bigger.

E.g., if the backup folder is 3500 MB (3,5GB), don't buy the 4GB one, cause it may not be enough, go for the 8GB or even better, the 16GB, so you have more space for future. If you have a lot of big files, like movies, consider buying an external hard drive. They are not cheap, but come in handy when your PC crashes. In my opinion, the most important data, that you should check, and double check, and triple check (yes very important) is: Pictures, documents, passwords and electronic certificates. If lost and data recovery fails, it's hard to get them from other sources. Movies/music/games can always be downloaded/bought.

About passwords, write them down on a paper, or make a text file and put it on your backup. Don't keep it on the PC. If you are afraid of someone reading it, consider using an encryption program, a very good one is FreeOTFE, or Truecrypt, which are open source and free. Remember to keep your backup up to date! Do regular backups. And if you want to be extra safe keep the backup in a safe outside your house, e.g. in a bank.

Summary: Backup all your important data to an external medium, e.g. an usb drive. And keep it up to date. Especially pictures, documents, passwords, electronic certificates, music, movies.

Step 2: Hardware identification - Looking in the dark edit

The first thing to do is to identify what kind of PC you have. A laptop or stationary. If its a laptop, write down the model number, e.g. Lenovo IdeaPad Y530, or Samsung N120 or whatever you have. Usually you can find it somewhere written on the laptop.

If you have non custom assembled stationary PC, e.g. DELL, HP, ACER, ASUS etc. You will have to find the model number too. If it is a custom assembled, e.g. a friend put it together, or a shop did, then keep reading.

Next you have to write down the specifications of the PC. That is the different PC parts (hardware). This may be tricky if you are a beginner. There are specific programs you can use for this purpose.

The PC consists of:

Processor (CPU), it is the brain of the PC. The engine. There are two major CPU brands INTEL and AMD. To see what kind of CPU you have, go to:

In Windows XP:
(start->Control Panel->System)
In Windows Vista/7
(start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->System)
Please see: http://bayimg.com/JADAhAacl

Here we can see that my CPU is a Intel Core 2 6400 2.13 GHz Intel is the company, Core 2 6400 is the model, and the speed (clock frequency). 2.13 GHz is 2130 MHz.

RAM memory (RAM), is the fast short term memory. It is used by the CPU to access a lot of data very fast. Usually, data is read from the hard drive to the RAM, then it is used by the CPU. And then, if necessary saved back to the hard drive. The thing is that once you switch off the PC the RAM memory is cleared. So hard drives are used to save data when the power is off.

The problem here is that many programs are not memory efficient and stuff the RAM full. And when the RAM gets full, the PC redirects the RAM traffic to the hard drive. This is the very often slowdown we can see when RAM gets full, because hard drive is MUCH slower then RAM memory.

So e.g., you switch on the PC, and you have some programs that auto start, they are placed in the RAM. And if they take up the whole RAM space, the PC starts to write the RAM data to the hard drive, and the PC starts to think and think, and this is when it takes 5 min to start e.g. Word.

So a slow PC is not only the result of slow CPU, it is a more complex issue. RAM space is measured in bytes. 1GB is 1000MB, on the picture above we can see that I have 2GB of RAM.

Hard drive (HDD), is the “permanent” memory, it is measured in bytes (MB or GB) 1000MB is 1GB. To compare: one “old floppy” is 1,44MB, one CD is usually 650-700MB, one DVD is 4,7GB (dual layer is 8,5GB). Usually, the more MB/GB the better.

HDD is the bottle neck in file transfer, because it is relatively slow. And it is, I would say, the most delicate component. If you drop the laptop, usually the first thing to break is the HDD. The HDD is also a tear and wear component, meaning it needs to be replaced once every couple of years. It depends how much you use the PC, but sometime its 5–10 years, sometime 20 years. So for all of you relieving your aggression on your laptops because they act inappropriately (are slow), please stop doing that, it may work on humans, but doesn't work on laptops. What can happen is irreversible damage to the HDD.

One final note about hard drives. Everyone knows that the hard drive "is" C: under Windows. But this is not correct. One hard drive can, but doesn't have to, be divided into smaller parts, called partitions. If you go to (start->Computer), you should see something like this:

Please see: http://bayimg.com/IaDapAACl

Here we can see that we have C: and D:, looking at the icons, C: is a hard drives and D: is a DVD. So nothing special. But if you see something like this:

Please see: http://bayimg.com/jADAfaACL

Here we see C:, D:, F:, Y: and Z:. Looking at the icons, C:, Y:, Z: are HDD, D: and F: are DVDs.

So in this situation, we have 1 HDD with 3 partitions or 2 HDD or 3 HDD. To differentiate, we have to open (start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->Administrative Tools->PC Management->Disk Management).

Please see: http://bayimg.com/iaDAOaaCl

Here we can see Disk 0, which is the primary hard drive, is divided into 2 parts (partitions), one is C: 48,83GB and the other is Y: 323.78GB.

The second hard drive is not divided and is assigned Z: 931.51 GB. The reason why we do like this will be discussed later.

Graphic card (GFX/GPU), is responsible for generating the picture on the screen. It is like a CPU but specialized only on graphics. There are many different graphic cards, for different purposes, in different price ranges. But there is some kind of artificial border we can divide them into.

  • Simple cheap (low end) ones only used for non graphic demanding applications like surfing the web, MSN/ICQ, email, Office etc. They are often used in cheap laptops.
  • Average performing (middle end) with a higher price then low end. Used for the same as low end, plus PC games on average graphic settings and other average graphic demanding applications. Most stationary PCs of non-power users have either a “high low end” card or a “middle end” graphic card.
  • High performing (high end), those cards are insanely expensive and use a lot of electricity. They are only for power users, gamers and other people that know how to use them. One such card can be as expensive as rest of the PC together.

For non gamers and normal users, the graphic card doesn't really matter. What is important to know is the model name of the graphic card, so correct drivers may be installed. There are 3 big players on the graphic market:

  • nVidia with its GeForce
  • ATI/AMD with its Radeon
  • Intel that produces some on board (motherboard) GPUs.

To check the graphic card go to (start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->System->Device Manager->Display Adapters) This program is very useful, it shows you everything that you have in the PC, and reports if a hardware is not correctly installed/functioning.

Please see: http://bayimg.com/JadAGAaCL

Here we can see that my graphic card is a nVidia GeForce 7300GS, it is a low end card.

Motherboard (Mainboard, MB), is a big unit where all the components are attached to. It's like a skeleton in the body, responsible for keeping everything in on place. And provide the proper communication between the other components. The easiest way to check the model name of the motherboard is to download a free program called CPU-Z. This program will also show you the detailed information about your CPU and RAM.

Please see: http://bayimg.com/jADAEAacl

The most important information here is model name and bios version. So we have an Asustek (ASUS) P5B-VM with bios version 0901.

Summary: Use the Device Manager and CPU-Z to identify your hardware and write them down on a paper. Not on the PC. What you have to know before you proceed is: PC Model, CPU, RAM, HDD, GFX and MB. My system would look like this:

Custom assembled PC
Intel Core 2 6400 2.13 GHz
400 GB + 1TB (1000GB) HDD (I have 2 hard drives and 3 partitions)
nVidia GeForce 7300GS
Asus P5B-VM bios version 0901

This is the basic description of your PC. This is what you tell people when they ask what kind of PC you have. Not like “its a pink one, with a flower on it, it has some connections in the back and it says HP on it.” No, those 6 lines is what you are supposed to say.

Step 3: Assessment - Live or Die edit

Earlier users had to make a tough decision, either stay with a 8 year old operating system (Windows XP) or switch to the resource hungry Windows Vista making the PC slow. Or they could also try a Linux Distribution, like Ubuntu. I have stopped trying to convince people to it. Mainly because of people's untreatable fear for new things. But I still advise it as an alternative for old PCs. There are a lot of other guides about Linux and Linux vs Windows, Google them if you are interested. So back to the topic.

Now that Windows 7 has arrived, and it got good reviews. I am recommending it. So either go for Linux or W7.

The official requirements for W7 are 1Ghz CPU, 16GB HDD, 1GB RAM and DX9 GFX. This is not too precise data, there are a lot of PCs out there, that do fulfill this, but would run very slow.

So lets take a closer look on the requirements.

  • 1GB of RAM. I would recommend 2GB. Just to be safe from RAM to disk slowdowns. Ram is very cheap now, especially the DDR1 and DDR2 type, which is found in majority of “almost new” PCs today. To check what type you have use the CPU-Z program.
  • CPU over 1 GHz (this value doesn't say much, but if your PC was bought after 2004, you should be able to run W7.
  • 16GB HDD. The system itself uses around 10GB so 16GB is really the minimum. You need some hard drive space, first for the operating system, and then for your programs and other files. So a minimum of around 40 GB would do.

So let say you have a laptop from 2005, with a 1,6Ghz CPU, and 60GB hard drive and 1,5GB RAM. And this is OK. But most laptops from 2005 wont have 1,5 GB RAM, they will have 256MB or 512MB. So what now? Well you have 3 options.

  1. Don't spend anything and install the operating system that the PC came with (probably Windows XP).
  2. Don't spend anything and Install a Linux Distribution, see Windows vs Linux
  3. Buy some RAM and install W7.

To buy RAM may be tricky, there are a lot of different kinds. So what I would recommend is to take the PC to a local (small) specialized PC store, and ask them to install 2 GB of RAM memory. This shouldn't cost more than 150 USD (2009) for DDR1 and 60 USD (2009) for DDR2. If you have some more cash to spend, go for 4GB (newer PC).

If you choose option 1 or 3, continue reading. If you go for Linux, I should congratulate you being free from Microsoft's enslavement, and continue reading your Linux guide of choice.

Summary: W7 is a great operative system, and I believe it will be the next Windows XP, it is here to stay for many years. If you have a PC able to run it then go for it. Remember if it doesn't satisfy you, you can always go back to the old operating system. And don't forget to buy some RAM, so you have at least 2GB. Even if you plan to run Windows XP.

Step 4 Preparing - To format or not to format edit

OK so you have a PC that is slow, and you have read so much boring text about the PCs, and its still slow. So WTF? Yes I know, but we had to cover that boring theory. Now lets get to some practical stuff. Preparation for destruction. There are two schools of managing the slow PC problem. Stay and play or kill 'em all.

  • Stay and play: Basically you install more RAM memory, delete the unnecessary programs, run antivirus, and install resource efficient programs. This method is safer, less time consuming (mostly) and less complex. If you choose this, go to (start->Control Panel->Programs->Programs and Features) and start deleting everything you don't need. And what don't you need? Well, I don't know, that's why its better to choose the other option. But if you don't want to wipe everything, jump to step 6.
  • Kill 'em all: You make a backup, antivirus scan it and wipe the disk. Then you install a fresh version of Windows with the latest service pack (SP). This method has more risks.
    • The biggest one being that you might delete something you forgot to backup.
    • And the second one is that you may get stuck in the process of installing the operating system, and may have to call for help. But remember, the only damage that you may cause is easily reversible. Formatting the disk and installing new operating system will not cause any permanent damage to the hardware. Just don't forget about the backup.
    • And really, its not that difficult to install Windows, just press “next” if you are uncertain.
    • On the positive side, this is the best method of optimization, and the only way to be sure to get rid of all the viruses, trojans, ad ware and other nasty stuff that may parasite your PC . And this is the method I recommend strongly. Its not that hard, really. Just follow the guide and you will be fine.

Preparing for a format may be quite boring, but it's important to do it correctly. Just follow those steps.

  • Do backup! On external medium. Check and double check.
  • Prepare the installation CD/DVDs
    • If you want to try W7, borrow the DVD from a friend or get it from a torrent site. You don't have to activate it, just install and try and see how well it works on your PC. If you like it, go and buy it. If not, install back your old operating system.
    • If you are installing your old system, write down the activation serial number, its usually on a Microsoft sticker somewhere on the PC.
    • Its good to install Windows with the latest service pack. As for today, Windows XP has service pack 3, Vista has service pack 2. And W7 doesn't have one yet.
    • If you want an updated operating system DVD with latest service pack, visit ones again a friend or a torrent site, or other places that you may know.
    • If you use a old DVD without the latest service pack, you will have to install them later anyway, and it is very time consuming. So do try to get an updated version. You can also slipstream a service pack(Windows XP only). Google it if you are interested.
    • One important thing here, don't install Windows XP with no service pack or with service pack 1. Those versions don't have a build in firewall. Meaning your computer will be exposed to the internet without and protection. Its like having unprotected sex with an unknown person, stupid stupid idea. A firewall protects you from a virus type called worms, they infect your computer, when you are connected to the internet. And the most important thing, you don't have to do anything, you will not even notice anything. Like a STD. Once you are in (connected), you are fu**ed.
    • One more thing, when you are installing Windows from a CD/DVD you got with the computer, or if you are installing it from a recovery program, remember, very often, if not always, you will get a lot of crap programs installed too. This is a way of the PC manufacturers to earn money, so this is another reason to get a clean OEM CD/DVD.
    • To get a clean OEM CD/DVD with the chosen operating system, go ask around your friends, ask the geeks (they will know) or go to a computer store and ask what you have to do to get a clean Windows OEM CD/DVD.
    • Or you can download it, but this option is often a violation of the copyright, but hey if you have illegal copies of movies and music, cause I guess most of you have, so I guess you won't mind. But don't get me wrong, I buy my software, I believe that if a program is good, it should be bought.
  • Download drivers
    • If you have a laptop or non custom assembled PC, go to the web site of the manufacturer and download the latest drivers for your PC. E.g., if you have a HP, go to hp.com and go to support, and write in your model number there. Then the web site should show you the way. This step is good to do. It may be hard to find the drivers on the website, but try to find them, especially the network drivers, in case a fresh Windows install won't find the proper ones. Windows 7 has a lot of drivers build in, and it found all mine that were important. But just in case, download them.
    • If you have a custom assembled PC, go to the website of the motherboard manufacturer, in my case Asus (Asus.com) and download the drivers from there, especially the network drivers.
    • If you find a BIOS update, you can download it too. But remember, updating your bios may damage your hardware, so if you don't know what you are doing, don't update the bios. Or ask someone for help.
    • If you don't find any drivers, you can always hope for the best and install Window anyway. And if that fails you can always go back to your old installation (old installation CD or recovery).
    • And don't use the drivers you got on a CD with the computer, they are usually old. Download the newest once from the website. And in case you can't find the drivers, and Windows doesn't work without them, then maybe consider using old drivers. Remember, most computer crashes are caused by old/bad drivers.

To help you on the way, a small explanation about torrents. To use bit torrent technology, you first need a program do download stuff with, called a bit torrent client. A good one is uTorrent. Don't use the Azureus/Vuze, its slow and resource hungry. Download uTorrent and install it. Its for free and a virus free program. Now you need a place to download torrent files from, a torrent file is a small file containing instructions for the bit torrent client how and where from to download the files you want to get. A place like this is called a tracker. A good one is The Pirate Bay. So for example, you want to download Ubuntu, or any other operating system. Ubuntu is open source and fully legal to download. First install uTorrent. Then visit thepiratebay.org, mark the “application” box and “search titles only” box and search for Ubuntu. Here we see the results. On the top of the page, we can see 7 columns.

  • Type: It is the category of the file, for Ubuntu its “Applications > UNIX”. Yes Linux is an UNIX like system.
  • Name: Its the name of the file with a short description.
  • Uploaded: the date when the torrent file was uploaded.
  • Next column is nameless, its a fast link to download the file.
  • Size: Size of the file.
  • SE: Seeders, its the estimated amount of people that have the complete file.
  • LE: Leechers, its the estimated amount of people that is downloading the file.

Now to download the Ubuntu file, we want to download it from the best source, with the highest number of Seeders, if a file has 0 or 1 seeders, it may be very difficult to download it, especially if the file is big.

So we click on the SE to sort the result my the number of Seeders.

And now we click on the file we want to download. And click “download this torrent”. Download it to the desktop, it will be easy to find it then.

Now double click on the torrent file you downloaded, to open it in uTorrent. The program will ask you where you want to save the big Ubuntu file, just put it on the desktop too, its easier that way.

And now we have to wait until the file finishes. It may take some time, but read further so you know what has to be done.

Most files that you download, that contain an operating system, are stored in an .iso file, e.g. Ubuntu.iso. An iso file is like a .zip file. It acts like a container for other files. So what you should get once the download is finished, is ONE big file. Called something.iso. If its many .rar files, you need to unpack them with 7zip. But let's assume it's one big .iso file.

Now once download is finished, we have to copy (burn) this .iso file to a DVD (or CD if the file is small enough). To do this we need to use a CD/DVD recording program. A good and free one is Imgburn, NERO is good too, but it's big, slow and expensive.

To be able to record CD/DVDs you need a blank CD/DVD and a CD/DVD burner. Nowadays everyone has one, and if you don't, copy the file over to an usb drive and visit your friend. Imgburn will tell you if it can find a CD/DVD burner.

So, to burn the CD/DVD, just download Imgburn, install, click write Image file to disk. Choose the file we downloaded, and click on the icon on the bottom left corner, the one with a disk with an arrow to the CD. And the program will start recording. When the program is done, we have a fresh CD/DVD with the operating system of our choice.

Summary: OK, so we have done the backup, we checked its compete. And we checked it again. We have a clean OEM CD/DVD with Windows on it, and we checked its with the latest service pack (SP3 for XP, SP2 for Vista). And we have all the drivers from the website on an usb drive. OK, next step.

Step 5: Installing Windows - Total Annihilation edit

Before you wake up your blood thirsty destructive side, check that you have done your backup, I know I am repeating myself on this topic, but formatting the disk till erase all data on the drive. Check that you have a serial key for Windows, and check that you have the newest drivers for Windows.

Before we can install a new operating system, we need to check one option in the BIOS. We need to check that CD/DVD is booting (starting) before the HDD. It may sound complicated, but its really easy. To enter BIOS, we need to restart the PC The first couple of seconds when the PC is booting you may see a message like “To enter BIOS press F2”. You have to press that key before Windows starts. It is usually the F1, F2, F12 or the DEL key. If unsure, press all of them when the computer is starting.

In the BIOS you move around in the menus using the arrow keys. Don't worry, if you don't save any settings you won't break anything, if unsure, press the power button and start all over again. In the BIOS you need to find something that is called Boot Order or Boot device priority. Look around in the menus. If you find it, make sure that the CD/DVD is listed before the HDD. Don't forget to save the settings. If unsure read the manual, if you don't have one, download one from the manufacturers website.

Here is an old but good YouTube clip about BIOS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc1t3c5Yke8

Because there are millions of guides about installing Windows. I am not going to reinvent the wheel again, so here are some good ones. Just follow them.

Just one more thing, the partitions, you will have to choose if you want to install Windows on the whole disk, or to split the disk into partitions. The easiest is to install Windows on one disk with one partition. And if you don't want to complicate things, do that.

But if you e.g. create 2 partitions, e.g. C: and Z:, you can install Windows on C: and then use Z: for all your files. And then when you will have to install/format the disk again, you can only format C: and leave Z: alone. This will save you a lot of time. The choice is yours.

If you choose to do 2 or more partitions, just remember to do the C: at least 20-30GB big, I would recommend 40GB (40 000 MB).

One final note from me, there are 2 versions of each of the operating system, a 32 bit version, called x86 and a 64 bit version called x64. The 64 bit version is only for computers with 4 GB RAM or more. Don't install 64 bit system on 2 GB, it's a waste of memory. I know, I have it. But it was purely experimental.

Windows 7:

Windows XP:

If you have any problems or questions, Google them, most of them are answered somewhere. Or use a tech forum to ask, or ask friends.

Summary: Install the operating system of chose.

Step 6: Configuration - The beginning edit

So we are done installing Windows, we can see the desktop, so we are done? No, this is just the beginning. This is where the fun part starts.

The first thing we should do is to see if we have an internet connection. Just start a browser, e.g. Internet Explorer (IE). If it does work, we are lucky. If it doesn't work, well, complications.

To start diagnosing the internet connection problem, we need to look closer how you connect to the internet. There are three main ways to connect to internet.

  1. If you have a router home and you connect to the internet using either the wireless connection or the Ethernet (wire) connection. Then the problem probably involves the drivers.
  2. If you use an usb modem (xDSL) you need to install the drivers for it, and then log on using the user name and password. If you don't remember the password, look through the internet papers home, it should be somewhere there. Together with the CD for the modem.
  3. You use an old modem to connect to internet. First thing, consider getting normal broadband, 56k modems are out of fashion. Next thing, find your internet papers and follow the instructions there. It involves entering a phone number, a username and password.

Option 2 and 3 involves finding the papers, if you don't have them, call support, its usually free of charge, but you will probably be placed in a phone cue.

If it is option 1, then you have to install the network drivers, the ones you downloaded, if you don't have them, you will be stranded. Call a friend. This problem often appears in fresh installations of Windows XP. But has been solved in majority in W7. So one again, W7 is good for you.

So let assume the internet works. The next thing you should do, before anything else is to start Windows Update, and update your Windows. It can be found here: (Start->Windows Update). If you are using XP, go here: http://update.microsoft.com

This is important in two ways:

  1. Some drivers may be installed through MS Update
  2. Some security flaws may be fixed, so you are more resistant to some viruses (worms). Always keep your Windows installation up to date.

After the update, check if you have the latest service pack, go to (start->Control Panel->System and Security->System) there you will find, name of the operating system, and the service pack installed. See the picture above in Step 2.

If your Windows doesn't have the latest service pack, please install it, just keep updating your PC with Microsoft Update, and it will update it. Be patient , it may take a while.

Next is to check with drivers are missing. Go to (start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->System->Device Manager). There you will have a list, the drivers that are missing will have an exclamation mark .

Like this: http://www.geckoandfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/find_search_download_windows_xp_missing_drivers_free_software_vista_how.jpg

Here we have a typical situation in XP where the drivers for graphic card, motherboard and network/modem are missing.


Here we are missing drivers for a sound card.

I guess you get the idea. If you don't know what drivers are missing, try the different components in the PC. E.g. if the internet works, probably the network card is working. Test both the wireless and wire network card. If they both work, its OK. If the sound works, well then the sound chip is OK. And so on. Try everything.

Remember: Don't install old drivers from the CD you get with the hardware. Go to the website of the manufacturer and download new once. Don't be lazy, it will make your system more stable. As an example, have you ever written something on the computer, for couple of hours, and when you where done you pressed print and the damn PC crashed? And you didn't save? Well, happened to me too. There are four things you can learn from this.

  • Update your Windows regularly
  • Update your programs regularly
  • Use only new drivers
  • Save before printing

The most important drivers install/update are:

  • Motherboard: Check the manufacturer's web page and download the newest ones. Its important. I have seen computers crashing in very odd ways with bad motherboard drivers. Of what I know W7 installs most motherboard drivers through MS Update.
  • Network card: Important too, if the internet is working try MS Update, if it fails check the PC/motherboards manufacturers web page.
  • Sound: the same as Network card.
  • Bluetooth: the same as Network card
  • Webcam: the same as Network card
  • Graphic card: this one is special. If Windows do find your GFX, its still recommended to update the drivers. Mainly because you can gain more performance. It's a little bit trickier to update the GFX. Remember, I wrote that there are 3 player on GFX market, nVidia, ATI/AMD and Intel. If you have an Intel card, don't update, its enough with the Windows Update.
    • Nvidia: If you have a nVidia GeForce GFX, go to http://www.nvidia.com and download and update your graphics card.
    • ATI/AMD: If you have an ATI Radeon, go to http://www.ati.com and download and update your graphics card.
    • Remember: if you are a gamer, and play new games, keep an eye out for new drivers. Often updating GFX drivers will increase the performance in the games. Sometime even dramatically. Don't be lazy, update GFX drivers often. They are released once every 1–2 months.
    • If you have a laptop, it may be impossible to install the official drivers. What you can do is to modify them with a program, that will enable you to update the drivers.

One more thing here, if you divide your hard drive into 2 or more partitions, you have to format the other ones to be able to see them. Go to: (start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->Administrative Tools->PC Management->Disk Management). Here right click on the unallocated partition of the disk, and select new simple volume. Follow the instructions.

Summary: After the install, update Windows with MS Update, install all the missing drivers. And don't forget about GFX drivers.

Step 7: Programs - Ini Mini Maini Mo edit

OK, so its been a long road, and I hope most of you will come to this point cause its very crucial in this guide.

A program is an application, that performs a certain task, most of you know that. What most of you don't know is that there are a lot...a LOT of programs that can perform the same tasks. In a better or worse way, but the same.

There are two camps here:

  • Either using big, resource hungry, slow and often expensive programs. Like Nero, MS Office, Photoshop, MSN, Norton Antivirus (most anti virus programs).
  • Using less expensive, often free software, that is smaller, faster and sometimes more secure.

A lot of people don't know this, but there is actually at least one free, legally free, alternative program for every commercial program.

One thing I should say here, is that the big and expensive programs often have more features and functions. But you should know, that most people (99.9%) won't ever use those extra functions anyway. So its up to you what you want to use.

Here in this table, I will list all my favorite programs, with the links, short description, and its commercial alternatives. I have chosen these programs mainly because I use them myself and I think they are the best ones. All of them are free of charge and fully legal to download.

One important thing, because all of those programs are free (open source or freeware), some of them may want to install some ads on the PC. Making it slower, and possibly more insecure. So during the install, choose the custom install, and unmark any box saying, install Google toolbar, or ask toolbar. Don't install these useless programs. Just an advise.

Name of the Program Short Description Commercial Alternative Other Free Alternatives
OpenOffice Good and complete office suite. Small tip, don't install all modules, I usually deselect everything except Writer, Impress and Calc, I don't need the rest of them. MS Office Abiword
Firefox Good web browser with many plugins, my favorites are AdBlock Plus and DownThemAll Internet Explorer Opera and Chrome
AVG Free/Avast/ Comodo Good and Free Anti Virus software Norton Anti Virus ClamWin, Avast, Avira Antivir
SMPlayer Video Media Player Windows Media Player Media Player Classic, VLC
foobar2000 Audio Media Player Windows Media Player WinAmp is not what it used to be...
GIMP Photo Editing Program Photoshop paint.net, Photoscape, mtpaint
Miranda Low Weight Multiprotocol Instant Messenger Program MSN, ICQ Pidgin
7zip File compression tool WinRaR -
Total Commander Superb file manager Windows Explorer -
ImgBurn CD/DVD recording software NERO CDBurnerXP
HdTach/HdTune HDD benchbarks and diagnostics - -
uTorrent Bit Torrent client Vuze -
CCleaner software to "clean up". - -
DaemonTools Tool to mount CD/DVD images in Windows - -
FoxitReader Fast .pdf Program Acrobat Reader sumatrapdf
DirMS Good defragmentation program Windows Defrag -
FreeOTFE Encryption program - -
TrueCrypt Encryption program - -
CPU-Z System Tool - SIW
MemTest RAM memory checking program - -
ATI mobility modder/nVidia mobility modder Tools to install new drivers on laptops - -
jDownloader Tools to download from e.g. rapidshare.com more effectively - -

Other programs that you may want to install after a fresh install are:

Name of the Program Short Description
Skype Internet telephone program
MSN Messenger If you don't like miranda or pidgin
JRE Java runtime, necessary for some websites and programs to work properly
Flash Player For website, e.g. youtube
DirectX runtime Newest directx libraries, important for gamers

One more thing, remember, a lot of PC settings can be changed from the control panel, look around there, and customize your PC in your own way.

Summary: Install the programs you need. Avoid the big, resource hungry programs, they will slow down the computer.

Step 8: Windows optimization - Removing the crap edit

This step involve increasing the performance of your PC. There are a lot of program suits claiming to improve the general performance in a magical way. Don't be fooled, most of them don't work.

The first thing we should do, is to:

  • Remove all programs we don't use from the PC. If you just formatted your PC, you don't have to do this.
  • Install all the programs you are going to use. Don't forget to unmark the ads during the installation process. Follow step 7.
  • Now, start CCleaner. CCleaner is a small and a very good program used to get rid of stuff like temporary files and auto start programs.
    • In the program select Cleaner tab, press “analyze” and then “Run Cleaner”. Now all the temporary files are cleared.
    • Next select the Registry tab, then “scan for issues” and then “fix selected issues”. Press no to “you want a backup of those files”, and then “fix all selected issues”.
    • Next select tools and startup. Here you will have a list of everything that is auto starting, meaning starting when you start your PC. Some of it is important, some is not. That's why you should disable the stuff you are uncertain of and not delete. Google the .exe file to see what they do. But generally, disabling the anti virus program, drivers for e.g. Sound card and GFX is not to recommend.
    • The reason for disabling programs to autostart is to save RAM memory. And in this way both speed up the startup of the computer, and avoid getting RAM full.

To see how much RAM your PC is using, press Alt+Ctrl+Del buttons simultaneously, and then “start Windows task manager”. Then select the performance tab. Here you can see how much ram is used, and how much CPU is used.

Usually, if you don't do anything with the PC, and you don't have any programs running, The CPU activity should be round 0-5%. If its fluctuating up to 60-90% then you have something running on your PC that shouldn't be running, like viruses or ad ware. Solution? Step 5.

In the processes tab, you can see which program uses the most RAM memory and CPU.

Another way of disabling a program to auto start is to open up the program in question, go to its setting menu, and unmark the box saying start on system startup. This can be done in majority of programs, e.g. MSN and Skype.

The best way to see which programs auto start, is to reboot the PC and then check the Windows task manager. You can also see which programs opened up in the lower right corner in Windows.

There is one more important thing I would like to cover. It is the Windows graphical performance properties. Sound scary, but what it means is that you can choose either:

  • Having a nice looking Windows installation, with nice animations and transparencies (Vista and W7), but the trade off is slower performance
  • Disable all or some of this eye candy and increase system performance.

The decision is yours to make. You can access those setting here: (start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->System->Advanced System Settings->Settings for performance)

Here you can choose specific options, or just go for all or nothing.

The last thing I want to share is: When you download something, whether its programs, or BIOS or firmware or anything. ALWAYS get it from official sources. This way, you reduce the chance installing viruses and damaging your hardware.

Summary: Remove all the unnecessary programs, install everything you need, run CCleaner, remove as much as possible from the auto start. And then adjust your Windows graphical performance properties.

Non essential files edit

The following files are non-essential and can be removed:

  • C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer - This directory can be removed from systems using an alternative browser
  • C:\Program Files\MSN Gaming Zone - This directory can be removed
  • C:\Program Files\Online Services - This directory can be removed
  • C:\Program Files\Outlook Express - This directory can be removed on systems that do not use Microsoft Outlook Express
  • C:\Program Files\microsoft frontpage - This directory can be removed
  • C:\windows\iexplore.exe - This file is an internet explorer executable and can be removed from systems using an alternative browser
  • C:\windows\system32\dllcache\iexplore.exe - This backup internet explorer executable can be removed from systems using an alternative browser
  • C:\windows\system32\webcheck.dll - Component installed as part of Internet Explorer upgrade. Slows computer down. May be used by ActiveDesktop and Aignes Web Watcher and old stock ticker programs.
  • C:\windows\system32\webcheck.dll - Component installed as part of Internet Explorer upgrade. Slows computer down. May be used by ActiveDesktop and Aignes Web Watcher and old stock ticker programs.

Step 9: For the pros - Gambling your life away edit

If you want to be more professional, there are some other things you can do. But remember, all of them can damage your hardware, permanently, no format will help.

  • Updating your bios: can increase your overall performance, stability, and compatibility. Its best to do the bios update before installing a new operative system. Look for the new bios updates on the motherboard/your pc manufacturer web page.
  • Updating graphic card firmware: you can download the newest firmware (like bios for GFX) to increase the GFX performance, usually this involves setting a higher memory clock speed on the GFX. Download this from your GFX manufacturer web page.
  • Updating CD/DVD: updating the firmware in the optical drive may increase the burning speed as well as medium compatibility, get it from your manufacturer's web page.
  • Overclocking: by increasing the Front Side Bus (FSB) you increase the CPU clock, with increases the CPU performance. You can also overclock your RAM memory and your GFX. There are a lot of guides how to do this. Use Google.