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Author Topic: Computer FAQ and How To  (Read 22277 times)
Simon Pieman
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« on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 22:48:41 »


Maintaining your computer and improving its performance

1) My computer is slow, why is this and can I speed it up?
2) Computer hardware explained
3) Cleaning your computer (keep the dust at bay!)
4) Scanning for and removing viruses and malicious software
5) Understanding startup processes and disabling them
6) Cleaning up and tuning your hard disk drive

Data backup and data recovery

Coming soon...
« Last Edit: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 02:02:00 by Si Pie » Logged
Simon Pieman
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« Reply #1 on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 22:49:53 »

My computer is slow, why is this and can I speed it up?

It’s true that computers slow down the older they get but for many reasons:

  • Old technology within the computer means they do not keep up with the more modern software demands place on them.
  • Dusty computers are more prone to overheating, which often means the processor slows down so it can run cooler.
  • Viruses, spyware and malware left on the machine cause it to slow down.
  • Lots of processes are running on startup which uses up a lot of system resources. If you think of a car it won’t perform as well with lots of stuff stored in the boot. A computer won’t perform as well with lots of stuff loading up when when it starts running
  • Hard drives get full up and they slow down. A common problem is fragmentation.

The first stage in making a computer run smoother and indeed faster is determining the cause of the slow down. Addressing the points above:

  • Unless you have updated your operating system (OS) e.g. Windows XP to Windows Vista, or use intensive software/play the latest games then it isn’t likely that old technology in your computer is causing the slow down. If you have updated the OS, play the latest games and use newer software then you may need to upgrade the hardware technology of your computer e.g. the memory or the graphics card. Read this guide computer hardware explained
  • Keep the computer clean, including all air vents and the inside (laptops are a bit trickier). Read this guide cleaning your computer
  • If your computer is behaving strangely e.g. perhaps your home page on your web browser has been changed without you setting it, then the computer may have a virus, malicious software or some adware/spyware on your machine. Sometimes you will not know they are there though. You will need to use scanning and removal programs to clean it up. Read this guide for scanning for and removing viruses, malicious software and adware/spyware
  • Going back to the car analogy, if you removed the items stored in the boot when you didn’t need then you could improve the cars performance. Likewise you can remove startup processes which will give your computer a performance boost. Read this guide for understanding startup processes and disabling them
  • A good strategy is to invest in an external hard drive if you have filled most of the one in the computer. These can plug into the USB or firewire ports of your computer and are relatively cheap to buy now. Deleting unwanted files, cleaning the disk of temporary files and defragmenting it is also a good idea to improve performance. Read this guide cleaning up and tuning your hard disk drive

It may be that there are multiple reasons for your computer becoming slow. Try and relate these issues to your specific scenario and hopefully you may be able to resolve them. The way to tackle the issue of a slow machine is to determine the cause.

It is also a good idea to maintain your computer by employing these methods, therefore keeping things in check and not letting them run out of control.

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« Last Edit: Monday, January 4, 2010, 16:25:03 by Si Pie » Logged
Simon Pieman
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« Reply #2 on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 23:00:29 »

Computer hardware explained

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to computer hardware, more a quick summary/glossary of the main components of a computer are and what they do. I will try and update this section soon to help people determine if they need new hardware and how to install it but in the meantime you may wish to post a separate thread within this forum if you are considering this.

As a general rule, upgrading certain components of your computer can often be cheaper than buying a whole new computer. It’s usually surprisingly easy to do and unless you change the main hard drive it will save you the hassle of transferring data files and reinstalling software on a new pc.

In addition, you can often fix a pc which doesn’t work by replacing just one piece of hardware, saving you money.

Hopefully this could help you if you’re buying a new computer too.

The main components of a computer are as follows:

  • Power Supply Unit (PSU) - This is the unit which converts the power from the mains to a power source your computer uses. On a desktop computer this will be in the form of a small box inside and with the socket exposed at the back of the computer which you plug the mains cable into. On a laptop it will be a small external box which connects the mains and your laptop.
  • Motherboard – This is the main circuit board of any computer. All the components in the computer are connected to this and it controls these components and lets them interact.
  • Processor (CPU) – This performs the tasks and calculations your computer undertakes. Think of it as the brain of the computer. The CPU is measured in megahertz (MHz), generally the higher the figure the quicker the processor. However, newer processor models are often quicker than the older versions with more MHz which can be a bit confusing. If you think of cars, modern engines have been tweaked so that the same size engine can be quicker than an older one. It is much the same with a computer processor, so bear in mind that bigger (MHz) is not always better. Try and get a dual or quad core CPU as these are now very common and are faster than the old single core.
  • Memory (RAM) – The computer stores data and information here temporarily, ready for quick access and use when needed. It is not to be confused with the hard disk drive which stores data permanently. RAM is measured in gigabytes (Gb) and usually the more RAM you have the better. Try and get a minimum of 1Gb for Windows Xp and 2Gb for Vista. 2Gb for XP and 3Gb for Vista is plenty.
  • Graphics or Video Card (GPU) – This processes and produces all of the images and moving graphics which are displayed on screen. If you play a lot of games, especially demanding ones, this will probably be of concern to you. Often graphics in a laptop are integrated, which means they use some of the system memory (RAM) and do not perform as well as a graphics card with its own dedicated stand-alone memory. This is why laptops aren’t especially good for gaming. Only more expensive laptops have separate (non-integrated) graphics cards.
  • Hard Disk Drive (HDD) – Can be internal or external and their size, which will determine how much data it can store, is measured in gigabytes (Gb). Do not confuse the HDD with the memory (RAM) as they are completely different things. Internal hard drives are mounted inside your computer and store the operating system, programs and data/documents permanently. External hard drives are usually used for data storage and plug into your computers USB or Firewire port. Both internal an external hard disk drives are getting bigger, faster and cheaper. Size should really be your main concern
  • Optical drives – These are the CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drives which are found in computers. Some will read certain optical discs, others will be able to write to them e.g. urn music to a CD. Common words related are ‘ripping’ where data is read from an optical disc and stored onto a hard disk drive or ‘burning’ where data is read from a hard disk drive and written/stored onto an optical disc.

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« Last Edit: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 02:04:47 by Si Pie » Logged
Simon Pieman
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« Reply #3 on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 23:05:42 »

Cleaning your computer

You will need a duster and a can of compressed air, which you can buy from stationery shops (do not get an air keyboard duster as it won’t be powerful enough). Screen wipes are useful if your monitor/screen is dirty too, but we’ll concentrate on the computer itself.

Cleaning a desktop computer

1) Turn off and unplug the computer.

2) Dust off the outside of the computer with the duster.

3) If you can, open up your computer case:
  • There are screws on the rear oute-edges of the computer which hold on the case cover. If you remove these screws you can lift the case cover up and away from the computer
  • A lot of desktop computers do not have an all in one case cover but side panels. The removal method is the same, except you will slide the side panel towards you as you look at the back of the computer. If you do have side panels then you only need to remove the one on the right (as you look at the back of the computer)
  • You can tell is you have side panels if there is a tiny gap between the top and side panels. If your case cover is completely joined from the sides and top then use the first method.
  • Sometimes there are other mechanisms to remove the computer case. It’s always best to look at your user manual which is available on the manufacturer’s website if you can’t find it.

4) Use the compressed air to clean the innards of the computer making sure you keep the can upright where possible to avoid it turning to liquid. Blow air into the ‘heatsink’ which looks like a block of metal fins with a fan on it. Clean any other fans within the case and make sure air vents are clear of dust. You should avoid physically touching anything. Once done, slide the computer case cover back on and re-screw.

Cleaning a laptop computer

Laptops are trickier to open up and not very generic in terms of how to do this. Therefore unless you’ve done it before I wouldn’t recommend it.

1) Turn off and unplug the laptop. Remove the battery also.

2) Dust off the outside of the laptop with a duster.

3) Spray some compressed air into the vents on the side and bottom of the machine.

The alternative and arguably more effective method is to hoover the air vents. Although I have never heard of anyone damaging their laptop, be aware that hoovering will cause a static build up and there is a risk of it happening.

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« Last Edit: Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 12:46:48 by Si Pie » Logged
Simon Pieman
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« Reply #4 on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 23:16:49 »

Scanning for and removing viruses, malicious software and adware/spyware

What are viruses, malicious software, adware and spyware?

Viruses and malicious software (aka malware) are things which install on your computer and change the way it behaves, often to the detriment of performance. They should be seen as threats.

In the case of adware and spyware, you might get unwanted advertisements popping up based on information collected from your computer, or similar behaviour. I would still deem these to be threats, particularly the spyware which collects and reports on information from your computer!

You don’t want this stuff on your computer because of these reasons.

You will need the following installed on your computer in order to scan and remove viruses, malware and adware/spyware:

  • An anti-virus software (only ever have one installed to avoid conflicts).
  • Anti-malware, anti-spyware and anti-adware software – You may wish to use more than one program for this purpose to increase the detection of these but there are some all in one solutions.

Do I need to pay for this software if I don’t have any installed?

No, there are some great free bits of software available to download and install (aka freeware) so you needn’t pay for any subscriptions if you don’t want to. See the free software list.

A website is telling me I have a viruses and I should perform and online scan and buy their software

Don’t be fooled, these are marketing pop-up messages. A website can’t tell if you have viruses without performing a scan on your machine so close the offending webpage and do not install anything if it prompts you to. Often these are scam sites which will actually get you to download nasty stuff by accident.

There are legitimate websites that can do a free basic scan of your computer, but given you can get free software on your computer permanently, there is little point. Only download from legitimate sources, the free software list has links to the appropriate websites/download links which have been verified as safe.

How do I scan and remove all this stuff?

Open your anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-adware/spyware software and update it. It is important to update these first as it will be able to detect the latest of threats. Update one at a time.

Run a full scan of using your anti-virus software. It should detect threats and automatically remove them if it finds any. If they cannot be removed you may have the option to put them in the vault which you should do.

Then run each program you have to detect other malicious software and adware/spyware. Always do this one program at a time.

I don’t think my programs got rid of the virus etc.

If you think you still have a problem then you can post a thread up and hopefully some kind soul will be able to help you.

I’ve heard a lot about ‘phishing’, is it cod related?

Phishing is a term used to describe the methods used to obtain information used to defraud unwitting people. A common phishing scam are emails (usually from Africa) purporting to require your bank details to transfer some money to you.

Another way is through an email which looks like it has come from a legitimate source such as a bank. If an email asks you to confirm any bank details, IDs or passwords never send this through email. Do this online through the secure bank website, visit your local branch or phone the bank. Be aware that phoney bank emails often have links to websites which look like the bank’s but are not. You should always type in the known website address for your bank into your web browser yourself to avoid becoming a victim of fraud in this way.

A final tip is to never send money through Western Union money transfer. It’s difficult to trace, the fraudsters know this and it’s the common way used to obtain money from unknowing people.

If you’re still unlucky/stupid enough to be conned by a phishing scam now that you know what it is, post a thread up so the world can laugh at you. Laughter is the best medicine after all and just imagine that Nigerian princess laughing all the way to the bank.

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« Last Edit: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 01:44:45 by Si Pie » Logged
Simon Pieman
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« Reply #5 on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 23:25:36 »

Understanding startup processes and disabling them

What are processes?

In essence, they are programs and applications which have been executed (started) on your computer and are running.

Why should I be concerned with what processes are running on my computer?

Each process takes up 'resources' which are processor use (the CPU) and memory use (the RAM). The more processes that are running, the less headroom you'll have for the operations you wish to perform whilst using the computer.

Unfortunately, there could be processes on your computer that are running which you are not using and thus slowing the computer down unnecessarily. These often load on startup and remain running until you turn your computer off. In other words they are giving your computer less headroom to perform as they are constantly using resources even if you’re not using the program.

What are startup processes?

Processes can only run when they are requested to start. So if I open my web browser, I would have a process for that web browser running. When I close my web browser the process would stop and therefore no longer run, thus freeing up some resources for other programs to use.

Startup processes are those which are running in the background from the moment the operating system loads up, because that program has told it to do so. Commonly there could be programs running in the background which you are not using. These often appear in the system tray (bottom right of your screen in the taskbar near the clock), such as Nero burning software and MSN messenger.

When I want to use these programs I will open them manually by double clicking the shortcuts on my desktop. Then they will only use resources when I am using those programs and will not when I close the program and stop using them.

If I remove a startup process will that remove it entirely so I can never use it?

No, telling the operating system to not run processes at startup does not mean they are disabled or removed altogether. They will still be there on your computer and ready to use when you need. The methods described below will not damage your computer and are 100% reversible.

How do I stop the processes I do not need from running on startup?

Create a new folder in my documents called disabled startup programs.

Go to start>all programs>startup

If there is any program in that list which you do not want to load at startup you can remove that program by right clicking on the icon and selecting cut, going to your new folder (which you called ‘disabled startup programs’) and pasting it there. This prevents the program from running but doesn’t delete the startup forever, so if you change your mind you can put it back.

For example, I disabled Adobe Reader Speed Launcher because I did not want to it run on startup. Speed launcher allows a faster launch of Adobe Reader when you open pdf files. However, what's actually happening is that you are loading part of that program when Windows starts, which is using precious resources. Personally I'd rather wait a bit longer for a pdf file to open, rather than having this waste of resources all of the time. So unless you open loads of pdf files every time you're on your computer you may wish to disable Adobe Reader Speed Launcher. Adobe Reader will still function 100% if you do decide to do this.

Another example is the Sony Ericsson mobile phone suite. I don't want this running all of the time, I'll open it when I need to use it. I therefore disable this too.

What happens if I want to re-enable on startup?

If you decide you want to re-enable the program for startup you can cut the icon from the ‘disabled startup programs’ folder you created and paste back into these locations:

For Windows 2000/XP: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

For Windows Vista: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

A word of warning

If you’re unsure whether you can remove a program from startup then ask first before you delete it, as you don’t want to remove something you shouldn’t. Never stop anti virus or firewall software from running on startup, although this probably won't appear in the startup folder as a safety measure.

Things like MSN messenger, mobile phone software, Adobe speed launcher or Nero are things you may wish to disable if you do not use them from startup.

Some programs have a ‘run on startup’ option

You may need to open the program and uncheck this option to prevent startup. Windows Live/MSN Messenger is a classic example.

Someone told me to use msconfig to disable startup processes, but it's not mentioned here

If you really want to go a bit further with it all there are other ways to do disable startup processes, including msconfig. However, there's more potential to disable something you shouldn't using this method and it may seem a bit more confusing to some other people

This guide is long enough already and there is a decent guide here with some screen shots as well:

I heard you can turn off other Windows services to save resources?

Yes you can, but it becomes more complicated and often causes more problems than it's worth. That’s from first hand experience.

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« Last Edit: Friday, October 30, 2009, 23:39:55 by Si Pie » Logged
Simon Pieman
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« Reply #6 on: Friday, October 30, 2009, 23:32:40 »

Cleaning up and tuning your hard disk drive

Coming soon....

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« Last Edit: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 01:57:00 by Si Pie » Logged
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