Microsoft Windows Vista/7 Clean-up and Performance Improvement Guide without Hardware Upgrades

This is a Microsoft Windows Vista/7 clean-up and performance improvement guide. From hunting down malware to giving your system some extra oomph, this guide has something for everyone.

In an ideal world we would all like to upgrade our hard drives, RAM, CPU, Graphics card etc to improve performance, but that is a costly route and one I personally delay until truly necessary.

A computer can become cluttered, and with a clean-up, coupled with some tweaking you hopefully should be able to get some more performance out of the system, with a side-effect of the system being more secure at the same time!

Note: This guide hasn’t been written for Windows 8 users, as I don’t use the operating system.

Warning!!! You follow any of these instructions at your own risk!! Be warned, you could kill your computer. Make sure you have performed a backup before proceeding. This guide doesn’t pretend to cover everything, so if something vital has been missed, you are not to hold 8Bit Mammoth (or the writer!) responsible!

Step 1 – Scan for malware, rootkits, trojans and viruses

Between a good virus scanner and the free verion of MalwareBytes, hopefully you can hunt down any malicious code that is lurking on your computer. Not only removing these nasty files make your system more secure, and save you a few headaches or two, but it should help with performance. Always make sure you are using the latest MalwareBytes database definition. i.e. The latest update for the package, so it can search for recent malware, as well as older malware.

Malwarebytes Anti-MalwareAlso if you are running more than two virus scanners, you probably will find your system is incredibly slow, and perhaps you are wearing a tinfoil hat? I personally use Microsoft Security Essentials (others rate Avast and AVG over MSE) as my real-time scanner, and every so often I run MalwareBytes to perform a scan.

Also if you want to go the extra distance you might want to run the free rootkit tool from Kaspersky. Just visit and search using the keywords tdsskiller download, which should lead you to its current download location.

Kaspersky TDSSKillerTip – When installing ‘any’ software use the customise option to make sure you are not installing any tool bars and additional software you don’t require. It will save you a lot of hassle!

Step 2 – Clean-up your desktop and remove the wallpaper!

Many people have their desktop cluttered with files, with the desktop sporting a chunky photo used as wallpaper. This all takes up memory, especially at boot! This clean-up guide is about performing lots of little tweaks that together can make a huge impact, so do yourself a favour and clean-up your desktop.

Personally I use a ‘solid’ colour as a background (Right click on the desktop to then finder options for setting / removing wallpaper or find options via control panel), especially on older slower computers. I only see the clean desktop at boot anyhow. I only have a few short-cut icons on my desktop, such as a to-do list.

On a related note I will often turn off fancy Microsoft Windows effects, such as ‘aero’ – eye candy which I don’t mind not seeing.

Step 3 – Uninstall applications

You might discover a bundle of applications are installed that you don’t use any more – I know I often do! Take the time to head to the control panel and look at the applications you’ve installed. Where possible uninstall applications that you know won’t be seeing the light of day again. You might be surprised at how much of a difference this can make!

On a personal note my RTS computer games take up gigabytes! So I will often hunt down the profile locations, perform a backup and then uninstall games I don’t plan on playing for a while. This technique works well with Age of Empires and Command and Conquer Generals. Once I’ve reinstalled them, I just move the saved profiles back to the locations.

Step 4 – Run msconfig and see what is running at start-up

By typing msconfig into the start’s search area, else running at command line, the msconfig application should run. This is an old application that has been bundled with many versions of MS Windows, and is incredibly useful.

msconfigBy migrating to the ‘startup’ tab you will see a list of applications that are running when your computer boots up. Many of these should not be ‘unselected’ as they are critical to your computer, such as security and virus scanning. However often there are applications that are running, just to make the main application load just a few seconds faster! Madness I say! Madness!

Between Google, common-sense and your memory you might be able to untick an application. When in doubt leave it, but if you don’t know what something is, you should find out!

From the screenshot you will notice I only have my backup, virus, firewall and a few Intel apps running.

Step 5 – Clean-up the system!

The free ‘CCleaner‘ application can scan your system for files which are not required and fix registry issues. There are multiple benefits to scanning and fixing both of these areas, which CCleaner does an admirable job of handling.

CCleanerUsing Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer) don’t forget to also check how much hard drive space you have remaining. In most cases it doesn’t matter, but if you are getting reminders that your hard drive is almost full, it is time to sort through files, perform some backups and create some more free space.

On a personal note, I recently deleted the majority of email attachments in my email client (Thunderbird), and then ran the ‘compact’ option on those folders. My email went from using over 2GB to half a gig within thirty minutes!

Step 6 – Defragment your hard drive

Warning: Never defrag a solid state hard drive! This advice is for a mechanical drive.

They say that computers have become so fast, that you don’t need to defragment your hard drive any more. I say ‘BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!’. If the computer is having to work a bit harder to run an application because parts of it are spread out across the drive, I think I should give it a helping hand!

Auslogics Disk Defrag is not only free, but a fantastic disk defragmentation application, which I prefer over the standard version that gets bundled with Microsoft Windows. It has an analyse function and it reminds me of the old defragmentation apps of yesterday.

Auslogics Disk DefragIf using a laptop make sure it is plugged into the mains, and be prepared to leave your computer for hours performing the defrag. Always perform an analyse of the hard drive first, to see if it is worth performing a defragmentation of your hd.

Tip – Don’t perform defragmentation too often, due to the intensive utilisation of the hard drive. I personally won’t bother until it is in double digits or close to. The screenshot above shows a hard drive after two weeks of intensive use, and I won’t be defragmenting it.

Die Hard Mega Tip – Upgrade your motherboard’s BIOS

For many considering an update to a computer’s BIOS is daunting, causing people to break out in a sweat, and with good reason! If your BIOS upgrade doesn’t work properly, then you can kill your motherboard! No pressure then. Back in the day it was an even more daunting task, but today often it is the case of running a piece of software as administrator, and following basic instructions.

If you are not running the latest version of your BIOS, you could be missing out on all sorts of updates, including fan updates. So it is worth checking what you are missing out on!

In my case (on a Dell D620), it was a Microsoft Windows piece of software that I ran, which then rebooted the system, performed the update and within a minute my BIOS was updated. Not even enough time to put the kettle on!

What about hardware upgrades?

There is only so many hardware upgrades you should consider, before you put that money towards a new computer. Recently I purchased a desktop computer for some old school RTS gaming, and only decided to replace the graphics card. That computer will never receive another update unless I notice a cheap CPU for sale via eBay, else the hard drive dies.

When it comes to graphics cards, you should think less about the amount of RAM supplied, and more about the capabilities of the card itself and the type of RAM supplied.

Motherboard RAM can make a difference, such as the speed and amount of RAM. You should always check your motherboard manual to see what RAM it supports, and personally I would never mix RAM types or install more than 4GB (at the time of writing this post). I’m generally happy if a system has 2GB of RAM installed.

One of my current favourite upgrades on old tech is the hard drive! I’m planning on buying a faster SATA hard drive for my laptop, but taking into account my old laptop might only utilise certain older SATA specfications. So in my instance a new SATA 2.5 hard drive will be fine, but might not run as fast as it could! However this will still be far superior to my current hard drive! I’m not bothered about investing in solid state drives yet.

I’ve only overclocked hardware once, which worked out okay, but that was many years ago and never bothered since. I don’t recommend this option at all!

What about cleaning the computer?

You need to be very careful when cleaning your computer! I once killed a motherboard cleaning dust off it! I will often clean fans and remove dust to help with air flow and surface temperature, but in a sensible manner, following strict procedures which I won’t cover here. Be careful! You’ve been warned.

On occasion I will redo the sealant between the fan and CPU, but hate doing this!! It is a greasy nightmare, that I avoid when possible. Though with the CPU dispersing its heat properly, means it performs better. There are free tools you can use to monitor the temperature, and on occasion you will discover that functionality within a BIOS. Then you check those temperatures against recommended levels for your CPU.

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