Thursday, October 2, 2014

How to Prevent PCs Slowing Down over Time

How to Prevent PCs Slowing Down over Time

HTG Explains: Do You Really Need to Regularly Reinstall Windows?


For many people, Windows seems to slow down over time. Quite a few people fix this by regularly reinstalling Windows. But do you really need to regularly reinstall Windows? And, if so, how regularly do you need to reinstall it?

Reinstalling Windows is inconvenient. You have to back up all your data, go through the install process, reinstall all your favorite programs, and restore that data. This sucks up valuable time.

Why Windows Slows Down Over Time

The main reason people reinstall Windows is because it slows down over time. But why do Windows systems slow down over time?

  • Startup Programs: Examine a Windows system that’s slowed down and you’ll likely to find many additional startup programs have been installed, lengthening the boot process, cluttering the system tray with useless icons, and consuming CPU, memory, and other system resources in the background. Worse yet, some computers may come with a huge amount of useless startup programs out of the box thanks to manufacturer-installed bloatware.
  • Explorer Plug-ins, Services, and More: Applications that add shortcuts to Windows Explorer’s context menu can make right-clicking on files take much longer if they’re badly programmed. Other programs may install themselves as a system service, so they’re running in the background even though you can’t see them. Even if they aren’t in the system tray, useless programs can slow down your PC.
  • Heavy Security Suites: Security suites like Norton are often very heavy, consuming a lot of resources to perform all their functions. You don’t really need a full security suite— just an antivirus program.
  • PC Cleaning Tools: PC cleaning tools are scams. Paradoxically, they can make your computer even slower if they add themselves as a startup program and run in the background. The scammiest PC cleaning programs may even install additional spyware and other junk. Use the free CCleaner instead of paid PC cleaning tools.
  • Other Junk: Poorly written applications may clutter your system with useless DLL files and fill your registry with useless entries. The worst applications may not clean up properly after themselves, leaving this stuff on your system even after you uninstall them.
  • Browser Toolbars: Legitimate browser extensions can slow down your browser enough, but junk add-ons like the terrible toolbar can slow things down even more.

In other words, the main cause of a Windows system slowing down over time is installing junk software


How To Prevent Windows From Slowing Down Over Time

To keep your Windows system running like new, you need to take proper care of it.

  • Install only software you’ll actually use. Choose well-written, lightweight programs that respect your system instead of slowing it down.
  • Pay attention when installing software and avoid installing browser toolbars, spyware, and other garbage software that can slow down your computer.

  • Regularly uninstall software you don’t use from the Control Panel. Even useful software may run in the background and slow things down.

  • Occasionally use a tool like CCleaner or Disk Cleanup to remove the temporary files wasting space on your hard drive. You don’t have to reinstall Windows to get rid of these.

  • Take proper care of your web browser, too. Use a minimal selection of browser extensions. If you don’t use a browser extension, uninstall it — it’s just taking up system resources and slowing your browser down for no good reason.

  • Carefully select lightweight, minimal security programs. All you really need to install on Windows now is an antivirus — and Windows 8 users don’t even need to install that.

  • Use a startup manager tool like the one included with CCleaner or the one built into Windows 8 to prune useless programs from your startup process.


Tips for Testing Software

If you want to test software without allowing it to mess up your system, consider installing it in a virtual machine or using a sandboxing tool like Sandboxie to isolate it from the rest of your system. The software won’t be able to mess with your main operating system — just your virtual machine or sandbox environment.


So When Do I Need to Reinstall Windows?

If you’re taking proper care of Windows, you shouldn’t need to regularly reinstall it. There’s one exception, however: You should reinstall Windows when upgrading to a new version of Windows. Skip the upgrade install and go straight for a clean install, which will work better. Performing an upgrade install can result in a variety of issues — it’s better to start with a clean slate.

Obviously, if your Windows system has slowed down and isn’t speeding up no matter how many programs you uninstall, you should consider reinstalling Windows. Reinstalling Windows may often be a faster way to get rid of malware and fix other system issues than actually troubleshooting and fixing the specific problem. However, you should try to take better care of Windows in the future.

If your Windows computer is running fine, you don’t need to spend hours reinstalling your operating system — even if it’s been years since you last reinstalled Windows. That’s a sign you’re doing a good job of taking care of your Windows system.


How To Quickly Reinstall Windows

If you are going to reinstall Windows, Windows 8 actually makes this much easier. Windows 8′s “Refresh Your PC” feature effectively performs a quick reinstall of Windows, removing all your installed desktop programs and any other system modifications, while preserving your personal files. You don’t even need a Windows disc to do this.
If you’re using a previous version of Windows, you can reinstall Windows from a Windows installation disc or restore it from your computer’s recovery partition. Before you reinstall Windows from the disc or recovery partition, make sure you have backups of all your important files.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

3 Simple Steps to Create a Home Media Server

  • Lenovo%20D400%20home%20server.JPG
    The Lenovo IdeaCenter D400 is a media server that can transmit your movies, photos and more from your PC to your TV. It costs around $500 -- but you can build one yourself. (Lenovo)

    Streaming video and audio from the Web is now commonplace. Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Spotify and other services make it simple to watch or listen to what you want when you want.

    You don't even need a computer. Most services have apps for smartphones and tablets. Many newer TVs are Internet enabled, so they can stream online video and audio with no extra gear.

    For non-Internet TVs, you can grab an Apple TV or Roku box for $100 or less and plug it in. You might already have a Wii U, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. These all include media streaming.

    Google's new $35 Chromecast takes a different approach. It plugs in to your TV via HDMI and connects to your Wi-Fi network. You can stream online video from your smartphone or tablet, or the Chrome browser on PC and Mac, right to the TV.

    That's all fine for bringing in outside media, but what about media already in your home? You might have a collection of music that isn't on any service. You probably have thousands of photos. Don't forget any home videos or purchased movies you have on your hard drive.

    How do you bring these to your TV? You could just connect your computer directly and use the TV like a monitor.

    Of course, that doesn't help you stream to mobile gadgets. And you might already have a streaming box plugged in to your TV. Who needs more clutter in your entertainment center?

    There's another solution: Set up a home media server.

    Don't let the name intimidate you; it's actually not that hard once you know how. And that's what I'm going to tell you.

    There are three things you need for this to work.

    1. A media server to stream content

    2. A fast home network to carry the content

    3. Gadgets to receive and display the content

    Let's start with the server. A server is just a computer that stores and shares information. Any computer can be a server. You could use your existing home computer or an unused older computer you have sitting around.

    If you're just serving photos or audio, you don't need a high-end system. Almost any Windows Vista or 7 machine will do fine. Just make sure the computer's hard drive is large enough to hold everything.

    As a side note, I know people still have Windows XP computers at home or sitting in a closet. I wouldn't use that. Most of the software I'm going to talk about won't work as well on it. Plus, Microsoft is dropping support for XP in less than a year. At that point, no one should be running XP.

    For streaming video, you'll want a something a bit newer. It should really run Windows 7 and have 4 gigabytes of RAM.

    Once you have the hardware, you need software. There are some paid options out there like Pogoplug PC ($30) and PlayOn ($40 a year, $25 a year on sale). These make it simple to stream your media to mobile gadgets and other compatible electronics. Plus, they include plenty of other online media sources.

    However, there are free options as well, such as Orb and Plex. When I say "free," I mean the computer-based streaming software. Additional hardware and apps will cost some money.

    For example, Orb has hardware you can plug into your stereo ($79 per unit) and TV ($99 per unit). The Orb software detects these automatically, making streaming simple.

    I should point out that Orb is the only service with an easy solution for stereos. So, if that's what you're after, start there.

    Orb can stream to other hardware, like a video game console and some streaming gadgets. Orb also has apps for smartphones and tablets. You can watch your media on your home network or on the go.

    If you're looking for the most powerful system, however, check out Plex.

    You download the Plex Media Center for free and install it on your computer. It works on PC, Mac, Linux and some standalone network attached storage (NAS) units.

    Plex organizes your media and streams it wherever you want. It has apps for iOS, Android, Windows 8, Roku, Internet-enabled LG and Samsung TVs, and Google TV. These apps range from free to $5, depending on the gadget. Of course, Plex also streams to newer video game consoles.

    Then there's the free myPlex service. This streams your content to a smartphone or tablet on the go. It even streams to an Internet browser on any computer. You can use it to share photos and videos with friends and family. Not a bad deal.

    The one drawback to Plex is that it can be a little harder to set up than some other systems. However, every new version makes it easier, and it's free. So, there's no harm in giving it a try.

    A media server doesn't work if you can't send the information anywhere. You need a network.

    Any wired network set up in the last 10 years is going to be fast enough for streaming media. For wireless, however, you really need an 802.11n router. This has the speed, range and signal strength you need for streaming media.

    An older 802.11g router could work if you're only doing a little streaming here and there. However, you might find your network bogging down very quickly.

    Then, of course, you need gadgets on the other end to receive and display the media. I mentioned most of them already: mobile gadgets, streaming video gadgets, video game consoles, and so forth.

    Given the number of gadgets out there, this can seem overwhelming. How do you know what works and what doesn't?

    Start by listing what gear you already own. Then compare it to what each streaming service says is compatible.

    When you do this, you might find you already have the gear you need. That's thanks to DLNA.

    DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance. It's a set of standards built into many network-connected electronics. DLNA makes it easy for various gadgets to communicate and do just this kind of thing. There is a certification system, so DLNA-compatible electronics will list it as a feature in the manual.

    Any DLNA gadget should be able to receive streaming media from your server. That includes many TVs, Blu-ray players and audio receivers.

    That's enough to get you started on your media-streaming project. Have fun!