What Is My Computer Doing?

Have you ever used a computer that was running suspiciously slow?  This is a notoriously difficult problem to diagnose.  If you’ve been keeping up with your regular maintenance, then it’s probably not just a matter of a cluttered browser or hard drive.  Chances are, there is a program running behind the scenes that is consuming your resources.  It could be an anti-virus scan, or it could be something more sinister.  How can you tell for sure?

1.  Windows Task Manager:  If you are on a Windows PC, hit control-alt-delete (three keys at the same time).  On the resulting screen, select Task Manager.  The Process tab is the most telling.  If you click CPU (top of the column), it should put the process using the most memory at the top.  If not, click it again.  DO NOT stop a process without knowing what it does.  This can cause major damage if the process is necessary for normal computer operation.  Instead, look up the process name on a reliable site like ProcessLibrary.com.  The site will give you an idea which program is associated with the process, what it does, and whether it can be shut down safely.

2.  If the Task Manager doesn’t tell you what you need to know, try What’s My Computer Doing.  It’s free software that gets more in-depth than Task Manager.  The paid version will dig even deeper.

Happy hunting!

Easy Maintenance for Your PC

If you’re like me, you don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about computer maintenance.  The most importance part of maintenance is backing up your data.  If you back up your data on a regular schedule, you will almost never lose an important file due to unexpected computer failures.

With regular use, your computer gathers and stores all kinds of information behind the scenes.  Every time you move or delete a file/program, traces are left behind.  In fact, just about everything you do on a computer causes digital clutter!  Over time, this clutter can slow down or corrupt your computer.  This is where the other side of maintenance comes in.  A regular cleanup regimen is all it takes to keep your computer running swiftly and smoothly.  While I take these maintenance steps weekly, computers that are used only casually could push to a monthly schedule.  All utilities mentioned in this post are free and (in my personal experience) easy to run.  Of course, here is where I insert the disclaimer that the library is not responsible for how these products interact with your machine.

Whether you are running Windows XP, Vista, or 7, the routine is basically the same.

1. CCleaner:  This utility is great for cleaning up junk left behind by your browser, email client, software uninstalls, and more!  I have found the running the file cleaning module (open program, click “run cleaner”) with the default settings to recover a lot of space without dumping anything critical.  After running the file cleaning module, you can also run a registry cleaner.  Select “Registry” in the left menu.  Again, I have found the default settings in the module to be thorough without being destructive.  Click “Scan for issues” to begin.  When the scan is finished, select “Fix all issues.”  The program will prompt you to backup your registry.  This is a good idea – just remember to delete the old backup next time to run CCleaner.  Finally, click “Fix all selected issues.”

2.  Disk Defragmenter:  This utility is included with every Windows installation.  This utility is used to rearrange data on your hard drive, making for faster access.  For a more thorough description, please see this article by Microsoft.  In Windows XP, go to Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Defragmenter.  In Vista/7, click on the start orb and type “Disk Defragmenter” into the search box.  Click on the program when it shows up in the list.  The good news is, you can schedule this task to run automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.  In Vista/7, the scheduling component is easily found inside the program.  Unfortunately, it is a bit trickier to schedule in XP.  Thankfully, Microsoft created a step-by-step article to refer to.  One caveat – if your computer is turned off when the defragmentation is scheduled, it will not run until the next scheduled time.  If you miss a scheduled session or prefer not to automate the task, simply click “Defragment Disk” to run manually.  The program will let you know when it is done.

3.  Windows Update:  For the average user, I also recommend setting Windows to retrieve updates automatically.  Sometimes complicated or tweaked installations of Windows may have trouble with certain updates, so advanced users may want to manually update to avoid conflicts.  Microsoft generally releases updates on the second Tuesday of the month, affectionately referred to as “Patch Tuesday.”  Occasionally, an out-of-cycle patch will be released if it is deemed too critical to wait for the next batch release.

4.  Anti-Virus:  I am a huge fan of Microsoft Security Essentials.  In fact, I highlighted it in my very first post on this blog.  I still love it just as much – especially that it updates and scans automatically.  I have been prompted, on occasion, to run a manual scan.  If you have MSE installed, you will know it needs attention if its icon is orange or red.  Otherwise, it is humming along without intervention.  If you use a different anti-virus/anti-spyware product, make sure it is set to run automatically for the best protection.

And that’s all it takes to keep even aging computers running smoothly. Happy computing!