Picture: Wikipedia
Column - In the last two Switched On columns, I’ve been covering how you can use a system audit tool like Belarc Advisor from www.belarc.com to produce a detailed report of your system’s hardware and software configuration, information which can help when you want to troubleshoot, upgrade or replace a computer. This week, I’m covering a simple fix to boost a lagging system’s performance - as usual, this is based on my experience with typical Windows systems that have slowed down to a crawl.

Background Programs: When you install a software package on your computer, in many cases, various elements of the package (small programs) are designated to automatically start and run every time you switch on your computer - even if you have no need of them at the moment. These are called Background Processes, and they are a common cause of system slowdowns. You might not see any indication that these programs have been installed or are running, but they are - and the more of these background processes you have running at the same time, the less resources are available for the stuff you do actually want to work with.

Often, the processes that start automatically are merely utilities that check if updated versions of the related program are available. While keeping your software up to date is important, for certain programs you probably don’t need the system to be checking for updates every day. You can also manually manage updates of most popular utilities and web browsers, etc, using an updater package like Ninite from https://ninite.com on a schedule that suits you, rather than one dictated by various programs on your PC. So you need to tell your computer that when you boot it up, it doesn’t need to run all those programs.

Change: To troubleshoot whether a background process is slowing down your system, or just to disable any you don’t need, you can de-select them from your PC’s Startup routine. This is a reversible change, but I always recommend making a “before and after” note in case you need to revert later - a simple way to do this is to take a “screen shot” picture of whatever is on your screen by pressing the Print Screen button (sometimes labelled Prt Scr or similar) and then opening a program like Microsoft Word or Paint, and choosing Edit - “Paste” to paste the screen shot into a document or picture you can save.

Startup: To edit your PC’s Startup items, for Windows 7 systems, click the Start button and type MSCONFIG, then click that item when it shows up in the menu to run it.

Click the “Startup” tab, and un-tick anything that doesn’t need to run every time you start the system. In Windows 8.1 or 10, hold down CTRL + SHIFT and then press the Escape key (Esc), or click the Start button and type “Task Manager” then click it to open. If this is the first time you’ve run Task Manager, click “More details”. Click the Startup tab, then right-click and disable anything that doesn’t always need to run.

Guides: Now the big question - which programs need to run on startup and which don’t? I can’t really answer that, as your selection of programs is specific to your computer.

You’ll want to always have your antivirus program running, likewise your automated backup software and programs that are related to the actual functioning of your computer such as the audio system, the touchpad, etc.

If you’re not sure about something, rather leave it alone pending further research. For popular programs and common items that can be safely disabled, I can refer you to two guides I’ve found online.

For slightly older systems, a 2015 dated guide is at https://tinyurl.com/wsupguide01 and for newer Windows 10 systems see https://tinyurl.com/wsupguide02 . Of course, you can also search Google for information on any particular startup item-you’ll probably find useful information about the process and whether it’s important.

Next week, I’ll show you how to tackle a similar source of system performance issues - annoying or subversive programs installed by malware and similar problematic software that are both a potential risk and a nuisance.

See you then!

The Mercury