Help Your PC Shed Some Holiday Weight

If you are like me, you have been spending a bit too much time hovering over the cookie table, and not enough time on the treadmill over the last few months.  In the same vein, I know my PC could lose some of its bulk – whether it be bloated programs and services it doesn’t need, or settings tweaks to squeeze a bit more performance out of it.  So I wanted to start the new year with some tips to help your computer lose some of its holiday “weight.”

Uninstall unneeded programs

Out with the old, in with the new, right?  Open up the Control Panel and take a look at your installed programs.  Go through them one by one and nuke any that you don’t need.  You may find, unfortunately, that some programs don’t go gently into the wind, and need a bit more of a kick in the pants to be cooperative.

If it’s a Microsoft program that is being grouchy, check out the Program Install and Uninstall troubleshooter.   It’s a free wizard-based program that helps removes stubborn programs with a bit more force.

If your machine has no need to run Java, I’d recommend uninstalling that completely.  Java offers a tool specifically for that purpose (, but I have not had great experience with it in the past.  Specifically, when I have run the uninstaller on machines with multiple versions of Java installed, they don’t always uninstall completely.  If that’s the case for you, I recommend checking out JavaRa (, which has a good reputation for giving Java a clean sweep.

Take out the trash

Now that you have the bulk of unnecessary programs off your machine, do a reboot for good measure and then lets look at other places to clear up some space.  Your computer stores a huge amount of temporary files – some of which actually aid the speed in which programs run or information is accessed.  However, much of it just sits there, clogging the hard drive and serving little purpose.  Programs like CCleaner offer a nice, easy way to search your hard drive for these troves of temporary files and clean them out:

One of my favorite parts about CCleaner is that they offer a portable version, meaning you can download and run the program in a directory without doing a full install.  Grab that here.

Disable unnecessary services

There are many programs which, after they run their regular install routine, also install an additional “helper” service to make the program start up faster when you need it.  Unfortunately, these services often run in the background all the time, not just when you have the program open.  So if you get a bunch of these services all running in the background at the same time, overall performance is likely to take a huge hit.

To illustrate this, I was recently looking at a friend’s Windows 8 machine, and he was complaining about how over the last few weeks his machine was crawling after installing a batch of new programs.  I opened up the Task Manager, clicked the Startup tab, and found some possible suspects:

I did some research and decided to disable all but the Dropbox and Synaptics TouchPad items (just do a right-click on the arrow, then choose Disable on each service you don’t want to run on startup).  Once we did that and rebooted the machine, performance was noticeably better.

Note: take caution when disabling services, as some may be more important than initially meets the eye.  Read through this MakeUseOf article, which covers 10 non-essential startup items you should be able to safely remove.

Defrag your disks

Current versions of Windows should be doing this on a more scheduled/automated basis, but it doesn’t hurt to check and make sure your hard drives are defragged.  You can do this by searching for “disk defrag” in Windows, but I’m still a bit of a DOS geek, so I like to drop to a command line and issue defrag -a c: to check disk health:

Patch things up

At this point, go ahead and reboot to give all your program changes and cleaning efforts a chance to refresh and settle.  Once that’s complete, now is a perfect time to patch all your things, then reboot once more.  Hopefully you will now be enjoying much more disk space and some noticeable speed boosts!


January is a great month for a clean start – not just for your own health, but for your PC’s health as well.  Do you have any questions about PC performance, or want to share a tool or technique that helped you eek some performance out of your machine?  I’d love to hear from you.  I can be reached at 952-467-6385 or at

Coming up next

In February we’re going to cover something I hope you never have to experience.  We’re going to talk about what you can do if you suspect that your email or other important accounts have been hacked.

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