50 ways to make your PC better

If you’re comfortable using more advanced system monitoring tools, you can dig more deeply. Open the Start menu and navigate to Accessories | System Tools | Resource Monitor to access Windows’ built-in tool for monitoring CPU, RAM, disk and network usage.

Or, go a step further and download Process Monitor from Microsoft’s Sysinternals site. This utility reveals, in real-time, every file, Registry and network operation taking place on your PC, along with full details and the process responsible. Armed with this information, you can decide whether to terminate the program, disable it or ditch it altogether.

Don’t fill your desktop with icons

The desktop is an easy place to dump downloads, documents and random folders. But the more you use it, the harder it gets to find anything – especially with the distraction of desktop wallpaper, no convenient list view and program windows constantly getting in the way.

For those still running Windows XP, a cluttered desktop could even hamper performance. Sort out your files into the appropriate libraries – or, at least, create a folder on your desktop for miscellaneous files, which you can easily move, sort and browse.

Move up to 64-bit Windows

We’ll explore the benefits of upgrading your memory later on. But if you’re using a 32-bit edition of Windows, you won’t be able to access more than around 3.5GB of RAM.

You may not be stuck, though: almost all modern processors are capable of running 64-bit Windows, and peripherals manufactured within the past three or four years should have 64-bit drivers available.

So if you’re considering reinstalling Windows (see Reinstall Windows, right), you could take the opportunity to make the switch to 64-bit at the same time. The product key for your 32-bit Windows should remain valid for 64-bit, so long as you stick with the same edition of Windows (such as Home Premium or Professional). You may, however, need to buy or borrow a 64-bit installation DVD.

Check for driver, firmware and BIOS updates

Windows Update only delivers hardware drivers that have been through Microsoft’s extensive Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) certification process.

This process takes time and costs money, so manufacturers don’t normally submit every driver revision they produce. If you check the website of a device manufacturer, you may find newer drivers than those on Windows Update, which add new features or improve performance or stability.

It’s also worth checking for firmware for devices such as routers and printers – and for BIOS updates for your motherboard – as Microsoft doesn’t distribute this sort of update at all.

Relocate the start menu

Widescreen displays are great for movies, but the Windows taskbar along the bottom of the screen eats into the available workspace. Move it to the side by simply dragging it to one edge of your monitor – if this doesn’t work, right-click on the taskbar and untick “Lock the taskbar”.

Alternatively, select “Properties” and you can set the taskbar to auto-hide, or use small icons to reduce its height.

Customise the taskbar

Most people know that you can pin frequently used applications to the Windows 7 taskbar, so they’re always at hand. You can do this by right-clicking on a running application’s icon and selecting the appropriate menu option – or by dragging an icon from the desktop or Start menu onto the taskbar.

You can create shortcuts to commonly used documents, too, using Jump Lists. Right-click on an application icon and if the program supports Jump Lists you’ll see a list of frequent or recent documents.

Click the “pin” icon to the right of one of these and it will always be there in future, so you can open the document with two clicks. You can pin items to the Start menu in a similar way – just right-click on an item and select “Pin to Start menu” to ensure it stays put.

Download international themes

There’s a huge range of free Windows 7 themes available online – to find them simply right-click on the desktop, select Personalize, then click on “Get more themes online”.

You’ll also find a selection of international themes hidden away in the folder C:WindowsGlobalizationMCT. If you’re using an English edition of Windows, you’ll find themes for Australia, Canada, the UK, the US and South Africa. Simply browse into each “Theme” folder and double-click on the file to install it.

If you can’t see the MCT folder, you may need to configure Explorer to show hidden files: do this by opening an Explorer window and clicking Organize | Folder and search options, then, in the window that appears, click on the View tab and select “Show hidden files, folders and drives”.


Set up a proper backup routine

Synchronisation is great, but it isn’t a replacement for proper backup. Yes, backup is an exceedingly dull chore that we all lose interest in sooner or later – which is why it’s so important to spend a bit of time setting up a fully automated regime.

That can involve buying dedicated backup software such as Acronis True Image, signing up to a simple but bandwidth-intensive online service such as Carbonite, or even just using Windows’ built-in Backup and Restore for the basics.

Set aside dedicated storage, preferably outside your PC for added security. Take one full backup of your PC to begin with, and schedule your system to take another full one – say, every other month.

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