Join For Free

Refuel and Reboot: Make the Most of an Older Computer (2010)

NOTE:  This presentation is just an overall guide to computer maintenance. You should consult your computer’s manual and other product support information before trying anything described in this presentation. Neither I nor Fifth Freedom accepts any liability for any damage to your computer or loss of data that may occur.

Introduction

Welcome to Refuel and Reboot: Make the Most of an Older Computer. This workshop will explain how to extend the life of a computer that’s a little past its prime. For this presentation, I will be assuming that you’re running Windows XP. If you’re running Windows 98 or earlier, some of this information will still apply. If you’re running Windows ME, there’s nothing anyone can do to help you.

Today, I will be discussing computer memory, getting rid of unnecessary computer files and services, lightening the load on your computer processor, ways to surf the Web faster, and some basic computer maintenance.

Computer Memory

How memory works

One of the easiest ways to upgrade an older computer is increasing your computer’s memory. Adding memory to your computer makes programs load quicker, and improves its ability to multitask. Most of the computer upgrades and maintenance I’ll be talking about today will be free. Upgrading memory isn’t free, but it is much more affordable than buying a new computer.

First, what is memory? Your computer has two main ways to store information: a hard drive, and RAM – Random Access Memory, or just “memory.” The hard drive can store a much larger amount of data than memory, but memory works much quicker. Memory is also only temporary storage, but your hard drive keeps everything until you delete it. Your operating system files are stored on the hard drive, but when you boot up your computer, the operating system is loaded into memory. Any applications you open are loaded into memory, too, until you close them. So, having more memory helps you to multitask, and to work faster.

Windows XP can handle a maximum of 4 gigabytes of memory. Depending on your system, some of that memory may be used by your graphics card or other computer components, so even if you install 4 gigs of memory, your system might only show 3.5 gigs available.

Finding the most budget-friendly memory that will work with your machine, and installing it

How do you know which memory sticks will work with your computer? You can find memory by searching http://www.crucial.com .

1) Unplug everything. Most importantly the power cord, but you also might have a mouse, a keyboard, printer, speakers, and other peripherals you need to unplug.

2) Ground yourself by touching something metal. This is to discharge any static electricity that might damage your sensitive computer components. This is especially important in the winter.

3) Open the case. Cases are all different, so I can’t show you one way that will work for everybody. You might need a screwdriver to open your case. If you do, make sure it is not one with a magnetic tip. To a computer, a magnet is like alcohol – it can make it forget things.

4) Look for the memory module slots. You may have open slots, which means you can just put the new memory in the open slots and you’re done. If your new memory is faster than your current memory, your new memory sticks will slow down to match the old memory. If your computer is very old, it would probably be best to get rid of the old memory, even if you have free slots.

5) If all your slots are taken, you’ll have to pull out the old memory before you can put the new memory in.

6) Pull out the clips, pull out the old memory, and push the new memory in, pressing the clips in and making sure everything is secure. You have to press fairly firmly to get everything to snap in place. As long as you press straight down, you won’t break it.

7) While you have your case open, you may want to get some canned air and blow out any dust bunnies.

8) Close up the case, plug everything back in, and power it up.

Assuming your new memory is correctly installed, your computer should automatically detect it and make the adjustments it needs. If your computer does not boot up, either your memory was not installed correctly, it’s incompatible, or a dud.

Dump the junk

One way to speed up an older computer is to get rid of everything you don’t need. Dump the junk, and your computer will run lean and mean.

Getting rid of unnecessary files and software

The less free space your hard drive has, the slower it will run. Imagine you’re looking for a specific piece of paper inside a file cabinet. The more files you have to search through, the longer it will take you to find what you need. So, get rid of everything you don’t absolutely need in that filing cabinet. Do you really need your bank statements from 1987? How about the owner’s manual for that Chevy Nova you sold thirty years ago?

First, delete any unnecessary files. Go to “My Computer” and click “Search.” Click “All files and folders.” Don’t enter anything in the search terms; just click “Search.” Wait for your computer to finish searching everything. This may take a while.

Go to “View” and click “Details.” Right-click on the bar and select “More,” then “Date Accessed.” This will allow you to sort all the files in your computer by the date you last used them.

Now, if you have not used a file in more than a year or two, consider getting rid of it. If you think you might possibly want it someday in the future, put it on disk, but get it off the hard drive.

To get rid of junk software, don’t just use Windows’ built-in uninstaller. It doesn’t find everything. Use a piece of free software called Revo Uninstaller. It gives you a complete list of everything installed on your computer. When you find something you want to get rid of, it does a thorough check for anything that junk software might have left behind, and gets rid of all of it. (http://www.revouninstaller.com/ ).

Startup programs and Windows services

When you turn on your computer, it doesn’t just load Windows. It loads a lot of other programs, too. However, there are very few programs that you actually need to run at Windows startup.

First, check Start > Programs > Startup. Anything in this folder automatically runs when you start your computer. A lot of software automatically adds an entry to your startup folder when it’s installed, but most software doesn’t need to be here.

Now let’s disable some special effects. Go to start > settings > control panel > system > advanced > performance. The more things you uncheck here, the less pretty your computer will look, but the faster it will run. It also helps to set your desktop background to “none”.

Next, go to Start > Run, and type “msconfig”. This brings up the System Configuration Utility. Be very careful using this, and write down every change you make.

Click on “Startup”. The things in the list here run whenever you start your computer. Some programs are on this list not because you need them to run all the time, but because they would take slightly longer to start up if they didn’t start when windows starts. However, the more things that load when you start your computer, the longer it will take and the slower your computer will run.

Here are some things that are definitely safe to remove:

• Adobe
• Quicktime
• Java
• Microsoft Office
• Anything that says “Preloader”

For everything else, you have to check.

A free piece of software by Microsoft called “Autoruns” might make this easier.

http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php

http://www.processlibrary.com

While you’re in msconfig, click “boot.ini” and select “NoGUIBoot”. This will make your computer start up without showing the Windows splash screen, which will make it start faster.

Also important to check are Windows services. A Windows service is just a built-in function of Windows that you may or may not need, depending on how you use your machine.

Services you might be able to disable:

o Print Spooler – The print spooler sends documents and photos to your printer. If you don’t have a printer connected to your machine, you won’t need print spooler, so just disable that.

o Fast User Switching – If you don’t have your computer set up for multiple Windows user accounts, you don’t need fast user switching.

o If you don’t have more than one computer at home, you can disable Application Layer Gateway Service, Computer Browser, Cryptographic Services, Distributed Transaction Coordinator, Upload Manager, and Workstation.

o Help and Support – If you always search Google for the solution to computer problems, you can disable Windows’ built-in help function.

o IMAPI CD-Burning COM Service – If you don’t have a CD burner, or if you don’t use it, you can disable this and anything else for CD burning.

Services you can definitely disable:

o Remote registry – Nobody needs remote registry. Remote registry is a service that allows people to access your computer’s software settings via the internet. There is almost no chance that you will need this, and a big chance of it becoming a security risk. Definitely disable that.

o ClipBook and Telnet – Also designed to share information with other computers, and also unnecessary 99% of the time.

o Indexing Service – Indexing service makes searching your files and folders a little faster. If your computer is very organized and you don’t search for files very often, you can disable that.

o Themes – Themes are just some additional eye candy. You can disable that.

o Messenger – The only thing I’ve ever seen Messenger used for is sending spam. Disable that.

Lighten the load
“Lightweight” alternatives to popular software that run better on older machines

One way to make an older computer run faster and more efficiently is to use lighter software. Every computer has a limited amount of resources – memory, processor power. Some of the most popular software on the market is also very resource-intensive. Using lighter-weight software can make things easier for an older machine.

You can find more alternatives at http://alternativeto.net .
If you try one of the programs listed here and it doesn’t work on your machine, you can try going to http://www.oldapps.com and downloading an older version.

Instead of Adobe Acrobat Reader

Sumatra PDF (http://blog.kowalczyk.info/software/sumatrapdf/free-pdf-reader.html )

When you visit websites with pdf documents, they often suggest downloading Adobe Reader to read them. But if all you want to do is read pdfs, you shouldn’t download Reader. Adobe Reader is actually designed for large, corporate customers to use. It comes with a laundry list of features that make it very, very expensive, like a full email server, audio and video player, and even a viewer for 3D design files that only architects and mechanical engineers would use. The free version of Reader just has the expensive features disabled. So you’re downloading and running a bunch of junk that you actually can’t use. It’s like buying a trunk to store your spare blankets and bed sheets, but the trunk is attached to a Lexus that you don’t have the keys to start. So if all you want to do is read PDFs, download something simple that’s only designed to do that.

Instead of Microsoft Word/Office

Abiword (http://www.abisource.com )

Abiword is a lightweight word processor that duplicates much of the functionality of Microsoft Word, but without hogging all your system resources.

OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org )

OpenOffice is a full-featured office suite, similar to Microsoft Office. It contains alternatives to Word and Excel. If you also need an email program, try Mozilla Thunderbird.

Instead of Norton Internet Security

Comodo (http://personalfirewall.comodo.com )

Instead of iTunes

Songbird (http://www.getsongbird.com )

If you really want to run your system lean and mean, and you don’t mind learning the ins and outs of new software, consider getting rid of Windows altogether and installing Linux. The smallest, lightest version of Linux is Puppy Linux
( http://puppylinux.org/main/index.php ).

You can also run Puppy Linux off of a CD or a flash drive. This means that, if you have a computer with a broken hard drive, you can still get some use out of it. (If you need to save a file, you can save to the internet or a flash drive.)

Surf faster
Learn ways to make Web sites load faster, including changing your DNS settings, blocking advertisements, & turning off image loading

One issue with an older computer is your internet speed. Even if you have the fastest broadband connection available, a slow computer will still limit your speed. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to speed things up.

These tips will produce results for everyone, but the results will be most noticeable to people without broadband, like a DSL or dial-up connection.

Change your DNS settings

Many people have two names: a full, legal name, and a short nickname. Websites are the same. Every website has a domain name and a numeric IP address. The domain name is generally a word or two, or a series of letters, something easy to remember. The IP address is a long string of numbers.

For example, Google is Google.com or 74.125.39.106.

When you click a link to Google.com, your computer sends a request to what’s called a “Domain Name Resolution Service.” Basically, this service has a list of all the domain names and which IP addresses go with them. Before you can open a website, the service has to find it for you.

When you sign up for internet service, you automatically sign up to use your host’s domain name resolution service. The disadvantage to using your internet service provider’s service is that their service is also transferring other kinds of data – websites, emails, chat, and things like that. So, it can get a little slow.

Fortunately, you can sign up for another service, one that only does Domain Name Resolution. This will speed up your browsing, sometimes very noticeably so.

I use OpenDNS ( http://www.opendns.com ). Visit http://www.opendns.com . Click on “Use OpenDNS”, and then “Sign UP” for Basic. Set up your account. This is like any other service on the web: pick a user name and password, give them your email address, and click on the confirmation link in the email they send. Follow the simple instructions to change your settings. It sounds really technical, but it’s simple. Trust me. If you can type a phone number, you can do this.

Blocking Advertisements

One way to significantly speed up your Web surfing is to block advertisements. Many Web sites are designed so that their advertisements are downloaded first, and then the actual content you want to see is downloaded. If you don’t want to wait for some annoying ad to load, there are a couple of ways to get rid of them.

1. In Internet Explorer

First, make sure you have Internet Explorer 8. Click on “Help” and “About”, and you’ll see what version you have. If you have an earlier version, download Internet Explorer 8 from Microsoft. (Internet Explorer 8 only works in XP or later, so if you’re still using Windows 98, you can’t do this. Sorry.)

Once you have IE8, you need to change your desktop icon. Right click on the icon and select “Properties.” See where it says “Target”? You want to add this:

-private

Click OK . Now, every time you open IE8 with that shortcut, you’ll be in private browsing mode.

Next, you’ll need to download some advertisement blocking filters. I’ve provided those for you, as well. Download the file and save it to your desktop.

Open Internet Explorer, select Tools > InPrivate Filtering Settings > Advanced Settings > Import. Browse to your desktop, select the file, and click “Open.”

Now you’ve got your ad blocking filters installed! Wasn’t that easy?

The bad news is that, every time you open Internet Explorer, you’ll have to turn on the filters manually. If you want the filters on automatically, you have to do one extra step.

Download a second file called “Filters Always On”, and right click it and select “Merge”. You might get a warning about adding information to the Windows registry. Just click OK.

Now the filters are always on. They won’t block every advertisement on the Web, but they’ll block a lot of them.

2. In Firefox

Another way to do this is with another Web browser called Firefox. Firefox is pretty similar to Internet Explorer 8, but it has a big advantage: addons. A Firefox addon is just an additional piece of software that gives Firefox extra abilities.

Install Firefox, and then add the Adblock Plus addon. Now whenever you surf the Web with Firefox, you’ll have most of the ads blocked, and any ads that you do see you can add to your filter list so you’ll never see them again.

Blocking Images

If you have a slower connection, or if you’re just really impatient, you might want to block images altogether.

1. In Internet Explorer

Tools > Internet Options > Advanced > Scroll down to “Multimedia”, and un-check “Show Pictures”. If you want to see a particular image, just right click on the image placeholder, and select “show image.”

2. In Firefox

Tools > Options > Content > Uncheck “Load images automatically”. If you want to see a particular image, right click the placeholder image and select “view image”.

Maintenance
Just like a car, your computer needs to be properly maintained to keep running smoothly. Learn how to defrag your hard drive, check for bugs, and more

Defrag your hard drive

One reason why older computers slow down is file fragmentation. What is that? Well, imagine a file cabinet with a series of files. At first, all the “A” files are together, and all of the “B” files are together, and so on. But, as old files are removed and new files are added, things start to get disorganized. A few “A” files are in the top drawer, and a few are in the middle drawer, and one is in the bottom drawer. It takes longer and longer to find all of the files. Defragmenting is basically going through all of the files and moving them, so that all of the “A” files are together again.

Go to “My Computer”. You may have one drive here, or multiple drives. Pick a drive, and right click, and select “Properties”. From the Properties window, select “Tools”, then “Defragment Now”. On the Disk Defragmenter window, select “Defragment”.

If you haven’t done this in a while – or ever – it could take a long time. You might want to do this before you go to bed and let your computer work all night.

Error Checking

After you defrag, to back to “Tools” and, next to where it says “Error Checking”, click “Check Now.” This will activate Windows’ built-in error hard drive checking tool. If you have any issues with bad hard drive sectors or directories, it has a good chance of fixing it.

Computer killers – How to protect your computer from potential “computer killers” like viruses, malware, spyware, power surges, and even household pets

There are quite a few things out there that can kill your computer. Here are a few of the most common, and how to prevent them.

Power surges

Power surges can be caused by a variety of things – lightning strikes, poor wiring, and other issues. To keep your computer from being fried, you need a surge protector. Well, most of you probably know that, but what you might not know is how to find a good one.

Surge protectors are rated in Jules. This number is essentially how big of a shock it can take before it fails. You want at least 1,000. Also, if you have any kind of wired internet connection – dial-up, DSL, cable, fiber optic, anything – you want your connection to pass through a surge protector before it connects to your computer. Power surges can come through a phone line just as easily as a power cable!

So, a surge protector like this will probably cost you $20 to $30, but considering that computers cost ten, twenty, or thirty times that, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Malware – viruses, spyware, and adware, oh my!

Malware is short for “malicious software.” This is a general term for software that installs itself on your computer, often without your permission. Some types of malware include viruses, spyware, and adware.

A computer virus is a piece of harmful software that has the ability to make copies of itself and spread from computer to computer by itself. Viruses often operate by attaching themselves to a program already installed on a computer. Some viruses are just a minor annoyance, but some can delete your files, stop your computer from working properly, or even steal your credit card numbers.

Spyware is software that collects information about you, usually to send to advertisers. A piece of software may track which Web sites you visit and at what times.

Adware is software that delivers advertisements to you. Sometimes a piece of software might just have a banner at the top that shows advertisements. Sometimes adware may generate popup ads or replace ads on a Web site with its own ads.

If you want to protect yourself, you need a couple different pieces of software. Fortunately, they’re free. AVG Free, AdAware, Spybot Search & Destroy. One of the best is Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s made by Microsoft, but it’s free, and updated regularly.

You can also help protect yourself by practicing good Internet hygiene. Downloading pirated music or movies is not only illegal, it’s also one of the most common ways to get a virus.

Pets

Yes, your pet can kill your computer. If you have any furry friends wandering around your house, eventually, your computer will start gathering pet hair. Open up your computer case and blow out any hair with compressed air. If you don’t do this, eventually the pet hair can clog the vents in your computer and your computer can overheat and die. You should do it at least twice a year, more if you have more than fifteen cats.

Conclusions

Following all these steps can keep a computer with Windows XP useful for several extra years. However, there is a possibility that Windows XP computers might not be able to connect to the Internet after 2011.

We are headed towards a big change in the way the internet works. Everything that connects to the Internet needs an Internet Protocol (IP) Address. Computers, laptops, smart phones, printers, everything. This address tells your internet service provider where you are. Without it, you can’t connect.

Currently, the Internet uses Internet Protocol Version 4. IPv4 uses 32-bit IP addresses, a system which allows 4.3 billion things to connect to the Internet. So many people have so many internet-connected devices, we’re rapidly running out of 32-bit addresses. As of December 7, 2010, less than 148 million are left. They could all be gone in as soon as three months.

Imagine a world without telephone area codes. Without area codes, there would only be 9,999,999 possible phone numbers. In order to expand the number of possible phone numbers, we have to add extra digits to everyone’s number. Everyone goes from a 7-digit number to a 10-digit number.

In order to allow more people and devices to connect to the Internet, we need longer IP addresses. We have to move to IPv6. IPv6 uses 128-bit IP addresses, which would allow over three hundred eighty thousand million billion things to connect to the internet, pretty much everything on earth. IPv6 should last until humanity colonizes other planets.

Most of the work of moving to IPv6 will be done by internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast, and you and I won’t have to do anything at all.

Unfortunately for Windows XP users, Windows XP does not support IPv6, and it doesn’t look like Microsoft is going to issue an upgrade to fix it. It’s a possibility, but I don’t see it happening. So, when the IPv4 addresses are exhausted, you may have to go to the library or a friend’s house to use the Internet.

However, I might be wrong. And even if I am right, a Windows XP computer will still be able to do word processing, edit photos, play music and games, and millions of other things, for years into the future.