Home PC Support - Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10 Cleanup/Speedup guide

Step Zero: System Backup

All changes to an operating system, particularly if you're inexperienced, have the potential to cause harm. Having said that I've run the following procedures on hundreds of machines without error. But there's no guarantee that you're as awesome as me, so it pays to be careful. So, you need to back up your system partition, either onto another hard drive or an external hard drive.

There are many methods to do so, personally I recommend using Hiren's Boot CD (download and burn image to a CD using a cd burning program which can burn images, such as Infrarecorder).

Download, burn to CD and reboot with the cd in the cd drive. Your computer should boot up the Hirem Boot CD - if it doesn't, you may need to change settings in your bios so that your CD/DVD drive is first in the boot chain. Once booted into Hirem's Boot CD, navigate the menu and look for "DriveImage XML". Use DriveImageXML to make a backup of your system partition to another hard drive. Again, if you don't know what your system partition is, you probably shouldn't be doing this. Or, get someone else to do it for you who knows what they're doing.

With that precautionary measure out of the way, let's do it-

Step One: delete stuff

  1. Go through and back up old projects and data onto an external hard drive. Get rid of personal stuff that doesn't need to be on the hard drive anymore.
  2. Download and run PC decrapifier. Remove any software you know you don't use. Do not remove anything you're unsure about, but remove any 'toolbar', 'anti-spyware' or 'pc speedup' types of software. If you're running a Norton, Mcafee or Trend Micro antivirus, consider removing them as well (these are performance draining and can be replaced later on).
  3. Download and run Ccleaner Portable. This one won't stay permanently running on your computer. In particular tick the boxes for your web browser and "Old prefetch data". Also run the registry cleaner in this program. An alternative to this program is Wises Disk Cleaner, which does much the same thing.
  4. Run window's Disk Cleanup utility - click on the start menu, then type "Disk" without quote marks, and Disk Cleanup should appear. Right-click the program and left-click on "Run as Administrator" in the drop-down menu that appears. Once it has loaded, tick all boxes except for "Downloads", then click 'Ok'. This may take some time. The window will disappear once finished.

Step Two: Prep and check

  1. Boot into safe mode with networking.
    (XP/Vista/7): Press F8 on bootup, before the windows bootup screen and select 'Safe mode with Networking'.
    (Win8/Win10): In the searchbox, search for and run 'msconfig' (no quote-marks). Change your boot mode to 'Safe mode' with networking, then reboot.
  2. Download and install Malwarebytes - let it update itself and then run a scan. If it finds something, let it clean it. If this doesn't get rid of the problem entirely, you need to either figure out how to get rid of it by researching the specific malware itself, or get someone else to do it for you. A system restore or refresh may help, or not. Often malware affects the restore files too. Your computer must be malware/virus-free before you proceed, even if that means a complete reinstall of the operating system. Reboot into regular windows (Win8/Win10: run msconfig again before rebooting to change boot settings back to 'normal').
  3. Download and run HDDScan - if you get any 'yellow exclamation mark' boxes next to any of the SMART values, look them up in the SMART value table. Depending on the value and the score, it could be time to replace that hard drive before it dies. In which case, stop doing this guide, backup your data, and either use the clone you created in step zero to push your OS onto a new drive, or get a computer technician to sort the situation out for you.
  4. (Expert users only) Go into the windows control panel. Search for "UAC" in the search box. Disable UAC. Reboot computer.

Step Three: disable stuff

  1. (Vista/Win7) Disable windows defender - which merely doubles-up the same labour that your antivirus software does, without doing a good job. Go into control panel, search for 'defender', go to Tools -> Options -> Administrator Options, and uncheck the "Use Windows Defender" (Vista) or "Use this program" (Win7) box. Reboot.
    (Win8/10): 'Windows defender' in Win8/Win10 is completely different to what it is in Win7/Vista - in Win8/10, it's MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials - their antivirus agent). There's no need to disable it, and it will be disabled automatically if you install another antivirus program.
  2. Disable useless/performance-hungry windows services. You can do this by following a services guide like Black Viper's (use the "Tweaked" settings). Alternatively you can use 'pre-cooked' settings for Windows 7 here, or for Windows 10 here. If in doubt, use 'safe' settings. If you have 2gb ram or less, disable Superfetch and Themes. You can access the services settings directly by going to the control panel-> administrative tools -> services (in Windows 10, you need to search for the control panel in the start menu).
  3. (Win7) Disabling the Themes service (or switching to a "Basic" theme) may increase performance in games, as Aero uses a certain amount of video memory. However, disabling Aero will also cause screen tearing during video playback in windows.
  4. (Nvidia graphics cards only) Go to the nvidia control panel, Video color settings, Click "With the Nvidia settings" and go to the advanced tab. Change the drop-down box to "Full (0-255)". Great, now your youtube videos won't look washed-out and crappy, will have actual white colours where there're meant to be white colours. This should be the default, but Nvidia haven't listened to their users.
  5. Download and run Starter. Disable programs starting that you know aren't necessary, in particular any "quickstarter" applications ie. java quickstarter, quicktime starter, office quickstarter etc etc etc. If you're a bit more technically advanced, you can use Microsoft's Autoruns instead, which gives more comprehensive information about starting processes, programs and drivers.
  6. Disable windows sounds.
    (XP) Go to control panel -> sound and audio devices -> sounds.
    (Vista/7/8/10) Type 'sounds' in the search box.
    Change the sound scheme to 'No sounds'.
  7. Disable default screen saver.
    (XP) Go to Control Panel->Display->Screen saver tab and change screensaver to 'none'. Then click on 'monitor power' and make sure your screen turns off after 20 minutes or so. This saves on power and prevents long-term damage to the screen.
    (Vista/7/8/10) Go to Control Panel and search for 'Personalization' (without quotation marks). Click on the resultant icon. Click on 'screen saver' and change your screen saver to 'none'.
  8. Control panel -> system -> advanced -> performance -> settings -> Visual effects and change to "adjust for best performance". Then tick "Smooth edges of screen fonts" and hit ok.
    (XP) By default XP uses the 'Standard' algorithm for font smoothing, which is designed for use on CRT monitors. Chances are you're using a flatscreen LCD monitor (XP shows it's age here). To change to the more readable 'Cleartype' algorithm (which all later versions of windows use), go to control panel->Display->Appearance->Effects, make sure the 'Use the following method to smooth the edges of screen fonts' box is ticked, and change the algorithm to 'Cleartype'. Click 'ok' then 'ok' again.
  9. (Win10) Download and run O&O Shutup10. Use the recommended settings, but re-enable Peer-to-peer updates if you have more than one Windows 10 computer in the house, and turn off "Windows tracking of app starts disabled". You may also want to disable Onedrive, and "Disable ads in Windows explorer/onedrive".
  10. (Win10) Go to settings->Apps, and uninstall any crappy apps/games that windows has installed that you don't want.
  11. (Win10) If the auto-hiding scrollbars annoy you, open Settings. Click on Ease of Access. Click on Display. Under "Simplify and personalize Windows," turn off the 'Automatically hide scrollbar in Windows' toggle switch.

Step Four: SSD drive?

(XP/Vista/Win7): If you have an SSD drive installed on your computer, download and run SSDtweaker. Use the 'AUTO-TWEAK' setting. Also, DO NOT run the mydefrag software below in step five on your SSD drive. If you have any other drives installed which aren't SSD drives, then download and run mydefrag on them.

Step Five: defragmentation time...

  1. Download and install Mydefrag. Run Mydefrag and run "System Disk Monthly" on your system partition (usually "C:"). Once finished, close and run the application again, and if you have any other partitions visible ("E:", F:" etc) that aren't CD/DVD or flash drives, run "Data disk monthly" on them. Monthly defrags can take some time, so you might want to leave them to run overnight.
  2. If you are using any of the following applications - Firefox, Chrome, Epic, Iron, Opera, Palemoon, Skype, Thunderbird, Yandex, Cyberfox - download and run Speedyfox. This application defragments the profile databases for each of these applications, resulting in a faster startup for each of them, particularly skype (please note that regular defragmenting will not affect the fragmentation of your databases).

Step Six: re-enable stuff

  1. (Win8/Win10) If you're like the majority of people and find the Windows 8 start interface a major waste of time and patience, switch back to any of the older-style start menus by installing Open Shell (formerly 'classic shell'). Once you click on the new start menu, it will ask you which one you would like (XP/Vista/Win7-style).
  2. If you removed a virus scanner earlier, it's time to install one. You can either buy one (I recommend NOD32) or get a free one - Avast Free and AVG Free are good ones. Whatever you install, install on 'minimal' settings (just basic protection), and let it update itself and then scan your system. The free antivirus products will generally bug you to upgrade to the 'full' product. No need.
  3. Change your power settings:
    (XP) Control panel -> power options -> power schemes and change to "Home/Office" or "Laptop" (if you have a laptop).
    (Vista/7/8/10) Control panel -> Power options - either put on 'Balanced' or your manufacturer's "recommended" option, then click on 'change plan settings' - change the setting for 'put the computer to sleep' to "1 hour" (or shorter for a laptop).
  4. At this point, you can re-enable system restore from the control panel (system->advanced system settings->System Protection), which while it isn't as good as making your own backup (and is no way NEAR as useful in the event of a crash or malware), is convenient and automatic. Make sure you only re-enable it for the system partition and NO OTHERS.
  5. (Vista/7/8/10) If you're security-conscious and/or uncertain, you may want to reenable UAC by going into the control panel and doing the reverse of what you did in Step 1.4. However in my opinion UAC is just annoying, and if you've gotten this far, you probably don't want it.

Step Seven: drink some tea

Or coffee, whatever, I don't mind. Just keep yourself hydrated, okay? Feel better? I know I do.

All advice given without guarantee - use your brain - if anything dies/fries/stops/explodes, see a doctor (but don't talk to me).