3 Tips to Make Your Old Computer Young Again

Photo (cc) by Argonne National Laboratory

A third of Americans would rather go to the dentist than perform this one simple, money-saving task. A fifth would wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And 12 percent would prefer a colonoscopy.

So what is this onerous chore? “Clean their computer’s registry in order to prevent crashes and improve speed.”

A study this month by security software maker PC Tools proves that when it comes to computers, we treat them worse than almost any other machine in our lives. After all, we regularly change the oil in our cars, clean the lint from our dryers, and buy fancy protective covers for our smart phones.

But that unsexy, immobile desktop computer? It gets no love. Yet with just a little TLC – and without time-consuming, high-tech maneuvers – it can last for many more years without showing any sign of its age. Here’s how…

1. Don’t delay the defrag

If you’re like most people and use a Windows-based PC, one of the simplest things you can do requires the least amount of time and shows the most immediate results. It’s defragging.

That’s short for a utility called Disk Defragmenter. While tech geeks will hate this simplified explanation, defragging condenses all the bytes of information that have been spread all over your hard drive when you repeatedly save and delete files. By putting that info back into neat rows, your older computer can access it much faster. The newer the computer – with its latest tech and bigger hard drives – the less a defrag helps.

If you’re still running Windows XP, Microsoft explains the process for defragging. IF you’re using Windows 2000, Microsoft recommends this. Or you can simply Google the process for your particular computer. But be warned: While defragging doesn’t take a lot of your time to initiate, it can take a lot of time for your computer to complete – sometimes an entire afternoon. While you can continuing working while defragging, it’s best to do it when you’re not – so set it up for overnight or when you’re going to be away from your desk-top for a while.

2. Clean that registry

This one is a tad more complex, which is why those survey results showed that 43 percent of PC owners would rather change a baby’s dirty diaper than clean their computer’s registry.

The Windows registry is simply a list of all the information about your computer – all the different software programs, the kind of hardware and any special settings. Without that regisrty, the various parts of your computer can’t talk to each other. Over time, spyware and viruses can corrupt your registry. Also, if you’ve improperly removing a program instead of uninstalling it, that can leave behind other useless and space-filling files.

And since Windows looks to see what’s in the registry when it performs many functions, all those extra files slows things down. If one of these files has become corrupt, it takes even longer.

Streamlining your registry by deleting these unnecessary (or even dangerous) files will speed up your computer just like a defrag. But whatever you do, don’t let anyone but a qualified computer technician convince you, “Yeah, I can do that for you.” Deleting the wrong files from the registry can lock up your computer. Microsoft offers a free registry cleaner. Follow that procedure to the letter, and you’ll see a big difference.

3. Make a date to update

Older PC owners who upgraded to the Windows Vista operating system a few years ago were irked when their machines couldn’t handle the bloated program. Many returned to Windows XP, 2000 or even older versions. But there are different versions of the latest operating system, Windows 7, that may work for you, depending on the age and configuration of your machine. And while tech guys will hate to hear me say it, if your old system still works for you, stick with it until you can afford to replace it.

Regrettably, many of those people are still using an old web browser to surf the Internet. An upgrade there will make a noticeable difference. According to Netmarketshare.com statistics, the third most popular web browser is Internet Explorer 6.0 – which is eight years and two versions old. About 16 percent of all people online are slogging through web pages designed to be seen with newer technology.

Your old machine might not be able to handle Internet Explorer 9, which Microsoft just released in beta form. But there are other alternatives that might speed up those slow-loading web pages. You might want to try…

The best advice here is to pick the one you feel most comfortable with, because any of the three are better than the IE6 you’re using now.

Of course, there’s more drastic action you can take, like swapping out your hard drive and adding more memory. But that involves cracking open your machine, and if you’re a casual computer user, that’s as scary as performing open-heart surgery on yourself.

Still, it might be worth hiring a local tech to make these upgrades. Sure, you can buy a new PC for as little as $500, but if you can improve your old computer for half that, it’s worth the money, and you save space in a landfill. I should know. I’m typing this on an iMac I bought in January 2003.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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