Whether you are a casual Web surfer or a computer superuser, desktops and laptops tend to get replaced every three or four years for faster models. Despite the RAM, MHz and processor specs the computer salesman will throw at you, these numbers will mean very little unless the machine is set up properly.
Here is a step-by-step guide on optimizing your new Windows-based laptop or PC for free.
1. Begin with system-restore point
Before you do anything else, create a restore point. A restore point is a saved backup of a computer’s data at that specific time. Regardless of what you do the computer from here on in (uninstall needed drivers, virus infection, blue screen of death, etc.) it can be brought back to its original working state.
2. Adjust visual effects
Even the most expensive and specked out machines will take a hit from Window’s visual effects. If you value speed and responsiveness over pretty looking windows, force Windows to adjust its settings for better performance.
3. Connect to home network
If you have more than one computer in your home, setting up a home network is valuable if you want to easily share files between computers or print wirelessly.
Click here to learn how to set up a home network in Windows.
4. Set up different user accounts
Computers tend to be shared, so it’s a good idea to set up different accounts so that everyone can have their own unique desktop, bookmarks, wallpapers, and private files.
Click here to learn how to set up user accounts in Windows
5. Uninstall unnecessary programs
Informally called, “crapware,” machines today come preloaded with software that you will never use. This software will take up valuable hard disk space and RAM.
PC Decrapifier is a free application that will scan and highlight all the unnecessary programs on your computer. After the scan, I also recommend going into the Windows Uninstall menu manually to check for anymore potentially resource hogging software.
6. Essential applications for productivity, security, and entertainment
Windows machines have Internet Explorer as the default browser. Although opinions on the best web browser differ wildy, IE tends to not be part of that conversation.
A good anti-spyware and anti-virus is a must on any machine. Although there are plenty of paid options, there are also great free programs out there as well. Avast! Free Antivirus is light and effective at detecting and removing any potential viruses.
Your windows computer will probably come pre-installed with MSN messenger and AOL’s Aim. With so many chat clients out today, it’s best to consolidate all these social networks into one easy-to-use program.
Pidgin is an easy and free chat client that connects to AIM, MSN, Yahoo, GChat, and more.
Playing media files on your computer can be tricky business. There’s a huge number of codecs and containers. VLC is an application which will play any video file you can put into it.
For audio files, iTunes continues to be king. All though it requires a chunk of hard disk space and its a resource hog, it tends to play nicest with all our music needs. However other options are available. MediaMonkey, syncs with Apple hardware and Winamp adds FM radio capabilities.
One essential that every computer needs is a decent word-processing program. OpenOffice.org offers a free alternative to the $150 Microsoft Office Suite. OpenOffice has its own equivalents to Excel, Access, Publisher, PowerPoint, and Word.
OpenOffice’s documents are all compatible with any of the Microsoft Office programs.
HP Photosmart Essential provides a simple set of tools for editing and sharing photos. Although a bit simplistic, the program does a fine job of making photo editing tasks intuitive.