10 ways to fix a sick PC

If your personal computer has fallen ill and you want to get it back into running condition, read on.

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By  Windows staff Published  July 6, 2008

If your PC has fallen ill and you want to get it back into running condition, read on as WINDOWS talks you through 10 ways to nurse your PC back to health...

1. Install security software

If your computer is giving you random problems and crashing or is even performing poorly, the first port of call when it comes to recovering is to check for viruses, Trojans, malware and more. To do this, you'll need to get hold of security software. Keep in mind however that these days it is better to have a fully-fledged suite that includes antivirus, antispyware and a firewall rather than investing in a single antivirus-only package.

You can buy a complete security suite from various vendors including Symantec, McAfee, eSet, CA and more. These are easy to install and make it quite simple for novice users to maintain a smooth running rig that's free from trouble.

There are also free alternatives available for download which perform the same functions. The bottom line is that if your computer is unprotected, you need to install a security suite immediately. If something is not quite right with the running of your system, run a scan, and you might just detect something malicious - whether it's a virus, Trojan or other mal-ware.

2. Make sure all hardware drivers are updated

Drivers are essentially software that acts as a liaison between a computer's operating system (OS) and its hardware. If your computer is crashing, freezing or performing erratically, a good step forward is to make sure your drivers are up-to-date, as the latest driver versions will generally include new performance optimisations, bug fixes and many more helpful updates.

To update a driver, you'll first have to figure out exactly what hardware you own (if you don't already know). If you've kept the packaging and manuals, check these to find out the model number and manufacturer. You can also look for this information on the device itself. Once you've ascertained this, hit the manufacturer's website and look for the driver and download it.

Next up, you'll need to uninstall the older driver first. Simply right click on the ‘Computer' on your desktop and click ‘Properties' and then ‘Device Manager'. All of your computer's kit will be listed here. To uninstall the driver, just right click on the hardware and select ‘Uninstall'. Once the process is complete, you should reboot your computer - if not prompted - and then install the new driver by executing it.

If the new driver lacks an automated installer, go back to Device Manager and look for hardware that falls under ‘Other devices' (this will usually have a yellow question mark next to it). Just right click the device name and hit ‘Update Driver Software' and point it to where the driver is on your computer. The process should then be self explanatory.

3. Keep your OS up-to-date

Regardless of which OS you use, keeping it up-to-date is important whether you're having problems with your computer or not (prevention is better than cure as they say). OS updates contain bug fixes that can boost stability and, perhaps more importantly, include upgrades that prevent hackers and/or malicious code from harming your PC or any of your data.

If you're a Microsoft OS user, this process is simple; the only pre-requisite to updating your OS is that it is activated. You then need only point your mouse cursor to Start/Windows Update. This will launch either a web browser (for XP) or the Windows Update app (for Vista).

With XP, you'll likely need to authorise the use of ActiveX Controls for your browser. This will appear as a thin, yellowish bar just below the Address bar of your web browser. Simply left click this and select ‘Install ActiveX Control'.

Once this is done, your browser should automatically route you to the update site and perform a scan of your PC. After this, a list of updates, some critical, will be displayed. Of these, make sure you get the critical updates first as these pertain to security and bug fixes.

With Vista, you get a built-in update tool so once you've hit the Windows Update button, you only need to hit the ‘Check for updates' button. Then, as with the XP process, a list of updates and fixes will be displayed and you can pick and choose accordingly.

4. Delete unwanted files and spam

In an age where the majority of our computer time is now spent online, there are numerous files our computers can pick up through an internet connection. These include unwanted cookies, temporary files, malware programs and even viruses (to name a few). All of these can cause serious problems, so it's wise to clean out the hard drive regularly.

This is why free programs like Ad-Aware are the most popular applications on sites like www.download.com. Ad-Aware is built specifically to remove spyware and adware and has garnered a great reputation in doing it with minimal fuss.

Ad-Aware 2008 shows even more improvement, with faster scan times that trounce its rivals. Along with an anti-virus program and a firewall, Ad-Aware is arguably the next most important piece of software on your computer - so make use of it.

You can also perform a routine system clean up by using your web browser itself. Go to your internet browser every so often and delete its cache. You can also use the ‘Add or Remove Programs' manager to clean up unwanted programs and applications that are rarely used.

The most common form of junk files we pick up come via the web. Make a habit of going into your internet browser and deleting your temporary internet files from time to time. If you're using Internet Explorer, go to Tools>Internet Options, and in the ‘General' tab, click ‘Delete' under Browsing History.

There you can choose which files to rid yourself of, from cookies to history, passwords and temporary files. If you want your computer to store less of these files, click the ‘Settings' button (found under the 'General' tab) and select how much disk space you want the browser to use as a cache.

5. Clean your registry

If you're a Microsoft OS user and your computer is taking its own sweet time to boot or you receive error messages about missing files or is just plain slow, you could have a problem with your registry.

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