Few activities signal the arrival of a new school year as much as the annual trip to Staples, walking up and down the aisles and filling your cart with notebooks, protractors and other devices your child’s teacher has deemed necessary.

While a new box of crayons for your first grader won’t set you back too far, the bill for your college-bound student is likely to leave a slightly more substantial dent. Beyond tuition costs and book fees, the old spiral bound notebook has been replaced by an “ultrabook,” and web browsers serve up research information more often than hard-back volumes.

With the important role PCs play in education, keeping your student’s machine running at peak performance is critical. Too many times, students face machines that slow down, crash and seem to need replacement not long after their initial purchase.

In reality, this seemingly rapid road to computer obsolescence is exaggerated. The average computer is built to last far longer than we assume. By following a few simple steps, you can ensure that your laptop is optimized and running as good as new, long after the initial purchase.

  • Speed Up Boot Time

Few things push us to buy a new computer more than a slow boot time, but the reality is that a long start up doesn’t necessarily signify an out of date machine. Our PC’s are filled with programs that start automatically every time we turn the machine on, and most of these start-up programs play an integral role. However, 15% of these programs are optional and increase boot time without any significant benefit.

Lab testing has shown that by removing just three resource-intensive automatic startups, we can decrease boot time by 41% – a 117 second improvement. By using a built-in utility called msconfig (in Windows, type “msconfig” in the search box located in the “Start” menu), you can sort through these files. If you are unsure which files are necessary and which are excessive, there are several free software downloads that can help. 

  • Keep Programs and Items Updated

When you’re in the middle of surfing the web or writing a document, the last thing you want to do is stop and download an update when the reminder notice pops up. For the average user, it’s too tempting – and easy – to hit Not Now or Remind Me Later.

While it may seem like a hassle, keeping on top of your updates can drastically improve your PC’s performance. Beyond the fact that up-to-date programs work faster and better, they also often include key security patches that improve your ability to fight off malware and viruses. 

Along the same vein, keeping your PC’s driver software updated will vastly improve the functioning of your entire system, including printers, sound cards, video cards, USB drives, Bluetooth devices and other hardware peripherals. Driver software manages the communications between your operating system and your hardware, carrying and “translating” the instructions that make the hardware work.

Out of date driver software can make your PC peripherals function poorly or crash.  Hardware manufacturers typically publish driver software updates on their websites for free, or, consumers can find more automated, easy to manage solutions that update the drivers for them, such as SlimDrivers, downloadable freeware that automatically updates a PC’s drivers. 

  • Clean Out the Junk

Sluggish PCs can often be the result of a system that is bogged down with unnecessary, and sometimes harmful, junk files. Temp files, logs and other common culprits can weigh down your computer with useless information, slowing down its processes and hampering performance. Clearing out these files and bits of unwanted code can offer significant improvements to PC functionality.

Microsoft provides a free utility in Windows called “disk cleanup” that can perform some of the Windows-related “clean-up.” However, there are free tools that offer more automated options, such as scheduling, and provide customized information for consumers about what exactly is on their PC. 

  • Uninstall Dead Weight

Like junk files, unused applications and software programs simply act to slow down your PC. If you’re looking for a general rule, it’s “if you don’t need it or use it, get rid of it.” Cutting out these programs will improve efficiency, speed and, ultimately, performance.

Some of the same free tools that clean out the “junk” from a PC can also provide information about the functions performed by various pieces of software and programs, and which ones might be unnecessary.

One such free tool is SlimCleaner; others also exist online.

Computers have proven to be indispensable educational tools, especially for college students. Yet, their value is only as strong as their performance, and as computers get older their speed often declines.

However, as we have seen, many of the issues we face with PCs are not caused by the age of the machine, and can be fixed by taking steps to clean, optimize and update the PC. So before you head off to the store to sink more money into a new PC for your college-bound child, take a few minutes to try out these steps – an optimized computer is only a few clicks away.

Chris Cope, CEO of SlimWare Utilities and Chief Technology Correspondent for Computer America.



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