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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to Troubleshoot Your Keyboards

Imagine a computing world without a keyboard. Doesn’t seem plausible, does it? Though they’re often taken for granted, keyboards are vital toward helping us input data into email, Word and Excel documents, Websites, and more. They also let us quickly open Windows programs, execute commands, control multimedia content, and play games. If you’ve experienced a keyboard related problem, you know computing life seemingly stops until the problem is rectified. Depending on whether you use a notebook or desktop system, your keyboard likely has 80 to 110 keys and uses a traditional QWERTY layout vs. a Dvorak or other layout. Most keyboards connect to a computer via a cable that has a connector that plugs into a computer PS/2 or USB port. The connection provides the keyboard power and relays electrical signals between the keyboard and computer. Wireless keyboards typically use battery power and a receiver that you connect to the computer for communicating, usually via RF (radio frequency) or Bluetooth technology. Inside a keyboard, a built-in microprocessor and circuitry manages those electrical pulses, which occur when you press a key and it connects to a sensor that’s underneath. The microprocessor, or controller, analyzes the pulses, converts them to binary form, and passes them to the operating system, which executes the appropriate command or enters content into the proper program.
Fortunately, keyboards are fairly simple devices and don’t generally experience many problems. Still, there may come a time when you notice incorrect characters or no characters at all displaying on-screen, multimedia keys not functioning, error messages indicating a keyboard isn’t present, or keys sticking. The following are common keyboard-related problems and possible fixes.
Simple Problems, Simple Solutions
Most keyboard problems usually relate to the keyboard’s cable, proprietary software, its cleanliness, or mechanical failures. Fortunately, most of these problems are easily corrected.
Problem: Your keyboard only types capital letters or the numeric keypad won’t display numbers or text you enter overwrites existing characters.
Solution: These problems are usually caused by keys with functions you can toggle on and off. For example, if the keyboard only displays capital letters, the CAPS LOCK key is probably on. Press it to turn the function off. The same applies to the NUM LOCK, INSERT, and SCROLL LOCK keys.
Problem: You’ve spilled fluid on the keyboard.
Solution: Drink enough coffee, soda, or other beverage around your computer, and accidents are bound to happen including spilling liquid on your keyboard. If this happens, acting quickly is imperative, as the underlying circuitry is in immediate risk of being permanently damaged. To (hopefully) rescue the keyboard, first shut your system down to turn off electricity to it and then tip the keyboard to drain as much fluid as possible. Follow up by wiping it with a dry rag or towel. If the fluid was something other
than water, use warm water to wipe the board clean. Some experts advise rinsing the entire board. If you do, make certain the keyboard is completely dry before plugging it back in, as electricity and water don’t mix. Using a hair dryer can accelerate the drying process, especially underneath the keys, but take care not to damage the circuitry with excessive heat. For safety reasons, consider waiting several days before using the keyboard again. If these steps don’t do the trick, a replacement is probably necessary.
Problem: Certain keys stick when you press them.
Solution: Your keyboard will usually let you know if a key is sticking by ringing out a continuous beep, indicating the keyboard’s memory buffer is packed. Otherwise, characters may display erratically, or you’ll physically feel the key is stuck. Keys stick for several reasons, including if the board is particularly dirty. Over time, keyboards accumulate significant dirt, dust, and debris on and under keys. A cloth tissue with a little water usually is enough to clean the board’s surface, and using a can of compressed air will clear most junk from underneath the keys. If you still notice keys sticking, power your system down and try to gently pry off the stuck key with a flathead screwdriver, cleaning the space with a cotton ball and some isopropyl alcohol.
Beyond The Basics
Although most keyboard-related problems aren’t severe, a few go beyond a cable simply being loose. The following problems require a bit more effort to resolve.
Problem: Your computer isn’t recognizing your keyboard.
Solution: If Windows displays an error message that a keyboard isn’t present or characters you type aren’t displaying on-screen, check the connection to the computer. Shut your system down and then look at its back to make sure the connector is securely plugged into the proper PS/2 or USB port. PS/2 keyboard ports are typically colored purple, and the connector will only fit one way. Check also that the connector’s pins aren’t bent or broken. It’s possible to gently bend a pin back in place, but if it’s broken, replacing the keyboard is your only option. If the pins are fine but you suspect the board isn’t receiving power, plug another keyboard into the computer. If it works, your keyboard’s circuitry may be damaged, and you’ll likely need a replacement. If the substitute also fails, the PS/2 or USB port or a motherboard controller may be bad, and it’s possible you’ll have to replace the motherboard.
Finally, if the keyboard is plugged into a USB hub, the hub may not be capable of supplying sufficient power to the keyboard. Try connecting the keyboard directly to a dedicated USB port.

If you see error messages indicating a keyboard isn’t present,
it could mean your keyboard cable is unplugged, loose, or
plugged into the wrong port. Most keyboards plug into a purple
PS/2 port or USB port. Make certain the board isn’t plugged
into the green PS/2 port for mice.

Problem: The multimedia or quick-launch keys won’t work.
Solution: Many keyboards include special keys for controlling multimedia content, such as adjusting volume levels, or for opening commonly used programs, such as a Web browser. Accessing these functions or customizing the keys usually requires installing proprietary software and a device driver that the keyboard’s manufacturer provides. If these keys aren’t working, check that the software is installed and the configurations set correctly. Check also that the keyboard meets Microsoft’s compatible tests.
(You can check at If your board isn’t listed, check with your manufacturer for updated software.
Problem: You accidentally turned on StickyKeys and can’t turn it off.
Solution: Windows provides the StickyKeys tool for those who have trouble holding down two keys at once, such as CTRL-Z. With Sticky-Keys turned on, you can push one key one at a time to perform a key combination. Pressing the SHIFT key five times turn StickyKeys on. Pressing SHIFT five times again turns it off.
Problem: Characters repeat onscreen when you type.
Solution: If characters consistently and unintentionally repeat on-screen, adjusting the sensitivity of your keyboard’s keys can help. Do this in Windows XP by clicking Start and Control Panel and then double-clicking Keyboard. On the Speed tab, use the sliders under Repeat Delay and Repeat Rate to experiment with how long you have to hold a key down before it repeats and the rate at which repeated characters display. When you find a setting you’re comfortable with, click OK.
Other Road to Success
Other options for curing what’s ailing your keyboard include checking if Device Manager shows the keyboard as being problematic. In WinXP, click
Start and Control Panel and then double-click System. In the System Properties dialogue box, click the Hardware Tab, click Device Manager, and look for the Keyboards entry. If your see a yellow exclamation mark or red X, there is a problem. Highlight the keyboard and click the Uninstall button. Reboot the system, and Windows will reconfigure the board. If your board displays odd characters on-screen, check that Windows is using the correct language setting by opening Control Panel and double-clicking Regional And Language Options. On the Languages tab, click Details and check that English (United
States) – US is set as the default. If not, click the Add button under Installed Devices and select it from the dropdown menu.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

You Can’t Install Something ...... read this

It all seemed like such a good idea at the time. You picked up the newest, coolest video-editing suite this afternoon and spent the whole drive home thinking of how your video creations were going to put Martin Scorsese to shame. However, every time you tried to install the software, your computer coughed up some new and exotic error that gave you no idea as to what the actual problem was. While the causes of install errors are many and varied, we’ve got you covered with some of the most common ones—and how to go about fixing them.
Insufficient Resources
There’s one error that you may be able to circumvent before even buying the software. Too often, you can trace installation problems back to insufficient system resources. Most software manufacturers list the system requirements for their products right on the software packaging itself, but that helpful information really means nothing if you don’t know what you’re looking at or what resources your system has.
Let’s take a look at your system’s resources. In Windows XP, simply click
Start, then Control Panel, then double-click System. In the window that pops up, click the System tab. Under the System heading, you’ll find your current operating system, as well as the Service Pack that’s currently installed. In the lower-right quadrant of this window, you’ll find information on your processor speed and available memory. Take note of all of this information; if your system’s specifications don’t match or exceed the requirements listed by the manufacturer, then the software won’t properly function on your computer. Some software packages will also have specific requirements for your video card, as well. While still in the System Properties window, you can check these by clicking the Hardware tab and then clicking the Device Manager button. To see what kind of video card your system has, click the plus (+) symbol next to the Display Adapters icon. (You can also find this information by double-clicking the
Display icon in the Control Panel and then clicking the Settings tab; the video card should be listed under the Display: heading about halfway down.) One final note about system requirements: Manufacturers will often list minimum system requirements as well as recommended ones. Though the software may work with the minimum requirements, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that your system has the recommended ones because the programs you install will generally run a lot smoother and crash less if your system doesn’t have to use every bit of its resources just to load them.
Do You Have Permission?
Another common problem users run into when installing new software, especially on newer machines, stems heavily from something called user permissions. Machines running Windows NT/2000/XP are all configured with an Administrator login, which is usually included so that normal users can’t access certain parts of the computer. You’ll know you have a problem with user permissions when your error message includes the words “Please contact your system administrator.” Of course, you probably don’t have
a system administrator. You’re probably running the computer at home, not at an office. So why is your computer asking you to contact someone who probably doesn’t exist? will give you a fresh error that’s related to installation. 
You can find a wealth of information on your
system in the System Properties window.

You can sidestep a large number of
Installation headaches if you make sure
to log in as an Administrator before you try
adding any new software to your system.

The problem here is that many types of software cannot install properly if there is an older version of the same software already present on the computer. Though this error can be frustrating, it’s fortunately rather easy to fix. Click Start, then Settings, then Control Panel. Double-click the Add or Remove Programs icon. A list of the software that is currently installed on the machine should appear. Scroll down through the list until you find a match for the software you’re trying to install (for example, if you’re trying to install the newest Adobe Flash Player, check the list for any mention of that name). When you do find a match, click the software name and then click the Change/Remove button. Your computer will uninstall the old version of the software. Sometimes, Windows will require you to restart your computer to complete the process. Once the computer is finished rebooting, log in as an Administrator and then try installing the software again.
If It Isn’t the Software
So far, we’ve mainly covered software installation problems, but another set of errors can cause just as much frustration for the average home user. Instead of purchasing the newest, coolest video-editing suite, you’ve instead just purchased some new hardware, in the form of a DVD-R drive for your machine. You followed the instruction sheet to the letter, but when you turn your computer on, the new component still won’t work. What gives? There are many reasons why a newly installed piece of hardware might not work, but we’ll cover three of them in general here. The first reason should look rather familiar, as it’s also a common cause of software installation problems: system requirements. Check in the hardware’s packaging, and make sure your machine meets or exceeds the manufacturer’s requirements for the new part to operate. If your system requirements are in order, make sure that your machine has the correct drivers installed to run the new piece of hardware. These will usually come in the box with the new hardware, most often on a CD. Run this CD to install the proper set of drivers for the new hardware. Also, the hardware manufacturer’s Web site may also have the driver for the hardware available for download. Now that the drivers are installed in your well-above-specs system, everything should work as advertised. If it doesn’t, however, you may want to check for a device conflict. This error occurs when more than one device is trying to use the same resource or set of resources on your computer. To see if this is the case, open the Device Manager as described above and then check the list for any piece of hardware that registers a device conflict (there will usually be a red exclamation mark in a yellow circle next to the names of such devices).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can’t Delete Something? ....raad this

Deleting something is usually one of the easiest computing tasks to accomplish. So much so that OS (operating system) developers such as Microsoft ( have added safeguards to their products to make sure trigger happy users think twice before deleting the wrong file and doing irreparable harm to their data or systems.
But there are times when the simple act of deleting something can go awry.
The causes are many, from the simple to the exotic, but they all have one thing in common: They can be extremely vexing and frustrating when you just want to, well, throw out the digital trash.
Working Status
Deleting a file is usually quite simple. The application that you’re working in may provide you with a warning before you delete a file, asking you to confirm that you indeed want to delete the file before proceeding. Once confirmation is given, that’s all it takes. Windows versions since Windows 95 all feature the Recycle Bin, the trash can icon on your Desktop that temporarily stores deleted files. The Recycle Bin is there in case you have second thoughts and decide you need a deleted file after all and is just an area on your hard disk set aside to temporarily hold files marked for deletion. Files stored in the Recycle Bin may last for a while, depending on the size of the Bin. (By default, Windows makes the Recycle Bin 10% of whatever the hard disk capacity is.) But be aware that the Recycle Bin doesn’t exist in certain situations. For example, if you delete a file stored in a thumb drive, there won’t be any Recycle Bin to bail you out if you change your mind. Ditto for network drives, which usually don’t have a Recycle Bin either; usually, a file stored in a network drive is immediately deleted. But, since network drives are frequently backed up by businesses, there may be a copy of the file that you can retrieve from backup media if you accidentally delete something you needed after all.
Try, Try Again
You try to delete a file, but you receive a warning telling you the file can’t be deleted. When this occurs, the first step is to determine whether the file is in use by a program. For example, if you attempt to delete a file that is open in Microsoft Word, switch to Word and then close the file within Word. Once you close the file in Word, you should be able to delete it with no problem. In most cases, Windows XP tells you the application that is using the file in question, so it’s pretty simple to close the file and then delete it. You can also get a clue as to the application that is using the file by the file’s icon or the extension. For example, if a file extension is .PDF (Portable Document Format), you know this is an Adobe Acrobat ( file that is viewed using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Reader. Sometimes, even closing an application using a file isn’t enough. This can happen because an application does not play nice and refuses to let go of the file even though the application is closed. In some cases, an application may appear closed (you exited the application), but it is still running in the background.
For example, some applications don’t close all the way when you exit but continue to run in the background. These apps may appear as a small icon on your System Tray (the area in Windows on the lower-right portion of the screen where you may see a number of small icons). If you suspect this is the problem, simply locate the application’s icon in the System Tray and close the application. For most programs, right-clicking the System Tray icon will launch a small menu that contains an Exit or Close command. Click the appropriate command and then delete the file. If the application using the file you want to delete is closed, there is no System Tray icon, and you still can’t delete the file, you may be grappling with a poorly programmed app that refuses to release a file even after you exit the application in the normal way. To close this type of stubborn program, press CTRL-ALT-DELETE to launch the Windows Task Manager. Click the Processes tab and look through the list of programs and processes running in your system. Unfortunately, the contents of this list are usually program names ending in .EXE or file names ending in .DLL, so things may appear a bit cryptic. Usually, the name of the program executable file for an application matches the name of the application: For example, Excel’s program executable file is Excel.exe. Scan the list, find your application’s executable file, and click the End Process button to close it. If the name of the application’s program executable file is not obvious, browse to the program folder that contains the application’s program files. To do this, double-click My Computer, Local Disk (C:), and the Program Files folder. Scroll through the list of folders until you locate the folder containing the program in question and then double-click it to open it. Look for file names ending with .EXE; one of those will be the app’s main program executable, which you can then close using the Windows Task Manager’s Processes tab. If all else fails, the inability to delete a file may be an indicator of file system corruption. This means the area of the hard drive where the file is stored is corrupted. This could be due to a software or hardware issue. For example, if an area of your hard drive is physically damaged, strange behavior can occur. To have Windows find and correct file system errors, click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and Disk Defragmenter. Click the Analyze button in the Disk Defragmenter window. Windows will look for file system errors and correct anything it finds, if possible. Now try to delete. If you still can’t delete the file after trying this software fix, there may be serious errors with your hard disk signaling an impending hard drive failure. And that is a real problem requiring swift action. Back up your important files and replace the hard disk as soon as possible.
Video File Issues
It is possible that you may receive an Access Denied or Windows Can’t Delete The File Because It’s In Use error message while trying to delete a file ending in the .AVI (Audio Video Interleave) file extension. This problem can occur because WinXP creates thumbnails for video files (such as AVI files) that show the first frame of the video. This makes it easy for users to see what video content a file contains without having to open it. To provide this functionality, WinXP uses a file called the Shell Media Extension (Shmedia.dll). This feature usually works perfectly, but whenever a video file is corrupted or not playing nice with Shmedia.dll, the system “locks” the file and doesn’t release it, even after you reboot. To solve this problem, you can do one of two things. First, you can open up a command line by clicking Start and Run and typing cmd in the text box. At the command prompt, type CD drive where file is stored:\folder where file is stored and press ENTER. For example, if the file is kept in a folder called Video in your C: drive, type CD C:\Video to open the folder. Type dir at the command prompt to see the list of files contained in the folder and then type DEL file name (where file name is the name of the file you want to delete) to delete the file. If the name of the folder is greater than six characters, you must shorten it by entering ~1 after the first six characters. For example, if the name of the folder you are trying to get to is called Program Files, to open the folder from a command prompt you must type CD C:\progra~1 to open the folder. That’s because the command prompt environment can’t handle long file names. The second approach requires modifying your Windows Registry. (NOTE: Making changes to the system using the Registry Editor may cause errors that render the operating system unstable. You should always create a backup before editing the Registry.) To do this, click Start and Run and then type regedit in the text box. With Registry Editor open, locate the following key: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations\.avi\shellex\PropertyHandler\{87D62D94-71B3-4b9a-9489-5FE6850DC73E}. Click the key in the right-hand pane of the Registry Editor to highlight it, right-click the key, and select Delete from the context menu. You’ll give up the thumbnail previews of video files feature, but you’ll now be able to delete the offending AVI file.
The Processes tab in the Windows Task Manager
window shows a list of all processes currently
running in your system. In some cases, this may
be the only way to close an application that
refuses to release a file you want to delete.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What To Do When You Accidentally Delete Something

At some point in your computing life, you will lose data, whether it’s due to something as serious as a system crash or something less drastic but equally as frustrating, such as accidentally deleting a file. While the sting of losing a coveted photo, spreadsheet, or audio file definitely smarts, it may ease your pain knowing there’s a good chance of getting your data back if you act quickly and logically.
For this article we’re assuming you’ve accidentally deleted or misplaced a file, folder, icon, or similar data and a backup copy isn’t available. Data lost to such problems as malfunctioning hardware/software or Windows- related errors often require more time-consuming and complicated solutions—uninstalling/reinstalling Windows, using Windows’ Repair or Recovery Console utilities, replacing a hard drive, and more—than those we’ll discuss here, which are generally easier to execute but potentially as effective. First, though, it will help to know what you’re dealing with when you lose data, accidentally or otherwise.
Where Deleted Files Go
Many users assume once a letter, photo, song, or other file is deleted that it’s gone for good, but this isn’t the case. Deleting a file essentially only erases the bookmark that Windows uses to retrieve the file. What deleting a file really tells Windows is that you no longer wish to reserve hard drive space for the file. Thus, the file remains on your drive until Windows writes over it with new data. Until then, there’s a chance of retrieving your accidentally deleted data. Initially, the best thing you can do is actually nothing, as any new data you save to your hard drive could write over the file you want to retrieve.
Also, running a disk defragmenter could wreak havoc on your deleted file. If you’ve scheduled Windows’ Disk Defragmenter to run automatically, disable the option (click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Scheduled Tasks) until you retrieve the data. Ultimately, getting your file back may mean using an undelete program. At worst, a data recovery service can retrieve data from even a presumed dead hard drive, but typically at a stiff price (more on these options later).
Search For Your Files
Often, just searching for a file can tell you if you really deleted it or accidentally saved it to another location. First, check the list of recently accessed programs and files WindowsXP keeps at the left of the Start menu. Windows programs such as Wordand Excel also keep a list of recently opened files specific to that program on the File menu. Clicking the File menu in Word, for example, shows you four recently accessed Word documents and their locations. Another option is Windows’ Search tool (click Start, Search). In the Search Results dialogue box under the Search Companion pane are options to search for Pictures, Music, Or Video; Documents (Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Etc.); All Files And Folders; and Computers And People. Try clicking All Files And Folders and entering appropriate text in the All Or Part Of The File Name and A Word Or Phrase In The File text fields. Next, click My Computer from the Look In drop-down menu and click Search. Your results will display to the right. If Search doesn’t find what you’re after, try using a wildcard (*) character and the document’s file extension, such as *.doc or *.xls. Search also has such advanced search options as Search Hidden Files And Folders and searching by file size, last modified date, and other criteria.
Check The Recycle Bin
If Search proves fruitless, check that Windows isn’t holding the file in the Recycle Bin (double-click the Recycle Bin Desktop icon). Most files you manually delete remain in the Recycle Bin, taking up hard drive space until you empty the bin (click File and Empty Recycle Bin). By default, the Recycle Bin uses 10% of your hard drive’s capacity (change this by right-clicking Recycle Bin, clicking Properties, and adjusting the Maximum Size Of Recycle Bin slider.) When the capacity is full, Windows drops off older files as new ones are added. If you have a large-capacity hard drive, your files can remain in the bin for a long time. If your file is in the Recycle Bin, highlight it, click File, and click Restore to retrieve it.
Use System Restore
System Restore is Windows’ utility that can roll your system’s settings back to a previous date, or Restore Point. System Restore doesn’t alter files you’ve recently created, such as email and Word docs. Using a Restore Point will remove any Windows updates or program-specific upgrades (particularly virus and spyware definitions) you installed after the Restore Point’s date. You’ll need to reinstall these after the restoration. To use System Restore, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore, and follow the steps given.
Use Undelete Software
If your file is still missing, it’s time to consider using an undelete program, which will scan your hard drive for data that’s still active but that Windows doesn’t recognize. Note, however, that an undelete program may only retrieve portions of a file due to several reasons, including how Windows stores data. Rather than save a file in one location on a hard drive, Windows chops the file into smaller chunks, or clusters, that it fits into spaces on the drive as they become available. These spaces usually aren’t next to one another, and as new data is saved to a drive, it can write over various portions of the file. Although undelete programs range in price and difficulty of use, most can also scan removable storage devices and include a search tool and helpful filters for narrowing down searches. Many free undelete apps are available, but most will only display the files they can retrieve until you pay the program’s full version to retrieve them. 
To make certain you really accidentally deleted  
a file and didn’t actually save it to another location,  

use Windows’ Search tool to (hopefully) find the file.

When looking at undelete apps, consider one that you can download to and run from a removable storage, such as a CD/DVD, floppy diskette, or USB keydrive, as, again, installing an app to your hard drive could write over the files you want to retrieve. Additionally, although programs differ in how they search for retrievable data, most offer quick and deepscanning options and filters for searches and viewing results. This last point is important, as typically a program will return hundreds to thousands of files that may date back years. Finally, look for an app that rates the chances of retrieving files, such as PC
Tool’s File Recover does using Poor (partially recoverable) or Excellent (fully recoverable) qualifiers. For this article we used various demo, free trial, and final versions of PC Tools’ File Recover ($29.95;, WinRecovery Software’s WinUndelete ($49.95;, OfficeRecovery’s Free Undelete (free;, Executive Software’s Undelete 5.0 Home ($29.95;, and R-tools Technology’s RUndelete ($54.99; Other apps include Que-Tek Consulting’s File Scavenger 3 ($49;, Active@DataRecovery’s Active@File Recovery ($29.95;, and Stompsoft’s Recover Lost Data ($39.99; Wellknownmanufacturers such as Symantec (Norton SystemWorksStandard, $69.95; Save & Restore, $49.99; Norton Ghost 10, $69.99; and McAfee (Internet Security Suite, $49.99; also offer recovery tools.
Use A Data Recovery Service
Depending on how valuable your lost data is, a data recovery service is an excellent option. The bad news is that such services are typically time-consuming and expensive, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Typically, after evaluating the drive, the service will provide a cost estimate for getting your data back. Further, you may get multiple estimates based on different factors that may influence the ability to get back your data, such as if the hard drive is physically damaged.Before choosing a service, ask what data you can expect it to retrieve, including the specific data you want back. Check if the company performs retrievals in its offices, onsite, or offers software you can operate yourself at home. Most importantly, make certain the company adequately answers all privacy-related questions, as the service will have access to all the data on your hard drive, including personal information. Two data recovery services include DriveSavers ( and Ontrack Data Recovery ( Overall, some preparation is often the best solution for getting accidentally deleted data back. This means routinely backing up important files and having an undelete program on hand so you can immediately search for the file after you realize it’s gone. Additionally, many Windows programs have auto-save and backup features, such as Word’s Always Create Backup Copy setting (Click Tools and Options and click the Save tab).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What to Do If Your PC Starts Slowly

Don’t let your PC start like a tortoise

PCs that boot slowly are among the most common complaints users have, but there’s slow and then there’s slow. A computer that needs a minute between pressing the power button and letting you start a program is perfectly normal, even if those 60 seconds may feel like an eternity. A computer that takes a little longer may be suffering from a minor problem (or might just be an older machine), but a computer that takes four or five minutes (or more!) to get rolling is almost certainly suffering from one or more problems that need your attention. Most slow-boot problems have to do with software; specifically, there’s too much software running automatically when Windows boots, but this shouldn’t be the first thing you attempt to tackle. You should check hardware problems first. Follow that by checking for spyware and viruses, because these issues can undermine even the most thorough, intricate software cleaning job. And if you notice your boot process suddenly taking longer after recently adding new hardware or software, you may have already determind the root of your startup problem. Finally, although there may indeed be a smoking gun—a large, single problem causing the delay—long boots are frequently a result of many small delays and inefficiencies added together. Booting a computer requires dozens of sequential steps, so it’s certainly possible to save 60 seconds by eliminating 10 six-second delays.
Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE, often your first line of 
defense against spyware, can purge 
malware that’s plaguing your startup.

Basic Hardware Checks
It isn’t uncommon for a computer to slow as one or more of its components starts to fail, and a slow boot may just be the only noticeable symptom. 
 Although the BIOS (Basic Input/Output
System) is unfamiliar territory, making a few
changes could speedup your system.

Fortunately, performing tests and checking the obvious is fairly easy. First, take a deep breath, open up the computer (assuming it isn’t a laptop), and turn it on. Check that all the fans are spinning. Some fans are temperature-sensitive and won’t speed up (or even start spinning) until things are warm, so consider leaving it running this way for a little while. Make a note of any fans that seem dead; have a professional replace them or, if you know what you’re doing, replace them yourself. Next, turn the PC off and take a good look at the CPU’s heatsink. (You may have to remove a plastic shroud that surrounds the CPU.) If it’s covered with dust and grime, clean it with a can of compressed air (readily available at most electronics stores) or a small brush. This ensures the CPU is cooling itself properly, because most modern CPUs throttle back to a lower clock speed if they’re overheating. And a lower clock speed can contribute to a slower boot process. A marginally working CPU, hard drive, or memory module can also slow the boot process down, especially when the failing component still “sort of works.” For example, a failing hard drive might finally work after 10 attempts at reading from it, and Windows may retry using that failing hard drive many times before giving up. Fortunately, we recommend a free bootable CD called the Ultimate Boot CD, which you can download from It has dozens of generic tests for your CPU and memory and includes all the major hard drive manufacturers’ hardware tests. And because it’s a bootable CD, you don’t need to load Windows (and, after all, loading Windows is really the problem in the first place) to run the disc’s tests. You can run through all the CPU tests in a few minutes, but let one of the memory checkers run overnight. The hard drive tests will only need a few minutes to do a quick check, but if you can spare another night, opt for running a deep test for better results. If your hardware checks out, you can move on.
BIOS Tweaks
When you fire up your PC, its BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) leaps into action, initializing hardware, testing RAM and other hardware, and looking for a bootable device. You can alter the tasks it performs by accessing your system’s BIOS setup. Immediately after you turn on your computer, take a close look at the screen for a message such as “Press F2 To Access BIOS Setup” or similar language and press that key. Your PC’s/motherboard’s users manual should also identify the appropriate keystroke. With luck, it may even describe some BIOS options. If your goal is to eliminate as many small delays as possible, then there area few changes you can make to your BIOS. First, look for an option called Quick Boot and enable it; this eliminates some of the system tests during the boot. This feature’s name may vary on a different BIOS, but you should generally enable any option that appears to accelerate your boot speed. Next, move to the Hard Drive Detection (sometimes called IDE Detection) screens, and switch the IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) positions you know to be empty from Auto to None—in other words, if you don’t have a Primary Slave IDE drive, set Primary Slave to None. You can identify an IDE drive by the flat, wide cable that connects the drive to the motherboard, but when you start making changes to your BIOS, always be certain you understand exactly what you’re changing. And if your system only uses SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drives, then set all the IDE positions to None. Finally, if you never boot from a floppy diskette drive, CD/DVD ROM drive, USB device, or network connection, set the hard drive as your first boot device. This prevents your PC from checking for bootable media elsewhere every time.
Clearing Bad Parasitic Software
After you’ve eliminated any hardware issues and streamlined your BIOS, it’s time to deal with the bad software: viruses and spyware. If your computer boots slowly but works reasonably well once it completely boots, any malware that’s snuck into your system is probably a minor infestation, which means it’s probably one you can clear with automated tools. If you have antivirus software installed, it’s time to update your definitions and run a full scan. And if your commercial antivirus subscription (for example, Norton AntiVirus) has expired, either renew your subscription or uninstall what you have and install a free antivirus product, such as AVG Anti-Virus Free ( or AOL’s Active Virus Shield ( Because viruses evolve rapidly, it’s critically important to use an antivirus product with current definitions. Don’t bother with out-of-date antivirus software. Spyware can also bog down your boot, so you should clear that, too. Like antivirus software, antispyware products need current definitions to do an effective job, so update what you have before running a full system scan. 
 Although the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System)
is unfamiliar territory, making a few changes
could speedup your system.

If you don’t have any antispyware tools and don’t think you have a serious spyware problem, then try a couple of free programs to be safe. Most of the free scanners don’t have always-on components, and different scanners tend to focus on different types of threats; you can usually install a few and let them scan without worrying that one program will interfere with another. Two that work well together are Ad-Aware SE ( and Spybot Search & Destroy ( Perform each application’s antispyware scan individually instead of running them simultaneously.
Clearing “Good” Parasitic Software
It should come as no surprise that software often installs itself to automatically run every time Windows starts, but the sheer volume of this particular software that’s running on your system may shock you when you count it all up. Limiting your software that starts on boot to just the programs, utilities, and drivers you always need can dramatically reduce boot times. There are two challenges to face here. The first is finding a list of programs that start automatically, and the second is to know which programs you can safely disable at boot time. Fortunately, there’s a handy tool that’s built into every version of Windows (except Windows 2000) that shows you almost all your auto-start programs: msconfig. To run it, click Start and Run. Type msconfig and click OK. Next, click the Startup tab to see the auto-start list; a check mark next to an application means that it’s starting every boot, while an empty checkbox means the program is disabled.
If you have Win2000 or want a more advanced tool, then try using AutoRuns for Windows ( Just extract the ZIP file you download and double-click Autoruns.exe to run it. Like Msconfig, each checked entry is set to run automatically at startup, and unchecking a program disables
it at startup. (You’ll still be able to use program but will have to manually start it each time.) AutoRuns is more thorough in ferreting out auto-start programs, so its list is much longer than Msconfig’s and broken down into different auto-start methods. To whittle that list and focus on third-party software, click Options, Hide Microsoft Entries, and the Refresh button. Regardless of which utility you choose, you shouldn’t just uncheck everything in the list. (Although interestingly, WinXP will run just fine— and quite fast—with everything disabled in the Msconfig Startup tab). Instead, you need to figure out what each item is and decide if it’s something that you really need to run every time Windows starts. For example, many peripherals, such as PDAs and game controllers, have supporting programs that start automatically every time (you can usually see their icons in the System Tray), but how often do you really HotSync your Treo or play a game? If you don’t frequently use the peripherals that require these support applications, consider disabling them at startup. When you plan to actually use the device, manually run the program instead. For example, only run the PalmHotSync Manager when you actually need to HotSync your PDA. You should only disable programs that you can properly identify; determining which programs you can disable occasionally requires some sleuthing. For example, you can track down an oddly named program, such as P17Helper, by doing an Internet keyword search. In this particular case, P17Helper is an ASIO (audio stream input output) driver for a Sound Blaster card, which allows for high-speed digital audio recording. If you never record digital audio, you should consider disabling it. Many Web sites that identify startup programs also state if you can safely disable the programs. Deciding what to disable can be tricky if you can’t find guidance online, but there are useful guidelines the adventurous can follow. If you disable a program related to hardware, reboot and see if the hardware still works. If it doesn’t, re-enable the program. Ditto for software application helpers—make sure the main application they help still runs after you restart. Many programs, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and RealPlayer, preload some parts of an application into your system’s memory under the assumption that the associated applications will start a few seconds faster when you actually run them. You can safely disable these preloaders, but the trade-off is that your application might take a few extra seconds to load. Some applications install their own schedulers or version checkers, which is something you can usually do manually. Don’t forget to check for updates yourself if you disable these programs at startup. Ideally, when you identify a startup program you want to disable, you should disable it from within the program itself. If there’s no such option, simply uncheck its entry in Msconfig or AutoRuns.