Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

What Is The Optimum Computer Setup?*

…There are – however – “Good Practices”.. and certain “Do’s & Don’ts”.

This Reader Question Is A Doozie! An Average Joe Asks, “What Are The Basics We Should Employ?”

After reading my article, My Number One Piece Of Tech Advice* (For the non-techy), a reader posted this very good question:

Q: Taking this one step further – what would you say is the optimum computer set up for a beginner? ¹I am thinking of Internet Security and keeping the system optimized. I have Kaspersky and I think it is good.

I have Win7 and the other day, despite having Tune Up utilities, I found I had 20 svchost processes running. I’ve cut it down to 10. cartoon "happy PC with wings"

What are the basics we should employ?

What can the average joe install to give him/herself peace of mind in terms of security and performance? What browser should they use (I use Firefox 3.6 but it takes 30 sec sometimes to open hence my interest in optimization – Chrome about 15 sec but I love my Fox). Peace of mind is all I want so I can get on with running several small businesses. — John.

A: John, first of all let me say that while your question is very practical and logical, there is no single answer – there is no, “if you have X, and you do Y, you will be bulletproof.”

There are – however – “Good Practices”.. and certain “Do’s & Don’ts”.
For the “do’s“, I have provided readers the basic “common good practices” in what I call my “Top 10 Things You Should Do” list.
As for the “don’ts“, well, most of those are simple common sense and some of them are “paranoid common sense”. For example, “don’t open attachments in an e-mail from a stranger promising riches” and “don’t pour a large soda onto your laptop”. (Both will produce very unhappy results!)
Don’t watch porn on the same PC that you do your online banking with. (Why do I even need to say that?)

… some of your “more specifics”…

Security
* I like Kaspersky, though I don’t have it on any of my machines and haven’t in years. I think it’s effective but I found it slow (I do use their online scanner frequently). Each of my machines has a different, top performing AV installed – currently:
Norton: NIS 2009, NIS 2010, 360 v3; Eset NOD32; Microsoft Security Essentials; PC Tools: Personal AV, Threatfire+AV, Spyware Doctor+AV; Avast! v5.0; and Avira Personal Edition. (Click here for my list and links of the for-free versions.)

My use of Anti-Spyware’s is equally varied — all highly rated. (Click here for my list and links of the for-free versions.)

I don’t really care, or have a preference, which one you use. I only care that you use common sense and good practices — namely, don’t let it “expire”, and do set them to automatically update themselves and run regular scans.

Optimization:
Many people suffer from PC slowdown. They wonder why their computer isn’t as fast as it used to be. So they download an “optimizer” or “Registry repair” (aka “cleaner”) program — which invariably promise to make your PC run “like when it was new!”
Please read, Top Tech Tip #2: Leave Registry Cleaners Alone.

The answer for slowdown – again – is: use common sense and good practices.
For the “do’s“, I have provided readers the basic “common practices” here, “Optimize” your hard drive. (Sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as “file system maintenance”; basically it means to clean off your old files and ‘build up’, and “defrag” your disk for faster performance.) There’s a difference between the files you have Save-ed, and accumulated, and the Windows Registry!

Applying common sense tells us the more stuff we have on our computer, the slower it will go. When our computer was brand-new, it had basically nothing on it (some trial software, and maybe a CD burning utility..). It was fast. Since then, we’ve added three media players, an accounting program or two, maybe a few games, Turbo Tax 2007, Turbo Tax 2008, Turbo Tax 2009, Flash player, Adobe Reader, Shockwave Player, Photoshop LE.. inhale.. 1,328 Windows Updates, maybe a “Service Pack”, various other Updates, a 500 song music collection, Blackberry Sync, iTunes,.. inhale.. Miro, “temp” Internet files, Live Messenger, Google toolbar, Yahoo toolbar.. aw, heck, you get the idea.

The first place to go – for a lean, mean, like-new machine is “Add/Remove Programs” in your Control Panel (named “Programs and Features” in Vista/7). Remove every program you recognize and know that you haven’t used in ages. If the uninstall asks about “shared DLL’s” answer “No to all”.. don’t take chances that something important may need them.
(If you have a little bit of savvy, I recommend the use of a “Uninstaller program” like Revo instead of the Control Panel.)

Removing unused programs not only cleans up your Start menu program list, and frees up room on your hard drive, but it can/does remove Startup items and associated Services. For my article on this, see My Startup Folder Is A Clown Car* and/or How To Manage Startup programs in Vista.

Which brings me to your mention of svchost…

* Svchost.exe is a generic host process name for services that run from dynamic-link libraries (DLLs). Having multiple instances of it running is quite normal. your computer is doing a lot of work we typically aren’t conscious of, as it’s “housekeeping” and happens in the “background”. My general advice for beginners is: don’t fiddle. My general advice for folks who think they’re “Power Users” is: don’t fiddle. I have seen IT Types thoroughly mess up machines because they thought they knew how to “tweak” Services, and their names were not always “Paul”! Ha!
If you have followed the best practices, as described in this article and the referred to lists/articles, you should be at, or very nearly at, an optimal machine. You don’t need to fiddle…

But if you feel compelled, or simply must know what those svchosts are.. the tool for that is Mark Russinovich’s Process Explorer, and I really do advise anyone considering using it to read Using Process Explorer to tame svchost.exe – Advanced topics. (Really! Note the “advanced”? Not for beginners.) There is no “right number” of instances.. nor is 10 necessarily better than 20.. it all depends on what you’re asking your computer to do.

…as for browsers.. Firefox with NoScript is hard to beat. Here are 10 ways to beef-up Firefox.
(
30 seconds sure seems long to me.. even if you’re re-opening multiple tabs: check your “add-ons” [or toolbars] to see if any may be incompatible with 3.6.. maybe uninstall/re-install them one at a time. And try changing your homepage to a non-cluttered, non-ad/Flash loaded site, like google.com.)

Ultimately..
My general advice for beginners is: If you do not KNOW, do not touch.
… or, I should say, “don’t touch until you’ve researched it thoroughly.” Remember, too, there’s no shame in seeking the council of a professional… such as myself!

Today’s recommended reading:
* Global Cyber Crime: The Playing Field, The Players -The Perfect Storm
In my recent article Internet: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, I mentioned that organized crime was responsible for much of the malware and hacking now abundant across the Internet. This article will delve into those organizations and where they’re located across the world…

* Common Sense – You Cannot Install This
Of all of the layers of security software that I have installed on my PC, common sense is not engineered in any of them. That layer of protection is up to you…

¹ emphasis: mine.

* Orig post: 3/8/2010

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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June 2, 2010 - Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, performance, tech, Vista, Windows, Windows 7, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 Comments »

  1. Hi
    Great post Paul
    half joking you told the truth.
    Common sense ain’t so common;)

    Greetings from Italy

    Like

    Comment by leofelix | June 2, 2010 | Reply

    • And greetings from Silicon Valley, CA. leofelix. Always nice to see your name here. Thanks for the support!

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 2, 2010 | Reply

  2. The #1 tool needed to keep your computer running safely and securely is located between your ears!

    Like

    Comment by rodzilla | June 2, 2010 | Reply

    • rodzilla,
      Hmmm, next time I re-post this.. I think I may use that as the lead sentence.. if that’s okay with you?

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 2, 2010 | Reply

      • No problem Paul … just attribute it to me and pay me the obligatory 2 cents for lifetime usage rights. :)

        Like

        Comment by rodzilla | June 2, 2010 | Reply

        • rodzilla,
          Attribution, no problemo. The 2¢ may have to wait until my Irish Online Sweepstakes winnings come in.. Or my FBI ATM card..

          Like

          Comment by techpaul | June 2, 2010 | Reply

          • Speaking of sweepstakes …

            A couple of days ago I received an email telling me I’d won $950,000.00 in the latest MSN.CON Lottery.

            I never accept winnings of less than the $50,000,000.00 I won in the last Nigerian Scam Lottery, so I kindly donated the prize to Bill Mullins.

            You can have the next one Paul … less my 2c, of course :)

            Like

            Comment by rodzilla | June 2, 2010 | Reply

            • rodzilla,
              If you read Bill, you must’ve seen the story about the lady who got held captive…

              Like

              Comment by techpaul | June 2, 2010 | Reply

  3. What great questions, the “average Joe” asked, and what great answers Tech Paul provided.
    …first thought was: “how will I find the time to pay attention to all that logical, good info.” But I’m sure I will take the time to stay on top of it, because NOW that I know the difference how can I not apply it.

    Thanks to both of you.
    G.

    Like

    Comment by Gaia | June 2, 2010 | Reply

    • Gaia,
      These kinds of questions are tough because, so often, people are looking for “just click on _______” type of answer. (The question is simple, so the answer should be too.. right?)

      The advice here could be called “Tech Paul’s ABC’s of Owning A Windows Computer”. There are several links, and so some reading is required – which takes time. And then the steps done (or checked) – which takes time. But not as much as it might appear at first glance.
      It’s all there. In a nutshell. What I might suggest, is bookmark this article, and return to it as time allows.

      Thank you for your support!

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 2, 2010 | Reply

  4. Hi Paul,
    Really a nice article… All sorts of tips for a healthy pc in a nutshell…
    However, would like to add one thing—- Google. I mean, people should make a habit of searching for the cause of problem instead of installing software (emphasis on fake ones) which claim to cure it.. Believe it or not, Google has got the answer to any and everything. One just need to have proper searching skills.. Afterall, No pain, No gain.

    Like

    Comment by Ranjan | June 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Ranjan,
      That is pretty much what I meant by “research it”.

      Good points.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 3, 2010 | Reply

  5. Oh my bad :P, Sorry..

    Like

    Comment by Ranjan | June 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Ranjan,
      Why “sorry”? Your comment underscored and clarified! You made good points.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 3, 2010 | Reply

  6. I thought you already told that points by including the words “research it”.
    Thanks anyways…

    Like

    Comment by Ranjan | June 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Ranjan,
      Where my phrasing was quite general, and somewhat vague, your comment – particularly “Google. I mean, people should make a habit of searching for the cause of problem – added to the discussion, and clarified the concept. I thank you for that.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 3, 2010 | Reply

  7. Hey Paul: an update for you. As you know I was the original Average Joe. It turned out my hard disk was dying. Happily I was inside the 12 months so I got a free replacement. Life is so much better now. AJ – Australia

    Like

    Comment by John | June 3, 2010 | Reply

    • John,
      How nice to hear from you again, and thank you for the update.

      Folks, yes.. hard drives die. Have you made a backup copy of your files/music/tax records/photos yet?

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 3, 2010 | Reply

  8. wonderful blog…keep it up

    Like

    Comment by Kyle | June 16, 2010 | Reply

    • Kyle,
      Thank you. Means a lot coming from a fellow tech.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 16, 2010 | Reply


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