Tech – for Everyone

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

Computing 101*

Folks, as I mentioned yesterday, I am a busy guy. Today I am re-posting one of my most important articles.

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 visit porn sites on the same PC that you do your online banking with. (Why do I even need to say that?)

… some of your “more specifics”…

* 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.

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 Elements.. inhale.. 1,328 Windows Updates, maybe a couple “Service Packs”, 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

My general advice 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 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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April 9, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, Internet, PC, performance, security | 2 Comments