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ISSUE 590: Zisman- Feb 13 2001

The high-tech office


Computers, like people, can slow down with age

If you're feeling like your computer doesn't seem as peppy as when you first got it, you're not going crazy.

It's sad but true. Like me and probably you, too, your computer gets increasingly tired and grumpy as it gets older. Some of this can be helped.

As you use your computer, files get scattered in pieces all around, slowing the hard drive. Regular use of a disk optimizer utility every month or two will keep this problem under control. (Windows users can find the Defrag utility in the Accessories/System Tools menu, but Mac users need to buy a product such as Symantec's Norton Utilities.)

Other causes of computer hardening of the arteries are harder to cure, however. This is especially the case if you try out a lot of software, as I do, or have an active teenager. Even if you carefully use the Windows Add/Remove Programs control panel to remove unused programs, in all too many cases, bits and pieces of the old software stay behind, cluttering your drive and slowing down the vital system Registry.

You may start to find odd little annoyances, things that don't work the way they're supposed to for no particular reason.

On my system, the little speaker icon disappeared and resisted all efforts to get it back. And the close box, the little X in the top corner of one program, magically turned to a tiny nubbin, making it awkward to click to close the program.

Then the icon for the CD drive started disappearing. Sometimes. Other times it worked fine. That one sounded more like a hardware problem, right? But swapping the drive for a new one didn't help, and neither did new cables and the like.

When enough little intermittent problems pop up with my car, I figure it's time to trade it in. But there's something else you can do to bring your computer back to health.

With some problems, you can try installing the operating system right over top of your existing setup. This will help if files are missing or corrupted -- but, in too many cases, your old problems persist.

Unlike a car, you can clear off your computer's hardware and start over. Before you do that, make sure you're ready:

n Back up your saved files. And check and make sure the backup works.

n Make sure you have installation disks for all the programs that you really need to use.

n Make sure that you have a boot floppy and that you can use it to access your CD-ROM drive. (Windows 98 boot floppies do that. Windows 95 users will need to work at it.)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about using Powerquest's Partition Magic utility to create more than one partition on my hard drive. It came in handy here, too. With more than one partition, it was easy to move all the files to another partition, prior to nuking my C-drive.

When you're sure you're ready, it's time to take the plunge. With many recent name-brand computers, you should have received a system restore CD. This will erase everything on your drive and make it just like it was the first time you turned it on. (It may also nuke your extra partition, so beware!)

Alternatively, if you have a copy of a Windows CD, you can boot to your floppy, format everything on the C-drive, run Setup on the CD, and get a nice, new, clean version of Windows. (If you have an upgrade version, you may be prompted for a disk with an older operating system version.)

In either case, you then have to reinstall your data files and all your programs. I did this last week. It took about half a day, but all those little glitches are gone and even the hardware problem with the CD drive seems to be fixed.

My wife wishes she could do the same thing to me.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan