Getting the Most Out of Your Computer Part 1: Add/Remove Programs and Task Manager

During these tough economic times, it's difficult to justify outright replacing computer hardware that still works, but works much more slowly than you would like. Thankfully, there are a number of both free and inexpensive things that you can do to make sure that your computer works as quickly and effectively as possible.

Delete Unneeded Programs

Whenever you install a program on your computer or save music, images, or movies to your hard drive, it occupies a small amount of space. The more things you have on your hard drive, the longer it can take for your computer to find whatever you tell it to look for. What this means is that if you've got a ton of programs installed, then booting up a program can take longer than it should.

To get started speeding up your computer, the first thing you'll want to do is to uninstall unneeded or unused applications. To begin, go into your Control Panel, and then select Add/Remove Programs. Once loaded, this feature will show you all of the programs that you have installed on your computer. Browse through this list, and uninstall any programs that you don't use on a regular basis.

Make sure, however, not to uninstall a program just because you don't know what it is, and only uninstall programs that you're sure you don't need.

Making Friends with Task Manager

If your computer is still running slowly after getting rid of unwanted programs and applications, then the next step will be to determine where all of your computer resources are actually going. Windows includes an extraordinarily useful feature called Task Manager that is designed to do just that.

To access Task Manager, press the CTRL, ALT and DELETE keys at the same time. The window that appears will list all of the programs that are currently running, and will note how much memory (RAM) and processor time they are occupying.

If you see programs that you're not currently using and that you know you don't need to be running constantly, go ahead and shut them down by clicking on them and pressing the End Process button. Frequent offenders that can usually be turned off include program update applications, MP3/audio/media applications like iTunes, and programs like Office whenever not in use.

We should also point out that when a program becomes unresponsive or crashes, it still continues to occupy system resources, even if you can't close it. Thankfully, just about any crashed program can usually be terminated through using the End Process button in the task manager.

Note, however, that you should not shut down programs that have names that you don't know - and that there are programs that you should never shut down. For example, regardless of how much of your processor or memory it is occupying, never close Explorer.exe, svchost.exe, or other Windows applications.