Getting the Most Out of Your Computer, Part 2: External Hard Drives, Driver Updates, and MSCONFIG

In our last article about getting the most out of your aging computer, we explained how to uninstall programs taking up valuable hard drive space through Add/Remove Programs, as well as how to free up other system resources by using the Task Manager. However, sometimes those won't quite be enough to get the speed you need from your computer.

Optimizing Your Computer for Programs, Not Storage

After tinkering with installed programs and running processes, you will want to clean up any remaining media clutter on your hard drive. While there are a number of different ways to do this, the best is often to make use of an external hard drive. Although these aren't free, they have fallen in price significantly in the last few years, placing them within reach for most of us.

After purchasing a reasonably-sized external hard drive, take the time to manually move all of your pictures, music, and videos onto your external hard drive in carefully labelled folders. If you have downloaded programs that aren't currently installed, go ahead and place the executable files in a folder of their own too. After moving the files, go ahead and delete them from your main computer hard drive. (Just make sure not to delete anything that wasn't transferred correctly!)

By moving non-programs to your external drive, you will free up the hard drive that Windows and other programs run from to do so much more effectively.

Startup With the Right Foot Forward

When your computer boots up, you may notice that several programs run without being told to do so. Some of these, like Windows itself, are critical and must always be running. However, some programs, most notoriously program updating applications and media applications, set themselves to run automatically when Windows starts. If you're trying to get the most out of your computer, then you will want these programs running only when you tell them to - which is very rarely right when your computer boots up.

To configure which programs run immediately after Windows starts, click on the Start button, click Run, and type MSCONFIG into the box. Press enter.

This will bring up the MSCONFIG menu. While there are many things that you can do in this menu to enhance the performance of Windows, many of these are meant for experts and technicians. Instead, click on the Startup tab. This lists all of the programs that will start when your computer boots up.

Go ahead and read through the list, and uncheck any box that's next to a program that you know you don't want running at startup. However, make sure only to uncheck boxes for programs that you do know, such as iTunes, Steam, or other media and software updating applications.