Windows Software: Startup Manager

StartupmanagerWhen a computer starts up and boots into Windows, there are a bundle of other programs that load up with it. Some of them are needed, but others are unnecessary and do little more than slow down a computer.

When I am told that a computer is running slow, the first thing I do is look in the locations that call these programs to load, and I cull the programs that are not necessary. There are numerous locations (registry, startup folders and win.ini) where these programs are called from, so the process can take quite a while.

Startup Manager is a free utility that shows you each of these locations in a single, easy to use interface. Just check out the screenshot of it. This is certainly a no nonsense program.

Startup Manager shows you what is going to be loaded at startup. All you need to do is untick the items that you no longer want to be part of your daily life.

The startup programs should probably be checked every 6 or so months to keep your computer running lean. The list can expand very quickly, often without the users knowledge. Using this utility can save a lot of time. It is one of those useful programs to keep on a USB disk, so that you can load it up quickly in the case a friend is in need.

Get your copy of Startup Manager for free from StartupManager.org.


How-to: Simple computer troubleshooting guide for the workplace

HelpIf you work in a large company, and you are tired of waiting for IT support, this article is for you.

I thought it would be worthwhile to make a very simple guide which you can use to do some of your own fault finding. Why not see if the problem is something you can fix yourself quickly.

This may save you a call to the help desk, or at the very least, assist the help desk staff to support you in a more efficient way.

This guide is aimed at people who turn on their computer in the morning and expect everything to work as it did the day before, and every other day before that. If the computer is not working as it normally does, this guide will hopefully get you up and running. I have tried to make this guide as non technical as possible.

Topics covered in this article include:

  • Unable to log in
  • Unable to access the Internet and Email
  • Unable to print
  • Mouse and/or keyboard not working
  • Turning on your computer to find a blank screen
  • Calling the Help desk

Each of the above topics will only take a minute or two to check. This is surely much quicker than spending 5 minutes to the help desk, and even longer if you need to wait for a technician to come out.

Read the rest of this entry »


Software: Prepare for a disaster with Clonezilla

ClonezillaWhen your hard drive dies, you would normally need to go through the process of reinstalling your operating system and programs. If you are lucky, and have prepared yourself for a disaster, you might even be able to restore your data. One thing that you are not able to restore are all of the customisations you have done to your system.

Any way you look at it, it is going to take you the best part of a day to have your system up and running again, and weeks before you get everything back just how you like it.

The system restore options in Windows are great for restoring a malfunctioning system back to a fully working state, but they do not work when your hard drive calls it a day.

Plan ahead for such a disaster by saving an “image” of your computer. An image is a compressed file that contains the entire contents of a hard drive. Windows, programs, hardware drivers, settings and data are all backed up in the image. If your hard drive dies, or gets cluttered with rubbish, you are able to restore your system, and restore so that it is exactly the same as it was when you saved the image.

Clonezilla is a program that will do just that. You can save your entire computers contents into a single file. You can then burn the file to a DVD for safe keeping. You will want to read the documentation so that you can find out how to store a copy of Clonezilla on your DVD, and how to make the DVD bootable. This way you will have everything on hand to restore your computer, on the one disk.

Restoration of the image is likely to take less than one hour. Probably closer to 10 minutes. This is a big improvement to a whole days work. There is nothing else that needs to be done, except to restore your incremental document backups. You can save an incredible amount of time if you want to restore the image to numerous computers.

If you are happy with the way your system is running, it is a good time to make your image. In the case that you need to restore it, you don’t wasn’t to restore an image created while your system was not running at its optimum. You will be very thankful that you made the backup in the long term… or possibly even the short! Hard drives are one of the least reliable components of any computer system.

There are a number of programs that will do this same task. Many companies use the commercial package from Norton called Ghost. It basically does the same thing, it just looks a little nicer and costs money.

Clonezilla is available for free from SourceForge.


Windows XP Software: BootVis, the solution for slow startups

BootvisWhen you start up a Windows computer, there are a number of processes, programs and drivers that load up automatically. The more things that load up, the slower your startup will be. If your machine takes 5 minutes to boot, there is something wrong and the boot up needs to be looked at. You should aim to be completely up and running within 2 minutes.

There are sometimes utilities that take an extremely long time to open up. This may be due to them being faulty or configured incorrectly. There is no way to tell what is holding up the startup process unless you can get your hands on some detailed data which will show you how long each component of your startup is taking. That is where BootVis comes in.

BootVis shows you a time line of your startup sequence, showing you when each process starts and finishes during boot up, all presented visually in easy to read graphs. This can be used to find out where your startup is being slowed down or pausing. This can help you identify the problem and then take steps to work out a solution.

BootVis was originally released by Microsoft so that driver programmers could test their software. It is no longer supported by Microsoft (hence no version for Vista), nor is it available through them. I have been unable to find any freeware programs that do this crucial fault finding job visually, though there are some programs that log some of this data to text files.

Some sites report that BootVis can be used to speed up your startup time. There are optimisation options in BootVis, but to get worthwhile results, you will need to manually tweak your system and use some wisdom to make the most out of it.

BootVis is a must for anyone suffering a slow startup. Get your copy for free from MajorGeeks.com.


IMG Quickie: Fix a noisy case fan caveman style

FanOften the first piece of hardware to cause us grief on a computer is the internal case fan. These fans can give off a really nasty grinding sound after a couple of years, normally due to dust buildup in the inner workings of the fan. Rather then replacing the fan, we can initially try to dislodge the dust.

Dust is less likely to effect the CPU and video card fans because these fans are usually of higher quality and they don’t have the same access to external dust. I would not try this method for these fans as it is likely to do more harm than good.

As a precaution, it is sensible to either remove the fan from the case or to remove the hard drives from the computer. We don’t want any vibrations resulting in this method to cause your hard drive grief. I say this as a disclaimer, but I have never had any problems bypassing this step.

Find yourself a screwdriver, pull the cover off your case and turn on your computer. Hold your PC case steady and strike the sticker on the fan with the butt of the screwdriver. Start with very gentle strikes and work your way up. You should not need to strike very hard to clear out the dust.

I have used this method on numerous occasions and had great success. The worst case is that you break the fan, that you were likely going to replace in any case. If you can be bothered, now would be a good time to vacuum the inside of the machine whilst the cover is off.

It’s primitive, but it works a dream.

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