Stump the Geeks

How to safely clear your computer of spyware

CorrespondentJune 2, 2010 

Q: What program do you recommend for safely cleaning up a computer and spyware programs? I have checked out the Web, and there are many, many, warnings about these programs.

My laptop has become extremely slow. It stops frequently for a few seconds when processing. Also, it will lock up for several seconds, and not respond to any command. This is not normal, and it did not do this when new.

C.W., Nags Head, N.C.

Your overall system slowness is probably a combination of a cluttered system and spyware, says Jeremy Behrens, an IT consultant in Audubon, N.J.

To take care of the spyware, he recommends the following process.

Start by installing three pieces of free software: CCleaner, MalwareBytes and Ad-Aware (see the box for URLs for downloading these applications).

First, run CCleaner. This program will clean up any temporary files, which are common in Internet Explorer and the Windows system folders. At the very least, cleaning out your temp files will free up some room on your computer, Behrens said.

Next, run MalwareBytes and Ad-Aware, in that order. These two programs will take care of spyware-related issues.

Finally, install AVG Free Anti-Virus to keep your computer spyware-free.

Other things to check are:

What size hard drive do you have, and how full is it?

While there's no hard and fast rule, Behrens likes to have at least 3 or 4 GB free on a hard drive.

Defragmenting can help speed things by clearing space for your computer to work, he said, but be sure to back up files first. This should be one of your last resorts.

How much RAM do you have?

The more RAM, the better, Behrens said. He recommends at least 2 GB of RAM for any version of Windows, and some experts say you need 3 or 4 GB for Vista and Windows 7.

To check whether you need more RAM, Behrens suggests: press Ctrl-Alt-Del to open the Windows Task Manager (Vista users will have to click "Start Task Manager.") , then click "Performance" tab and look at the "Physical Memory" heading. If the figure next to "Available" (or "Free" in Vista) hovers around zero and your PC seems sluggish, you need more RAM.

What programs automatically start when you boot up and are running in the background?

A free program called Startup Optimizer can help you choose which programs automatically start up. It lists the automatic starts; categorizes them as required, not required, user's choice, unknown and harmful; and provides Google links for more information. It then allows you to disable or delete any items you choose.

Finally, another few ideas from Microsoft to speed up your computer are to clean unnecessary files off your desktop; uninstall programs you don't use; and if nothing else works, reinstall your operating system.

Send technology questions to stumpthegeeks@newsobserver.com. Please include your name, city and daytime phone number.

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