Perk up your PC



I thought some of you might find is of use.


Perk up your PC

We show you 50 ways to make using Windows a whole lot easier

Computers are supposed to make life easier but all too often you find yourself waiting for Windows to complete a simple task or getting frustrated because things aren’t working as they should. Wouldn’t it be better if the home PC danced to your tune? Well, the good news is that you can.

There are lots of settings in Windows XP that can be tweaked and altered to improve the way the operating system works, speed up the computer and generally make it easier to use. And the best news of all is that we are going to share 50 of these tips with you now, with step-by-step explanations to make things ever clearer. The tips cover the general use of Windows, the internet and email and the PC’s hardware settings. All the tweaks and tips included here will help to make your PC work smarter so you don’t have to work harder.

Some of the tips we’ll look at refer to specific control panels.

These can all be accessed through the Windows Control Panel which, in turn, can be accessed by clicking on the Start button at the bottom- left of the screen and clicking Control Panel. Then simply double- click on the icon of the settings you want to tinker with. To make things easier, we suggest you switch to Classic View mode. You can do this in the main Control Panel window. Just look for the Switch to Classic View option in the left-hand panel. If you can’t see it, the computer is already operating in Classic View mode.


1. Say goodbye to the paperclip and animated guides

The animated helpers in Microsoft Office can be useful but they can also annoy. To remove them, go to the Control Panel and double-click on Add or Remove Programs. Click on Microsoft Office in the list and click on Change, then Add or Remove Features and OK. Tick the box marked Choose advanced customisation or applications, then click on Next. Check the box next to Office Shared Features, then click on the disk icon next to Office Assistant and select Not Available from the drop-down menu. Then click on Update and follow the prompts.

2. Change the way icons are displayed within folders

In any Windows Explorer window, click the View menu and select an option from the second section. The Icons option is the standard view, List shows smaller icons, Display shows file properties and Thumbnails can be used in picture and video folders to preview files.

3. Resize icons

Make icons bigger if they are hard to see by opening the Display Control Panel and clicking on the Appearance tab. Click on the Effects button. In the dialogue box check the ‘Use large icons’ box, click on OK and OK again, then close the Control Panel.

4. Change Desktop wallpaper

To smarten up the Desktop, open the Display Control Panel in the main Control Panel window and click on the Desktop tab. Choose from the list of wallpapers displayed in the menu here by clicking on one, or click on Browse to select your own digital photo from the computer’s hard disk. For a small performance boost, opt for no wallpaper at all by selecting None from the top of the list. Then click on Apply and OK to confirm your selection.

5. Desktop clean-up wizard

Remove useless short cuts with a wizard by opening the Display Control Panel and clicking on the Desktop tab, then clicking on Customise Desktop. Click on Clean Desktop Now and follow the prompts.

6. Lock the Taskbar

You can fix the Taskbar (the bar at the bottom of the Windows Desktop) in place by right-clicking it and selecting Lock Taskbar.

This stops it from being moved accidentally.

7. Lose the fonts

Many programs have their own fonts but these often aren’t that useful. To prune the fonts stored on a PC open the Fonts Control Panel. Double-click on any font icon in the folder to see what it looks like, or right-click once and select Delete to get rid of any you don’t need. Be sure to only delete fonts that aren’t being used and do not delete any that look like they contain odd symbols or shapes as they are probably being used by Windows itself.

8. Pointers

Having fancy mouse pointers can be fun but can slow sluggish PCs down further. To change the pointer style, open the Mouse Control Panel and click on the Pointers tab. Choose a scheme from the drop-down list and click on Apply and OK. Select None to revert to the standard style.

9. Quick launch

For fast access to favourite programs, drag their icons to the Quick Launch toolbar, to the right of the Start button on the Taskbar. If you can’t see it, right-click the background of the Taskbar, click Toolbars and make sure Quick Launch is ticked. You can then drag any short-cut icon here and launch the program in future with a single click.

10. Group taskbar buttons

Running many programs at once can lead to the Taskbar becoming cluttered. To simplify things, group all the Word documents or instant-messaging windows you have open together by right-clicking the Taskbar and selecting Properties. Then tick ‘Group similar taskbar buttons’ and click on OK.

General Windows

11. Affiliate certain file types to certain programs

The program that Windows uses to open a particular type of file can be changed by right-clicking on a file of that type and selecting Open With, then choosing a program from the list. To ensure all files of this type open with that program in the future, tick the box marked ‘Always use the selected program to open this kind of file’ before clicking on OK.

12. Set actions for Windows to take automatically when a CD or DVD is inserted

Open My Computer, and right-click on the icon for the CD or DVD drive, then select Properties and click on the AutoPlay tab. Choose a type of file from the list (say, Music files, for when you insert an audio CD), then choose an action from the second list and click on OK.

13. Delete unnecessary programs

Most programs can be uninstalled using the appropriate uninstall link in the Start menu. If this is not listed, double-click on Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel, select the program from the list by clicking on it then click on Remove and follow the instructions.

14. Get rid of modem dialling noise

A modem’s dialing tone can be a handy way of establishing that a connection is being made but it can be annoying. To silence it, open the Network Connections Control Panel, right-click on the internet connection icon and click on Properties. Click on Configure, then uncheck the box marked Enable modem speaker and click on OK, then OK again.

15. Disable delete confirmation

To stop Windows asking for confirmation when you drag files or folders to the Recycle Bin, right-click on the Recycle Bin icon and select Properties. Uncheck the box marked ‘Display delete confirmation dialogue’ then click on Apply and OK.

16. Disable the MS error reporting dialogue box

If Windows encounters a problem with a specific program, a dialogue box will appear asking if you wish to send a report to Microsoft. To stop this appearing, right-click on My Computer and select Properties, then click on the Advanced tab and click on Error Reporting. Click in the circle marked Disable error reporting and click on OK, then OK again.

17. Disable the document printing information balloon

If you print over a network, stop Windows telling you each time a document is printed by selecting Printers and Faxes in the Control Panel. From the File menu select Server Properties and click on the Advanced tab, then untick the boxes next to ‘Show informational notifications for local printers’ and ‘Show informational notifications for network printers’. Click on Apply and then on OK.

18. Make Windows show the correct file types

Windows will hide the three-letter extensions of file names, such as .jpg, to make things less complicated but it can be useful to know which files are which. In any Windows Explorer folder, click on Tools, then on Folder Options, then on the View tab, and remove the tick from ‘Hide extensions for known file types’ and click on Apply and then on OK.

19. Switch off reporting back when a program crashes

When a program crashes, Windows normally asks whether it should send information to Microsoft to help them fix the problem. While this is harmless (and the information can’t be used to identify you) it can be annoying. To turn it off, open the System Control Panel and click on the Advanced tab, then the Error Reporting button. Click on the entry ‘Disable error reporting’ and click on OK, then OK again.

20. Change the programs that load at start-up

Some programs open automatically when the PC is turned on. To add a program to this list of programs, double-click on the Startup entry in the All programs menu in the Start menu. Simply drag-and-drop the icon of the program you wish to launch every time you start up the PC to this folder. To reverse the process, right-click the icon for the program in question and click on Delete, then follow the prompts onscreen.

21. Clean up your hard disk

To sweep your hard disk clear of old Internet files, empty your Recycle Bin and compress old files, use the Disk Cleanup wizard. Open My Computer, then right-click on the hard disk icon and select Properties. On the General tab, click on Disk Cleanup and follow the prompts.

22. Stop Windows asking for a password

When the PC has been idle, screensavers kick into action when a PC has been idle for some time to help protect the screen and Windows may ask for a password to resume work. To disable this feature, go to the Display Control Panel and click on the Screen Saver tab, untick the box marked ‘On resume, password protect’, then click on OK.

Internet and e-mail

23. Turn off multimedia on web pages

Many web pages include sounds and video, which can slow your PC down.

Switch them off in Internet Explorer by going to the Tools menu and clicking on Internet Options, then click on the Advanced tab. Scroll to the Multimedia section and untick the boxes marked ‘Play sounds in web pages’ and ‘Play videos in web pages’. Click on Apply and then on OK.

24. Get rid of pop-up messages when you’re browsing the Web

Service Pack 2 for Windows XP adds a pop-up blocker to Internet Explorer. To check it is on, go to Tools and click on Internet Options, then go to the Privacy tab and make sure Block pop-ups is ticked. Click on Apply and OK to confirm.

25. Compact Outlook Express

Sometimes Outlook Express will continue to display e-mail messages in folders after they have been deleted. Get rid of these for good by selecting Folder from the File menu, then Compact All Folders.

26. Managing add-ons and plug-ins to Internet Explorer

Many programs install themselves as add-ons to Internet Explorer to help you browse the Web, but can slow down your PC and take up hard disk space. To check on these programs, select Internet Options from the Tools menu in Internet Explorer, click on the Programs tab and click on Manage Add-ons. You can disable any of these programs by clicking it and selecting Disable from the section below. If you have problems after doing this, go back to this dialogue box and re-enable the add-on by selecting it and clicking on Enable, then clicking on OK.

27. Stop messages appearing when Internet Explorer encounters errors on web pages When Internet Explorer encounters a problem on a web page it will ask if you want to debug it – that is, to attempt to fix it yourself. This is useless for most of us so to disable it go to Tools, then Internet Options, then click on the Advanced tab. Tick the two boxes marked Disable Script Debugging and untick the box marked ‘Display a notification about every script error’. Click Apply and on OK.

28. Autocomplete

Internet Explorer has a built-in AutoComplete function that will fill in some parts of web forms for you based on similar previously-made entries. To enable this feature, go to the Tools menu in Internet Explorer and click on the Content tab then click on AutoComplete. Now check the Forms box, click on OK and OK again.

29. Google toolbar

The Google toolbar doesn’t just make Internet searches easier, it also includes a pop-up ad blocker, a spelling checker, and an advanced AutoFill feature for web forms. Download it from

30. Check messages with broadband

If you have a broadband connection, set Outlook Express to check regularly for new emails. Select Options from the Tools menu, then click the General tab and tick the box marked ‘Check for new messages every…’ and enter a number of minutes in the next box. Then click on OK.

31. Block adverts in Firefox

Programs can be added to the alternative web browser Firefox. One such program is Adblock, which allows you to filter web ads with a single mouse click. If you have Firefox, install Adblock by going to, clicking on Install Now and following the instructions.

System and hardware

32. Enable PC hibernation

Hibernation is a power-saving feature for when a PC is not in use. To enable it, open the Power Options Control Panel from the main Control Panel and click on the Hibernation tab, tick the box marked Enable Hibernation, and click on Apply. If there is a tab marked APM click on it, and tick the box marked Enable Advanced Power Management Support then click on Apply. Finally, click on the Power Schemes tab and enter a time in the System Hibernates box.

33. Index the hard disk

Use a desktop search program such as Copernic or Google Desktop to index the PC’s hard disk and make it easier to find documents.

34. Turn on and use System Restore

Use System Restore to back up the important parts of Windows so that problems with a PC can be resolved simply by reverting to settings from an earlier point in time. To use it, click on Start, then All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and System Restore.

35. Defragment the hard disk

Over time a computer’s hard disk can become clogged up with traces of deleted files. To defragment it and sort files for more efficient storage, select All Programs from the Start menu, then Accessories, System Tools and Disk Defragmenter then follow the prompts.

36. Make login easier

For PCs with only one user, there’s little point displaying the log- on screen at start up. To remove this, click Start, then Run, then type ‘control userpasswords2’ without the quote marks. Then untick the box marked ‘Users must enter a user name and password for this computer’ and follow the prompts, then click on OK.

37. Turn on Automatic Updates

Automatic Updates is the way Windows keeps itself up-to-date with patches and upgrades. To enable it, right-click on My Computer and click on Properties, then click on the Automatic Updates tab. Click on the circle marked Automatic and click on OK.

38. Refresh drivers with Windows Update

You can use Windows Update to keep a computer’s drivers up-to-date.

Go to and click Custom Install, then click on ‘Select optional hardware updates’ in the left-hand panel, and follow the instructions.

39. Refresh rates for monitors

Older CRT monitors can flicker if not properly set up. To rectify this, click on the Settings tab in the Display Control Panel, click on Advanced, then on the Monitor tab. From the drop-down list, select a value option in the Refresh Rate drop-down menu that is lower than the current setting, then click on Apply and follow the prompts. If the flicker persists, try again with a higher setting, and so on.

Always make sure the box marked ‘Hide modes that this monitor cannot display’ is ticked.

40. Tweak Desktop settings

TweakUI can make changes to hidden settings that control how the Desktop looks and feels, making it easier to use. Follow the instructions to install and set it up.

41. Check for errors

Scan your hard disk for errors and get Windows to automatically fix them, if it can. Open My Computer and right-click on the icon for the hard disk, then click on Properties, select the Tools tab, and click on Check Now. In the box that appears, tick both options and click on Start, then follow the prompts. For a quicker, less detailed scan, leave both boxes unticked and press Start. Click on OK, then on OK again.

42. Keep it clean

Use a spyware killer such as AdAware or Spybot to keep your PC free of spyware and in good condition.

43. Files and settings transfer

Make the transferal of files between PCs easier using the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. Click on Start, All Programs, then Accessories and select System Tools then Files and Settings Transfer Wizard.

44. Clear the screen

Cleartype is a Microsoft PowerToy that can set up an LCD screen to make it display text more accurately. It’s free to download and there are simple installation instructions.

45. Use your keyboard and mouse buttons

Some keyboards and mice have dedicated buttons for playing back media or launching a web browser. To ensure these are configured properly, look in the Start menu for a configuration program with the keyboard or mouse manufacturer’s name, and click on it to set up the keys.

There should be instructions available onscreen to guide you through this process.


46. DirectX update

DirectX is a Microsoft program that games makers use for graphics and sounds. Make sure your version is up-to-date by going to and following the instructions onscreen.

47. Gfx and sound drivers

When playing the latest games it’s vital to use the latest versions of the drivers for the graphics and sound hardware in the PC. If the latest drivers are not on Windows Update, check the support section of the maker’s website periodically.

48. Joystick testing

To check that a joystick is working correctly, open the Game Controllers Control Panel and click on the joystick’s entry in the list, then click on Properties. Move the joystick around and note the motion on the screen. If it isn’t correct, you may need to remove and re-install the joystick. Use the Add/Remove programs settings to do this.

49. Tidy up saved games

If the PC is running out of hard disk space, try removing old games.

Often, uninstalled games will leave folders on the hard disk – check the C:\Program Files folder (or wherever you install games) for old games. If a folder is still there, and the game has been removed, you can safely delete the folder.

50. Use a wired keyboard and mouse

Although a wireless keyboard and mouse are convenient, they are a little slower to respond than wired units. If you are a serious games player, it might be wise to keep a wired keyboard and mouse specifically to use for games.

In great shape

While computers can make most tasks easier, it’s often the case that you need to put in some work yourself every so often to keep a PC in top condition. Like a car, regular maintenance and the occasional tweak will improve the computer’s abilities and features, and make it work faster and in a way that best suits you. You wouldn’t try to drive your car without adjusting the rear view mirror or the position of your seat, so why not do the same with your PC? With our 50 tips in-hand, you should be able to take control of Windows, speed it up, and increase the power at your disposal.

Spring cleaning

Inside the case

While it’s good to give some attention to software settings, don’t neglect hardware when it comes to PC maintenance. Dust and grime gather in the case, which makes it warmer and obstructs airflow. In the long term, this could cause problems so it’s best to treat it.

Obviously, this involves opening the case of the PC so start by switching off and unplugging the PC and leave it to settle and cool down for a few minutes. Then open the case and use a vacuum cleaner with a long hose attachment to pick up loose fluff and dust. Do not use the vacuum cleaner itself, as the electromagnets in the cleaner will damage the computer. Use a clean household paintbrush to brush dust off the case sides, cables and fans but do not brush any microchips, as you may damage them. Give the case another quick blast from the hose attachment of the vacuum cleaner and close the case, then plug it back in.

Spring cleaning

The keyboard

No matter how clean your hands, keyboards always collect dust and grime. If you are a coffee-drinker, your keyboard may even be a bit sticky as a result of spillage. Obviously, none of this is good for the keyboard, and while it may not be dangerous, the build-up of dirt will certainly make the keyboard less responsive to touch, and may cause keys to seize up entirely.

To clean the keyboard, you will need to remove all the keys so it is a good idea to draw a map or take a digital picture of their location, before removing them. Then switch the PC off and unplug the keyboard. Remove each key carefully using a screwdriver to lever it off the board – each one will come off, with a little patience. There may be springs attached to keys so keep them in a safe place. Rub the outside of the keyboard with water or medicinal (rubbing) alcohol, and shake the keyboard gently upside down to remove dust. Brush the keyboard all over with a clean household paintbrush to dislodge other dust. You can either clean the key tops manually using rubbing alcohol or water, or tie them tightly and securely in a cheesecloth bag, and run the bag through a dishwasher on a cool setting. Then replace the keys and springs, using the map from earlier on.


WOW Framer
Jul 24, 2001
Buffalo, New York, USA/Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada
Thanks for this list of tips, Dermot - it is really quite helpful! I have this love/hate relationship going with the paper-clip guy - Imay not delete him but it's nice to know I can if I really start hating him!