Rub-a-dub-dub, Give Your Computer a Scrub!

Try these four simple tricks for a faster computer, FOR FREE!!!!1Computer Manufacturers hate us!

Ugh, I can’t believe I just said that.  But it’s true.  If you’re willing to put in the time, you can get your computer running like new again, no matter how long you’ve neglected the poor thing.  And, sure, you can just buy a new one, but if you’ve read Joey’s post, you’ll know that is wasteful.  Some tech journalism might make you think that anything older than 3 years is hopelessly outdated, but I promise you that’s not true for the average user.  I’m a bit of a power user, doing things like running engineering simulations and some light video editing, but my relatively old computers haven’t let me down yet.  I’m coming up on 6 years using my main laptop.  Both my Desktop and Notes Laptop I bought used and are coming up on 8 years.  I guess this post is my secret to keeping them around for so long.

We’ve been over what makes your computer tick, both in the physical and digital realms, so let’s use that information to get that slowing computer back up to snuff.  Remember the different layers of software?  Fixing things at one layer help all the layers above it.  So, the trick is to clean out the stuff you don’t need starting at the top layer and work your way down.

Now, this guide is written with Windows in mind because that’s where I saw most at my prior IT Help Center job.  All these ideas are relevant for Macs too, just using different software.  Comment below if you’d like me to do a Mac-specific post!

Step 1: Clean yo browser.

First, start with your web browser.  Go through your installed extensions and make sure there’s nothing that you don’t want.  I remember people frequently came in with Conduit installed in their browser all the time, and it was never on purpose.  Get rid of any extension you don’t recognize, and check for extensions you purposefully installed but don’t use.  Remember, each extension makes your browser load just a little slower.  For Google Chrome, follow this guide.  For Firefox, use this one here.  Also, you should change your homepage if it’s set to Conduit or some other ad-filled garbage.  I’ve got mine set to Google.

Windows 10 Proxy Settings. Make sure they’re off!

Also, while we’re cleaning out our browser, make sure that your proxy settings are clear.  A malicious program can use a proxy to send all your internet traffic to their server so they can monitor everything you do.  Click the Start Button and search for “Network Proxy Settings”.  Once here, scroll down to “Manual Proxy Setup” and make sure “Use a proxy server” is set to Off.

Step 2: Clean yo Programs.

Next, we’ll clear up space for the 2nd layer to run by going through your installed programs and removing anything you don’t need anymore.  Most programs nowadays have some service that runs in the background in order to keep itself updated, be ready to load on a moment’s notice, or something more nefarious like tracking your behavior to sell to advertisers.  Either way, if you don’t use the program, all it’s doing is using up precious resources.

Click the Start Menu and search for “Apps and Features”.  Go through the list and get rid of anything you don’t need anymore.  Old, expired copy of Adobe Creative Cloud?  Useless anti-virus trial that came with your computer?  Utilities that came with your printer that you never use?  Axe them all!  If you’re worried that something you’re about to uninstall is actually important, look it up online, see if 1) others say it’s important and 2) if it’s available to download and install if it turns out you do need it.

Step 3: Clean yo Malware.

Continuing on clearing resources for the 2nd layer, do a virus scan. Now, the term “Virus Scan” is actually not right.  The most common problem I usually come across is “Potentially Unwanted Programs” (PUPs) that you accidentally install when you’re trying to install something else.  Adware is also a common problem that will either track all your activity to sell or push pop-up ads to your computer, even if you’re not browsing the web.  All this and more is covered under the blanket term “Malware”, ie software that’s bad.  Enough terminology, let’s get rid of it!

If you suspect there’s an infection, start by downloading and running RKill.  This program forcibly stops all known malware programs running in the background.  This step does not actually remove anything.  What it does do is stop malware from putting its files back after you remove them with a real anti-virus.  This one’s pretty basic: run the program and wait a little message box that says you’re ready.

RKill letting me know that there isn’t any known malware running on my PC. Go me!

For actually cleaning the files from your hard drive, I use Malwarebytes Anti-Malware because it’s free for manual scans and it does an awesome job finding junk.

Malwarebyte Anti-Malware ver. They change their interface every once in a while, but the idea should be the same. Just ignore the “Upgrade” buttons.

Now, a few quick notes here:

  • Malwarebytes Free does not actively protect your computer: it only scans when you ask it to.
  • Malwarebytes has a paid-for version that runs in the background. When you first install the Free version, it will start a free trial, but you do not need to pay for the full version when it’s done.

So, install the program, check for updates, then hit the big blue “Scan Now” button.  It might take a while depending on how fast your computer is and how many files you have.  And the scan progress is super misleading.  The first 5 circles complete on my computer in under a minute, while the other two take 5 minutes.  My desktop is pretty fast and I scan regularly, so your times may vary.  20 minutes is not uncommon.  Let it complete its scan, and remove anything in quarantine.  Now, it’s also worth noting that not every listing here is a separate virus.  Instead, each listing is just something that Malwarebyes wants to change back.  It was pretty common to see like 7000+ things listed when I ran this back at the Help Center.

Step 4: Start from Scratch.

Finally, let’s go to the lowest level: the whole OS.  Referred to as the “nuke it from orbit” option, sometimes the most efficient use of your time is to just wipe the hard drive and start from scratch.  The benefit here is that you reset your computer to how it came from the factory.  And your computer was fast back then, right?  This option is really effective, but really time consuming.  And we’re coming up on 1000 words on this post, so that’ll be a story for another day.


The takeaway here is that as long as your hardware is still intact, most of your computer’s slowness is due to years of unwanted software running in the background.  If you’re willing to put in the elbow grease, you can always get it running like new again.  Besides, these steps are always the first part to diagnosing hardware problems since messing with software only costs time, while messing with hardware costs both money and time.

Quick announcement:

Somehow, we’ve been getting a surprising amount of spam comments recently.  Like, more than actual comments.  So, anyone posting a comment has to prove they’re a human by passing the Google reCaptcha.  I’ve also set up the system so that you only have to do that once on the computer you’re using.  If you have any problems with the new system, please let me know at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *