... and you're faced with the daunting task of getting it in tip-top shape for all of your gaming and productivity needs. The list of things you'll need to do to optimize and secure your computer is long, and this guide is here to answer any questions you may have, and maybe even some you don't have but should know the answers to anyway.
Edit time! I've been a complete and utter failure at paying attention to this guide. What can I say? I have the attention span of an eight year old on a sugar-high and it was only when I recently (yesterday) got around to doing a reformat that I remembered this guide and decided to come and give it a tune-up. I'm very pleased that so many of you have found this guide useful, and I hope that what I have to add now will help you get your computer (notebook or desktop) to be the leanest, meanest machine it can be.
The first step is to reformat your hard drive. This is completely optional, of course, but it can go a long way towards speeding up your computer and freeing up valuable hard drive space occupied by unnecessary programs preloaded by the manufacturer. If you have a copy of Windows XP, or are willing to purchase one, this step is a must
. Alternatively, if you are unable to reformat, then you should use the Windows “Add/Remove Programs” utility in the “Control Panel” to uninstall all unwanted programs.
The next step would be to update/install drivers for all of your computer's components. In most cases, the manufacturer will provide a disc with all of the stock drivers for the components, but you should also go to the manufacturer's support site to download the latest drivers for your system.
Some device drivers may need to be obtained elsewhere if you want the most current updates. Graphics cards in particular demand the most recent drivers, though this applies to other devices such as external sound cards as well.
For ATI X700 or X800 Notebook Graphics Cards or any desktop ATI Radeon Cards
(To see if your laptop is compatible with this driver download this
For all other notebook ATI Graphics Cards
(Note that these are not official drivers but are modified and will work with ATI Mobility Graphics cards as well as desktop cards)
For NVIDIA Graphics Cards
(Omega Drivers are also available for NVIDIA Graphics Cards)
The next thing to take care of is loading up programs that you do want on your machine. I know, I know... just a while ago I had you uninstall all those programs, but there are good ones out there that will help your computer to run smoother and add some extra functionality as well. In the 11+ months since I first posted this guide I have discovered a WONDERFUL guide to freeware programs of all kinds. This site has got it all: The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
. Check it out. Seriously. That being said, I'm still going to link to several of my personal favorites and absolute essentials (a few of which have changed as of this update). With no further ado...
Spybot - Search & Destroy
Working in awesome tandem, these two can virtually guarantee you a spyware-free, squeaky-clean computing experience. These two programs are routinely updated to identify the latest threats to your computer's efficiency. Once a week I fire them up, have them check for and install their own updates and let them run. Anyone who truly cares for their computer owes them this common, but vital, courtesy.
Someone in this thread mentioned this program. Good call. After using this for a couple months, I can safely say that I much prefer this to my previous recommendation (avast! Anti-virus). Mostly this is because of the friendlier interface, but also AVG seems to be slightly less demanding on resources which is always a plus.
Kerio Personal Firewall
Someone mentioned this guy in the thread as well, and I heartily approve. Not so much because its better than the Zone-alarm that I used to recommend, but because it's so much better than the current Zone-Alarm versions which are becoming worse and worse as the developers continue to make more and more features available only in the pro version. Sygate became my firewall after I became fed-up with Zone-Alarm, but it is no longer being updated. Kerio is no slouch either. To be honest, I preferred Sygate, but in light of its lack of developer support and the fact that Kerio is an extremely capable personal firewall as well keeps me from being bitter.
This program is enormously handy. Think of it as Windows Task Manager and the Windows System Configuration Utility combined into one with a very user-friendly interface and added functionality. This one is great for making sure that your computer is only running what you want it to run.
Still the best. In terms of security and, in my opinion, interface quality and trimness, this browser still can't be beat. That being said, Opera
is also a good choice now that it's free, and it's arguably faster than Firefox as well. Of course, you should always keep IE around because there are those rare websites out there that are incompatible with anything but.
Excellent software suite that contains MS Office equivalents of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. The best part is that you can save the files in MS Office standard formats so that you can create documents in OpenOffice that can still be opened on a machine using Office.
I haven't found an archive that ZipGenius could not handle with speed and reliability. This program is superversatile. While programs like WinZip can handle only a few archive types, ZipGenius has a list like no other. Go here
for the full list of filetypes supported by ZipGenius.
VLC Media Player
Excellent video player! Minimalistic in style, my preference, but supports many nice skins and it is positively loaded with codecs. This program can play pretty much any video thrown at it. Sure WMP and Quicktime will get most people through the day, but if you want one media player to rule them all, this is definitively it. The only reason I still use iTunes to play music (it has all the audio codecs as well) is because of its lack of a library function. Otherwise, this program is perfect.
The next step is time consuming, but very helpful: defragging your hard drive. This can be a very long process depending on the size of your hard drive and the number of files you have stored on there. The best way to go about it is to start before you go to bed and let it run overnight. This will go a long way towards cleaning up, and speeding up, your hard drive so that you get the best possible performance out of it. If you're one of those unlucky notebook owners with a hard drive that runs at less than 7200 rpm's, then this step is especially important!
Give yourself a pat on the back! You have successfully prepared your computer to withstand any internet security threats and run all of your applications smoothly and quickly. Just don't forget to maintain this state. Routinely use your spyware removal tool and don't forget to scan for viruses either. You should also defrag at a regular interval. Once a month at least, and once every couple of weeks if you can remember will help keep your system in tip-top shape.
Also, I'd like to direct you to an article
I ran across while writing this guide. It's IGN's Battlefield 2 optimization guide, but in truth, only the last couple of pages (out of nine) contain Battlfield 2-specifc information. The rest contains some interesting system tweaks that could really help boost system performance. Some of the information is already covered in here, but much of it is not and I would suggest anyone who feels like they want even more out of their system to check it out.
I hope you have found this guide helpful and that you will help me to improve it and make it even more comprehensive.