Jan 26, 2011
Valerie Hayworth

Why You Don’t Need to Regularly Reinstall Windows

One of the most persistent myths about Windows is that you need to reinstall the operating system regularly to keep it running at top performance. Let’s take a look at the real problem and how to fix it.

Let’s talk a little bit about “Windows rot” and how to solve the problem. Windows doesn’t slow down or “rot” if you were to just take care of your PC a little more. Follow these tips, and you won’t have to waste your precious time spend hours backing up data, installing from disc, and re-installing your essential applications.

What Does Slow Windows Down Over Time?

  1. Too many poorly written applications that stay resident in memory and waste CPU cycles;
  2. Running more than one anti-virus application at a time;
  3. And, of course, running your PC’s hard drive out of space.

If you aren’t getting the picture, the problem is usually the person behind the keyboard that installed too many junk applications in the first place. More gently put, it’s often that (very well-meaning) person’s gradual easing of their safeguards and cleaning regimens as time goes by.

Stop Installing Junk Applications

More applications = more memory used = a slower system. You really don’t need 3 different toolbars and an lolcats viewer.

Don’t “feed” your PC junk. Poorly written applications clutter your drive with unnecessary DLL files, add always-resident Windows services when they don’t need to, bloat up your registry, and add useless icons to your system tray that waste even more memory and CPU cycles. Usually you can get away with using a few terrible applications, but as you continue to install more and more of them, your PC will slow down to a crawl.

Be Smarter About What You Do Install

microsoft_securityJust install the applications that you actually need and you’ll generally prevent the time-consuming format and reinstall ritual.

Here’s a few tips to help you know what applications you should be careful with, or just not download at all:

  • Apps that function as an Explorer plug-in, because they directly hook into the shell and any problem will make your entire PC slow or in the worst case, crash repeatedly.
  • Antivirus applications are notorious for slowing your PC down, and you should never, ever, ever use more than one real-time antivirus application at a time. We recommend Microsoft Security Essentials as a free, fast, and awesome antivirus tool.
  • Anything that says it will “Speed Up Your PC” or “Optimize Your RAM” will most likely slow it down, or best case, do nothing at all. Avoid these like the plague.
  • Make sure to install official system drivers from the manufacturer website. Drivers have a huge impact on performance, and you want to have stable, updated drivers. Don’t download them from any other site but the manufacturer’s website, or you risk infecting your PC with malware.
  • Registry cleaners are a mixed bag, and really aren’t going to speed up your PC in most cases. The biggest problem, however, is that too many of the commercial registry cleaners set themselves to run at startup in the system tray, wasting your memory and CPU cycles.
  • You should strongly consider the idea of using portable applications wherever possible, since their self-contained nature means they won’t clutter up the rest of your PC with things you don’t need.

Keep Your Computer Clean & Defragged

ccleanerOnce you’ve rid yourself of your junk application habit and resolved to only use healthy, useful applications, you’ll want to make sure to keep your PC clean of any remaining clutter that doesn’t need to be there. You can set up a shortcut to manually run CCleaner silently with the push of a button, but your best bet is to set up CCleaner to run automatically on a schedule, so you don’t have to remember to do it.

Since CCleaner is only going to clean up temporary files, you’ll still need a good solution for keeping the rest of your PC clean-and Lifehacker’s Belvedere can help you automate your self-cleaning PC or automatically clean up your download folder.

With all of this automated file deletion going on, your hard drive is likely to get a bit fragmented. If you’re running Windows 7 or Vista, automatic defrag comes out of the box, but Windows XP users will need to use Windows Tasks to setup a schedule and automatically defrag their drives.

Use a Virtual Machine to Test Software

windows_virtual_machineIf you still want to test out all of the latest software, including apps that are still in beta-testing, your best bet is to use a virtual machine to test out anything before putting it onto your primary operating system. You can install all of your software in an XP or Windows 7 virtual machine just like it was a real PC, and with the latest VMWare player releases, you can even enable Windows Aero in a guest VM. If you are new to the idea and need some more help, you should check out Lifehacker’s beginner’s guide to creating virtual machines in VirtualBox, or Windows 7 users can check out this guide to using XP Mode. If you don’t want to go the virtual machine route, Windows XP and Vista users can alternatively use Windows SteadyState to protect their PC and roll back all of the changes on a reboot.

If it’s already too late, and you haven’t been using these preventions tactics, you should give Reimage a try. It’s like reinstalling your Windows operating system, except your personal files and documents stay intact. It’s a good idea to back up your important files regularly anyway, but with Reimage you don’t have to. A license key lasts one year on one computer and after using the Reimage repair, all these prevention tactics mentioned should be implemented regularly.

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