You may have heard someone say that you should defrag or defragment your computer regularly to keep it running fast. Or you may have heard that you don't need to defrag anymore because Windows does it for you. Let me try to clear it up for you and offer some recommendations.
What is defrag
Defragmenting as the name implies reverses or fixes fragmentation on a hard disk drive. Files become fragmented or spread out on the drive through normal use; its a side effect of the way the computer lays out data. Simply, the computer will lay out a new file onto the drive in the first available space, even if that space is not large enough. If it can't fit the entire file into that space, it fragments the file and puts the rest of it elsewhere. Sometimes a large file can be stuffed into forty or more gaps on the hard drive, spread out all over the place. The computer knows where the file is due to an index, but due to the way a mechanical drive works with a spinning metal disk and a magnetic head moving back and forth reading data; having a file spread all across the hard drive really increases the time it takes to read that file again when it is needed. Your computer creates, deletes, modifies and moves hundreds of thousands of files and fragmentation occurs naturally through normal use.
A good defrag program will locate those split up files and put them back together again. It moves the file to a space large enough to hold the entire thing and fills gaps with smaller files to help prevent further fragmentation.
What about SSD
Sold State Drives or SSDs do not suffer from slowdowns when fragmented, and should not be subjected to a normal defrag as it can reduce the life of the drive. They can however benefit from the Optimise process that newer defragmenters perform. It basically clears the free space properly and triggers the drive's built-in garbage collection making it run faster again. Make sure that the defrag program you choose recognises SSDs and knows what to do with them.
Doesn't Windows defrag automatically
Modern versions of Windows do have a built in defragmenter, but it has a light touch and doesn't do a very good job. It is normally scheduled to run very early in the morning also, so it may never run. Sometimes your computer will automatically run maintenance while you are not using it, but trust me, its not doing a good job. You can check its work by running a proper defrag program.
What do I need and should I pay for a defragmenter
There are quite a few purpose built defrag programs around, some free, some not. Typically the main difference between a free version and a paid version is whether it runs automatically or not. If you are happy to run regular maintenance on your own computer, then you can stick with a free one. One of the easiest free defragmenters is Defraggler from Piriform.
As you can see from that picture, my D: drive has over 46,000 fragments. You can also see that the health is Good. You shouldn't defrag a drive that is not healthy as it may fail completely during the fairly intensive process. Defraggler knows how to optimise SSDs as well. If I analyse my Sold State Drives it shows that they are all between 30 and 60 percent fragmented but it doesn't matter because they work differently. I can optimise them to bring them back to peek performance, but that is more to do with how the free space is handled, not how the files are laid out.
How often should I defrag
It depends how you use your computer. You will learn how quickly your drive becomes fragmented as you run your maintenance. Start with once per month and see how it goes. If your drive isn't very fragmented then you can probably get away with doing it less frequently. Some people might benefit from running a defrag once per week and would probably schedule it to run automatically.
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This is a general guide for cleaning an infected computer. Some infections require further work or an experienced eye to remove; meaning you should get someone out to look at it for you.
Some infections replace or infect important system files and the act of cleaning them can leave your system in an unstable state. There is a chance that Windows will no longer boot after removing infections as important files had to be deleted to complete the operation. The steps listed below will not delete any of your personal files unless they have been identified as infected. It is your responsibility to keep your data safe. Please backup any important data before proceeding with this guide.
You will need to download some tools from the internet. If the internet is unusable on the infected computer because of browser hijacks, then you may need to download the tools onto a USB flash drive from a clean computer. You may be able to get your infected browser working well enough to download these tools by going into the add-ons section and removing anything that looks suspicious.
Most of these tools do not update themselves automatically, so its a good idea to download new versions each time you need them.
Download the following tools:
- RKill - Ends bad processes that can interfere with the clean up process
- TDSSKiller - Finds very specific rootkit infections. Quick to scan, worth doing
- ADWCleaner - Another malware scan. Restarts your computer when it completes. Run it last.
- MalwareBytes - Final scan to remove final traces. MalwareBytes is now a full features antivirus. I used to recommend purchasing this to run beside your normal antivirus. It is now a viable option to replace your antivirus.
Uninstall suspicious programs
Some Possibly Unwanted Programs or PUPs can simply be removed from the Programs and Features list in Windows. Go to Control Panel and find "Programs and Features" or "Uninstall a Program". Scroll through the list and remove anything with the words coupon, toolbar, savings and anything that looks to be bad. Be careful not to remove important software and drivers from this list, just because you don't recognise it, doesn't mean its bad; do a quick google on your phone if you are unsure. Try checking www.shouldiremoveit.com
Disable your antivirus temporarily
Some antivirus programs might flag your new scan tools because of the way they work. Its best to disable your AV before downloading the tools, or plugging in your flash drive. Most antivirus products have a right-click menu with some sort of disable option. Find it in the system tray (down near the clock) and right click the icon. Some require you to open the app and go into settings to turn off realtime protection.
This will also speed up the scanning process.
Run your scans:
Time to run the scans with your new tools. Only run one tool at a time and don't fret if you don't understand what they are telling you. Run each tool as administrator to give them full access to the system. Right click -> "Run as Administrator".
- RKill - Black text window. Just wait for it to finish, and close the notepad window it opens at the end.
- TDSSKiller - Accept a couple of agreements. Click "Change Parameters". Select "Detect TDLFS file systems". Click OK then "Start Scan". If it finds anything rootkit related, write it down and hit continue. Do some research on this infection after you finish the scans to be sure you have it all gone. something like "cidox removal guide"
- ADWCleaner - This one restarts your computer when it is done, so be ready for that. Accept the agreement and hit "Scan" on the main window. When it is finished, hit "Clean". Several prompts will appear explaining what it is doing, just hit OK and wait for you computer to restart on its own.
- MalwareBytes - This program actually installs onto your computer. You can remove it later if you want, but I actually recommend purchasing a Premium license and leaving it on, its a great tool. When it finishes installing and opens, hit the "Update" link to be sure it is up to date. Then we want to enable the rootkit scanner by going to "Setting -> Detection and Protection" and checking the box next to "Scan for rootkits". Hit the "Scan" button at the top and click "Start Scan". This one can take half an hour or so on some computers. When it finishes, hit the button at the bottom which should say "Apply actions" or "Remove Selected" (It has changed over the years). It sometimes asks to restart your computer - do that.
Check if the infection is gone
Fire up each web browser and be sure that web pages load properly. Sometimes you need to fix your home page which can be done in the settings. Chrome sometimes needs to be "Reset" which is done in the bottom "Advanced" section of the settings. Its a good idea to reset your Internet Explorer settings too from the "Advanced" tab in "Internet Properties" found in the Control Panel.
If you Steam game client is infected, then check out my guide on cleaning Steam - Steam browser hijacked
If the infection persists, then you may need to seek further advice either online from r/techsupport or from a local computer repair company.
Check your antivirus
If you disabled your antivirus before running the scans, then make sure that it is re-enabled. While you are there, make sure that your subscription has not expired and that it is fully up to date.
Additional free protection
Install Unchecky to help prevent those PUPs from side-loading when you install software.
Preventing future infection
Most of the machines I clean already have paid antivirus installed. The customer thinks that they are safe because they have paid for protection and use a big brand. Unfortunately having the most popular antivirus product installed on your system doesn't mean you have the best protection. Most antivirus products either do not bother detecting PUPs or do a lousy job of it because they are not technically classed as malware.
Possibly Unwanted Programs or PUPs can add extra toolbars or ads to pages on your web browsers. They can offer to speed up your system, update drivers, or clean up infection; for a fee. Basically if you didn't install it, and it is annoying or wants money from you, then its probably a PUP. Some of these programs can negatively affect you privacy or let more junk in. You need to keep them out.
Most antivirus programs do a pretty good job of keeping traditional viruses out of your computer, but you need something to keep the PUPs out too. I recommend and use an antivirus product called Emsisoft Internet Security which has a dual virus scanning engine, and pretty good PUP protection built in, as well as a good personal firewall. If you don't want the firewall, then they have a cheaper version called Emsisoft AntiMalware. Also install Unchecky which I mentioned earlier.
Here are my affiliate links. If you plan on purchasing these products, then help me out and use my links please. I found and joined the affiliate programs for products that I like, use and recommend. Not the other way around.
- Emsisoft Internet Security - Dual antivirus, PUP protection, Personal Firewall
- Emsisoft AntiMalware - Dual antivirus, PUP protection - You only need one Emsisoft product, not both
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Your Steam browser can be hijacked to show ads and even redirect the store page. Once you have removed the infection from the computer, the Steam browser may remain hijacked. This is because of the web cache that Steam keeps continues to load after the system is clean.
To be sure you have removed the infection, you can check out my malware removal guide here.
How did my Steam get hijacked?
Steam has a version of the Chrome web browser built-in. You have somehow contracted a malware infection on your computer that redirects web requests. This type of infection will affect any web browser on your system including IE, Chrome, Firefox, and other custom browsers.
Why does it linger after removing the infection?
Your Steam browser uses a cache to speed up browsing, but it has cached the bad pages. So any time you load up the Steam Store it will load the bad pages from the cache instead. We need to clear that cache.
How do I clear this bad cache?
There are two locations in which Steam keeps its web cache. You want to delete the whole cache folder and Steam will recreate a fresh one the next time it starts up. Make sure that Steam is closed before deleting anything. Find it in the tray near your clock, right click -> Exit.
Deleted the following folders:
steam/appcache/httpcache (This may be located in your Program Files folder)
Fire up your Steam again and see how it went.
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There are many possible reasons why your computer could be running slow. It is probably full of malware, or maybe it just needs some maintenance. There's also the possibility that you hard drive is failing and you should backup your data right now.
Check the health of your hard disk drive
Before you get too far into cleaning up your computer, first make sure that your hard drive isn't failing. The act of cleaning up the crap from your system is fairly hard disk intensive and could trigger a catastrophic failure if your drive is already on its way out.
Check the SMART status of your drives with a free tool like HD Tune. Scroll down the page to the free one, not the Pro one.
I have highlighted the interesting stats in this SMART report which HD Tune calls "Health". Look to the "Data" column of those three particular stats. If you see a number higher than 0, then I recommend treating your hard disk drive as "on its way out" even if the utility says its OK or Healthy. The reason for this is that those highlighted stats indicate that the computer has had trouble accessing spots on your drive. Usually when this starts, it gets worse over time, so get your important data backed up now and consider getting that drive replaced.
Now if you are happy that your drive is healthy and those stats are 0, or you have a SSD instead of a mechanical drive, then move on to the following maintenance and cleanup tasks.
Too much crap installed and running
Everything that starts up when you log in, or is running in the background is having an impact on how fast your computer starts and runs.
Check your system tray - The area down near your clock to see how much stuff is running. Use the up arrow to see the hidden icons and hover your mouse over them to see what each one is called. If you spot something that you know doesn't need to run automatically like uTorrent for example, then open up the program and go through the settings to find and turn off the "start when Windows starts" option. You can also use the Startup tab in the Task Manager to disable unnecessary startup apps like OneDrive, OneNote, SpotifyWebHelper etc.
Go through your Programs and Features list and uninstall anything that you no longer use. There are several ways to get to the uninstall programs list, you can find it in the Control Panel or run appwiz.cpl. Don't just uninstall anything you don't recognise though, as some of that stuff keeps your system working. Get rid of old versions of Java, in fact chances are you don't need Java at all. Remove cleanup and speedup type tools if they weren't recommended to you by someone in the know. Anything that has the words "ad", "coupon" or "toolbar" in the name can go.
Too many antivirus programs
Antivirus programs are fairly resource intensive and actually stand in between your hard drive and your programs so they can scan everything as it is accessed. So it stands to reason that you don't want heaps of the things fighting with each other to scan everything. You should have one antivirus program, and one active antimalware program only. I'll discuss why and which ones in another article. If you have more than one installed, then get rid of the old ones, they are really slowing your computer down.
This can often happen when you decide to buy a new antivirus but forget to remove the one that came with your computer and has probably expired.
Too many temporary files
Temporary files accumulate through normal use and can slow down your computer if left to build up. There are several places that these files accumulate so its a good idea to use a cleanup tool to remove them all for you.
I like to use the free version of CCleaner, but I make a couple of tweaks to the default cleanup rules. In the list of things to clean, uncheck the following things.
- System -> Memory Dumps - Uncheck this because we can use memory dumps to diagnose bluescreen problems
- Web browsers (Edge, Ie, Chrome, Firefox - You'll have to go to the Applications tab) - Uncheck Session, Recently Typed URLs, Last Download Location and Cookies (This is up to you, some people are scared of cookies. I leave them there because if you remove them you have to log back into all of your sites again)
Hit run cleaner, accept the warning and let it do its thing. The more frequently you run it, the quicker it will be each time. I recommend running CCleaner every month. If you purchase the Pro version, it will monitor and clean your disk automatically.
Funny side note: CCleaner stands for Crap Cleaner.
Hard disk fragmented
Defrag is probably something you have heard before. Maybe someone told you you don't have to worry about it anymore, as Windows does it for you, or modern file systems aren't affected as much by fragmentation. Those things are true, but a proper defrag can help and if you think about how it works, it makes sense.
Windows built-in defragmentation is a soft-touch approach, it really doesn't do much more than consolidate free space. Which is handy, but it leaves files spread all over the drive slowing down access. So lets do the job properly.
Note: This will take a long time and will slow your computer down while it is processing, so maybe set it before you go to bed.
Get yourself a proper defrag tool like Defraggler from the same people who made CCleaner. Again the free one is all you need. The paid one can be set to automatically defrag on a schedule.
Defraggler is as easy as choosing the drive to defrag if you have more than one and hitting "Defrag" then waiting, and waiting. If you have Solid State Drives then Defraggler can "Optimize" these too without damaging the drive.
For more details on defragmenting you hard disks check my post: Should I defrag my computer
Too much malware
Chances are you have malware of some type on your computer. I have a more complete malware removal guide here which you should check out, but in the meantime these quick steps can help you out.
Download and run the following tools - Tip, download them all ready to go before starting any of them.
- AdwCleaner - This one will restart your computer when it is done.
- MalwareBytes - This used to be a companion tool which ran beside your normal antivirus, but it is now a full featured antivirus itself. Purchasing a full license to replace your existing antivirus is a good idea.
Run those tools in order. As stated, AdwCleaner will restart your computer if it finds anything, and MalwareBytes may decide to as well.
This is not a definitive list of actions for removing malware but its a quick clean up and will get a lot of it. There may be things hanging on tight that require more aggressive processes and possible more experienced eyes.
Sometimes a bug in third-party software can cause your system to slow down. Perhaps a program you use is using more CPU time than it should, or thrashing the hard drive for some reason.
Check your Task Manager for processes that are using a lot of CPU time. The easiest way to open the task manager is by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+ESC at the same time. Once there, go to the "Details" tab and click the CPU field to sort the list in descending order by most usage to least. As you can see on mine, there isn't much going on. The System Idle Process should be taking the majority of the time. If you see something in there sitting on a high number then it may be malfunctioning. If you recognise it then maybe check for an update to that product or reinstall it, if you don't recognise it, then get to googling or ask on the BleepingComputer forums.
Get a SSD
These things are great, and really once you use one you won't want to go back to a mechanical drive again. A Solid State Drive has no moving parts and is super fast. But they are a bit more expensive than regular mechanical drives and normally come in smaller capacities (unless you are rich).
The idea here is to replace your old slow mechanical drive with a SSD to greatly improve disk access speeds. Windows boots and is ready to use in a few seconds rather than minutes, and practically everything opens almost instantly.
The downside to migrating from a mechanical drive to a Solid State Drive is that you need to completely reinstall Windows to get the most benefit from it. It is possible to clone your drive onto the new SSD and get a considerable performance increase, but Windows really needs to be installed fresh on the drive to get the full benefit.
If installing a new drive sounds too hard, then get a computer tech to do it for you, or wait until you purchase your next computer and insist it comes with a SSD.
Some of these tasks require a bit of know-how but don't be afraid to give it a shot. If you really feel uncomfortable about performing these tasks, then I recommend you call in a computer technician from a reputable company and get it all sorted out for you. Maybe get them to show you how to do the maintenance yourself so you can keep it clean.
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