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PC Tuneup, Not the Latest Equipment, Might Be What You Need


January is when lots of people join health clubs and go on diets, and it's as good a time as any to take stock of your computer systems to see what needs to be replaced, upgraded or put on a fitness program.

With PC prices falling through the floor and new models arriving every month, it's tempting to replace your equipment with the latest and greatest. It might make more sense instead to revitalize some of your current equipment for today's tasks.

PCs don't get heavier as they age, but their hard disks do tend to get full. So put your system on a diet by deleting files and programs you no longer need. The first thing you should do is delete all those temporary files. If you're using Windows 95, click on the start menu, select "Find," make sure the "Look In" box says C: and then type in *.tmp in the "Named" box. Click On "Find Now"; chances are, you'll see a long list of files that end in tmp. In almost every case, those files can be erased with no harm to your machine, especially if they're in a folder called C:WINDOWSTEMP. If you have any doubt, move them to that temporary folder and, if nothing goes wrong after a few days of usage, you can safely delete them.

Also take a look at the programs installed on your machine. If you have software you never use, you may as well delete it to free up disk space. If possible, avoid deleting programs by simply erasing them or their directories from your hard drive. A regular deletion will get rid of the program files but won't purge your system of other files and resources that the operating system uses to keep track of programs.

Most Windows 95 programs come with an "uninstall" option, which you can usually access by clicking on the add/remove icon in the Windows control panel. Although this works OK with programs designed specifically for Windows 95, it's not as reliable as third-party uninstall programs that tend to free up even more disk space. These include CleanSweep Deluxe 3.0 (Windows 95) from Quarterdeck ([800] 683-6696), Uninstall Deluxe (Windows 95) from Symantec ([800] 441-7234), UnInstaller 4.5 (Windows 95) from CyberMedia ([800] 721-7824) and SpringCleaning (Mac) from Aladdin Systems ([800] 732-8881).

Windows 95 comes with two programs you can use to tune up your hard drive. ScanDisk checks the drive for problems with files and, in some cases, the disk itself. Another program, Disk Defragmentor, improves the performance of your machine by rearranging the data so the drive's read/write head doesn't move as far when accessing data, thereby giving you faster access to programs and data files. Both programs can be found by clicking on the Start menu and selecting Programs/Accessories/System Tools.

There are several third-party programs you can purchase that do even more to improve overall performance and prevent and fix problems. Norton Utilities from Symantec is the leading PC utility program. The newest Windows 95 version, 3.0, not only checks your disk for errors, it also helps improve overall system performance by optimizing the Windows registry, which results in faster starting of Windows and Windows programs. The software has other features such as Crash Guard, which runs in the background to detect and "unfreeze" programs that stop running. CyberMedia offers First Aid 98, a utility that checks for hardware and software conflicts as well as potential hard disk failures. First Aid 98 works on Windows 95, but there is also a version for Windows 3.1.

Although your machines might be working fine, there's a good chance that some of your software is out of date. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to upgrade, especially if it requires spending money, installing new software or learning how to use new features. Unless you have a compelling reason to buy the newest version of whatever it is you're using, you may as well stick with what's working. But sometimes manufacturers issue free interim versions of programs just to fix bugs or add a feature or two. This is especially true with "drivers," which are free programs that come with printers, scanners and other devices to help them communicate with your PC.

It's not uncommon for equipment manufacturers to issue a new device with drivers that are later found to be buggy or a bit inefficient. When a new version is released, the company usually places it on its Web site. From time to time, you can check out the Web sites of the companies that make the equipment you need, or you can subscribe to CyberMedia's Oil Change program. A $39 fee buys you a copy of Oil Change and a year's subscription to the upgrade service. Quarterdeck offers a similar product, called TuneUp ($35), which keeps you up-to-date with more than 3,000 products and also provides updated virus protection.

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