Basic, but Powerful Maintenance Procedure for Windows 7 (and XP)

PC Maintenance Tutorial

Has your windows machine slowed down? Worried it's infected with malware or a virus? Don't panic - there's a simple, powerful, and free, way to get it performing like new again. I often see commercials on TV for people selling similar solutions, and it drives me a little nuts - cleaning up a windows PC is very easy. 

Note: I am not responsible for any success or failure you experience using these instructions - i.e. It's not my fault if you break something. Please see the disclaimer at the bottom of this page. 

Step 1: Boot the Computer into "Safe Mode with Networking"

In order to prevent all unnecessary components, including most malicious software, from loading during windows startup, you will want to boot the computer in "safe mode." Allowing networking will be necessary to download tools if you don't have them on a removable drive. 

Step 2: Disable Proxy if You Don't Actually Use One

If you don't know what this means, then you most likely aren't using a proxy. Some malware tries to redirect your internet traffic to "listen in" on your communications. This isn't as prevalent as it used to be, but it's worth checking just to be sure. 

  1. Open Internet Options. 
    1. In Windows 7, simply click the start button and type "internet options" then hit enter. 
    2. In XP, you will need to find "Internet Options" in your control panel. 
  2. Within the window that appears, select the "Connections" tab. 
  3. Click the "LAN Settings" button. 
  4. Make sure that the only thing with a check mark is "Automatically detect settings" and click "OK". 
  5. You can now close the "Internet Options" window by pressing "OK". 

lan-settings.png

Step 3: Download the Recommended Software Tools to a USB thumb drive (or equivalent)

There are a few free tools you'll want to have ready before you begin this process. I recommend that you download them to a USB thumb drive from a separate computer when possible, but safe mode with networking will take care of it most of the time. 

  1. CCleaner from Piriform 
    1. https://www.piriform.com/ccleaner
  2. Combofix from BleepingComputer.com 
    1. http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/download/combofix/
    2. This is an automated malware removal tool that turns PC cleanup largely into a waiting game. It only works with Windows 7 and older, so if you're using Windows 8, you will need an equivalent tool for that OS.
    3. Only ever download this from BleepingComputer.com - never from somewhere else.
  3. Any Decent Free Antivirus
    1. http://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/free.html
    2. I've recently become fond of Bitdefender Free.
      1. Light and fast, it doesn't slow your computer down when compared to other free options like AVG, Avast, etc.
    3. I don't recommend subscription based antivirus for home users. This is because if the subscription becomes expired, you are essentially unprotected - The false sense of security of having that expired anti-virus software installed may do more harm than not having one at all.

Step 4: Uninstall Old Antivirus

If your computer became infected while antivirus software was installed, it's safe to assume that it has become compromised. It should be removed to ensure that it isn't going to simply reinfect your machine after you've cleaned it up. Additionally, some antivirus software can conflict with Combofix. Better to be safe than sorry. 

If you're using one of the much-maligned but still popular antiviruses such as Norton or McAfee, you may need a special removal tool to fully remove this junk from your machine. 

McAfee Removal Tool: http://service.mcafee.com/FAQDocument.aspx?id=TS10...

Norton Removal Tool: https://support.norton.com/sp/en/us/home/current/s...

If you are using Avast and you are not able to remove it due to infection, check out: https://www.avast.com/en-us/uninstall-utility

Step 5: Uninstall Unwanted Programs

This step is optional but recommended. Often times there is old unused software on your computer. Uninstalling them will clear up hard drive space, and often times remove unnecessary annoyances. 

Step 6: Limit What Runs at Startup

Many common programs install components that are configured to run all the time. This uses up the computer's available memory and can slow things down unnecessarily - especially for older computers. Windows has a tool called msconfig, which is an advanced tool for controlling what runs at system startup (among other things). When you open this program and switch to the "startup" tab, you will see a list of optional components that are loaded when windows starts. Technically, you could disable everything here and your computer will still work; however, there are some things that I recommend you don't disable: 

  1. Anything for graphics card (usually labelled NVidia or ATI)
  2. Specialty drivers (usually from Intel, Realtek, Synaptic, or labelled as a "hotkey poller" for specialty laptop buttons)
  3. Updater for java

msconfig.png

You can experiment with what disabling certain programs does fairly safely, but you should save that for after the computer cleanup is complete. 

When you are done, click "OK". You will be asked if you want to reboot. Don't reboot yet. 

Step 7: Run Combofix

Combofix is one of the most useful pieces of software ever created for windows.  It's entirely automated and may take some time to finish running, but be patient. It will remove any suspicious software, and catches most malware infections automatically.  Do not interrupt Combofix, or turn off the machine while Combofix is running - be patient. 

combofix.png

Step 8: Run CCleaner

Combofix is not the gentlest removal tool. Many of the things removed will still have records in the system's registry (a local database that stores all windows settings). CCleaner can safely clean up any remaining issues. Run the cleaner first to remove temporary files. On the cleaner tab, click "analyze" and then click "run cleaner". Once that is complete switch to the registry tab. Click "scan for issues" and then click "fix selected issues." You will be asked if you want to make a backup. You should select "yes" and save the file. Once the automated fix is complete, you will want to continue the process of clicking "scan for issues" and "fix selected issues" until the scan returns no results. It may take 2 or 3 passes, but you only need to make the one backup. 

ccleaner.png

Step 9: Reinstall Antivirus

Reinstall antivirus. This is important - there's no reason to clean up the machine just to have it infected again in short-order. 

Step 10: Reboot - You're Done. 

That's really all there is too it. This short process would take a very long time, and quite a bit of expertise, to do manually. You just saved yourself some money and sanity - congratulations. 

Disclaimer

This information is provided "as is" and any expressed or implied warranties, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose are disclaimed. in no event shall the author or contributors be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, or consequential damages (including, but not limited to, procurement of substitute goods or services; loss of use, data, or profits; or business interruption) however caused and on any theory of liability, whether in contract, strict liability, or tort (including negligence or otherwise) arising in any way out of the use of this information, even if advised of the possibility of such damage.