The vast majority of problems computer technicians run into on a daily basis is the problems of pop ups, slow downs and redirected web pages. These are generally caused by either malware or PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs).
Let’s discuss PUPs first. PUPs are pieces of software you probably did install, but did not really pay attention to. For example if you downloaded a free screensaver, included in the installation program may have been something like the Ask Toolbar. It most likely did actually ask you if you wanted to install it but it did so in a clever way that you missed. When installing software you want it is normal for you to just click the buttons at the bottom of the installation quickly to get it over with. No one really reads all that garbage anyway, do they?
Not really, no. That is why the business of PUPs is so popular, it works.
Keep in mind that these are called PUPs, and not spyware, malware or viruses. This means that the vast majority of time these programs are legitimate software that just has a shady way of being installed. They usually have fully functional uninstall programs and cause few problems when running.
So why are we worried about PUPs if they cause few problems? Because as additional software they put an additional load on our systems and because they often do things we did not really want done. The Ask Toolbar we mentioned earlier is a great example. That software often changes our default search engine to Ask which is typically slower and less agnostic than some others. Less agnostic means it may favor advertisers over non-advertisers. It also often presents more advertising. This is in addition to the toolbar taking up valuable space in our web broswer.
Removing PUPs like this toolbar can speed up your browsing experience, reduce advertising, and give you a larger area to webpages in. That sounds like a lot of good reasons to keep PUPs out of my computer.
The next common problem is malware. This is software that is somehow trying to make money off you. It could do this by presenting more advertising, redirecting your search results to a different product, stealing your banking information, using your computer to provide services unknown to you, collecting personal information about you and your habits and selling this to data brokers, and much more. There is no doubt that malware is bad and should be removed.
The first step to removing both PUPs and malware is to run a program such as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. This program is pretty fast and efficient, and completely free. This is an excellent first tool to clean up your computer. In many cases where the computer is not in too bad of shape this program alone is all that is really needed.
Depending on what Malwarebytes finds, the next step is either further malware removal tools or system maintenance tools. Lets assume the machine is pretty infested with bugs and we need to go further.
The next tool I tend to use is Kaspersky’s TDSSkiller, also available for free. It is fairly rare that this finds anything but the reason I run it is that what it does find is pretty serious and it is fast, easy and free.
Next we can look at tools such as HitMan Pro. This program can find some things that Malwarebytes Anti-Malware can not, but it is not free. It does however have a trial period that lets you run the program and clean your system for free for a set number of days. If your system is heavily infested this may not be a bad investment to keep a current version on hand.
Next you could run the beta version of MalwareBytes Anti-Rootkit. Even though this is beta software we have had very good results from it. It is another one of those programs that rarely catches much but what it does catch is pretty significant.
Hopefully you have a current antivirus and have already run a scan with it. If for some reason you do not, there are some you can run now. Housecall is one with some pretty good reviews. You can download it and run it with no real installation. You could also download and install a free trial of many commercial antivirus solutions such as those from Kaspersky.
If you want an antivirus that is free and not bad, take a look at Bitdefender free, Avira free or AVG free. Personally I have used Avira free quite a bit and had great luck with it. It does not seem to slow down the computer much, provides reasonable protection and has only a small amout of advertising.
Once we are fairly sure the PUPs and malware are removed and we are not having any pop ups or redirects we can move on to general system maintenance.
The first thing a lot of people want to do is defragment their hard drive. This was an extremely popular thing to do years ago. What happens is that as the operating system writes files to the hard drive (documents, videos, pictures, music, operating system updates, etc) these files may not be placed on the hard drive as one contigious file, but rather a piece here and a piece there. There are a lot of reasons this may happen but it is a fact of typical computer use on virtually any platform or operating system.
Today, the operating systems and file systems tend to take care of this problem reasonably well without your assistance. Windows Vista and newer as well as all the Mac OSX versions take care of this automatically. Defragging the hard drive has all but become unnecessary, normally.
One exception to this is if the hard drive is very full, 75% or more. Many computers I see with very full hard drives on virtually any operating system can not keep up with the data fast enough to keep it defragmented. In this case running a program such as Auslogic Defrag or Smart Defrag can be very useful.
Another time when you should consider defragging your hard drive is when you tend to move a large number of large files on a regular basis. This would include video editing, audio editing, professional photography editing, etc. Again these machines just do not seem to be able to keep up with the huge amount of file movement.
Lastly is large storage drives in servers that see a huge amount of file traffic. Many times this is only a problem in specific cases as servers are generally much better at keeping things in check than a standard personal computer. It is easy enough to check by running a defrag program and seeing the level of fragmentation. If the level is just a few percent then the operating system is doing a fine job. If that level starts creeping north of ten percent, it might help to defrag the drive. I have some customers who see thirty or higher percent on their servers and we make it a point to defrag their data drives on a regular bases. And yes, it makes quite a difference.
The first step however is to make sure you empty the recycle bin and remove any temp files to give the program as much free hard drive space as possible to work with.
I should point out here that defragging of a hard drive is only recommended for rotating disc hard drives, the standard type of hard drive we have been using since the first hard drive was made. Newer SSDs should never be defragged. SSDs have no latency so it can access a fragmented file at exactly the same speed as an unfragmented file so you will see absolutely no performance increase. The other issue is that SSDs are rated in so many writes per sector on the drive at which point that sector will no longer be usable. Defragging the drive causes it to write to a lot of sectors, thereby wearing out the drive with no benefit gained.
To delete the temporary files start by emptying the recycle bin. Next you can run something like the Windows clean up tool. Be sure you tell it to remove any old operating systems (for example if you upgraded from WIndows 7 to Windows 10). Once that is done you might consider running a program designed to remove temp files and more, such as Glary’s Utilities.
Glary’s contains not only a temp file cleaner but also a nice registry cleaner. Normally a registry cleaner is not needed as Windows does a good job of keeping the registry in as good a shape as it is going to get. The problem again occurs when you get a lot of malware and removing them leaves trash in the registry. This is where something like Glary’s can come in useful.
Once you have everything cleaned up and defragmented you should be good to go!