Fast fixes for common PC problems

Every computer user hits a speed bump now and then. Whether the bump is a dead power supply, a slow-booting PC, a soaking-wet cell phone, or an e-mail attachment lost in cyberspace, sometimes technology seems more trouble than it's worth.

But just as flat tires can be patched, most common PC problems can be fixed -- and fast! We've rounded up speedy, simple solutions to hardware, software, network, Internet and mobile-device crises -- and we haven't left out Windows, of course. High-tech speed bumps may be annoying, but they shouldn't keep you from enjoying the ride.

Windows

Accelerate XP file searches

I'll say one thing for Vista: Its search capabilities put XP's to shame. Pity the poor XP user who tries to locate a file with that operating system's plodding, poorly designed search tool. Fortunately, alternatives exist: Both Copernic Desktop Search and Google Desktop index your documents, e-mail messages, images, MP3 files and other content for lightning-fast searches. Better still, they let you peek inside found files without opening them. That's the way a search tool should work.

Hasten Windows boot-ups

Nobody likes getting stuck in traffic. But that's exactly what happens when a Windows PC boots: All the startup programs try to run at the same time, resulting in a kind of software traffic jam. What you need is a traffic cop, an application that lets programs start up one at a time, at designated intervals.

That's Startup Delayer in a nutshell. The free app helps you set delays for other programs, easing start-up congestion so your PC boots faster. Begin by reviewing the list of startup programs to see which ones can wait. Google Update, iTunesHelper and LightScribe Control Panel are examples of good candidates: They don't need to run the moment your system starts. To set a delay for a program, drag it to the white bar at the bottom of the Startup Delayer window. You'll see a line representing the program; drag it left or right to decrease or increase the delay. Repeat for other apps as desired, but stagger them by at least a minute.

Leave some startup programs, especially those you don't recognize, alone. But a delay of 10 or 15 minutes for many apps should improve startup speed noticeably.

Make Windows (XP or Vista) run faster

When you launch a program, does it snap open in a matter of seconds, or does it leave you drumming your fingers for what seems like an eternity? Countless possible culprits can be to blame for a slow system, but you have a good chance of revving things up by following a few simple steps.

Start with a RAM boost. A Windows XP system can get by on 512MB, but it'll run a lot smoother with 1GB. As for Vista, it needs at least 2GB for optimal performance. Vista also benefits if you disable resource-hogging (and, some would say, unnecessary) extras, like Aero Glass and Flip3D. To free your system from both, right-click anywhere on the Desktop and click Personalize. Next, click Windows Color and Appearance, open Classic appearance properties for more color options, and then set the color scheme to Windows Vista Basic. Click OK and your system should seem a bit zippier.

XP users should consider disabling Windows' indexing service, a system hog of little practical value. Go to Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Services, and scroll down to Indexing Service. Double-click it, and set Startup type to Disabled.

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