Diagnostic Tools: Tracking Down the Junk
You'll need some tools to help you unearth the excess files and other crud that may be clogging up your system. Here are a few.
Benchmarks help you determine your system performance. It's worthwhile to run a systemwide benchmark, such as WorldBench or PCMark Vantage, when you first build or buy your system. Save the results, and then run the benchmarks again every few months. If the results decrease by more than about 10 percent, you may want to clean out your PC.
Windows ships with tiny applets, or "gadgets," that you can keep on your desktop. Bear in mind that if you have too many gadgets running, they may slow down the system. One useful gadget is the CPU meter--not so much for its CPU-activity reports, but for its memory meter. If the percentage of memory used over time seems to increase substantially, you may have background tasks loading that you don't need.
Not enough? Grab some third-party system-monitoring gadgets from Microsoft's site.
Windows Resource Monitor
Gadgets are nice, but you'll probably find the Windows Resource monitor more practical for diagnosing potential issues. It's a substantial step up from the CPU-meter gadget, and superior to the more commonly used Task Manager. You run Resource Monitor by clicking Start, Run, typing resmon, and then pressing the Enter key.
For monitoring system-slowdown issues, you can always just watch the actual system-performance monitor. Perhaps more useful, though, is the memory monitor, which tracks memory usage. It even shows you, in a more granular fashion than Task Manager does, how a particular app or service is consuming memory.
Windows Reliability Monitor
All those memory-hogging and performance-sapping modules can make your system less stable, so be sure to check the Windows Reliability Monitor, too. You may think your system is less stable than it once was, but the Reliability Monitor will give you the data to confirm that suspicion.
You launch the Reliability Monitor by going to Control Panel, clicking on the System and Security link, and then selecting Action Center. You'll see a heading labeled Maintenance. Click on that, and you'll see the link for View Reliability History.
It's easy to navigate the Reliability Monitor by clicking on the columns that represent dates. You can also see the trendline, which may be flat or downward-sloping. (The sharp drop around 9/16 in the screenshot shown here represents my install of the Internet Explorer 9 beta. Prerelease apps often have reliability problems--no surprise there.)
A sudden, sharp drop is worth checking out. If multiple apps are shown to be unstable, maybe something you installed (or uninstalled) just before stability problems occurred is the culprit.
It's amazing how many applications, tools, and utilities attempt to preload something or another during boot. At one point I had a high-performance Windows XP desktop system that would take 15 minutes before the mouse would become responsive.
Windows 7 has fixed many slow-boot problems, but even so I've seen supposedly high-end systems take nearly 5 minutes to fully boot up.
One third-party program that's useful for assessing boot problems is Soluto, which is both a diagnostic program and a utility that can fix slow-boot issues. I'll talk about it at length on the next page, in the section on cleaning tools.
Next: Cleaning Out the Crud