Security

Fix slow workstations with this tune-up checklist

Optimizing a slow-performing system requires a number of diagnostic and repair steps, often with interruptions along the way. This basic checklist will help you cover all the bases.

Slow performing workstations trigger numerous help desk calls. The complaint is common within IT departments and among most every IT consulting client. Culprits, however, are as varied as users.

Sometimes slow operation is due to a failing hard drive. Sometimes active virus or spyware infections are to blame. Still other performance issues can be tied to too many applications being installed, fragmented hard disks, or corrupted installations.

Isolating problems and correcting slow-performing desktop or laptop systems could be easy. If that were all IT professionals and consultants had to do, the process might actually even be enjoyable. But it's not. The process is frustrating, sometimes vexing, and occasionally maddening.

While you're trying to remove a Trojan infection with surgical precision to save reinstalling an OS, reloading seven applications for which the user or client no longer has installation media or registration keys, and re-creating a host of undocumented but intricate and critical settings, the phone is ringing. Projects are falling behind. Printers are failing. Servers are crashing.

Most small companies, and certainly most small businesses, don't have libraries of disk images that can be used to redeploy client desktops when such troubles arise. Instead, many IT pros have to go old school and manually repair systems. That's when a strong checklist comes in handy. A simple one-page document can prove incredibly helpful in quickly addressing the most commonly required tune-up tasks.

This is especially true when you have to repair a slow-performing system while also juggling multiple other tasks -- which is nearly always. I've yet to meet a support technician worth his or her salt who repairs only a single workstation at a time. Most professionals repair six to 10 PCs simultaneously. And if you're forced to repair a system onsite or in a user's office or cubicle, said user may insist on making small talk, or more likely, will ask you to answer numerous complex technical questions while you work.

Distractions are problematic when performing tune-ups or trying to isolate viruses and spyware. It's easy to overlook important steps (such as performing a quick check disk operation to verify data and hard disk integrity). Unfortunately, real-world distractions are plentiful. You're not likely to have the luxury of a few uninterrupted hours to complete a tune-up, system optimization, or malware removal session.

One good way to stay focused amidst competing demands is to use TechRepublic's Tune-up Checklist. Clients and users can chat all they want. The phone can ring, and email notifications can momentarily command your attention. By working through the checklist, you won't forget critical steps. From leveraging common repair tools and utilities to remembering to confirm proper backups are in place, the checklist covers all the important tasks and processes. And you can record notes and other information as you go, providing valuable reminders for follow-up work or quick review sessions with end users and clients.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

50 comments
doc.reynolds
doc.reynolds

Irresponsible to include ComboFix in any Tuneup checklist. ComboFix should be used as a Last Resort before nuking and OS re-install/re-image. And then only once you have recieved a "Hold Harmless" from the End User. Corporate enterprises should BAN use of ComboFix by their technicians.

rolande
rolande

My PC does not display a link to your checklist! Please supply the link. Have a nice day, Rolande@esatclear.ie

herzlich
herzlich

Does anyone go out and check for updates to BIOS and firmware? I know most vendors stop working on models after a year or so but getting the last good one loaded has helped keep some of my systems lasting longer; especially ones that were high-end workstations to begin with (eg. HP XW, Proliant, Poweredge, etc.) One time I found a firmware upgrade to a DVD writer that allowed adding one of the missing formats to its supported list. Lastly - do you review CCLEANER's suggestions? I find it a little troublesome when it matches some things that I think it should understand (like DLL's). I'm nervous about trusting CCLEANER 100%

lee
lee

In a corporate environment this isn't as crucial but when doing Aunt Millie's or neighbor Joe's system it should be the first thing you check. Systems arrive with too little RAM and are subject to DYI by well intentioned relatives and neighbors. I just had a sales manager for one of my clients bring me his Acer laptop which was running slow. 512 RAM running Vista. Gee! I am constantly amazed at what is sold to consumers. I find that often the RAM is insufficient to run the OS, much less applications beyond Freecell. Oh, and I have run across systems where RAM has come loose (probably not installed correctly -- DYI error or sloppy/annoyed tech, especially if the user is grouchy Uncle Knowitall). And if you fix RAM first, the anti-virus/malware applications will run much faster.

OlivieDu
OlivieDu

1 - Replace ISP internet access programs by Windows ones 2 - If not WIFI, replace usb cable to the internet box by a standard Ethernet cable... and remove USB driver needed to access modem!

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

All great suggestions listed above. Don't forget, lock down the browsers (or install privileges) so users dont install extra "tool bars", weather bug, internet radio and other add-ons that will deplete system resources and drag down your networks bandwith.

TBBrick
TBBrick

1. Install latest CCleaner. 2. Delete all extraneous profiles. 3. Configure CCleaner to delete latest temp files. 4. Run CCleaner temp cleanup then registry cleanup. 5. If still slow, run Malwarebytes to see if there are malware issues. If it's a older PC, will check RAM and increase if necessary.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Funny how the obvious issues may not have been mentioned. 1) Over time, Windows gets bulky with junk left behind from previous iuninstallations. Drivers that should of been removed but never. Nothing that can be done here but a complete re-install. 2) Old processor doesn't cut it. A client running a Celeron system [around 5 years old]. Need I say more? 3) A system with 256MB of RAM. Need I say more?

edwardwstanley
edwardwstanley

here's a few things that might want to be inlcuded in your list, put them where you see fit a) sfc /scannow, b) re imaging the os partition c) backup event logs and delete them d) recreate swap file e) repair applications f) check services g) outlook pst issues I would probably though reboot into a external os for the disk check for errors. Just my two cents.

bhamm
bhamm

I know this may disagree with how most of us think things work, but on workstations where I have a high turnover of users, I've learned that deleting a bunch of unused user profiles does more to speed up the machine than anything else on the list. I started doing this in Windows 2000 and it's true on Winxp. Of course, for those of us worrying about Hipaa, there's no excuse not to do it.

Billy Newsome
Billy Newsome

I'll find out exactly how this technique works as soon as I apply it to my own system. I too have a slow system, and by what the author of this article reports, it could very well be that I have many programs installed, although I do have the necessary spyware, anti virus', etc. installed. I am wondering though, if it might be better to off load everything but my OS and the various programs I use? I would appreciate some feed back on that question? Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

don.brandt
don.brandt

The workstation Tune-up Checklist is a good idea, however listing the accoun information and passwords is a breach of security. Passwords should never be written down, especially on a sheet of paper that can be laying on the desk while you are working. All IT Techs should know their administrative account information. Having the username can be benifitial if you need to redo their profile or any other items dealing with their users account.

ernestkarlsson
ernestkarlsson

Could a checklist be made for a Linux based machine that feels sluggish and how would that list look like.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Combofix needs to be eliminated inmediately from the list. I used this tool in my workstation and this application uninstalled lot of programs and critical componentes of the OS. I need to restore from Image backup.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

BIOS updates and other firmware should be updated as much as possible. My original reason for going to alternative router firmware was because Linksys dropped support for my wrt54g (hw v1.0) where dd-wrt just released a new firmware version that ticks along on the hardware perfectly. Don't forget to include hardware drivers along with BIOS and firmware. I recently fixed a random freezing issue in a notebook by updating it's harddrive driver (why it has a hard drive driver.. I don't know). In terms of CCleaner, trust the cleaner function but review what checkboxes you have selected down the left. The registry cleaner function shouldn't be used as a daily tuneup though. I'll only do a registry cleaning if the machine shows a clear reason for it or I've been installing/uninstalling a lot of stuff. In that case, it hasn't broken any of my systems yet but I always keep backup .reg files for a few months after a cleaning.

DKeith45
DKeith45

Ya, that's a biggy. I recently worked on a clients system circa 2002, with WinXP and 256 megs of ram. First thing I did was open it up, pull the ram chip and dig thru my box of old ram chips and found a compatible 256 meg chip and installed them both... made it run a LOT faster and saved me a lot of time fussing with it.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

you are right, I forgot the old weird profiles needs to be deleted. I see one time one pc with 20 profiles. Deleting non required profiles defnitely gain disk space and improve performance.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

I use it too, and it's a great tool. Recently had a user complain that his PC was slow so I ran CCleaner and gave it a good defrag. Only thing was that i ran it as the local admin, not the users account, so it didn't touch his temp files or anything else. Luckily the user shared his password with me and when I logged on as him, I ran it again to find 1.5Gigs of file that could be removed. That would be my pet peeve about CCleaner, it only looks at the currently logged on users files, not the whole disk. So I tried cleanup 4.5.2 (http://www.stevengould.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=69) and it is a much more thorough tool, can clean across user profiles, but can also "clean" some files that you may not want to clean. Use with caution. Stick with the basic settings and you should be okay. Cheers,

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

There are several tools available that can help filter out the useless stuff left by incomplete uninstalls. Just search on 'orphan DLLs' but use with caution. Under Vista and 7, you can remove unneeded drivers by setting an environment variable 'devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices' to 1 and in Device Manager, select View and check 'Show hidden devices.' Now any devices that are no longer connected to the system will show up as a dimmed entry in the list. You can then right-click on a device and select 'Uninstall...' to permanently delete the associated driver files. It will pop up a confirmation dialog and if the device has driver files that can be deleted, you can check the box to delete those drivers, but make sure that it is the only instance of that device in the list first.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

I agree with you: 1- PST files needs maintenance 2- Remove unnecesary languages in Regional Settings 3- Tune the registry for menu speed delays 4- Optimize Swap file 5- Add readyboost feature (if OS is Vista or Windows7) 6- Optimize the desktop (I see users with tons of icons and docs in the desktop, this affect performance) Note: Defrag can take hours!!

ian
ian

In the article you mention libraries of disk images. How good are disk images? I own a small business and my PC?s all came fully loaded. Having read previous articles, the OS cannot be transferred to a new machine if the old machine dies. 1. So is a disk image only good to repair the existing PC? 2. What should my recovery strategy be?

daspyda
daspyda

Usually, the number of programs have little to do with operation. Spyware and malware objects use system resources - such as memory and processing power. If you have a long string of icons in your taskbar next to your clock, you have all those programs running some sort of process in the background, which also hogs resources. You can "unstart" them in Run>MSCONFIG - being careful not to uncheck something you're not familiar with.

BHunsinger
BHunsinger

Some of us fix customer's machines and need to get their password because we work at our office, not theirs.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

"All IT Techs should know their administrative account information." For example; the IT Tech working on a home user's machine where they are not the full-time administrator/support person. Consider this being used by a tech attending a user's machine. This insures that they have the required passwords to be able to do there job. Such a staffer should be aware enough to keep the paper face down or out of view. Get the info from the user with the machine, do the maintenance work, return the machine to the user and sheet to the shredder. I see this as very different from "never write down passwords" as applies to users with postit notes on the monitory or super-secret notes under the keyboard.

Rolland St-Onge
Rolland St-Onge

I think it's a good idea to write down the password if your not the business's net admin since some users can over-complicate their passwords and trying to remember them is not always easy. It also beat asking them to enter it, or have to wait for the customer to comeback from wherever they are to enter it. The password can always be resetted after. Now if your the business's admin, then all workstations should have an admin account which can be used for such a time.

Walthy
Walthy

After the basics and you found problems, don't forget to clean out case and processor heat sink. If it's an old and dirty machine that overheats it doesn't hurt to apply a good heat sink compound if you think it needs it. Check out Speccy, a new free program from Piriform (CCleaner), that is really great at giving you system info including all heat measurements when available. You'll be surprised sometimes and in most cases more heat means a slowed down CPU. I agree with the memory checks and Speccy gives you a lot of information there, also. I've found all kinds of loose boards, memory not installed correctly, even broken USB ports recently, four out of 6 didn't work. Added a small USB Hub and replaced a damaged printer cable to fix those. Found a cut in an ethernet cable that caused intermittent problems on systems sharing an internet connection. Speculation was that error correction was overloading the router switch. Happy troubleshooting! I've been doing it for almost 50 years, starting on old vacuum tube electronics systems in the military.

SMparky
SMparky

I find checklists to be extremely useful, but I'm often frustrated trying to get others to use them. I read somewhere that they're starting to use them in surgery now since it cuts down on post surgery complications by as much as 30% (ask your dr). Pilots use them when getting ready to fly, so anytime you do something complicated it's a good idea to make a checklist. It's so easy to get distracted or forget some little detail I'm always updating my checklists. I have them for Windows builds, Linux/Unix builds. For troubleshooting I usually just use my head (unreliable). On the difficult repairs I'm often frustrated if I don't write down what I've attempted earlier. Keeping running checklists can also save you. I remember explaining to my boss about a virus attack, when it was noticed, what the response was etc. He was very impressed that I had all the details, even the exact timeframe. It's hard for someone to blame you when you appear to be completely on top of things. I'd also recommend listing procedures when building any complicated system. It can really help you 3 years down the road when there is a problem since you can quickly look over what you did and how you did it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'm kidding though the platform family tends to be fairly self maintaining. Giving it some thought though, I'd be interested to see what other's come up with as I can't think of much to offer but here's my habits: - Use something like Conky which displays system metrics on the desktop background or taskbar. knetload/kcpuload are also good choices for the KDE folks and Gnome has it's equivalents. This is the strongest starting point for sluggish system issues as you can see if it's processes, ram, storage, cpu, network and so on. If you see an anomaly, go look at that specific component using htop, pktstat or whatever other tool applies. - Consider Munin, Monit or similar. These are meant generally for monitoring a remote system but of course you can hit them locally through localhost and the browser. I find Munin the most best for my needs as it's comprehensive and offers some support for Windows machines on my network also. If you see a cpu, storage or other graph spike outside of what you've come to recognize as normal ranges; go look why. I have a machine close to retirement that eats it's /tmp file with core dumps every few months and the first place I'll notice it is the storage graph in Munin complaining about a full partition. - I've also created a few daily scripts that run automatically and send me information out of the system logs; user mailbox sizes, logins (failed and successful) and such. They provide a quick review as needed along with historical data and detailed information if one of the more general things above shows an issue. - Bastille is also a great starting point for configuring your own system. Among the many things it will setup is scripting to clear out your /tmp at startup. The Windows equivalent would be running CCleaner at startup. It can set other things like time to password changes, permissions and security related things. - The filesystem defrags itself unlike FAT/NTFS so there is no weekly MyDefrag or similar third party process. Well, the standard ones should. - htop, top, ps and similar. If it's a system slowdown that feels like too much going on t once or a badly behaving process then these are your tools of choice. htop provides a very nice sortable view of processes so you can see if something taking too much cpu power and such. - for some housecleaning depending on distribution, you can also check for orphaned packages. Some packages install because they are required by the program you are requesting. If you later uninstall the requested package, those dependency packages may get left on the system. In the Deb world we have deborphan which suggests packages that you may no longer need. Aptitude removed orphaned packages when you remove the requested package. "apt-get autoclean" does similar and cleans up packages left in your apt downloads directory encase of reinstall. For the most part, I've found Debian to be self-maintaining. As an OS geek, it's a bit of a disappointment that I don't get to spend more time working on the OS rather than working with the programs on top but such is the case. .. Now, I gotta go compare this Windows checklist against my own to see what new things I can add in. I'm actually hunting an erratic 20~30 second lag/freeze in some Lenovo machines having gone through my usual list of Windows tuning steps.

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

It's a great tool but you have to know EXACTLY what you are trying to accomplish with it in order to get the results you want. Fat-fingering something in a script file can completely hose a machine. Anyone unsure about what they are doing with it should either not use it or initially just generate a report to send to the gurus at bleepingcomputer who have a ton of experience working with it. It is not something I would ever use for routine maintenance tasks. There a lot of other OS & third-party utilities that can be used to deal with all of the run-of-the-mill cleanup jobs that don't carry the same kind of risk.

jfuller05
jfuller05

is Glary Utilities. It's more thorough than CCleaner as well.

TBBrick
TBBrick

We have some PCs that multiple users logon to, so I configure CCleaner to clean out temp folders in the good user profiles. Click on Options, Include, and add \Cookies\*.*, \Local Settings\Temp\*.*, and \Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\*.*. Yeah, it's a pain to configure, but it sure does a nice job of cleaning them out. In the Advance setting, uncheck the "Only delete files in Windows Temp folders older than 48 hours" option as well.

Walthy
Walthy

I went out and checked your recomendation but didn't see any indication it works beyond Windows XP. He has some good information on his website worth reading though. I'm really interested in his tool to check out index.dat files. Thanks

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I run it as an admin tool when doing system maintenance but I still have to log in as the user and set CCleaner to run at startup so it does a cleaning each time they log in. Bit of a pain but good results otherwise.

DKeith45
DKeith45

Um, yes you can. Sometimes it takes a call to Microsoft. As long as you have the original install disk (or a copy) and the CD key, of course you can transfer the OS... what do you think happens when people upgrade with a new motherboard etc? You could also just remove the old systems drive, and put it in the new box... (or do a drive to drive copy using the hard drives software... WesternDigitals DataLifeguard for instance, if it's a WD drive) same thing applies... if it doesn't boot, a call to MS. They'll ask you for the original CD key, then they'll tell you how to access a page to input a code they'll provide and presto. I've done this many times. If you tell them it's a new system, and they give you a hard time about it, hang up, call back and just say you put in a new Motherboard and now the OS won't boot.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You may want to consider taking a disk image after you've recieved and cleaned each new system. Get it into the shop, uninstall things not related to what the machine is used for or your standard system setup then take your image. If the system gets really bunged up after or eaten alive by malware then use your clean disk image to format/re-install the system. It sure beats spending days hunting and cleaning malware on a system you can never fully trust after a malware hit. Having a disk image backup is a common practice that shouldn't conflict with software licenses provided you use that disk image only against the machine it belongs to. This is more of a recovery rather than a tune-up tool though.

dougogd
dougogd

I have found the the programs that i am not familiar with are the ones that are spy-ware or viruses. So if you are unsure you really should figure out what it is.

cant_drive_55
cant_drive_55

There are also many cases where you need to be logged in as the actual user in order to fix a virus or figure out why there are so many auto-loaded programs. Logging in as system admin short-circuits this process, so you definately need the user's password. Worst case: reset the p/w in AD and let him/her change it back when you are done.

LeProf
LeProf

Many thanks for mentioning Piriform's latest app. Very cool and helpful. I love that company. Steve Porter Palmdale, CA

ian
ian

I was in BCP/DRP for 20 years and lists/procedures/scripts are definitely the way to go. Everything we did had a procedural list. Everything we worked on was documented and timelined for specific reasons. 1. A list lets you move through a process faster and more accurately. 2. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing. 2. Problems found, improvements made, procedures changed are all documented. 3.Timelines help to forecast downtime. If there is a crash, folks want to know when the system will be back,if it is planned, downtime can be scheduled with end users and shareholders and tech support time. Use, a digital recorder to document everything you do - good or bad. It is easy to forget things when you're up to your eyeballs in work Always have a debrief, even if you work alone. Grab a coffee and go back over the notes. It helps to understand why something was done and its relevant consequence. You will be surprised how much more you are aware of problems and resolutions when you go back and document them.Add them to a CMS with lots of tags for future reference.

jdclyde
jdclyde

how much do you have, how much are you using, and what is using it? Often all of your computing woes can be solved with increasing this. In SCO Unix the SAR command was very convenient to look for issues, but don't think that is available in the *nix. Don't know the equivalent command, as it has been a bit since I have had a linux server I was to blame for.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

What you mean I NEED TO KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I'M TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?. I ran the tool in three machines and this stupid tool uninstalled lot of good files and applications. This app is out in my toolset from day one.

Walthy
Walthy

Even OEM versions can be transferred to a new motherboard if the motherboard is a replacement (not an upgrade). I've read about others who have also succeeded. Motherboards often need replacement and models seem to change almost daily. If you are replacing a dead motherboard, this is the key. Just state that you can't find a direct replacement so you are using an equivalent. It also helps to be talking to a Microsoft employee, not some outsourced support person going by a script. Just keep going up the chain until you get an MS employee. Most of all, don't get mad, it does no good. One experience we had in our shop before MS started all this OEM stuff and we didn't realize that disimilar hardware didn't work, an IBM Server box running NT 4.0 had a bad real time clock on board. Nothing else was wrong, but we had to keep resetting the clock on this "Lotus Notes Server." IBM came in and replaced the motherboard with what everyone thought was an exact replacement board, same numbers and everything. Needless to say we had to rebuild everything, so 30 minutes of downtime became several hours of downtime by the time we had to restore the server from tape after the new installation. What a pain. Thank goodness for imaging backups now and tools to rebuild to different hardware. And Microsoft has been helpful to me several times when we have had to reactivate a license, even an OEM license.

Realvdude
Realvdude

This is fine of you BYOC, but for OEM, upgrading the motherboard is a license breaker; as is moving the drive to a new system.

popova71
popova71

Or you can use Sysinternals Autoruns to see startup items for different users. The only times I have to login as user is for setting up mail accounts and changing desktop themes

jfuller05
jfuller05

and privilege of using Active Directory! :) Don't have yet where I work, but we are working on it. So yeah, this checklist will greatly benefit me.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It's going into my to-be-read stack of PDF also.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Thanks for the link. Need to print that and take it home for some light reading tonight. :D

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I think those are the two places to start if your looking at memory. Munin gives a pretty comprehensive breakdown of memory, load and related metrics. htop gives you the realtime breakdown of memory usage and such including tree views of processes. I don't know the SAR command though so I'm guessing.