This article is mainly for non-techies who would like to make their PCs go smoother and faster or are having problems with viruses, adware etc and need simple, effective fixes. Of course good techies may find something useful here too, we can all learn from each other.
To begin, I suggest downloading "startuplite.exe" from malwarebytes, a highly regarded security software company: http://www.malwarebytes.org/startuplite.php
Startuplite is a tiny, portable program, ie. It needs no installation, just download it to a convenient location such as your desktop and click to run it. It shows you a list of unneccesary startups and allows you to disable or remove each with 1 click. Personally I always use Remove. Startuplite is reliable and it gives an elegantly concise, simple explanation of what each listed startup does. It does not delete any programs, just allows you to prevent them from starting automatically for no good reason. This will result in a faster windows startup and lower general resource usage, instantly.
Windows is not good at keeping itself clean. All sorts of junk gets inserted into your system as you surf, download etc. A great cleanup program is Ccleaner. Use the Slim version that comes without useless addons like a toolbar, or use the portable version, which, like startuplite, can also run nicely from an external disk, so you can use it from any PC without installing it. Both the Slim and Portable versions can be downloaded via majorgeeks:
A good cleaner for new PCs, which almost always come with all sorts of rubbish installed, is PCdecrapifier:
Majorgeeks is great. Drill down through the menus on the left to find whatever software you want. A word of caution: There are many rogue security programs out there, posing as antivirus or antispyware applications. Never take a chance on one you know nothing about. Take advice from a techy you trust and read to see what people are saying about any security program. A good place to search and read is the wilderssecurity forums.
Read a wide selection of comments, do not make decisions based on one or two. You can search this forum easily using the google "site" operand which tells google to limit its search to a particular site. As an example, here is how to search for comments on startuplite.
The "site" operand is tremendously useful, allowing you to harness the power of google to search almost any site. Note that there must be no space between the colon and the site address and it is not neccesary to include the "www" part of the address. of course this is not limited to searching for programs. Try this:
Perhaps your most important consideration is antivirus software. Do not spend lots of money on fancy packages. Vendors add all sorts of features to their programs to make the paid versions seem more attractive. You are better off using good free packages and keeping your PC lean and clean. The new kid on the block is "Cloud" antivirus. I am a big fan of these. They keep their virus definitions "in the cloud", in cyberspace and users connect to them. This is much more elegant than the conventional method of downloading big definition packages several times per day to every subscriber, using up lots of disk space and internet bandwidth. We have all seen big slowdowns while the antivirus is updating. Cloud antiviruses can also be updated much faster than traditional antiviruses though a good traditional antivirus may still have the edge in dealing with more old fashioned viruses. Whichever method you use, one antivirus is not enough, none of them can catch 100% of viruses. More on this after a description of Cloud antivirus.
Currently there are two major players in cloud antivirus. Panda Cloud and Immunet. Just google to find them. Both are great. Immunet has one major advantage over almost all the others. It is designed so that it works well with an additional resident antivirus. If you go this route, I suggest combining it with Avira free edition. Avira consistently scores at or near the top in antivirus comparitives and it is very light and fast, probably the lightest of traditional antiviruses. Install Avira first, then install Immunet. Inevitably there will be some performance hit from running 2 antiviruses resident, but this about as lightly as it can be done and you may hardly notice any lag if you have a powerful PC.
Personally I favour using Immunet as the sole resident antivirus and backing this up with some "on demand" virus scanners that run only when you explicitly start them. Immunet is also an excellent choice for low specification PCs.
For additional on-demand antivirus, I recommend a-squared free edition. Install it and run it regularly. a-squared has 2 engines, an antivirus engine and an anti spyware/adware engine. Using this together with Immunet and/or Avira adds up to an extremely effective security solution. In my opinion the standard windows firewall is quite adequate but if you do want a more feature rich one I suggest Zonealarm or Online Armor. Online Armour comes with a HIPs (Host intrusion prevention system).
Finally, if you need any help with security or techy PC questions, I am always happy to oblige for free. firstname.lastname@example.org