Guide to A Clean Gaming PC
Here's some things you can do to clean it up on a Windows machine. If at any given point you think, "I already have a way of doing this that I like better...", then do it your way. This little tutorial was written for folks who aren't already doing this stuff. Feel free to add suggestions, however and of course, as long as they are broad enough to be helpful for and understandable by most people.
This was written for Windows XP. Most of it, if not all of it, works fine also for Vista and 7, but in some cases the steps may vary slightly. You will need be logged into Windows on an Administrator account.
1. Uninstall programs you never use.
There are two good reasons for this. The first is, obviously, to free up hard drive space. The second is to get rid of any processes from the programs that are running in the background - if you aren't using the software, then there's no reason to have its junk running! When you uninstall, first try to do it from the Add/Remove Programs thing in the Windows Control Panel. If you get an error message, put it aside for later. If you don't, also go back and make sure the program's application folder(s) was(were) deleted. Make sure you reboot after doing all these uninstalls, or any time Windows says you should during this process, as that may affect what actually gets removed or left behind.
Good targets for uninstallation: free trials, sub-par editing software that came with your computer or peripherals, crummy freeware that never did what you hoped, anything you haven't used in the last three months, multiple applications for the same function
If you don't know what it is, you probably shouldn't uninstall it unless you're prepared to reinstall Windows right now. Search online to learn about what unknown applications do, so you can know if you need them or not.
2. Move or remove files you never use.
In ideal gaming conditions, user data (documents, photos, porn collections, music) is kept on a separate physical drive from the operating system and applications themselves. If you have a second physical drive handy, move all your crap to it. Whether you do or not, however, you can at the very least clean out your junk. Hard drive space doesn't directly improve game performance (unless you're so close to out that Windows has no wiggle room), but having less stuff on your drive means less stuff for Windows to sort through when it's looking for a particular thing. Furthermore, less stuff means shorter defrag times - and you ARE defragging regularly, RIGHT?!
3. Defragment your drive.
You may not realize how fragmented your drive can get. Even if you don't spend a lot of time at your gaming computer other than for actual gaming, all those updates can make a pile of red squares (fragmented files) out of your files pretty quickly. Get some good defrag software - no, the one that comes with Windows is NOT good enough - and let it do a deep/full/optimization/detailed/whatever defrag. My two picks for free defraggers are Auslogics Disk Defrag and Piriform Defraggler. The former is faster, the latter has more options and is more thorough. If you're not moving around a lot of files on your computer, continue to defrag once per week and after every major game update. If you also use your gaming machine as a workstation for other tasks, you should do it more often, particularly after moving around a lot of files.
Before we do the next step, take a moment to see what processes are currently running on your computer. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL until the Windows Task Manager comes up on the screen. Click the "Processes" tab. Count them. Sort by Mem Usage, see how much memory each process is taking. Do you really need all this stuff running to get done what you want to get done on your computer?
4. Get Piriform CCleaner & use it. http://www.piriform.com/
This freeware app is like a spray nozzle attached to a line of commercial bleach for your PC. Download & install it.
Click the "Cleaner" button on the left, if it's not highlighted already. This part of CCleaner gets rid of junk files - temp files, caches, history, cookies, etc. There are two tabs of options. The first, "Windows", is for stuff related to Windows, and you should probably leave the defaults how they are for now, unless you understand what they do. The "Applications" tab has application-specific options for stuff to be cleaned; these you can set as you please with little consequence. I recommend making sure all of the boxes under Applications are checked, at least for your first go-round. When you've got that sorted, click "Run Cleaner" in the bottom-right corner. Bye, junk!
The next part of CCleaner is a registry cleaner, and is accessed by clicking Registry on the left. There are more robust registry cleaners out there; but if you don't have one already, stick with me through this for now. CCleaner's registry cleaner is quite conservative and safe. Leave all the boxes checked, and click "Scan for Issues" at the bottom. Depending on how messy your registry is, this can take a few seconds or a few minutes. When it's done, it will prompt you to backup the registry - let it back up the registry for you, just in case. Then it will start prompting you with the issues it finds one at a time, asking you how you want it to fix them. Honestly, I just click "Fix All" and let it handle this automatically. If something goes wrong, you have a backup - but I've never seen it go wrong. If anything, CCleaner is a little safer than I personally like. ;)
Now click on Tools on the left. You will see four sub-sections: Uninstall, Startup, System Restore, and Drive Wiper. We'll start with Uninstall.
If you had any programs that gave you error messages when you tried to uninstall them earlier, try uninstalling them here. Click on one to highlight it, then click "Run Uninstaller". If you still get an error message, put it aside for later. If you had any programs that are no longer installed on your computer, but for some reason are still listed here, highlight them and click "Delete Entry". This will not delete any files, but it will remove the entry from the Add/Remove Programs dialog. Re-running the cleaners after doing this may clear them for good. There are other utilities online made just for the purpose of uninstalling stubborn software, and you may want to try one if you're having this problem often. And from now on, avoid installing crappy software to begin with!
Now for the Startup section. This is my personal favorite. Here you'll see a list, maybe a long list, of everything that is set up to run automatically when Windows starts. It is a good idea to disable anything you don't need. Don't delete, just disable. At this point, if uninstalling unneeded software and running CCleaner's two main cleaners didn't remove an entry from this list, then disabling is safest because you can re-enable these anytime later.
Here are some things to definitely NOT disable:
* ctfmon.exe: This is a Windows service, and Windows will start it whether you like it or not anyways.
* anything related to your anti-virus
* anything related to your video card or other hardware
The file path on the right of each entry should give away what software an entry belongs to, if the file name itself does not. If you think after reboot you disabled something you shouldn't have, just enable it here, and reboot again. No big. Nothing here will prevent your PC from turning on and booting Windows.
The System Restore section we will leave alone for now. If you have System Restore enabled, then you are probably best off letting it manage itself. If you have it disabled, then you likely already have another backup solution or understand and accept the consequences of not having one.
The Drive Wiper section is a utility that completely erases the free space on your drive. Normally, deleted files are still there, and can be retrieved by a specialist or tinkerer with the right software. Wiping free space is a security measure, and not really something we need to do for gaming. You're welcome to do it if you want, though. If you're curious, it takes 7 passes of erasure for a file to be completely irretrievable by any currently known means.
In the Options section, you can see the different tweaks you can make to how CCleaner cleans. The defaults are fine for our purposes, and you should not change them unless you know what you're doing.
5. Services.msc & You: A Starter Manual
Click Start, then Run, type "services.msc" (no quotes) in the text field, and press Enter. A new window comes up. Maximize it so you can see everything.
This window is NOT a safe place to play/experiment unless you're willing to re-install Windows if you break it. So please, stick with me closely, or just skip to the next section if you're squeamish!
At the top, click on "Status" to sort by Status, so that "Started" services are at the top of the list. These are all things that have been automatically started with Windows and are running in the background. Some of these are integral to Windows function and security, but some of them are things that run to make superfluous applications run/start faster.
If something on this list is:
* something you recognize and understand
* AND part of some software you installed that is not part of Windows (like an instant messenger program, music program, etc...)
* AND not related to essential hardware, drivers, or networking
then it may be safe to prevent it from starting automatically. A good example of this for me was the iPod Helper service. I don't update my iPod very often, and I don't have an iPhone, so there is no good reason to have this service running all the time. So, to prevent that, I double-click on the service, set the Startup Type to Manual from the drop-down, and click OK. Next time I reboot, this service won't be running. However, because I have left it enabled, it will run if I tell it to manually, or if an application wants it to. In this case, the service will start running when iTunes is launched - which I would likely do anyway if I wanted to update my iPod.
There are a few Windows services that are safe to set to Manual also, in certain circumstances:
* If you don't print from this computer, set Print Spooler to manual. You will need to set this back to Automatic if you want to print later.
* If you have no need for the Windows Task Scheduler (and you'd know if you did), it is safe to set to manual.
* If you don't want your drive indexed for faster searching, you can set Indexing to manual (this is a good resource saver, but requires an extra step, below).
* If you don't need your Windows clock synced online, Windows Time is safe to set to Manual.
There are more, but these are the simplest and safest ones to start with. You can do an online search for a more comprehensive list, if you're comfortable with it. It is a pretty popular subject with Windows tweakers.
About Indexing - you'll also need to turn off Indexing on all your drives. Right-click your hard drive from anywhere in Windows Explorer, and choose Properties from the context menu. On the General tab you'll see a checkbox for Indexing - clear it. Do this for all drives.
We've made a LOT of changes to the system. For them to take effect, we need to reboot the machine. This is a good place for me to mention the importance of rebooting regularly. REBOOT REGULARLY. K. If you don't, your PC could have all kinds of stuff running that it doesn't need and doesn't realize it doesn't need. Just like people need regular REM sleep to clear the junk from the brain, computers need regular rebooting.
When you're done rebooting, press CTRL+ALT+DEL to bring up the Windows Task Manager again, and see how many processes are running. It's probably a lot less than the first time you did it. This is good.
Run a game for a few minutes to make sure all your essentials are still in good working order. You should see improved performance. If anything isn't working properly that was working before, re-check services.msc and CCleaner's Startup section to make sure you didn't turn off essential services.
If you still feel like there is stuff running in the background you don't want, but you aren't sure how safe it is to disable it or set it to Manual startup only, search online. There are entire web sites dedicated to explaining everything in your Process list - just do a search for the program name, and you'll find information. You can also just use the End Task button to kill a process to see what happens when it's not running. If Windows gets really grumpy about it, it will force you to reboot, so be ready.
At this point, you've done enough. Your PC should be clean enough for you to play games to the best of your hardware's ability. Note that cleaning your PC this way will never replace buying another stick of RAM or replacing your IDE drive with a shiny new solid state drive. It can, however, cut way down on interruptions, stuttering, and possibly crashing.
7. Things to do before every gaming session: A Checklist
If you're going to be gaming online in a team setting, or if you're going to be gaming at all for a long session, you should do these things just before you start:
* Reboot (or at least exit all other applications)
* Run CCleaner's Cleaner
* Quick Defrag
* Remove all removable disks from their drives (unless you need them to run your game)
This takes about five minutes total, once you've done your initial cleaning. That five minutes is nothing compared to the frustration your teammates will feel if you make them wait for you, and nothing compared to the frustration you'll feel in a single-player game that crashes or stutters for no good reason. Do eet.
If you need to run Windows Update or check for game/addon updates, do that BEFORE running CCleaner, as many of these applications are IE-based and will leave junk behind (e.g. the Curse client).
8. For the advanced (or adventurous) user:
Got nothing to lose, or at least feel pretty confident in your tinkering abilities? Here's some more things you can do to further streamline your PC for gaming (at your own risk, of course):
* Try the video drivers released with your card or the ones released around the same time as your favorite game. They often yield better FPS/stability than the newest ones.
* Reboot into Safe Mode and defrag overnight for that "deep clean" feeling.
* Nuke your paging file, defrag in safe mode, then build a new one with the same min/max size. This way it will be all in one chunk and be static, which cuts down on drive access time.
* Switch to a Windows Classic theme (no Aero, no partial transparency, no glass, etc... we're talking Win95-style, here) and disable the Themes service. In System Properties > Advanced > Performance, check the "adjust for best performance" box and just put back in what you can't live without.
* See if you can set skinned applications to automatically take the current Windows theme, or look for replacement applications that aren't skinned
* Defrag your registry (Wise Registry Cleaner is a good freeware tool for this).
* Turn off System Restore, use a different backup method you can manually control
* Set your Explorer options to show all files, then rifle through your user folders and Program Files folder to delete crap from software you no longer have installed
* Do a file search for things like desktop.ini, thumbs.db, *.tmp, *.temp, *.bak, etc... and delete what you can.
* Search for Windows service logs and delete them, if Windows doesn't have them locked.
* Search for various application logs and delete them, if they're not locked - some AV software logs can get enormous and very fragmented.
* Check your various utilities for options that let you delete logs and backups, and set maximum disk space to use for them.
* If a file is locked and you want it gone, try again in Safe Mode. If it's still locked there, you probably shouldn't delete it.
* Disable fast user switching and file/print sharing unless you need it.
* Use TweakUI or PolEdit or similar tools to prevent caching recent docs and leaving shortcuts/histories everywhere.
* Check Device Manager in safe mode for "ghost" devices and uninstall them (doesn't happen often since Win98, but worth a check).
* Make sure you have the latest versions of your chipset drivers/bios firmware.
* Start > Run > msconfig to popup a dialog that lets you more brutally cull the junk that runs when Windows starts.
* Lots of anti-virus programs have a stealth/silent/gaming mode that at the minimum disables notification popups, and at the maximum stops or limits real-time scanning and shielding. Explore those options to reclaim some resources back for gaming.
For online gamers:
WinXP and later changes the way packets are bundled to promote efficiency while 'net browsing. Unfortunately, the method is very inefficient for gaming, where packets being bundled is actually kind of bad because a split second here or there can ruin a game encounter. Anyway, you can undo this "feature" by doing the following:
In the Windows registry, navigate to the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters\Interfaces\. There you will find multiple folders with cryptic names. Select each one and take note of the information that appears in the right hand side. Compare these with your current connection (click the icon in the taskbar or go to system properties / network and get the network details). Compare these with the data in the right hand side for the folders in the interfaces. If you find a matching set, then you have found the current network connection. Right click into the right hand side and add a new DWORD value. Name it "TcpAckFrequency" and set the value to 1 (0x00000001). Reboot your system.
I'll vouch for it. I went from steady ~140ms in WoW to ~70ms over an "economy" broadband connection. Note that the game won't actually seem twice as fast (still the same number of packets sent/received in any given time frame), but bandwidth-related stuff will be a bit more stable and responsive. This can also help with chain disconnects from game servers, in the case you were being booted because your machine was hoarding packets to bundle them instead of sending them immediately.
That's it - if I think of more, I'll add it in. Feel free to contribute your ideas! :cool:
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Re: Guide to A Clean Gaming PC
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Re: Guide to A Clean Gaming PC
This should be done for both gaming or professional use computers, wont mention enthusiasts - they know this way too good (soft smile).
Second thing, concerning hard drives:
- Keep at least 20% of free space or more on hard drive for best performance and defragment from time to time.
- Don't use partitions, they're affecting performance, instead use two separate physical drives (hard drives are now much cheaper than they used to be so it shouldn't be a problem) - one for system and one for data. Best thing would be having RAID-0 system drive, with two cheap drives in RAID-0 you'll get better performance that buying high-end single drive and you'll save some money too.
- Do not install programs on data drive, instead install everything on system drive so that when you reinstall your system you'll reinstall everything from the beginning - you'll get better performance and programs won't leave unnecessary files on second drive.
"Knowledge is power! - but I prefer nukez."
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