Welcome to the first installment of our technical help column. If you have a problem which you would like me to take a look at then send me an email ( [email protected]) detailing the nature of your problem and some information on the system you are using. This week I take a look at a slow booting PC.

"Hi. When I first installed Windows (I'm running 98) it used to boot up really quickly but now this process seems to drag on and on and on -- you get the point. I've also noticed there are a hell of lot more little icons in my task bar and I didn't put them there. A friend told me that to improve start up times I should format my hard drive and re-install windows. I really don't have the time to do this at the moment, so are there any tips you could give me to speed up my start-up times?

"Tired of Waiting."

There is no reason to reinstall 98 unless you are experiencing lots of blue-screens and illegal operations while in normal use. Even then you can quite often fix Windows if you can decode those obscure error messages. Formatting and reinstalling would probably help a lot, but it's an extreme step if you have lots of stuff to backup and lots of programs to reinstall. There's a lot you can do before trying that.

I will start from the beginning with some tips for speeding the boot process. First and foremost have you ever defragmented your hard drive(s)? When the PC is running it picks up bits of data off the hard drive, uses them, then dumps modified data back anywhere it can on the drive. When installing new software on a fragmented drive, the program will get spread about all over the disk in any available spaces. On a fragmented drive, the read heads have to travel about the disk a lot more to find what they need. This slows things down, and as fragmentation gets worse the computer gets slower and slower. Disk Defragmenter comes with Windows, and you should run it at least once a month or anytime you install new software (before the installation!). The other Windows tool you should run in conjunction with Defragmenter is Scandisk, as this fixes filesystem errors that creep into the PC over time. Scandisk should be run on its own every 2-4 days to keep everything in tip top shape, and it has to be run before you run Defragmenter as if any of the types of errors that it fixes are present on the drive, Defragmenter will not run.

Before you run these tools, however, it is important to get rid of all the dross that Windows slowly accumulates, as this just wastes hard drive space. Getting rid of these bits of rubbish may not speed up the PC on its own, but in combination with defragmentation you may achieve noticable performance improvements.

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