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Make Your PC Stable and Fast: What Microsoft Forgot to Tell You

Table of Contents

Introduction

The most useful tool: System File Check

Second most useful tool: DriverMax

Investigate blue screen events

Investigate freeze events

Your antivirus missed this: adware

Prepare for a disaster
p((. Methods for encryption of data

Backing up your data
p((((. _ Both the source folder and backup folder are not encrypted _

[_ Both the source folder and backup folder are encrypted with BestCrypt or BitLocker (not EFS) _]

[_ The source folder is EFS-encrypted and backup folder is either not encrypted or encrypted with BitLocker or BestCrypt _]

[_ Both the source and backup are encrypted 7-Zip archives _]

How to create a System recovery drive

Install a solid-state drive

Useful tweaks
p((. Gray background in program windows

Uninterrupted sleep/standby

Final thoughts

MAKE YOUR PC STABLE AND FAST:[
**]What Microsoft Forgot to Tell You

Charles G. Spender

Distributed by Smashwords
October 2015; ISBN: 9781311942241
Copyright © 2013 Charles G. Spender

Introduction

The amount of technical support information for Microsoft Windows is overwhelming. For most PC users, it is difficult to separate good information from bad and to devise any concrete maintenance or troubleshooting plan that they can use regularly. This booklet provides a summary of key points that can serve as a maintenance and troubleshooting plan for your PC. The ebook is organized as several small chapters (who needs another massive book about Windows?); each chapter provides key information on a topic, and a link or links to more detailed information that has been tested by this author and is available for free on the Internet.

If your PC crashes every few days (freezes or displays a “blue screen of death”) or if you are experiencing other computer problems, this booklet can serve as an easy checklist for troubleshooting. Even if you are not currently experiencing serious technical problems with your computer, this booklet will help to speed up your PC, to take full advantage of all Windows features, and to prevent disasters that can put your computer out of commission for several days and wipe out your precious data.

This ebook is designed for users of Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 although some of the information is also applicable to earlier versions of Windows. Before we begin, change your Windows settings such that all file extensions are always visible. Go to the Control Panel (in Windows 10: Start button → All apps → Windows System; in Windows 8.1: Start button → “Settings” → [at the bottom] Control Panel). Then double-click “Folder Options” (Windows XP/Vista/7/8) or “File Explorer Options” (Windows 10), select the “View” tab, and uncheck the option “Hide extensions for known file types.” This is necessary because you will need to see the extensions of certain files while following instructions from this ebook. I recommend pinning the Control Panel to your task bar (because we will use it often):

To accomplish this task, click the Start button, type “Control Panel” then right-click the Control Panel shortcut and select “Pin to taskbar.” Also take a note of the “bit” of your Windows (whether it’s a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system). Go to the Control Panel → System and look at the section “System type”:

When following instructions in this ebook, you will notice that some software applications can be installed as either a 32-bit or 64-bit version. You need to select the version that matches the bit of your Windows (note that 32-bit programs are sometimes labeled “X86” instead of “32-bit”). To successfully follow instructions in this ebook, you will have to be logged into a Windows user account of the “Administrator” type.

Finally, it would also be worthwhile to spend 15 to 30 minutes learning about the basics of your version of Windows. See one of the following summaries of Windows features (out of the horse’s mouth):

Windows 10:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10/getstarted-whatsnew-cortana

Windows 8.1:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/previous-support#1TC=windows-8

Windows 7:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/previous-support#1TC=windows-7

The most useful tool: System File Check

Whether you are experiencing computer problems or not, Windows’ own tool called System File Check will be beneficial. This tool verifies all key files of the Windows operating system and corrects them if they got damaged. To launch System File Check, first, close all programs and then press the Windows key and type “cmd” (without quotes), or in older versions of Windows, find a program called “Windows Command Prompt” in your Start menu (usually in “Programs” → “Accessories”). Right-click the shortcut for Windows Command Prompt:

and select “Run as administrator.” In Windows 10, you can simply right-click the “Start” button and select “Command Prompt (Admin)”:

If a “User Account Control” dialog appears, click “Yes”:

In the Command Prompt window, type the command “sfc /scannow” (without quotes) and press the “Enter” key:

System File Check will start checking the files and may take 5 to 30 minutes. After it’s done, typically, it will report that it found some errors and successfully fixed them. If System File Check reports that it could not access or fix some files, then my advice is to read the following more detailed tutorial:

https://www.winhelp.us/troubleshooting-windows.html

Regarding error messages not mentioned in the above tutorial, you can type the error message into your search engine and find a solution yourself. Believe it or not, I have seen System File Check find and fix problems even after a fresh installation of Windows.

It is also helpful to check for defects the disk where Windows is installed (typically drive C) by means of another Windows utility: CHKDSK. To launch CHKDSK, right-click drive C in File Exporer (called Windows Explorer in older versions of Windows), select “Properties,” tab “Tools,” and click “Check” in the section “Error checking.” Most likely, you will have to restart the PC, and then CHKDSK will check the hard drive for defects before launching Windows.

Furthermore, if your Microsoft Office is acting up, you can repair it too. First, try disabling various third-party add-ons, and if that doesn’t help, then go to the Control Panel → “Programs and Features,” select Microsoft Office in the list, and press the “Change” button:

Now select either “Quick Repair” or “Online Repair”:

(These options may vary for different versions of Office.) A word of caution: if you are using a pirated version of Windows, it will always have some tiny defects resulting either from repeated copying on the Internet or from an imperfect activation procedure. Although this kind of Windows installation will work most of the time, these tiny problems will make themselves known from time to time, often at the most inconvenient moment. Even if you choose to use cracked versions of all other software, my advice is to use a licensed version of Windows to ensure the best performance and stability of your operating system.

Second most useful tool: DriverMax

Many crashes in Windows are caused by outdated drivers of various devices in your computer. A driver is a piece of software that tells Windows how to use a particular device, such as a video card or a printer. Unfortunately, even when a manufacturer of the device (such as Intel, AMD, or Hewlett-Packard) releases a well-tested new version of a driver, Windows usually cannot see this update. For example, if you go to the Control Panel → “Device Manager” and select a device, such as a video card:

right-click, select “Update the driver software,” and click “Search automatically for updated driver software”:

then Windows will most likely tell you that “The best driver software for your device is already installed” even if the driver software is five years old and the manufacturer has released several updates during those years. Outdated drivers cause Windows to crash for several reasons: the outdated driver may be a piece of generic software written by Microsoft and does not fully match all features of the device, or the driver software is a “work in progress” by the manufacturer of the device after Microsoft released a new version of Windows. In the latter case, the first version of the driver for the new version of Windows contains many bugs and requires further testing and improvement by the manufacturer of the device.

You can try to search for the latest drivers for each component of your computer by means of a search engine or by visiting the website of the manufacturer of a device. It is far more convenient to check all drivers for updates by means of special free software. In my view, the best software in this regard is DriverMax, which you can download from CNET’s download.com website or from drivermax.com. After you install and launch DriverMax, click “Scan for updates now”:

DriverMax will scan your system and compare your drivers with its internet database of updates and then will show you a long list of outdated and up-to-date drivers on your computer. To the left of an outdated driver, you can click “Download.” The free version of DriverMax allows you to download only two drivers per day. You can overcome this limitation {a} by means of another good driver updater called “Driver Booster 3” (you can also try 3DP Chip: less user-friendly), {b} by searching for the outdated drivers on the Internet yourself (don’t forget to check the new files with your antivirus), or {c} by setting reminders for yourself in your tasks or calendar in Microsoft Outlook (or similar software). After a download is complete, select “click to view” at the bottom of the DriverMax window:

Then select “Install.” Do not create a “system restore point” before installing a driver: in the unlikely event that problems arise later because of a faulty driver, it is simpler to uninstall the driver and replace it with an older version. If installation of some driver fails in DriverMax, then find this driver on the Internet yourself (using a search engine or the manufacturer’s website), uninstall the old driver using the “Device Manger” in the Control Panel, restart the computer, and then install the new driver manually as follows. Unzip the downloaded file and install the driver either by clicking something like an “install.exe” file or by selecting the driver’s folder manually from the “Device Manager” interface:

right-click, select “Update the driver software,” and click “Browse my computer for driver software”:

After that, Windows will recognize the new driver and install it itself. The free version of DriverMax allows you to install only 10 drivers per month via the DriverMax interface, but you can solve this problem as described above. DriverMax has the biggest and most up-to-date database of device drivers and will find many outdated drivers even when other similar programs tell you that “All drivers are up-to-date.” Sometimes, DriverMax finds a well-tested and certified driver before it is posted on the manufacturer’s website. Occasionally, a manufacturer may release a new version of a driver with a wrong version number or it may release an official version of a driver that is older than a good beta version on your computer. In both cases, the installation will fail. With time, you will learn how to deal with (or ignore) these minor quirks.

A word of caution: You should never try to install DriverMax-packaged drivers that you found on the DriverMax website by means of the “search” field at drivermax.com. These drivers may not match your version of Windows and can damage your system. Instead, you can try to search for “raw” drivers on the Internet as described above.

Investigate blue screen events

When you see a blue screen of death, i.e., a blue screen event, on a regular basis, it is usually not difficult to figure out which application is causing the problem.

In the screenshot above, the blue screen does not give you an exact reason for the crash, but sometimes it can, for example: SYSTEM_THREAD_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED (dxgmms2.sys). Write down the error message and use your search engine to investigate. (A more thorough approach to the investigation is described below.) If you can identify a reliable pattern behind blue screen events, for example, they happen each time you try to install Unlocker in Windows 10, this means that the software in question is incompatible with your version of Windows. Therefore, you need to update the software/driver or uninstall it if updates are unavailable.

Blue screen events typically occur with system utilities, such as disk partition managers, Windows diagnostics, encryption tools, file unlockers, Windows interface tweakers (e.g., WindowBlinds), etc. If you cannot figure out which program or driver is causing your Windows to fail, then you can try a free tool called BlueScreenView, which can be downloaded from download.com. Before you can use BlueScreenView, you need to make sure that Windows is saving crash information each time it throws a blue screen. Go to Control Panel → System → Advanced system settings:

After that, select the “Advanced” tab and click “Settings” in the section “Startup and Recovery”:

In the dialog window that opens, make sure you have the following settings (or similar) in the section “System failure”:

Click “OK” several times to close all settings windows. Now install and launch BlueScreenView. Click “OK” if you see a User Account Control box:

In the upper part of the program window of BlueScreenView, you will see a list of blue screen events. If there are no records there, this means that there are no recorded memory dumps, and you will have to wait until the next crash to investigate (in the preceding paragraphs, we instructed Windows to save a memory dump during a crash). If you do see some events in BlueScreenView, click on the one that you are interested in (judging by the date) and look at the lower half of the program window. It will show the list of Windows processes and drivers that were active at the time of the crash, and usually, the culprit will be highlighted in red. Type the name of the culprit into your search engine and find out what it is. If this is a video card driver, this means that you need to update this driver as described in the previous chapter, or, if the current driver is the latest beta version, then you need to downgrade the driver to the latest official release.

Let’s say you did the name search, and it showed that the name corresponds to a Windows process, such as ntoskrnl.exe. Because you ran System File Check recently, it is unlikely that this system file is damaged. More likely, the crash happened while ntoskrnl.exe was working with some third-party driver or software. To identify this third-party culprit, we need to use a Windows tool called WinDbg (Windows Debugger). First, download the software package “Windows Software Development Kit” (SDK) that corresponds to your operating system:

Windows 7 (SDK for Win8 below should also work):
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=3138

Windows 8.1:
https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/desktop/bg162891

Windows 10:
https://dev.windows.com/en-us/downloads/windows-10-sdk

After you launch the downloaded installer, it will offer you the selection of features to be installed. Select only “Debugging Tools for Windows” and uncheck all other options:

Click “Install.” After the installation is finished, press the Windows key and type “WinDbg” (without quotes; in older versions of Windows, you will have to launch the “Run” utility [Start button → Programs → Accessories] as administrator and type “WinDbg”). Right-click WinDbgX64 if you have 64-bit Windows (or WinDbgX86 if 32-bit) and select “Run as administrator”:

Click “OK” if you see a User Account Control box. The program window of Windows Debugger will appear. In the “File” menu, select “Symbol File Path …”:

Into the text box that will appear, copy and paste the following code:
SRV*C:\Windows\symbol_cache*http://msdl.microsoft.com/download/symbols

Click “OK.” Click the “File” menu and select “Save Workspace.” Click the “File” menu again and select “Open crash dump…” Browse to and select either the file C:\Windows\MEMORY.DMP or, if it doesn’t exist, select one of the files in the directory C:\Windows\Minidump and then click “Open.” Windows Debugger will start analyzing the data, while referencing debugging symbols in Microsoft’s online database. The whole process will take 10–30 seconds. At the bottom of the text output you will see a phrase: “Probably caused by …” Now you can use the name of this process or driver to investigate the crash further. If you wish to see a more detailed analysis (for advanced techies only), then click the link  @ !analyze -v @  several lines above the phrase “Probably caused by …” in Windows Debugger’s output.

Investigate freeze events

I wish I could say that Windows is becoming more stable with each new version. It’s not. A newly released operating system (e.g., Windows 10 on July 29, 2015: official launch date) is especially vulnerable during the first months because it has not yet been tested thoroughly by Microsoft.

When your computer freezes on a regular basis, i.e., stops responding, even when you press Ctrl+Alt+Del repeatedly, it is usually not difficult to figure out which application is responsible. If you can identify a reliable pattern behind the freeze events, for example, they happen when you download several active torrents at the same time in Windows 8.1, this means that the software in question is too stressful for Windows. We will discuss how to deal with this problem at the end of this chapter. First, we will review more common causes of freezing.

Freeze events typically occur when you run too many applications at the same time, and these applications use a lot of random-access memory (RAM) and processing power. If your computer has only 1 or 2 gigabytes of RAM, this is not good. Whatever Microsoft says about system requirements, my sincere belief is that each new version of Windows requires a better microprocessor (CPU), more RAM, a better video card, or all of the above. 2 GB of RAM is the bare minimum, 4 GB is better. If your Windows is 64 bits, then you can upgrade your RAM to 8 GB: even better. Upgrading RAM is the most basic step that you can take to prevent freezing. Read the packing list that you got when you purchased your computer and find out the exact name of your RAM modules (model and manufacturer). You need to buy the same type of RAM for your upgrade. If you never disassembled a computer, then my advice is to ask the computer store to install your additional RAM modules, otherwise you may damage something inside the computer. If you still want to do it yourself, then do a search on the Internet “how to install RAM.”

Another common reason for freezes is damaged system files, and you can fix this problem by running System File Check and ChkDsk as described above. Paradoxically, system files can be damaged by your antivirus software because it scans these files repeatedly, possibly everyday, depending on the settings. (This is especially true if your Windows is installed on a traditional rotary hard disk rather than a solid-state drive, which is based on flash memory instead of moving mechanical parts. We will talk about solid-state drives in a later chapter.) My advice is to change the settings of your antivirus so that it does not scan Windows system files more often than once a month. The antivirus may also be stifling your operating system if the protection settings are too restrictive. For example, the antivirus may be set to scan every launched program and to monitor all activity. Try excluding trusted programs from scanning and try turning off the real-time monitoring of all activity. This change will not jeopardize your computer if you scan all external documents and set the antivirus to monitor all web traffic and web browsers. If you did all of the above and still cannot figure out the reason for freezing, then you can conduct a little investigation as follows.

After your computer froze, hold down the Ctrl key, then hold down the Alt key, and press the Del key. If the Windows Lock Screen does not appear, even after you press Ctrl+Alt+Del repeatedly, then your only option is to reboot the hard way: by pressing the power or reset button. After the computer reboots, go to the Control panel → Security and Maintenance → Maintenance → “View reliability history”:

This is the Windows Reliability Monitor (available in Windows 8.1 and 10). Click on the date of the crash in the graph, and under “critical events,” you will find the event “Windows was not properly shut down”:

You can review other events immediately preceding the Windows failure. In the case shown above, there are no obvious problems that preceded the freeze. Therefore, we want more details. Take a note of the time and date of the Windows crash, and then go to Control Panel → Administrative tools → Event Viewer:

Review various events preceding the Windows crash under study: take a look at Administrative Events (under “Custom Views”) and Security and System events (under “Windows Logs”). Click on an event and then read the description in the panel below:

In this case, I was unable to find anything relevant to the crash of September 13, 2015, 10:01 AM. That’s OK, better luck next time. You need to get used to the idea that occasional crashes for no apparent reason will happen. No operating system is perfect (certainly not Mac or Linux). The best you can do is to configure your system and hardware in the best possible way in order to reduce the frequency of crashes.

I will now describe how to make a particular software application more stable, when you run many programs simultaneously. Let’s say you are working in Microsoft Word for several hours and simultaneously keep running several other programs, which you use occasionally during this period: Microsoft Outlook, a timer, a media player (playing quiet music), and a web browser. All of these programs compete for your computer’s microprocessor. If all of them are treated equally by the microprocessor, then your experience in Microsoft Word will be quite jerky: once a minute or so, Word will be unresponsive for a second or a fraction of a second, gradually getting on your nerves. You can change the priority of these running programs, so that the microprocessor gives preference to Word and works with the other programs only when Word does not need the microprocessor. In other words, Word can always cut the line in front of all other programs that want to use the microprocessor.

To implement this state of affairs, press Ctrl+Alt+Del and click “Task Manger.” Go to the tab “Details”:

Take a look at the table. If you do not see the column “Priority” or “Base Priority,” then right-click any of the column headings and select the option “Select columns”:

In the dialog box that will appear, find the option “Base priority” or “Priority” and place a checkmark next to it:

Click “OK.” In the Task Manager, you can rearrange the columns by dragging and dropping a column heading. Now scroll down through the table and find the process of Microsoft Word, it is called winword.exe:

You can see that Word has normal (average) priority. That’s the way we want it. No program should have above-average priority because otherwise it will start messing with Windows processes and may bring down the whole operating system. You may notice that two Windows processes nearby, wininit.exe and winlogon.exe, have high priority. You should never change priority of system processes, such as these two, if you want your Windows to be stable. Now we will find the less important programs and lower their priority so that they do not get in the way of Word. I right-clicked the media player process (winamp.exe), selected “Set priority,” and clicked “Low”:

In a similar fashion, I will set priority to “Low” for outlook.exe and to “Below normal” for the timer process (ct.exe, program “Cool timer”) and for chrome.exe (Google Chrome process). Now Microsoft Word will work smoothly and will be more stable during this multitasking session. The flip side of the coin is that the programs with low priority may become less stable (in most cases, they will be OK). In general, when a program stops responding and you cannot shut it down, you can resort to the Task Manager. Under the tab “Details” or “Processes,” find the process in question, right-click it, and select “End task.”

In conclusion, if you know that some software that uses a lot of system resources (CPU, RAM, network, etc.) often causes your computer to freeze, then you can try confining this program to one of your microprocessor’s cores, to prevent the program from clashing with Windows and other active programs. Modern PCs typically have a microprocessor that contains several “cores,” i.e., smaller microprocessors. You can find out the structure of your microprocessor in the Task Manager. Hold down the Ctrl key, hold down the Alt key, and press the Del key, then select “Task Manager” and click the “Performance” tab:

In the lower right-hand corner of the program window, you will see the description of your microprocessor:

My microprocessor (shown above) contains four cores (four separate smaller microprocessors) and eight logical processors, meaning that Windows uses each of the four cores as if it were two separate microprocessors. We need to confine the problem program to one of the cores and to confine other programs that you are using simultaneously (those that do not cause problems) to other cores. This task can be accomplished in Task Manager, by changing so-called process affinity. Go to the “Details” tab:

and right-click the process that regularly causes your Windows to freeze, then select “Set affinity”:

In my case, I know that Windows reliably freezes when I use a torrent client, such as BitTorrent or Vuze, to download an active torrent (i.e., with thousands of seeds), if I simultaneously use some other taxing program such as Word, a video player, or a graphics editor. Thus, I am going to confine the process BitTorrent.exe to the last core of my microprocessor. In the dialog that opens next, I will uncheck and place a checkmark next to the very last processor (number 7):

I will click “OK.” I am assuming that CPU 6 and CPU 7 constitute Core #4 of my microprocessor. Now I will place other processes that I am using simultaneously with BitTorrent, for example, winword.exe and winamp.exe, into other cores. For example, I will assign winword.exe to CPU 4 and CPU 5 (Core #3) and winamp.exe to CPUs 2 and 3 (Core #2). You catch the idea. My observations suggest that Windows most actively uses CPUs 0 and 1, and to a lesser extent CPUs 2 and 3, of my microprocessor. Now that the troublemaker is isolated and does not bump heads with Windows and other active software on my computer, Windows will be much less likely to freeze. You don’t need to change priority of the problem process: my advice is to leave it “Normal.”

Your antivirus missed this: adware

The most popular antivirus programs typically focus on viruses and do not detect other undesirable software such as adware very well. Adware programs are designed to display ads and to redirect your web browser to various commercial websites. Adware programs usually get installed while you are browsing questionable websites or when you install free programs that contain bundled adware and spyware programs. Adware programs insert themselves into the startup list of programs in Windows: the list of programs that are launched when Windows is booted on your computer. These annoying programs also hijack and clog up your web browsers, slowing them down and forcing you to see ads or websites that you don’t want to see.

There are several ways to get rid of adware, and when you do, your computer and web browsers will start up and work much faster. The first step is to go to the Control Panel → Programs and Features and to review all installed programs there. Uninstall any programs that you do not need and investigate any suspicious programs by searching the Internet. In the future, whenever you install any software, especially free software (freeware), always select the option “Custom installation” or “Customize” because if you select the default installation, it will often include installation of some adware or a browser add-on.

The second step is to download CCleaner (a free program) from its own website or from Download.com. CCleaner will help you to clean up the Windows startup list and to clear web browsers of any parasitic add-ons. After you install CCleaner, launch it, select the “Tools” menu:

and the the “Startup” menu:

Browse the various installed components under the various tabs there and disable the ones that you don’t need or investigate suspicious programs on the Internet:

After you finish this process, select the “Cleaner” menu on the left-hand panel and clean up unnecessary files on your computer (carefully review various options there before launching the cleaning function). Do not clean the Windows registry in the “Registry” menu of CCleaner because there is little to be gained from this action, but the risks are serious. In general, you should never ever use any kind of registry cleaning programs because they can seriously mess up your Windows. CCleaner is probably the only exception because it performs a shallow and conservative cleaning of the Windows registry. Still, you do not need to do this.

The next step is to review Windows Services. Press the Windows key and type “msconfig” (without quotes). Right-click “System Configuration” and select “Run as administrator”:

(On older computers, you need to go to the Control Panel → Administrative tools, then right click “System configuration” and select “Run as administrator.”) Now select the “Services tab” and select the option “Hide Microsoft services”:

Now you need to be careful and I recommend not disabling any service unless it is of suspicious origin. Read the description of each service and do some investigation on the Internet. Then disable services that you believe to be spyware- or adware-related, but do not disable services of legitimate programs.

Finally, try some antispyware programs, such as AdAware, Spybot – Search and Destroy, IObit Malware Fighter, and YAC. One by one, install them, run a quick scan of your system (not the full scan), then uninstall and try the next one. Two or three antispyware programs will be sufficient, and you can keep one of them installed permanently.

Regarding antivirus programs, my advice is to avoid free antiviruses because they are not very effective and can let you down. I learned the hard way to never trust free antiviruses. Therefore, install a reputable paid antivirus program and configure it as described in the chapter “Investigate freeze events.”

Prepare for a disaster

There are many things that can go wrong with a computer, including viruses, hardware failure, bugs in software, accidental damage, a house fire, flooding, etc. Therefore, it’s a good idea to backup all your data (work-related and personal documents, pictures, e-mail, and other important data) on a USB drive or on a network, for example, once a week. It is also useful to create a recovery disc or recovery drive for Windows for situations when Windows fails to start for some reason (e.g., a virus or a surface defect in the hard drive). The recovery disc can help you repair your Windows, preserving your installed applications and all settings. This chapter describes the relevant methods.

Methods for encryption of data

Everyone has secrets and deeply personal documents, which ideally will never be seen by another living soul. There are several ways to encrypt or password-protect your data (few of them are free, unfortunately):

  • Encryption (with password protection) of Microsoft Office documents: this is a built-in feature of Microsoft Office (menu File → Info → Protect Document).
  • Encryption file system (EFS) in more expensive versions of Windows, such as Windows 10 Professional. This feature allows you to encrypt any files or folders on your computer (not only Microsoft Office documents). The password is not needed if you are logged into your account. Any other account in the same Windows won’t be able to read (open) the files because the encryption key is tied to your account in Windows. To enable this kind of encryption, right-click a file or folder, select “Properties,” then the “General” tab, and click the “Advanced” button. If you encrypt a file or folder using EFS, its name will turn green. You can work with this file in Windows as you would with any other unencrypted file.
  • A more convenient encryption feature of Windows is called BitLocker. It is also available only in more expensive versions of Windows (such as Windows Pro). This feature allows you to password protect (with encryption of contents) an entire drive, such as drive D: or drive E: on your computer. This drive does not have to be a separate physical disk. You can create several drives (called “partitions”) on a single hard drive, in other words, a single hard disk can contain drives C:, D:, E:, F:, etc. Go to the Control Panel → Administrative tools → Computer Management → Disk Management or use free software such as MiniTool Partition Wizard. Note that creation and resizing of partitions is a risky operation because it can fail a cause a loss of data (always back up your data before messing with partitions). Going back to BitLocker, it allows you to unlock or lock a drive using a password. Encryption is not tied to your Windows account: you can access this BitLocker if you move the hard disk to a different computer. Whereas EFS is not very convenient because encryption remains after you copy the green (encrypted) files to an external hard disk or a USB drive (the files will remain green), with BitLocker, all files are automatically decrypted if you copy them outside the encrypted drive.
  • Compression software such as 7-Zip (free encryption software!) or WinRAR and WinZip (paid software) allow you to create an encrypted password-protected archive, such as a .zip or .rar file. The encryption is not tied to your Windows account, and you can unlock these files with your password on any computer. When a file is inside an encrypted archive, you can still do some operations with it: rename it or open, work on it, and save it without extracting the file from the archive. You can drag-and-drop files into and out of an unlocked archive. This is not a bad encryption method and it’s free if you are using 7-Zip.
  • My favorite is paid software called BestCrypt. It works very much like BitLocker, but you can create the encrypted container in any folder on your computer (don’t have to create a separate partition on the hard disk); as with BitLocker, the encryption is not tied to your Windows account. You can unlock a BestCrypt container with your password on any computer (after you install the BestCrypt software there). When you unlock such a container it gets mounted as a separate drive (e.g., drive K: on your computer), and you can work with the files inside as you would with any other files on your computer.

Remember that safety of your private data depends on the strength of your password. Ideally, the password should be at least 8 characters long and contain both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters ($ # * @ etc.). Now that we covered encryption technologies, it’s time to talk about the ways to back up your files.

Backing up your data

The most typical backup procedure involves “synchronizing” two folders: one on your computer (contains the latest data) and one on some external device (e.g., a USB drive): the latter folder has the same name and mostly the same contents, except that it’s an older version of your files, which you created some time ago by copying. For example, you have a folder “My Files” on your computer, which you need to synchronize with the folder “My Files” (one week old) on your USB drive so that the backup folder contains fully updated files and folders. The synchronization makes the two folders identical, but involves much less work than simple copying because synchronization will not touch the vast majority of files that remained unchanged. Only outdated files will be replaced and only new files will be copied. Deleted files and folders will also be deleted in the backup folder during synchronization.

Unfortunately, there are not many free synchronization programs that are up to date, and the tools built into Windows are not very user-friendly. I will describe two Windows tools for copying and synchronization of files: RichCopy and Robocopy. I chose them because they are free and reliable and because they allow you to work with EFS-encrypted files. First create a task or calendar appointment in Microsoft Outlook (or a similar application) that recurs once a week and prompts you with a reminder to back up your data on a USD drive.

RichCopy is a convenient application with graphical user interface that was written by a Microsoft engineer. Let’s say you are synchronizing a source folder (EFS-encrypted) with a backup folder (on your USB drive, should be unencrypted). The advantage of RichCopy is that it allows you to remove EFS encryption from the copies of your files in the backup folder. The disadvantage of RichCopy is that it does not delete empty folders in the backup folder (but it does delete the files that are absent in the source folder).

Robocopy is a command line tool of Windows, i.e., you need to type commands and parameters by hand into Windows Command Prompt. The advantage of robocopy is that it is very reliable and will delete all empty folders from the backup folder during synchronization. The disadvantages are the absence of a graphical user interface and inability to remove EFS encryption. In this regard, Robocopy and RichCopy are complementary. Please don’t be scared of the command line interface. It is easy to understand (I will do my best to explain it), and once you execute your first command, you can simply copy and paste the commands later (no need to retype them by hand). Let’s review several synchronization scenarios.

Both the source folder and backup folder are not encrypted

In this case, you can use Robocopy alone. Let’s say you decided to back up your files once a week. A week ago, you copied the folder D:\My Files to your USB drive (F:\My Files), and today you want to synchronize these two folders, because during the past week, you added some documents into that folder and modified some files there too. Close all programs that have active access to the files in either the source or backup folder (including Windows Explorer, a.k.a. File Explorer) because Robocopy cannot work on opened files. Next, press the Windows key and type “cmd” (without quotes). In older versions of Windows, find a program called “Windows Command Prompt” (Start button → Programs → Accessories). Right-click the shortcut for Windows Command Prompt:

and select “Run as administrator.” If a “User Account Control” dialog appears, click “Yes”:

The Command Propmt window will appear, waiting for your instructions:

First, we will save the simple code for Robocopy in a text file, so that you won’t have to retype it in the future. Create a plain text file (.txt) with the name “Backup Command Line” using Notepad and then type the following code into the file:

robocopy "[+D:\My Files+]" "[*[_F:\My Files_]*]" /XO /S /PURGE

For your convenience, I underlined the source folder and made the backup folder bold and italic (you don’t need this formatting in Notepad). This command uses the program “robocopy” to synchronize the backup folder F:\My Files with the source folder D:\My Files. As you guessed, the files are copied from D:\My Files to F:\My Files, i.e., from left to right. (Replace the names of the source and backup folder with your actual folder names.) The parameter /XO instructs Robocopy to copy only the files whose “Date modified” is later in the source folder, meaning that the files with the same date will be ignored. The parameter /S instructs Robocopy to process all subfolders, and parameter /PURGE means that all files and folders that are present only in the backup folder will be deleted. As a result, after the synchronization, the source folder and backup folder will have an identical set of subfolders and will contain identical files (here we are ignoring the contents of the files, we compare only “Date modified”). Copy the command line and save the text file where you can find it later. Now right-click at the cursor in the Command Prompt window and select “Paste” (in Windows 10, right-clicking causes pasting):

Press the “Enter” key to execute this script. If you have lots of files, Robocopy will be busy for a few minutes, outputting large amounts of text. In the end, you will see something like the following report:

where “Dirs” means folders (directories), “Skipped” means ignored because they have the same date in the source and backup folder, and “Extras” means files and folders that were present only the backup folder and were therefore deleted. We successfully backed up the data. If you get some error messages with Robocopy, then use your search engine to find a solution. Close Command Prompt. A week from now, your calendar software will remind you to backup your files, and you will insert the USB drive, launch Command Prompt, copy and paste the command line, and synchronize all files again. Let’s take a look at another scenario.

Both the source folder and backup folder are encrypted with BestCrypt or BitLocker (not EFS)

For example, you have a BitLocker drive on your computer and a BitLocker drive on a USB drive or on an external hard disk. In this case, you can use the same procedure as in the preceding chapter: Robocopy alone will do the job.

The source folder is EFS-encrypted and backup folder is either not encrypted or encrypted with BitLocker or BestCrypt

For example, you have EFS-encrypted files on your computer (have green names) that you need to synchronize with files on an external drive, so that the EFS encryption is removed during the copying (the backed up files are no longer “green”). In this case, we will need both RichCopy and Robocopy, in that order (Robocopy will delete empty subfolders because RichCopy can’t). Launch RichCopy as an administrator. If a “User Account Control” dialog appears, click “Yes.” Select the menu “View” and click “Advanced”:

Now click the “Source(1)” button and navigate to the source folder:

Then click the “Destination(2)” button and navigate to the backup folder. Next, click the “Option” button:

In the window that appears, select the options “Purge” and “Verify”:

and leave everything else as is. In the left-hand panel, select “File attributes, Error Handling”:

In the new view, select the option “File attributes to remove – Encrypted”:

Do not change anything else there. Click “OK” at the bottom to close the “File copy options” window. Press the button “Save copy option to a file”:

After you save the settings to an .rcx file, you won’t have to do them again in the future. The last saved settings will still be loaded when you launch RichCopy next time. If not, then select menu “File” → “Open” to load the previously saved settings file, or select “File” → “Recent Profiles”:

We are ready for synchronization. Make sure that the files to be synchronized are not opened in any software because RichCopy cannot work with opened files. Now press the “Start copy” button:

If everything goes well, you will see a message to this effect in the lower panel of RichCopy. If you get some error messages with RichCopy, then use your search engine to find a solution. Now we will use Robocopy to do the cleanup. Close RichCopy and any programs that are accessing the files and folders to be synchronized (including Windows/File Explorer). Launch Windows Command Prompt as an administrator and type the following code:

robocopy "D:\My Files" "F:\My Files" /PURGE /S /NoDCopy

You are already familiar with this command (replace the names of the source and backup folder with your own folder names). The parameter /NoDCopy instructs Robocopy to not copy special attributes, such as “Encrypted” or “Hidden,” to the files and subfolders in the backup folder. At this point, the two directories are already synchronized, but RichCopy did not delete the (now empty) subfolders that are present only in the backup folder. The code shown above will do this job. Save this code in a text file for the next week’s backup.

Both the source and backup are encrypted 7-Zip archives

In this scenario, synchronization is impossible. You will have to delete the old backup file and make a new copy.

How to create a System recovery drive

To prepare for the disastrous event when your Windows cannot start (for example, because of a virus), you need to create a System recovery drive (called “recovery disc” in Windows 7). First, you need an empty USB drive at least 8 GB in size. Go to the Control Panel → Recovery → Create a recovery drive (in Windows 7: Control Panel → Backup & Restore → Create a system repair disc). Follow the instructions on the screen, and you may have to insert Windows installation media, such as a DVD, if the relevant Windows features are not installed. If this procedure asks you to insert the Windows installation DVD and you don’t have it, then I recommend the excellent detailed tutorial from the website winhelp.us:

https://www.winhelp.us/restore-windows-re.html

Install a solid-state drive

Traditionally, hard disks in computers have been based on a rotating magnetized disk. This technology is fairly reliable and advanced at this point, but this mechanical writing and reading of data has reached a point where the speed cannot be increased appreciably without making the hard drive bigger. This technology is not 100% reliable either, and occasionally some small parts of the disk's surface turn bad (become "bad sectors"), thus damaging your data or corrupting Windows files. Therefore, you have to run CHKDSK periodically to find and exclude these bad sectors.

Enter flash memory. This technology is based completely on semiconductors and does not involve any mechanical process. A hard drive that is based on flash memory (also known as a “solid state drive”) is much faster, smaller, and more reliable than the traditional rotary hard disks. At present, solid state drives are also far more expensive than the traditional hard drives. For this reason, it makes sense to have two types of hard drives in one computer, namely, to use a solid-state drive (60–100 gigabytes) for Windows files and for key programs, and to use a bigger hard drive (traditional, 1000–3000 gigabytes) for storage of data and for less important programs.

Windows and programs that are installed on a solid-state drive work several times faster, all else being equal. Although characteristics of your microprocessor are important for your computer’s speed, many tasks (e.g., startup of programs and Windows) are slowed down substantially by the limitations of the traditional hard drives, even if you have a powerful microprocessor. For this reason, when you are buying a new computer, it’s a good idea select a model that contains two types of hard drives. If you already have a computer where Windows is installed on a traditional hard disk, then things are little trickier. Only a tech-savvy person can install a solid-state drive on a traditional computer, without losing programs, settings, and data (and without damaging the hardware inside the computer). You might consider paying a technician at a computer store to do this task for you. While you’re at it, also ask him/her to upgrade your RAM to 4–8 GB. If you still wish to do the installation yourself, see these tutorials:

http://lifehacker.com/5837543/how-to-migrate-to-a-solid-state-drive-without-reinstalling-windows

http://www.minitool-drivecopy.com/drive-copy/freeware-to-transfer-windows-to-ssd.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFowSc5gOhE

Useful tweaks

I will describe how to change the blinding white color of the background in various programs to a color that is easier on the eyes. The second trick involves making your computer stay in the “sleep” or standby mode without waking up. I devised these tweaks myself and posted them on Microsoft’s Technet forums and on the tenforums.com website.

Gray background in program windows

This first solution allows you to permanently set the background color in most programs (Notepad, Word, etc.) to gray or some other color, except for Windows Explorer (a.k.a. File Explorer), where the background will stay white. I am assuming that you are not using a high-contrast theme of Windows (Control Panel → Display → Customization).

1) Hold down the Windows Key and press the R key (in older versions of Windows, launch the “Run” utility, usually located in the Start menu → Programs → Accessories). Type “regedit” (without quotes) and press the Enter key. Click “Yes” if you see a User Account Control dialog.

2) Edit the registry in the folder  HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Colors. Edit the registry key called “Window” by double-clicking on it and entering “170 170 170” (without quotes). Press “OK.”

3) Edit the registry at  HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Themes\DefaultColors\Standard. Set “Window” to 00999999 (hexadecimal format). Credit for this useful suggestion goes to David J. Gibson from Microsoft’s Technet forums.

4) Close the registry editor and press Ctrl+Alt+Del and then Task Manager to initiate the theme. Close the Task Manager. All done.

My advice is to resize the Windows Exporer window (whose background is still white) to reduce the eye irritation. Also reduce the brightness of your monitor. Do not use third-party software to change the background color in Windows Exporer because these software packages are buggy or make Windows unstable. I tried software applications called WindowBlinds and Xplorer2, which allow you to use various background colors or patterns in Windows Explorer (actually, Xplorer2 is a replacement for Windows Explorer). Both are shareware. I do not recommend these applications and suggest that you stick with the above solution. I am currently testing another application, an extension for Windows Explorer that is called QTTabBar. I will let you know later how it goes.

Uninterrupted sleep/standby

It’s a good idea to send your computer to the sleep or standby mode for the night instead of shutting down. This is because the process of turning the computer on is stressful for the hardware (a surge of electricity rushes through all the components) and is likely to wear it out gradually. Entry into the sleep or standby mode and the reverse process, wakeup, are less stressful and allow you to save electric power when you are not using the computer. The problem is that the latest versions of Windows can’t keep the computer asleep and wake it up after a few hours.

This problem requires several steps. First, edit your BIOS settings: find out which key has to be pressed to enter the BIOS settings for your motherboard (before Windows boots) by searching the Internet. Restart the computer and press this key repeatedly especially when you see the splash screen of your motherboard (before Windows boots). This key is also named during the motherboard splash screen: it should say at the bottom of the screen something like “Press Del or F12 to enter Setup.” If your computer has the “Fast boot” option enabled, then you won’t see the motherboard splash screen during startup, but you still need to find out the name of this magical key for your motherboard and press this key repeatedly immediately after the computer restarts.

After you enter BIOS settings successfully, go to advanced power management options (the name may be different for your motherboard) and disable various options such as Wake on LAN. If you have an option “deep sleep” there, enable it (this option allows waking only after the power button is pressed). In boot options, disable “fast boot” for easy access to BIOS (not related to sleep). Exit the BIOS Setup (the option “exit and save settings”).

If you enabled the “deep sleep” option, then go to the Control Panel → Power options → “Change settings” for your current power management plan, then select “Change additional settings” (or “Advanced settings”). Set “what power button does” to “sleep.” Note that now you will have to press and hold the power button for several seconds if you want to shut down the computer the hard way.

Go to Control Panel → Security and Maintenance → Maintenance → “Change maintenance settings” and uncheck the option “Allow scheduled maintenance to wake up my computer at the scheduled time.”

Launch “Windows PowerShell” (Start button → “All apps” or Programs) as an administrator and copy and paste the following code by right-clicking in the PowerShell window. This code disables all “wake the computer to run this task” options in Windows Task Scheduler:

Get-ScheduledTask | ? { $_.Settings.WakeToRun -eq $true -and $_.State -ne "Disabled"} | % { $_.Settings.WakeToRun = $false; Set-ScheduledTask $_ }

Press the Enter key to launch this script (you won’t see anything). Close PowerShell (big credit to the original coder: Ilan Lanz of ilantz.com).

Launch Windows Command Prompt as an administrator and run the following code (copy, paste by right-clicking, and press Enter):

for /F "tokens=*" %A in ('powercfg -devicequery wake_armed') do powercfg -devicedisablewake "%A"

This command disallows any devices to wake the computer (credit to Dmitriy at www.winitpro.ru). Now you can verify that the above actions worked. While in command prompt, enter the following command to see if any devices are currently allowed to wake the computer:

powercfg /devicequery wake_armed

also:

powercfg /waketimers

All done. In the future, to find out which device/task woke the computer the last time, type this command in Windows Command Prompt (run as admin):

powercfg –lastwake

Note that sometimes, this action will tell you nothing about who woke the computer (probably some deep system process). In this case, the Windows Event Viewer will also show you a wake event but will not tell you who did it. The above plan can prevent such anonymous waking.

Final thoughts

Please do not install any free diagnostic programs for troubleshooting of Windows, such as Advanced SystemCare, System Mechanic Free, or Glary Utilities, especially do not use any registry cleaners of any kind. Such software can do more harm than good. For example, my 64-bit Windows 10 crashed when I tried to install Advanced SystemCare: and this is supposed to be a tool for fixing problems in Windows! Such software is written by people who think that they know more about Windows than Microsoft does; therefore, you need to steer clear of this kind of software.

My advice is to avoid unlicensed (cracked) software because it is usually less reliable than the real deal owing to small defects, not to mention that unlicensed software is illegal. Even in countries with relatively strong protection of intellectual property, a large percentage of software (15-25%) is pirated. Otherwise upstanding citizens think nothing of downloading cracked software by means of torrents or websites such as Filesloop.com or Tehparadox.com. The downloaded zip file contains an attachment such as a license key generator or a patch (a program that modifies the target software to remove license protection; this program is also called a “crack”). Keygens and patches often contain viruses (which, by the way, can be detected for free on the website virustotal.com), and patches usually introduce small defects into the software, which may not work properly because of the imperfect activation procedure. It’s a cat-and-mouse game between software developers and crackers. The repeated copying on the Internet also leads to small defects in the pirated software. As mentioned earlier, it’s an especially bad idea to use a slightly defective version of Windows or of other critical software such as an encryption application. Still, the allure of free software is irresistable for a large proportion of the world population.

In conclusion, I will share my thoughts on popular arguments against Windows that are advanced by proponents of Macintosh or Linux.

  • “Computer viruses are a serious and big problem for Windows; therefore, I will use Macintosh instead.” — If Mac OS were installed on ~95% of desktop computers, then most viruses would be written for Mac not Windows. Far more viruses are written for Windows because it is far more popular, not because it is more vulnerable to security threats.
  • “Windows is very slow.” — Well, it depends on how old the PC is and how well it is taken care of. I haven’t experienced this kind of problem with PCs that are one to five years old.
  • “Microsoft charges money for its software, and Microsoftees are bad guys because they don’t show their software code to anyone; therefore, I will use free Linux software: the nice people who develop Linux show you all their code!” — Unfortunately, your time is not free, and you will spend far more money (i.e., time) on Linux because it has more bugs, fewer features, and is not compatible (or poorly compatible) with most of the modern hardware. If you spend one month trying to set up your Linux computer and to make it work with all the peripheral devices, then you will spend approximately $2000–$4000 worth of your time! Compare that to roughly $50 that you pay for Windows preinstalled on a new PC. Besides, latest distributions of Linux are sold for money: Linux is not free in any sense of this word.
  • “Microsoft is a monopoly, and I don’t want to support a monopoly for political reasons.” — Well, it may have been true 10 or 20 years ago. At present, Microsoft is not growing and is plagued by numerous lawsuits, most of them frivolous.
  • “I like the Macintosh user interface better, and Apple hardware looks more hip. Cool people use Mac.” — The serious problem with Mac is that the vast majority of software is written for Windows, and you are depriving yourself of this huge market if you decide to become a Mac user. Mac and Linux represent such a small proportion of desktop computers that it is not interesting for developers to write software for such computers.

In conclusion, I should say that I update this manual from time to time; therefore, feel free to download the latest version.

Enjoy your PC!


Make Your PC Stable and Fast: What Microsoft Forgot to Tell You

The amount of technical support information for Microsoft Windows is overwhelming. For most PC users, it is difficult to separate good information from bad and to devise any concrete maintenance or troubleshooting plan that they can use regularly. This booklet provides a summary of key points that can serve as a maintenance and troubleshooting plan for your PC. The ebook is organized as several small chapters (who needs another massive book about Windows?); each chapter provides key information on a topic, and a link or links to more detailed information that has been tested by this author and is available for free on the Internet.

  • ISBN: 9781311942241
  • Author: Charles Spender
  • Published: 2015-10-02 22:05:13
  • Words: 9670
Make Your PC Stable and Fast: What Microsoft Forgot to Tell You Make Your PC Stable and Fast: What Microsoft Forgot to Tell You