by Guest Writer Jim “Twitch” Tittle
Tune Ups & Utilities
Are the freeware and shareware utilities any good? There are tons of them. Whether they are useful is up to the user. I’ve tried my share of utilities that were meant to do something that DOS or Windows didn’t. Some work and some may screw up your machine and take some undoing to get rid of. I have found only a handful that I care to continually use.
Probably the slickest helper freeware utility is Enditall. It closes all the TSR- Terminate-and-Stay-Resident that are sapping system resources from you even if you are not using the programs. Those cute little icons in your tray all take power you need to run games and sims. System resources are diluted an average of 10% with just three or four running plus the non-closeable Windows ones like Explorer and the tray applet itself.
Yes you can key “ctl+alt+del” to close them one by one but Enditall does it all at once with a couple of clicks. Depending on the version of Windows running, you will see a difference in percentage. With things in Win 95/98 all closed up I got 93-94% free resources and with ME I got 91%. XP no longer shows resources available.
Most importantly, if you plan to play a game or run a sim you should do it from a fresh boot. If you use several programs like Word, a scanner and image software and accessed the web first even using Enditall will not free up all you can by rebooting. Right now after Enditall I have 82% free resources. Vestiges of the programs lurk in your system no matter what. So boot, use Enditall and go directly to your game for the best results. You can protect any TSRs you want with Enditall to not shut down. Nice.
Keep the number of pop up icons installed in the system tray to a minimum. Going to “my computer” and finding the proper folder and clicking on the icon anyway can find them. It may take a few seconds more to start up the program but it relieves the clutter and allows faster Windows loading too. For that matter desktop icons that are not often used can be removed as well. You can make a desktop folder with all your shortcuts inside instead of having them strewn across your screen. XP has tons of TSRs running at start up, which I’ve closed with no ill results. Keep it clean and simple.
There is and Enditall2 out there and features a RAM booster but I like the original better and it works even in Windows XP. ZDNet has the latest version but the simpler 1.0 original can be found using a search engine to a download site.
Another freeware utility I use is called EasyCleaner. You can safely clean out all that silly stuff that Windows will not throw out on your registry. They can amount to hundreds of files of all sizes that do nothing. Many are temporary web pages you’ve visited. EasyCleaner will search for duplicate files and unnecessary files that are, perhaps, still on your hard drive after deleting a program or old game. The utility sees if they are connected to anything and then deletes them if you wish. If you have any backed up files with the .BAK extension EasyCleaner will target them so if you have ones that you must keep do not highlight them for removal or make a new extension name.
It is a simple task for EasyCleaner to round up the invalid registry entries and ask you if it can delete them. I have always eradicated al of them with no ill results.
EasyCleaner is multilingual by user choice and you can toggle what you want it to clean. For example when running checks on “unnecessary files” you can choose to send them to the recycle bin or permanently delete them. And you can choose which files to “ignore.” . Again, how much this contributes to the health of you PC I don’t know, but it is logical to get rid of your baby clothes by the time you begin college and throw out stuff cluttering your machine. You can easily choose not to delete your system restore files.
All commands prompt you to make sure you really want to perform the deletions. There’s a handy pie chart that will show you how much space any folder or program is using compared to the H.D. in whole. As an example Windows 95 uses 7% for program files while ME uses 11%. With XP it’s a huge 21%.
There are later versions than the 1.7f that I use. It works in XP so I haven’t changed up. This utility does no harm. Find it at ZDNet.
Cacheman is a good freeware utility to optimize your disk cache settings. It was originally made for 95 and 98 but now works on ME and XP too. There are several settings- standard, CD writer, power user, multimedia, 3D games and low memory system or custom. It is best to experiment to see what helps. You can put the pointers to max or anywhere you like in the custom setting to adjust disk, cache, file cache, and chunk size.
It can be a bit time consuming set up in that you must save the configuration and reboot for it to work but no more so than resetting Windows. Like the other utilities, it has enough “help” topics to figure it out. It also shows system resources used.
Cacheman prevents frequent swapping of the data to the hard drive resulting in an improved performance, system reaction time. All the above-mentioned categories can be micro-adjusted by sliders almost megabyte by megabyte so you don’t have to type any values in. There is a box to check for “conservative file swap” for on and off. It beats opening the system.ini file and editing it.
There have been several versions in progression. The latest one has a RAM boosting feature that recovers RAM on start up, if desired, or manually. That part is a TSR program so you can try it and see if it makes a demonstrable difference. If not, toggle it off. Again, I have the 95/98/ME version 4.10 without the RAM boost running on XP and it works. In fact the very old 95 version worked on ME. This one can’t hurt anything. Click here.
TweakUI is freeware and is the only thing that allows you to finally remove those program descriptions that you deleted and didn’t uninstall in the proper way. Be warned that it does NOT uninstall programs. If you click to remove a valid program you will not be able to use it since the only startup is deleted, not the whole program. This is for when you dragged the directory folder to the recycle bin and dumped it but still have the start-up listing cluttering up your list of valid programs.
You can adjust your mouse, the desktop layout, the control panel and more, but if you use it only to remove the remainder of old programs it is worth it. Find it at ZDNet.
Raw Power is a $20 shareware utility free for a 30-day trial. It optimizes the CPU via caches, frame buffers, write allocation and allows memory access to portions of your CPU that are available but not used. Over two-dozen CPU items are listed and tell you whether you can optimize them or not. You may be able set up the frame buffers to access the region for your graphics card faster to increase performance. Raw Power can be set up to optimize upon boot up too. Available at the sites below.
Almost anything is worth $20 when you need a boost in power but, frankly, I didn’t notice any visible difference on my 95/98/ME systems. I never tried it on XP.
I found a 30-day free shareware program call HZ Tool that would allow you to adjust the refresh rate of your monitor and set resolution. Good idea. Again I found no significant increase and when I accidentally over-set my monitor resolution specs I crashed and the system it was boggled up for a long time with things like the Windows “start” tray showing during game load up screens and weird screen flashings. Aaarrrgghhh! This could be a useful utility for some systems if you carefully use it.
Something we all should have is Virtual CD shareware program. It is a program that allows you to run all your CDs without having them in the drive. The program copies your CDs to the hard drive and using a compression technique. Once installed you will never be bothered by stutters or pauses when your program wants to access the CD. It makes for more rapid access from the H.D. spinning at 5,400 or 7,200 RPM than the CD-ROM drive running at 52X. You can copy music CDs to your H.D. too.
I’ve noticed certain drives are more sensitive to minor scratches and even minor blemishes than others are. If you have a less-than-pristine CD you need this. With full installs you are not really saving H.D. space anyway. You’re just staying legal to start the program from CD access. No more whirring ROM drives. This is not a hack but a legitimate software program to allow legal CD-ROM and music CD owners to run them more efficiently from the H.D. Go here for lots of info. It is downloadable for a 30-day trial then costs $39.95.
Video Cards & Etc.
There are all types of utilities to tweak your video card too, from Voodoo to ATI and GeForce. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is my motto, but yours may be broke and they could be worth a try. Try the latest drivers from the manufacturer web sites first.
As we have learned, it is a good idea to keep old drivers on the HD since some newer ones actually don’t work with certain games on certain systems. If you have problems with a pet sim or game using new drivers you should run driver installation and specify the location of the old driver and click OK when Windows tells you it is an older driver. XP has a feature allowing driver rollback which makes its easy. By the way, the XP feature to allow you to run older programs by the emulation of earlier Windows versions hasn’t worked for me.
If you just must play an old game and your system is too fast to run it try CpuLower. I tried it a long while ago to run Aces Over Europe on ME. It’s free and worth a try if you get nostalgic for an old game. Find this freeware at the sites below and here.
There exist too many free diagnostic utilities to list to gauge various benchmarks and performance with problem areas highlighted. You should try a few to see if they suit your needs. Sandra has two versions. One is a freeware edition and the other is the Pro edition. Being cheap I’ve used the free one with good results to diagnose my system and find interesting things.
The Pro version allows 50 areas to be separately analyzed with the free edition giving some less, but all your vital hardware is covered. For example, “Windows memory” is analyzed but “memory resources” is not. Actually, Cacheman can cover that. It may tell you that you video card is producing 60 MB out of 64 MB and break that down further and show refresh rate plus a long list of supported modes. It produces almost more info than you can digest. What the free version doesn’t cover I’ve found not lacking.
There is a long list of tips and suggested settings to make that the analysis gives you to improve performance. You can benchmark components of your system against others. These are nicely shown in graphic form. This is probably the best diagnostic and can’t hurt anything on your system. Click here to go to the SiSoftware web site.
As for anti-virus programs, take your choice depending on your budget. There are free ones out there. Just remember to shut them down when you run any entertainment software. They’ve been known to detect certain game files as viruses and shut them down while you are running them so you may wish to turn off anti-virus programs when running a game. I haven’t found this to be the case with Norton 2002-2003 on ME or XP though. Make certain they are on when you go on line. Be sure before purchase that you can download updates free from the maker’s web site.
I personally use Norton 2003. A year’s subscription costs $14.95 and allows automatic updates to kill new viruses each time you go on line. In the few months I’ve been running XP it has caught several viruses.
You can go to the Symantec site and peruse the vast knowledge files of what virus you may have based on symptoms you have and download free virus killers. You may have a virus, which does not allow Norton to even be installed the first time! I used Enditall to protect Norton from shut down when running Enditall at all times with no problems. It does, of course, take away from free system resources. If it is vital for the running of a game you should turn off virus protection with Enditall but enable it once again when you go on line! You should have virus protection. Click here to go to Symantec’s web site.
A very cool freeware program is Webshots. You can download the little program and add any image you wish in .jpg or .bmp format to make wallpaper or a neat, custom screensaver. Webshots has tons of freely downloadable images in all categories. Autos, dogs, cats, wild animals, landscapes and even a few military images can be found.
You can categorize the image collections to, say, have one each of fighters, bombers, pilots, bikini girls, cats, dogs, jets, family or whatever. Any image you have can be added. Then you can set the program to show the images for different lengths of time and cycle them in order or randomly. Webshots doesn’t do a thing to tune up your machine. It simply gives you nice eye candy when not running games. Click here to go to Webshots web site.
You can add a line to your system.ini file in the main Windows directory to assist file usage. At the end of the 386 ENH segment add “ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1” so the machine is limited in file swapping. If you are having mid-game crashes or freeze-ups this may help. With Cacheman all you need do is check a box.
It goes without saying that you should have current drivers for all your devices and BIOS. A visit to the manufacturer’s web sites will get them. Compare the latest drivers to what you have and install as needed. Download the latest patch for the game you are using from the maker’s site or a location that has it.
Be warned that updating BIOS is a tedious task on some systems and shouldn’t be undertaken if you’re not fully capable! You can ruin your machine’s BIOS chip if you do it wrong. Some motherboard makers have their own utilities that allow update of BIOS with no scary DOS involvement. Take your machine to an independent computer shop and let the pros do it.
The latest Direct X should be on your machine too. Version 9.0a is available from the Microsoft web site. I’ve kept up with the current Direct X version on every computer I’ve had and suffered no ill effects. Be aware that you can’t go back to an older version once installed. I’ve never wished I could.
Sound cards can affect certain games and sims. Sometimes everything else is fine and you can’t figure out the problem. If you have the latest drivers installed try lowering the settings on the sound within the game. Try setting the number of channels lower. In the Windows\System folder there is an icon to start Direct X system diagnosis called DXDIAG. There you can lower sound card acceleration and test to see that all is working well. The utility prompts you with sounds to check things out. If all else fails remember sound could be a contributing problem.
In the DXDIAG you can get a read out of the specs of your system including the version of Direct X you have. You can also test the video display running checks on Direct Draw, Direct 3-D and AGP Texture Acceleration. DXDIAG will tell you “no problems found” if all is well with the device and suggest specific fixes if something is not right. Go to the Microsoft web site regularly as new Direct X versions appear regularly. It’s a free download. Click here.
While it duplicates the cookie deletion feature on later Windows versions, it also scans registries, memories and hard drives for ad cookies. It’s free and it can’t hurt. I have version 5.62 and it works on all Windows including XP. It has several settings to manage things including multi-language. Once set it’ll take less than a minute to go through 10 Gigs of data. You can even protect cookies that you want to keep from deletion.
Always remember that if you have opened several programs and went on line, system resources are diluted. Even if you close everything later with Enditall, vestiges remain and a check of system resources will show a low percentage available. Unfortunately XP system resources can’t be checked like pervious versions, but rest assured they’re down nonetheless. You need to reboot and get everything closed and go directly to you game for maximum power.
If you find a little utility that you are interested in be sure you read all the allied documentation. Some may help and some may do nothing. Some may mess up things worse than before. Go conservative on any new settings and increase incrementally if all is well. Be cautious. If you notice no improvement, dump it. All the “readme” files brag on what it may do but that depends on your system too. Click here to go to the Lavasoft web site.
Scandisk, Defrag & Etc.
Last but not least, you should make a regular schedule of running Scandisk and Defrag. Once a week is excellent but more often if you use your machine heavily. File usage is similar to going to a library and putting all the books back in random locations after you’ve looked at them. This is sort of what the programs do and when they need a certain file again it will take longer to find it since it is not where it should be. The more often you run defrag the less amount of time it takes to complete the task. If you have a huge H.D. and haven’t run it for six months it could take a very long time. But either way, it is automatic and you can set it to run and go get a beer and sandwich. XP does not fragment programs nearly as much and previous Windows so every two weeks id plenty for even a heavy user.
All Windows versions have these tools but XP has done away with Scandisk. I’ve found no problems so I suspect that it runs automatically in another form under another name so all I need is to use is Defrag. Disk Cleanup remains in XP and allows deletion of temporary Internet files, downloaded program files, and other temporary files as well. EasyCleaner duplicates some of Disk Cleanups features.
Opening the Control Panel and accessing the Internet settings allows you to delete temporary files, cookies and history of web site visited. Cookies can be deleted on upgraded ME versions and is standard on XP. The history feature can be adjusted from zero to 99 days. Keeping web site addresses “on file” for quick re-visits is all this thing does. I’ve noticed little lag on clean re-visits and keep mine set for one day.
Don’t hesitate to visit device or peripheral manufacturer’s web sites even if you have a new system or device. There may be an updated driver you should download that was developed after your device was manufactured just two months ago.
Editors Note: We added one more additional program…
Fraps is a utility for DirectX and OpenGL games. It can best be described as: Benchmarking software — see framerates on screen and log them to file. Calculate the average framerate between any two points. Screen capture software — take screenshots at the press of a button with files automatically named and timestamped. Movie maker software — realtime recording of your gameplay to high quality AVI video files. You can download it from the Fraps web site here.