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Issue #288: January 27, 2013

Q: Over the past few years I have found that over time a PC can become bogged down and run slow even if all your cleaning and regular maintenance suggestions are followed. Well, being brave, or stupid, I “formatted” my hard drive and “presto” the PC ran super fast, good as new again. I’ve done this on two PCs that have XP. Success !

I believe that I used System Restore or maybe System Recovery. I can’t remember which. The amazing thing to me was that I had no backup discs DVDs or CDs. The OS did not get deleted, just all the programs that had been added. I had purposely saved important files. To my amazement, the original OS and bloatware came back just like when the computer was new.  My sister in law has a 4 year old PC with Vista and I’d like to help speed her up with the same procedure. Will this work with Vista? Can you help?? 

Tom B.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  Sure I can, Tom.  I’m going to start by explaining to you what actually happened when you fixed-up your old machine.

First of all, your description of what happens to a PC over time is absolutely accurate.  There are several reasons that this happens.  The Windows Registry is often a culprit.  So many things get stored in the registry, and Windows has to access it so often, that over time it gets bloated and access to it slows down, affecting the performance of your entire system.  Some programs claim to be able to sweep out the bloat, but there is no real way they can possibly know everything that can be removed, so at best, they can only remove a portion of the stuff that’s causing the problems.  Another primary source of problems is undetected malware.  Most people believe that their virus scanner will block most if not all malware that attacks their computer, but oftentimes that’s just not the case.  It’s been my experience that almost every computer connected to the Internet has at least a couple of pieces of malware onboard, and these can take up a substantial amount of a computer’s resources.

Formatting your drive and restoring your operating system is just about the only sure way to remove all the problems that cause age-related slowdowns in a computer.  You’re mistaken in thinking that the OS didn’t get deleted.  When you formatted your drive, everything – including the operating system – was erased.  However, the System Restore you performed put it back.  System Restore quite literally returns your computer back to the identical configuration it had when it left the factory.  It restores everything, including the stuff that you referred to as “bloatware”.  Remember how fast your computer was when it was new?  That’s how it runs after a restore operation, at least until Windows begins to install all the operating system updates and patches that have been released over time (and there can be a lot of them).  These are necessary for your system’s security and stability, but might slow it down a bit.

To anyone thinking of trying this to speed-up their system, be sure and read Tom’s e-mail carefully.  Note that he backed-up all his important data files before he started, and obviously he has copies of all his software so he can reinstall it afterwards.  As far as your sister-in-law’s computer, Tom, such a restore procedure works regardless of the operating system version, as long as the computer’s manufacturer configured it with a recovery service.  Almost all makers of modern PCs do this, but there are exceptions.  Check for the existence of the recovery option before you begin.  Your other alternative is to simply install Windows from scratch after the drive is formatted.  This assumes you have an original Windows CD and license key, and that you’ll have access to the manufacturer-specific device drivers for your computer.

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