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Issue #99: June 14, 2009

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Q: When my husband boots up his computer, something runs in the background for about 10 minutes, making it impossible to open up anything, particularly his browser.  If he opens up the Task Manager, it indicates there’s nothing on.  It’s not the virus checker because there’s no icon at the bottom indicating it’s running and it’s not showing in the Task Manager.  I’ve looked at the processes on the Task Manager, but can’t see anything that shouldn’t be running.  At that point, I’ve exhausted my knowledge and nerve.

He gets lots of junk mail and opens it.  No telling what all is sitting on his computer.  I’ve even suspected he’s been hijacked, but don’t know how to tell (I know just enough to be dangerous).  I told him he should take it, as I do with mine every year, to a technician, have his hard drive wiped/reformatted, and reinstall the programs he wants.  This works for me, speeds up my machine, gets rid of the accumulated garbage, etc.  So far, he hasn’t taken this advice.

What do you think he should do?  How can we tell what it is that’s running so long in the background?  I know you can’t recommend a computer tech officially, but will you unofficially?

– Kay B.
Bluewater Bay, FL

A: The Windows task manager will show you application programs that are currently running, but there are a whole slew of other processes that don’t place an icon in your Taskbar, and don’t show up in the Task Manager.  I hesitate to give advice beyond this point, because anyone reading this who is not a technician is likely to end up with far more information than he or she will know what to do with.  In other words, the next steps are going to answer the question “What is running on my computer?” but will very likely create 20 new questions, like “What is qttask?” and “What is rundll32?”.  So, if you decide to proceed beyond this point, be prepared to do some research to answer the bevy of questions you’re sure to unleash.

To see the items your computer runs at startup, you use the System Configuration Utility provided with Windows.  Click Start->Run… (or, if you’re a real Geek, hit <WinKey>+R), type in MSCONFIG, and click OK.  Applications that run when your system boots are listed on the “Startup” tab.  Also, be sure and check out the “Services” tab, and note the ones with a status of “Running”.  These are active on your computer right now, but you’re unlikely to find them in the Task Manager because services generally run in the background.  MSCONFIG gives you the ability to disable any service or Startup application you desire, but I urge you to use caution in doing so unless you know what you’re doing.

Your strategy of taking your system in for a professional cleaning sounds like a very sound practice.  If you’re happy with the job your current tech is doing for you, I wouldn’t want to try and steer you to someone new.  So, at the risk of incurring the wrath of Geek Husbands out there, my advice to your husband is to follow his wife’s example and have a technician give his machine a professional going-over to see whether they can improve the performance.

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