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Tech tips

7 DIY tools for fixing PC problems

Months go by, and Windows works. Then, out of nowhere, your computer slows down. Files don’t open right away. Programs freeze or shut down. Your system probably needs some TLC, but what should you do?

You don’t want to throw away your computer, although if it is slow, doesn’t meet the latest operating system (OS) requirements or is making strange noises, it may be time to say goodbye.

You struggle to pinpoint the exact problem when Windows gets fidgety. It could be internet issues or unknown malware, or – it happens too often – an irrelevant program is performing complex background tasks.

Sometimes it’s an easy fix. You can run software programs that scan your hard drive and flag files and folders for deletion, such as Uninstall View, a free app that may help speed up your PC.

Other free tools, such as the ones I outlined here, are in every tech pro’s arsenal. It’s vital that you download these directly from the developers and official websites, not from a third-party. The reason is that you may install junk, which may worsen your already unpleasant Windows situation.

1. Free task manager and system monitor for Windows

Microsoft’s free Process Explorer helps you diagnose whether a program has a particular file or directory open. The program shows you information about which handles and DLLs (dynamic link library, or in instructions for other applications) processes have opened or loaded.

The software has two sub-windows; the top displays a list of the active processes, including the owner’s accounts. The bottom window is dependent on the Process Explorer’s options. Be sure to check the DLL mode which you’ll see the DLLs and memory-mapped files that the process has loaded.

2. Identify Wi-Fi problems with this free app

Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Analyzer is a free app that finds the best Wi-Fi channel or the best place for your router/access-point using your PC, laptop, tablet or mobile device. The basic version is completely ad-free. The pro version features include Live-Tile support, a beeper for signal strength, lock screen rotation, and the ability to change signal strength borders.

3. Find what devices connect to your network

The free app Angry IP Scanner works with Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. This software provides a fast IP address and port scanner. Use it to find out what devices use your home or business Wi-Fi.

Angry IP scans ranges of IP addresses and any of their ports then will ping them to see if they’re “alive.” It can optionally resolve the hostname, determine the MAC address, and more. It can save these results to CSV, TXT, XML, or IP-Port list files. The application can also be outfitted with the help of plugins to gather information about scanned IPs.

4. View disk usage stats and clean up your hard drive

The free WinDirStat can run on any version Windows, dating back to Windows 95. This application views disk usage statistics, and it doubles as a cleanup tool. On startup, WinDirStat reads the whole directory tree.

The directory list looks like the “tree view” of the Windows Explorer, but it’s sorted by file/subtree size, the treemap, and the extension list, which serves as a legend and shows statistics about the file types.

You can also use the treemap, which represents each file as a colored rectangle. The rectangles are arranged so that directories again make up rectangles, which contain all their files and subdirectories. So their area is proportional to the size of the subtrees. The color of a rectangle indicates the type of the file, as shown in the extension list. This helps you easily visualize the content of your hard drive and the space used.

5. Monitor, manage and troubleshoot Windows operating system

If you only get one free tool on this entire list, make it Sysinternals Suite. This free utility bundle is available from Microsoft.

The Suite includes the following: Autologon, Autoruns, BlueScreen, CacheSet, ClockRes, DebugView, DiskMon, DiskView, Disk Usage (DU), ListDLLs, LogonSessions, PageDefrag, PortMon, ProcDump, Process Explorer, Process Monitor, Registry Usage (RU), Sysmon, TCPView, VMMap, VolumeID, WhoIs, WinObj and others.

You could say the Sysinternals Suite is Microsoft’s catchall, which can handle a good 80% of your troubleshooting needs.

6. Deeply clean your hard drive

For years, I have personally used this program to clean up other people’s machines. Malwarebytes allows you to not only scan memory but also clean deeply into the hard drive, including cookies and registry.

Malwarebytes is designed to detect malware, stop attacks in real-time, shield vulnerable systems, block ransomware attacks, and prevent access to malicious websites.

7. Debug Microsoft-related technologies

Debug Diagnostics Tool is another free Microsoft utility that helps you to troubleshoot issues such as system hangs, slow performance, memory leaks or memory fragmentation and crashes in any user-mode process. The tool incorporates built-in analysis rules focused on internet information services (IIS) applications, web data access components, COM+, SharePoint and related Microsoft technologies.

While doing your spring cleaning, check to see if Microsoft’s free Windows Defender is running on your computer, but some older machines (Windows 7, for example) may not support it. In that case, you might find the free ZoneAlarm firewall to be a good solution.

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