We kicked off Part 1 of this blockbuster feature by focusing on a range of general PC tune up tools, and went on to talk about some great application and start up optimization downloads.
Then in Part 2 we discussed several effective hard disk cleaning and backup utilities as well as tools that can help you get the most of the Internet and your network.
The focus on Part 3 is security optimization for if your PC is infected with malware, it runs at less than its peak.
If you have a sluggish system that seems to go on the fritz regularly, an infection may be the cause. Use the programs listed below to kill infections and stop them from attacking your machine in the first place.
Security Optimization tools
Comodo Firewall Pro
This excellent free firewall has been rated as one of the top firewalls by the independent testing site Matousec, which found that it has the highest level of “anti-leak” protection (in essence, a measurement of a firewall’s effectiveness). It offers two-way protection, and a great view into your system and your Internet connection as well.
Download Comodo Firewall Pro | Price: Free
A lightweight freebie, Avast won’t weigh down your system by consuming too many resources or RAM–yet it does a great job of killing viruses and live-scanning for them. It also scans e-mail (including Web-based e-mail) for viruses, and offers protection against instant-messaging viruses, peer-to-peer dangers, and other threats.
Download Avast | Price: Free
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
AVG’s excellent free antivirus software is similarly prudent with your system resources and RAM. It’s simple to use and easily configurable, and it protects your machine. What else could you want?
Download AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition | Price: Free
Keep your system in top running form by stopping the installation of ActiveX-based malware and other types of spyware. A particularly useful feature is the System Snapshot, which will take a snapshot of your PC so that if it gets infected, you can revert to a clean version.
Download SpywareBlaster | Price: Free
Spybot Search & Destroy
A longtime favorite free program, Spybot offers live protection from spyware installation, and scans your system for preexisting spyware and kills it. The software has a restore function, as well.
Download Spybot Search & Destroy | Price: Free
Using more than one antispyware scanner is a good idea. So even if you have another, this free one, which has been around for years, is worth trying. It does a great job of scanning, and it lets you put potentially damaging software in a quarantine area, where you can later restore the item if it isn’t dangerous.
Download Ad-Aware 2008 | Price: Free
Trend Micro HijackThis
If you think your PC is infected with spyware, but your spyware killer can’t track it down, try this freebie. After HijackThis analyzes your Registry and file settings, it creates a log file, which you can upload to a HijackThis Web forum for the community to analyze. Unless you’re an expert, you should not try to use this tool to fix problems.
Download Trend Micro HijackThis | Price: Free
Another effective way to optimize your PC is to tweak Windows’ interface and behavior to your liking. All of these programs will get the job done.
If you run Vista, this utility is an excellent way to tweak the OS. Through its simple interface you can customize many Vista features. Turn off the dreaded User Account Control, customize the power button, disable or enable the Aero environment, change the behavior of Windows Updates, and more.
Download Vista4Experts| Price: Free
This program offers countless options for tweaking Windows. It can change the icons for various system features, create a custom desktop-shortcut arrow, change how Windows Explorer looks and works, tweak your network connection, hide menus, customize the Start menu, and adjust Windows security, just for starters.
Download MagicTweak | Price: $40 (Shareware)
Give your PC a Mac OS X-like dock, a customized bar of icons that puts frequently used programs at your fingertips. Place it at the top, bottom, or side of your screen, and you get instant access to your favorite programs and features.
Download RocketDock | Price: Free
Vista users who want to juice up the OS’s performance or its looks should give this tool a spin. You can optimize numerous aspects of your system, including its RAM, cache, and hard disk. The utility also manages startup and shutdown, cleans your system, improves your security, and customizes how your network functions.
Download Vista Manager | Price: $40 (Shareware)
Auslogics Visual Styler
Through this simple-to-use program, you can make Windows work the way you want and gain instant access to deeply hidden Windows customization features. For example, you can change icon resolution, size, spacing, and shortcut arrows. And a wallpaper changer rotates the scenery displayed every time your PC starts.
Download Auslogics Visual Styler| Price: $25 (Trial)
Miscellaneous Optimization Tools
You have plenty of other ways to optimize your PC. Following are some great all-around optimizers that give details on your system configuration, keep your drivers up-to-date, and manage your PC’s power use.
Before you start optimizing your PC, you need to know your system’s exact configuration. That’s where the free Belarc Advisor comes in. It tells you everything you need to know–and far more. Of course, in this program you’ll find the computer manufacturer, installed RAM, hard-disk size, processor type and speed, and so on, but that’s only the beginning. You’ll also see the motherboard maker, hard-disk manufacturer, chassis serial number, PC service tag, bus type and speed, multimedia devices, and plenty of other details. The program goes beyond a hardware inventory, too, giving information about your Windows installation, including user accounts, security hotfixes that are installed or missing, and a list of all the software on your machine.
Download Belarc Advisor | Price: Free
Keeping drivers up-to-date helps your system stay in top shape, but if you don’t correctly remove old versions, you can experience system instability, slowdowns, and crashes. Driver Sweeper finds old drivers and deletes them. It also backs them up if you need to restore them.
Download Driver Sweeper | Price: Free
A monitoring tool–software that can show you overall system use–is essential for optimizing a PC. This nifty little freebie tracks RAM, CPU, Internet, and hard-disk use, and shows everything on your desktop in four small colored boxes. (Reading the information in the boxes is tough, so hover your mouse over them.) You’ll see statistics such as the percentage of your CPU currently being used, and even the usage of individual cores on multicore PCs.
Download Performance Monitor | Price: Free
Consider this: If you don’t use the power settings on your PC, you’re spewing hundreds of pounds of unnecessary carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, a result of the electricity you waste.
But Windows’ power-setting controls are as confusing to use as the tax code, you object. We agree–but we also have a solution for you. The free, simple-to-use Edison helps you change and manage your power settings. No need to fiddle around with Windows: Just move a slider or two, click a few buttons, and you’re ready to go. You could just stay with the defaults, too.
How much might you save? When we used its default power settings on our laptop, Edison claimed we would save 359.63 kilowatt hours of electricity in a year (which adds up to $32) and 490.17 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Download Edison | Price: Free
This freebie, like Edison, helps you cut your PC’s electricity use. You can easily edit settings such as when your PC automatically turns off or goes into hibernation, and when your hard disks spin down. The program also displays the amount of energy, trees, gallons of oil, or kilowatt hours you’ve saved.
Download LocalCooling | Price: Free
Windows Memory Diagnostic
If you find your PC crashing frequently, the culprit may be bad RAM. This free software from Microsoft performs a comprehensive test and tells you whether the RAM or the memory system on your motherboard is faulty. It’s built into Vista, too: Click Start, type memory in the search field, and then click Memory Diagnostics Tool.
Download Windows Memory Diagnostic | Price: Free