15 Things Every PC User Should Know

Don't spend a bunch of money on dubious disk-cleaning software. Windows' built-in Disk Cleanup utility has all the cleaning power most users need.

8. Be skeptical of "cleaning" apps. Apps that make vague claims about improving your PC's performance and clearing out its clutter (Registry cleaners, I'm looking at you) will generally do more harm than good (if they do anything at all). To clean up your system, simply run Disk Cleanup (to reach it, select Start Menu, All programs, Accessories, System Tools); it comes with every Windows installation and it won't mess up your PC.

9. Uninstall your old apps. If you regularly download and install new apps from the Internet, you should get in the habit of pruning your collection every now and then. To do so, open the Programs and Features control panel, scroll through the list, and click Uninstall to ditch items you no longer want. You may need to take a trip into your C:/Program Files/ folder to hunt down a few additional unused apps. The less stuff you have on your PC, the less things are to go wrong.

10. Don't let a spilled drink ruin your laptop. If you keep your cool when a spill occurs, you may be able to prevent your data from disappearing and your motherboard from frying. Instead of panicking, quickly but methodically unplug the power cord and yank out the battery--don't wait for Windows to power off. Next, detach anything connected to the PC (network cables, USB devices) and pull out any readily removable components such as an optical drive. Tilt the laptop to try to drain the liquid in the direction that it spilled onto your PC, but be careful--you don't want to tilt the laptop in a direction that would allow the liquid to seep even deeper in. If you see liquid on the surface of the laptop, dab it off with a towel. At this point, unless you're comfortable disassembling your PC and cleaning it with electronics cleaner, you'll probably want to take it to a tech.

11. Turn down UAC. Both Windows 7 and Windows Vista include a security function called User Account Control, which dims the screen and flashes a dialog box whenever you install an app or change your system settings. Though this arrangement can be useful for catching sneaky apps that are trying to install or change things without your knowledge, it can also be annoying. If you use Vista, grab TweakUAC to make it less annoying without turning it off. If you use Windows 7, the default settings aren't too bad, but I recommend that you go into the User Accounts control panel, click User Account Control settings, and change the setting to the third notch down, so UAC will still warn you but it won't dim the screen.

12. Don't work in your admin account. Many PC users are accustomed to doing their everyday work while logged in to their PC's administrator account--especially in Windows XP. Doing so can save you the hassle of having to log in and out when you want to install apps or make changes, but it also leaves you much more vulnerable to viruses and malware--so don't do it.

The Control Panel is far easier to navigate when you can see all the icons at a glance.
13. Keep your Control Panel in Icon View. The Control Panel's Categories view can be useful if you're intimidated by the many different options available, but it can also make finding what you're looking for more difficult (especially if you're following detailed instructions that refer to the control panels by name). Click Classic view on the left (in Vista) or choose Large Icons from the View by dropdown menu in the upper right (in Windows 7), and you'll have ready access to all of the control panels.

Limit the clutter in your system tray by paring down the list of icons that occupy it.
14. Clear your system tray. Apps often park themselves in the system tray (the row of icons on the right side of your taskbar) and stay open without your realizing it. Take the time to clear it out occasionally. Open the Notification Area Icons control panel, and check the box on the bottom that says Always show all icons and notifications on the taskbar to get a sense of how cluttered your system tray is; then right-click each one you don't need and choose Close. Your RAM will thank you.

15. Manage your power settings. If you're using a laptop, you'll want to know how to change your power settings so your PC doesn't waste battery when you need to conserve it, doesn't slow down when you need to go fast, and doesn't go to sleep at an inopportune moment. Open the Power Options control panel, and choose from among several presets containing different configurations for when you're plugged in and when you're mobile--or feel free to create your own. To access the advanced settings, click Change plan settings, Change advanced settings; there you'll find detailed options related to your battery, Wi-Fi radio, graphics card, and more.

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