Q: Our computer is about twoplus years old and seems to be slowing down. I (checked) the Task Manager and (have) 62 processes. Now I need to know if a person can clean up his own computer, and what is involved in doing that, or do I need to take it to a professional? — Arnold
A: In nearly a decade of writing my advice column, I have never had the kind of response that last week’s column generated.
I attribute that to two factors: Most of you have computers that are overrun with unnecessary processes, and I didn’t give any advice on the cleanup process (my bad!).
The reality of the cleanup process is that I can’t give a short, specific answer that will cover every situation.
But I can give you basic instructions that will help you determine whether you have the means to clean up your own system or you should consult a professional.
Professionals will be able to determine the necessary processes quicker because they do it every day.
But if you are willing to spend the time to learn what each of the processes relates to, you could potentially reduce the number of processes you have running by yourself.
The first thing you need to look at is the list of processes by clicking on the Processes tab in the Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del in Windows XP, 2000 & NT only — not supported in 98 or ME).
These processes will all have strange names followed by SYSTEM, LOCAL SERVICE, NETWORK SERVICE or the name of the current user.
Items that have either LOCAL SERVICE or NETWORK SERVICE listed are generally core components of Windows and should be left alone.
The items that are listed as SYSTEM or the current user are the most likely to be the grime that you will want to remove.
Here is where the real work comes in; you will have to figure out what each of the processes does by searching the process name in Google.
For example, svchost.exe is a common process that is part of Windows, and if you search Google you will see that it is the “Microsoft Service Host Process” and should be left alone.
As you go through the list, you will start to see that some of the processes are related to specific programs or are known spyware or adware that can be removed.
This is when you would go to the Add/Remove programs section of the Control Panel to see if there is an uninstall option.
If the program is one that you want to keep but you don’t want it to automatically load at startup, you would need to look at the options or preferences of that program to tell it to no longer load at startup.
Many companies sell programs that claim that they can clean up your computer for you, but there are two potential problems with these programs.
The first is that it will remove something that is necessary or something you want, without asking you.
The second is that it will skip over anything that it does not recognize, which results in your system retaining malware that should be removed.
The scum that writes malicious codes such as spyware and adware know how to hide from these cleanup programs and avoid being removed.
So if you use one, be sure to do a manual inspection afterward.
If all of this work is too complicated or just too time-consuming, consult a professional!