The biggest culprits of a slow computer are those applications sitting in the background sucking up resources. These can be old applications that you’ve installed, but they can also be caused by free software installing software that you don’t really want – called potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) – or even hidden malware or crypto hijackers sucking up resources. Even for software that you find useful, there’s a danger that it’s affecting your machine’s performance by installing a startup item.

You can get a rough idea of how many startup items you have by clicking the up arrow next to the clock to view the Notification Area. If this is full of icons, then you’ve probably got a problem; what’s more, not all applications show an icon, so this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Here, we’ll show you how to detect bad software, clear out old applications and remove startup items to get your computer back into a better state.

Install Unchecky

Before you start, it’s worth installing Unchecky (unchecky.com). This automatically prevents many installers from selecting additional software to install, preventing additional bloatware and adware from being installed behind your back.

Unchecky will help keep your computer free of unwanted software automatically
Unchecky will help keep your computer free of unwanted software automatically

Delete unwanted applications

Windows 10 gives you two methods of installing the software: via the official Windows Store, or the traditional way, running an installer that you’ve downloaded or have on disc. You can use the Windows Apps & Features, part of the Settings menu, to remove both types of software. However, you can only handle one item at a time, which makes it rather time-consuming to remove lots of applications. Instead, you can get IObit Uninstaller, which will perform a more thorough job. You can download IObit Uninstaller Free from iobit.com – it’s located under Products, Optimization. When you install it, make sure you don’t select the option to install the Opera browser or any other utility. Once installed, run the Uninstaller. Under the Programs section, you can see all of the applications that are installed on your computer. Using our checklist (see ‘What should you remove?’, opposite), you can tick the boxes next to software you don’t want,then click Uninstall. IObit Uninstaller will now remove each bit of software one by one.

IObit Uninstaller makes it easy to remove multiple applications in one go
IObit Uninstaller makes it easy to remove multiple applications in one go

You’ll then see a dialog box telling you that a Restore point will be created and that residual files will be removed, so leave these options and click Uninstall. The rest of IObit Uninstaller lets you handle Browser toolbars and extensions, and can help you update other software. It’s safe to ignore these options, and we recommend removing IObit Uninstaller once you’re done, as it will spam you with messages to use other IObit software (the peril of using free software rears its head here, too). Instead, use the Windows tools to remove software in future, keeping on top of applications you no longer need.

Organize Startup items

Once you’ve removed the applications you don’t want, the ones that you do want can still suck up precious resources. To prevent applications starting with Windows, press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to bring up the Windows Task Manager. Click the More details option at the bottom, then click the Start-up tab. You can sort the list by startup impact, highlighting the applications that are slowing down your computer the most. To find out what a startup item does, right-click it and select Search online.

 

You can control what applications start with Windows easily
You can control what applications start
with Windows easily

To stop a startup item running, right-click it and choose Disable. Generally, you should keep any Microsoft applications running, as well as any apps that are clearly to do with your hardware (graphics drivers, motherboard utilities and the like). Stop any applications from auto-loading that you don’t use regularly and would prefer to launch manually. Don’t worry: if you stop a key utility from running, you can go back to this screen and re-enable it.

Delete adware and PUPs

As well as malware, there’s adware and other PUPs that can install themselves on your computer and slow it down. Adware can change system settings and insert adverts into web pages, and can be hard to remove. Other PUPs are often installed by accident when you install free software and can have a negative impact on system performance. Most security software can now detect adware and PUPs, although you have to find and select the option. To find and remove existing adware, run the free portable program AdwCleaner from tinyurl.com/DownloadAdwCleaner. Run the downloaded application (it doesn’t need installing). Click I agree on the first dialog box, then click the Scan button to search your PC for adware, Trojans, browser hijackers and more. If it finds anything malicious, click the Clean button to remove the software. Reboot your computer and re-run the scan to be sure that everything has gone.

AdwCleaner is simple to use, and it will remove a lot of malicious software
AdwCleaner is simple to use, and it will remove a lot of malicious software

Even this won’t find everything, so run Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free (tinyurl. com/AntiMalwareFreeDownload). Run the file you downloaded to install the software. When you click Finish at the end of the installation, Anti-Malware will start automatically. Click the Scan button to start scanning your computer. If it detects malware, you can click Review Detected Items to investigate the infection while the scan is still running. You can then remove selected items safely and completely by clicking Quarantine Selected at the end of the scan.

Anti-Malware Free can remove dodgy software from your computer
Anti-Malware Free can
remove dodgy software from
your computer

Unwanted software can cause a lot of damage that isn’t undone when you remove the offending software. As such, clearing up at the end is vital. The best way to do this is with Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit Beta (tinyurl. com/AntiRootkitBeta). Download and extract the software to your Desktop (this is the default option). Open up the mbar folder on your Desktop. If you want to scan for hidden malware, run the mbar.exe application. To fix the damage done to your computer and restore default settings, go to the Plugins folder and run FixDamage. This will start a new Command Line window; typing Y will get FixDamage to restore Windows’ main settings back to their default.

FixDamage can restore Windows back to its default settings, fixing any errors that malicious and junk software may have caused
FixDamage can restore Windows back to its default settings, fixing any errors that malicious and junk software may have caused