Want to speed up your broadband connection? Diagnose mysterious crashes? Move massive files across the Internet? Sooner or later, you will — and you’ll find step-by-step instructions for these and other common PC tasks right here.
Find Out What Your PC Is Really Up To
The Windows Task Manager provides a good start when you try to discover what programs are running on your system, but it’s only a first step. For more-detailed data, you need another tool. Your best bet: Sysinternals Process Explorer (Microsoft acquired Sysinternals last year). Microsoft TechNet. It needs no formal installation; just unzip it and run the .exe file. It will then list your PC’s active processes, much as Task Manager does, but with better descriptions and organization.
Interpreting Process Explorer’s information is fairly straightforward (and killing processes works much as it does in Task Manager), but here are some tips to help you make the most of the utility.
- Consider adding the useful ‘Handles’ column to the view. Handles (a term that refers to programming methodology) are a convenient way to measure a process’s resource utilization. Processes with high handle usage should be the first ones you kill when resources run low. Add the column by right-clicking in the header area and clicking the Select Columns option. Click the Process Performance tab and check the box next to Handle Count.
- Note that Handles can also be created for media-based devices like CD-R drives, which may cause errors on eject. If you can’t safely eject a disk or memory card, use the Find menu to search for the drive letter followed by a colon (for example, E:), and kill that process directly.
- Instead of outright killing a process, you can suspend it (right-click on a process to see this option). This can be useful in the case of a runaway program stuck in an endless loop.
- Want to know what a program’s process identification is to better tell whether it’s friend or foe? Open the program, then switch to Process Explorer. In the top-right corner is a target icon (concentric circles). Click this icon and drag it onto the program you want to ID; Process Explorer will highlight the process.
Expand Your Collection of Windows-Tweaking Tools
Microsoft offers a sizable collection of useful yet unofficial and unsupported utilities called PowerToys. Following are the essential PowerToys for any serious computer user; all are downloadable from Microsoft’s PowerToys for Windows XP page.
- ClearType Tuner: Dramatically improves font legibility on some LCD screens.
- Image Resizer: Adds a new menu when you right-click a photo on your PC. Just click Resize Pictures to change an image’s dimensions without opening an editor.
- Tweak UI: If you don’t already have Tweak UI, get it. This essential OS tweaking tool offers more granular control over your privacy settings and operations, and even over the way you log in to your PC (plus much more). It should be one of the first things you install on any new computer.
- Alt-Tab Replacement: Adds previews of each page when you switch between open applications using <Alt>-<Tab>.
- SyncToy: Improves the task of synchronizing files among multiple machines, especially compared with Windows Briefcase.
Safeguard Your Wi-Fi Network
Out of the box, most Wi-Fi routers are totally insecure. Fixing that takes only a few minutes, but you can easily get lost in the confusing menus of your router’s management tool. Here’s what to do.
- If possible, plug in via ethernet to set up your router at the start–it’ll save considerable time down the line. Don’t bother installing the special software that comes with your router. Most routers can be controlled via a Web browser, which lets you manage your router from any networked PC.
- To manage the router, type its IP address into your Web browser’s address bar. If you don’t know the IP address, go to Start, Run and type ipconfig /all in the field. The address will be shown as ‘Default Gateway’. You’ll also need the user name and password available in the manual or via an online search of the model number. (Try looking at this Default Password List.)
- Once you can manage your router, change the administrator password you just looked up. This is typically under System Settings or a similar option.
- Next, turn on encryption. WPA (or WPA-PSK) is about as secure as Wi-Fi gets today. Set a WPA key, and configure your clients to use the new key. (If one of the devices on your network does not support the WPA version you want to use, though, you’ll have to go with a less secure method.) Look for ‘Encryption’ or ‘Security’ in the wireless management portion of the page (where you’ll also find the following steps’ settings).
- It’s a good idea to change the SSID from the default, which is usually ‘linksys’, ‘belkin’, or the like. Choose an SSID that doesn’t invite inquiry from passersby (like ‘broken’ instead of ‘janes-wifi’ or ‘123mainstreet’). For extreme security, turn off SSID broadcasting.
- Optional: Enable MAC address control, which limits access to computers you specify by their unique MAC address. This can enhance security, but MAC addresses are easily spoofed, and using this feature means you’ll have to access your router’s admin page to add new PCs to your network. To find a PC’s MAC address, use the ipconfig command in step 2; look for the ‘Physical Address’. Add that address to the allowed list in the appropriate router settings page.