Author Topic: What Makes An Old PC Sick  (Read 3064 times)

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Offline Donald Darden

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What Makes An Old PC Sick
« on: February 02, 2008, 09:19:04 AM »
You get a new PC, and it runs slick and clean like a whistle.  Then to protect it,, you install various programs or suites to block, detect, and remove malware.  You add productive applications and games, and create new things with it.  Over time you notice that it slows down.  You assume that this is inevitable, and you are probably right.  But then you reach a point where you look at you Add/Remove Software, and you only vaguely recognize some of the things you have installed there.  If you venture further, looking under Add/Remove Hardware, and enabling show hidden devices as well, we can probably see some things installed there that you would hardly expect.  And others that you recognize, but which are no longer installed on your system.

What is all this?  Well, it seems that some software installs itself as a device driver, but is not really specific to a device.  Other drivers install themselves as a result of plug-n-play, but because your system doesn't know about some things being used temporarily, the drivers remain long after the device has been discarded.

I've had some practice with using Add/Remove Software and Add/Remove Hardware to rid myself of unnecessary or unwanted software and drivers.  It can be a bit tricky at times, and lead to occasional instabilities.  Things can happen like windows may freeze up, forcing you to poiwer off in order to get it to reboot, or you may reboot and find that your screen resolution has reverted to VGA 640x480 and 16 colors.  And after the reboot, Plug N Play may go crazy for awhile with finding new hardsware and wanting to reinstall it.  This can be disconcerting, especially if Plug N Play wants access to some information that it apparently had before, but now wants a path to a place where to acquire it as part of a reinstall.

Here are a few tips that might help you in this situation.  First, you know that you had the stuff installed and working before, right?  So it is all in there, somewhere.  Places some of the files likely end up are in \WINNT\System32 for .SYS files, and \WINNT\Help for Help files, and \WINNT\Inf for .INF files, and so on.  Now the problem is, if Windows is given the target directory as also the source directory, it will get an error in trying to copy those files over onto themselves.  There are a couple of things you can do about that.  First, you can pause the process of installing new hardware and use Search to see if you can find the file somewhere else on your system.  If you can, you can just give that as the source and continue on.  But if you can't, you can copy the file out to a temporary (or permanent) folder and give that as a source.  In some cases, when asked for a source, if you click on Cancel, the system will ask you if you want to continue setting up the hardware without copying the file.  And you may also see warnings of trying to copy over an older file onto a newer one (usually you want to keep the newer one).

You can also set up special folders to house these files against a future need.  For instance, you might be trying to recover the installed drivers for your graphics card, and ask the system asks for a source, you create a folder that you call VIDEO and copy them over into it.  If you ever have to do this again, you just give VIDEO as the source directory, saving some future time and effort.

I would suggest that you back up your system before getting into something like this, because you can have unexpected repercussions, and you may get to a point where you decide just to put everything back as it was.  One scary thing that can happen is for conflicting video modes to occur simultaneously.  For instance, you may see your desktop with its icons, but no background, just white, and remnants of other windows, dialogues, and folder contents here and there.  Robooting into Safe Mode makes it look alright, but each reboot into normal mode may show the same problem.  This can happen if you check you have Show Web Content On My Active Desktop checked.  You may not have had it checked before, but during the period of instability it somehow got set.

One surprising thing about trying to get rid of some outdated drivers is that you may suddenly see your recovered PC performing with some of its own spark and speed.  In fact, if you experienced some problems with getting Windows to correctly recognize some of your hardware, the spate of Plug N Play activity may show you that some of these problems got cleared up in the process.  Your recovered PC may actually perform better than you were prepared to expect.

And don't forget, that it isn't always about getting your hardware to work with outmoded drivers.  This could be a good time to visit the vender site and see if there have been any software updates for your product.  And if you grab those, you certainly want to put them where you can find them again in the future.  There are sites that promote the idea of users sharing drivers, but often these are not current with what the vender offers, and some are poorly documented or supported.  Try checking out the vender sites as your preferred option.

Almost always, one or more devices will show up as Unknown or something generic, like PCI Device.  IF there is a yellow question mark or red marked out circle posted, you know that the device is not working or reporting correctly.  Unfortunately, Windows doesn't convey much information about what this device might be or where it is installed.  I've read that you can find supporting information in the Registry under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SYSTEM/ControlSet001/ENUM.  Well, I looked, but it did not really harrow things down for me.  But I found that if I deleted these using Add/Remove Hardware, sometimes they went away without complaiining, and sometimes they refused to be removed, and sometimes they seem to contiibute to the next ijnstability sequence, which meant working with Plug N Play to get it woriking right again after the PC was restarted.

This all really fits into the category of uncertainty and experimentation, but when I am not happy with the way my PC is working, it seems to be called for from time to time.  But I would not attempt it without a game plan for getting my PC restored to a functional state if my efforts go badly.