Purge temporary Internet files to boost computer 's speed

Ask Jim

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My laptop is about a year old and is be- coming slower and slower. I have heard people say that I need to delete things such as temporary Internet files, but I don't know how to safely do this. Can you give me any assistance?

- Lynn Harron

You heard right about how purging those temporary Internet files can put a bit of pep back in the old processors, so here is that drill: Open your Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser and then click on the item Tools at the top of the display. Then scroll down to Internet Options and select the tab General in the menu that appears.

Under Temporary Internet Files, you will find a Delete Files button that lets users get rid of the thousands of files that build up to do things such as run animated features on Web pages visited in the past and handle all sorts of display manipulations. These files not only slow down the hard drive but often get loaded into memory and thus slow down the computer even more.

By deleting them all, your machine will run faster, but you also will notice that doing stuff on the Web might seem slower, as the temporary files must be reloaded to make pages work. So, deleting temporary Internet files is something to do as a matter of routine maintenance as you balance the need for speed running programs versus quickly displaying Web pages.

Another simple way to speed things up is to make sure your computer runs the Windows hard-drive defragmentation utility fairly frequently. This utility rearranges all of the data on the hard drive so that related stuff is close together, thus reducing the distance the drive needs to move to call up programs and files of a given type.

Click on Start and the All Programs button in Windows XP, and then open the item called Accessories. Scroll down to the System Tools heading and with that open, select Disk Defragmenter. That brings up the Windows Managements Console's hard drive utility. You will find buttons there that let you check the drive to see how badly it has become scattered with data, and then you can order a rewriting of the hard drive's content to maximize efficiency.

Beyond these basic steps, there are more-complicated fixes that involve using the Microsoft Configuration Manager module to reduce the numbers of files that load into memory when the computer starts up.

Briefly, here is that drill:

Click on Start and then Run and type in "msconfig" and click OK. Look under the Startup tab in the next display to view and remove stuff that loads at each boot-up. These items can be removed using check boxes alongside each one. Paring them helps speed up a computer.

What causes my computer to recognize a USB thumb drive as an external floppy drive? I have had two thumb drives that the computer asks me to "insert disk" when we put them in. How do we fix that?

- Todd Anderson

Your problem lurks in a dangerous area called the computer's BIOS, Mr. A. This file of Basic Input Output Settings determines what hardware is recognized by the operating system and covers hard drives, floppy drives, USB external drives and those small sticks of memory called thumb drives (sometimes Jump drives) that have mostly replaced floppy drives as a way to move small amounts of data between machines.

But for reasons that elude even the experts, some computer hardware makers designed their machines so that any USB thumb drive smaller than 512 megabytes will appear as though it were a type of external floppy drive that plugs in to a USB port rather than just the stick of memory that it is.

So, you can either call up the BIOS file at boot up and take the risk of changing the HDD, or Hard Disk Drive, settings. (That could be ruinous if done incorrectly.). Or you can just get a 512-megabyte thumb drive. With prices for these drives falling, I recommend throwing a small amount of money at the problem rather than risking more by experimenting with the BIOS.


Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune. Contact him at or via snail mail at the Chicago Tribune, Room 400, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611.

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