NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2010
Clean Your Hard Drive of Junk Files and
Improve Performance

By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)

http://www.piriform.com (CCleaner)
http://thewebatom.net (System Ninja and CCEnhancer)

In what has become a common task for me, earlier this afternoon I was called to a co-workers home to repair his computer. He called me this morning, and using a desperate voice, told me that his computer had crashed and his wife had a lot of computer work to do. I agreed to go over there after lunch.

Upon arriving at his home, I was ushered into his dining room, which as in many homes has evolved into the computer room. There, sitting in the corner by the window, was his computer and printer. The computer was just a few years old, name brand box, dual-core processor, adequate RAM (2 gigs), Vista Home Premium (32bit) with service packs and updates installed, and a 100 gig hard drive. It was protected by the premium name-brand security suite that I had installed earlier this year. The first thing I checked was to see if the security suite was updated and active, or if it had been neutralized by malware; it appeared to be live, well, and up to date, with about six months remaining on the subscription. I did a quick scan with one of the updated security utilities that I carry on my keychain flash drive, and other than some tracking cookies, it was clean of malware, but was extremely slow in responding to commands, opening windows, and running software. I checked the startup list using MSCONFIG, and there was no evidence of malware, but there were a few unnecessary items in the startup that I unchecked, but none of which would account for the poor performance. I performed the other routine checks and found that the hard drive was cluttered and nearly full, a factor that could possibly compromise the ability of the system to utilize virtual memory because it could not quickly read and write the swap files. I decided to clean the hard drive.

My primary software of choice to clean a cluttered hard drive is the wildly popular CCleaner (A href="http://www.piriform.com">http://www.piriform.com), an excellent free utility that has been downloaded over 500 million times. I downloaded and installed the latest version of CCleaner, but rather than use the default settings, which would heavily and thoroughly clean the hard drive, I choose not to delete browser history, cookies, auto-complete data, and other relatively small items, but instead chose to clean large items such as the Recycle Bin, temporary files, browser cache, clipboard, memory dumps, old prefetch data, and other useless files. I have written in the past several times about CCleaner, and its other features, including a registry cleaner, so there is not much else to say about it, other than it is a great and most useful utility.

Several months ago a programmer named Shane Gowland released an add-on for CCleaner that greatly enhances its capabilities by adding over 250 additional programs to those scanned by CCleaner for obsolete, out of date, and other useless junk files. He aptly named his plug-in CCEnhancer (thewebatom.net/programs/ccleaner-enhancer). This listing, which is periodically updated, only adds to the CCleaner list of programs to be cleaned those programs found on the computer by CCEnhancer. On my computer, CCEnhancer added about 50 programs to the list to be cleaned, but apparently only increased the time to scan for junk files by a few seconds. It would be a good practice to run a hard drive cleaning utility prior to performing a security scan, as there may be thousands of fewer files to scan for malware, which may save the user a lot of time.

Using the CCleaner with the CCEnhancer on my coworker's computer found almost two gigs of junk files on his hard drive. When cleaned of the junk files, there was a noticeable improvement in the performance of his computer. I just ran it on my computer, which I try to keep clean, and it found 829.8 megs of junk files which I removed. The number of junk files found and removed would have been higher, perhaps a full gig total, but I had Firefox open when I ran CCleaner such that it could not clean my Firefox files.

Not to sit on his laurels, Shane Gowland recently released a new comprehensive hard drive cleaner that is a free-standing product, and does not require CCleaner. This product is aptly named "System Ninja" and is a super disk cleaner which will heavily compete against CCleaner. According to its website (thewebatom.net/programs/system-ninja), "System Ninja is a program for cleaning your computer of unwanted junk that constantly slows your entire system down. System Ninja features a fast and powerful file cleaner, Startup Manager, Process Manager and Startup Log Generator, plus several useful tools such as CCEnhancer, FileAnalyzr and MalRunDestroyer."

The System Ninja file cleaner uses a tab labeled "Junk Files" which will selectively remove Windows temporary files, other .tmp files, thumbnail caches, some game caches, obsolete Windows log files, memory dumps, and other useless and obsolete files. Using a checklist on the right side of the window, the user can select which files to remove. Personally, I choose not to delete cookies and history files, so I uncheck those boxes. I ran the System Ninja File Cleaner immediately after running CCleaner (with CCEnhancer) and it found 5553 junk files that were previously missed.

While the classical way of cleaning the Windows startup is to use the integral MSCONFIG command, System Ninja incorporates a comprehensive startup manager that allows the user to control what programs load at boot, a known factor that can significantly improve performance and reduce conflicts and crashes. While many other startup managers only mimic what MSCONFIG shows, System Ninja shows additional items that start when booted, including those listed as Run, RunOnce and Scheduled Tasks files and registry keys.

For those who are curious and would like to control any processes that are running while the computer is running, this software offers a Process Manager that allows the user to control what is running. An adjunct to the Process Manager is "MalRun Destroyer", and integral utility that will scan the running processes for malware, viruses, Trojans, and other threats, and immediately terminate the threats using an updated database of threats and other malware.

Under the tab "More Tools" are a Folder Junk Cleaner, Boot Log Generator, File Analyzr, and CCEnhancer. The File Analyzr generates detailed information about any selected files, creates hashes (unique digital fingerprints), and checks online to determine if a file is infected.

These products, CCleaner, CCEnhancer, and System Ninja should be used by most computer users to clean their hard drives, and improve performance. Piriform and Shane Gowland should be commended for releasing these excellent freeware products. I now use all of these programs regularly, and can highly recommend them.

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