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A+: Verifying Hardware Details

Windows System Information gives information about your hardware; launch it with {Win-R}msinfo32.exe{Enter}. The earlier winmsd can still be run on Window XP and 2000 as well as msinfo32.

Belarc Advisor is a free download at http://www.belarc.com/free_download.html . It’s extremely quick and painless; all you need to do is double-click it once the download is complete. It will automatically install, look for updates, and create a profile of your computer that runs in a browser window. Here you will find all of the hardware-related (and software-related) information on one screen. It also gives you system security status.

SiSoftware Sandra Lite can also be found at http://www.sisoftware.co.uk .

The Windows 7 Compatibility Center is at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/compatibility/ and the Windows Logo’d Products List (formerly the HCL) can be found at  http://winqual.microsoft.com/HCL/Default.aspx?m=x

For computers without an installed operating system, use self-booting diagnostic programs such as

    • #1-TuffTEST (available from http://www.tufftest.com/)

    • PC Check (available from http://www.eurosoft-uk.com)

The Windows Vista DVD has a “Check compatibility online” option, but this is meant for upgrades as opposed to clean installations. More on this in the section titled “Upgrading Operating Systems” later in this chapter.



A+: Windows Minimum Requirements

Any system built in the last few years can easily achieve the hardware requirements needed for installing Windows Vista or 7 and will far surpass the requirements of Windows XP. However, in the real world, digital dinosaurs that might not be fast enough or have enough free disk space to support some versions of Windows still roam the earth  (and for those, there's Linux).

Minimum official specs

        CPU - RAM - HD Free - Other

7 (64bit) 1GHz - 2GB - 20GB free - DirectX 9 video, WDDM 1 or better

7 (32bit) 1GHz - 1GB - 16GB free - DirectX 9 video, WDDM 1 or better

Vista 800MHz - 512MB - 15GB free (20GB partition) - DVD or CD drive

XP 233MHz - 64MB - 1.5GB (2GB partition) - DVD or CD drive

2000 133MHz - 64MB - 650MB (2GB partition) - CD or floppy drive

Now, those are the 'official' specs. A recommended guideline for Vista is a 1 GHz processor for all versions, and 1 GB of RAM plus a 40 GB HDD for Home Premium/Business/Ultimate.



A+: Operating systems

PCs without an operating system (or 'OS') are lumps of metal, fiberglass and solder and silicon. The OS is a foundation, a collection of low level programs which are like a uniform and consistent floor, walls and ceiling you can furnish to do your work and make the computer useful. To get ready to put an OS on a PC, you need to:

    • Confirm the PC has sufficient resources and free disk space for the installation

    • Make sure you have drivers for the devices and peripherals you want to use with the OS

    • Collect the startup disks (if needed) to prepare the hard disk and start the installation

    • Figure out where a new OS should be installed to if part of a dual-boot configuration to let you run either the old or new OS.

    • Choose the OS edition to install



A+: Halting Apps Gone Zombie

You can also shut down an unresponsive application, preferably through the Applications tab of the Task Manager. A program listed as Not Responsive might start working again in a few moments. However, if it does not, select the program, click End Task, and Windows will (eventually) shut down the program.

If you are unable to shut down the program using the Applications tab, you can use the Processes tab’s End Process button to stop the application’s underlying process. For example Microsoft Word is an application, but its underlying process is winword.exe. However, you should use this method only as a last resort. Be careful when ending processes; make sure that you know the correct process name for the application you wish to terminate.

Tip: If you have a lot of problems with unresponsive applications, consider a memory upgrade and check for updates to the application, other applications that are running at the same time, and to Windows itself.



A+: Adjusting Processes

The Windows Task Manager’s Processes tab lists processes currently taking place by the name of the executable file. To adjust the priority for a particular process from the default (Normal) to a higher or lower priority, right-click the process, select Set Priority, and choose a priority from the listing

    Be careful when setting custom priorities for processes. If you want to tweak application priority, make the change just one step at a time. Going to a high priority for one application could make other applications less responsive or could cause the operating system to freeze up. Also, changing the priority of SYSTEM processes isn’t recommended. Doing so could make your system unresponsive.

    If you don’t like the changes, reboot the system. Priority changes last only for the current computing session.



A+: Application Performance Adjustment


Windows offers several ways to fine-tune application performance. These include

    • Adjusting the balance between background services and application response

    • Adjusting the priority of a process belonging to an application

    • Stopping unresponsive applications

Adjusting the Balance Between Background Services and Application Response

Windows since 2000 can be configured to use more memory for background services (non-active windows, printing, and so on) instead of the default (Programs—improves performance for the foreground application). You might want to do this if your Windows Vista or XP computer was acting as a file or print server for a small network. To make this change, use the following steps:

    Step 1. Open the System Properties window and click the Advanced tab.

    Step 2. Click the Settings button in the Performance box. This opens the Performance Options window.

    Step 3. Click the Advanced tab.

    Step 4. From here you can adjust for best performance of either: Programs or Background services by clicking the appropriate radio button.

A foreground application is the application you have clicked on and are actively using. Other running programs such as email, web browsers, and Microsoft Word become background applications.



A+: Windows Startup

Most systems are configured to run programs at startup as well as services. In addition to starting some services at start up, Windows can also start programs automatically from these locations:

    • The Startup folder in the Start menu for all users— To view the contents of this folder, open the Run prompt, type %allusersprofile%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup, and click OK.

    • The Startup folder in the Start menu for the current user— To view the contents of this folder, click Start, Run, type %userprofile%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup, and click OK.

    • Registry keys, such as

    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

    • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

    • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

Startup programs might wind up in the Task Bar or the systray, or they might be displayed in a window or full-screen. If you don’t want a program loading at startup, you might be able to configure the program not to run at startup. If the program lacks an option for this, however, you can use the Microsoft System Configuration Utility, MSConfig.exe, to block the program from running at startup.



A+: Windows Services

Since Windows 2000, many core functions are implemented as services, including features such as the print spooler, wireless network zero configuration, DHCP client service, and many more. Services can be run automatically or manually and are controlled through the Services node of the Computer Management Console. To open the Computer Management Console, right-click My Computer/Computer and select Manage. Then expand the Services and Applications node and click Services. You can also access the Services dialog from the Services applet in Control Panel’s Administrative Tools folder (Classic mode). The Services dialog lists each service by name, provides a description, status message, start up type, and whether the service is for a local system or network service.

To view the properties for a particular service, double-click the service listing. The General tab of the properties sheet displays the service name, description, path to executable file, startup type, and status. You can also stop, pause, or resume a service from this dialog, as well as from the Services dialog

Use the Log On tab if you need to configure the service to run for a specific user, the Recovery tab to specify what to do if the service fails, and the Dependencies tab to see what other services work with the specified service.

If a system cannot perform a task that uses a service, go to the Services dialog and restart the service. If a service prevents another task from running (for example, a third-party wireless network client might not run if the Wireless Zero Configuration service is running), go to the Services dialog and stop the service.

Use the Log On tab if you need to configure the service to run for a specific user, the Recovery tab to specify what to do if the service fails, and the Dependencies tab to see what other services work with the specified service.

If a system cannot perform a task that uses a service, go to the Services dialog and restart the service. If a service prevents another task from running (for example, a third-party wireless network client might not run if the Wireless Zero Configuration service is running), go to the Services dialog and stop the service.

For more information about specific Windows services, see The Elder Geek’s Windows Services for Windows XP guide at www.theeldergeek.com/services_guide.htm.



A+: Temp files

The default location for temporary files in Windows versions prior to Windows Vista/XP is the TEMP folder beneath the default Windows folder (\Windows or \WinNT). Windows Vista and XP use \Windows for system temporary files, and XP uses \Documents and Settings\Username\Local Settings\Temp for user-specific temporary files. Vista uses \Users\Username\AppData\Local\Temp for user-specific temporary files.
The location can be adjusted with a pair of SET statements.

Some applications use SET TEMP=location; others use SET TMP=location (replace location with the actual drive and folder path). Be sure to change both variables if you need to change the setting for temporary files.

Temporary File Settings in Windows Vista/XP/2000

Use the Advanced tab on the System properties sheet to set environmental variables such as SET TEMP and many others. Here’s how to make the change (you must be logged on as an administrator):

    Step 1. Create a folder called TEMP in the root folder of the drive you want to use for your temporary files. You can use Windows Explorer/My Computer/Computer or the MKDIR (MD) command.

    Step 2. Open the System properties sheet. You can right-click on My Computer and select Properties or open the System icon in Control Panel.

    Step 3. Click the Advanced tab.

    Step 4. Click Environmental Variables. A new window opens.

    Step 5. Click TEMP in the System variables window and click Edit.

    Step 6. The Edit System Variable window opens (see Figure 13-55). Clear the variable value (%SystemRoot%\TEMP) and enter the drive and folder you used in Step 1 (for example, E:\TEMP). Click OK.

    Step 7. Repeat steps 5–6, selecting TMP instead of TEMP.

    Step 8. Click OK in the Environment Variables window.

    Step 9. Click OK on the System properties sheet.

    Note: Use this same method to add, delete, or change other system variables. To change the location for individual users’ temporary files, change the settings in the User variables window (top window).



A+: Windows Optimization and Hard Drives

To optimize the performance of the hard disk, you can use the following methods:

    • Upgrade to a hard disk with a faster spin rate and larger cache buffer— Typically, newer SATA hard disks have faster spin rates and larger cache buffer sizes than older SATA or most PATA hard disks. To determine the spin rate and cache size for an     installed drive, check the manufacturer’s specifications for the drive.

    • Set up a RAID 0 drive array— A RAID 0 drive array is similar to a striped array, but uses a RAID-compatible host adapter on the motherboard or a host adapter card. A software-based version of RAID 0 can also be set up within Windows through the use of the Disk Management snap-in. Keep in mind that there is no fault tolerance involved with RAID 0, this technology is developed solely for speed. If one of the drives fails, you will lose all of the data in the array. Remember to back up your data!

    • If the system uses PATA drives, don’t use a single PATA host adapter for two drives— Although PATA host adapters support two drives (primary/secondary, also called master/slave), data transfer between two drives on the same host adapter is slower than between drives on different host adapters.

    • Defrag drives regularly, and maintain at least 20% free disk space to enable easy defragmentation— The Windows disk defragmenter cannot run if there is less than 15% free disk space (although others can).



A: Optimizing Windows and Page File Adjustment

If the Performance Monitor/System Monitor indicates that the Paging File % Usage is consistently near 100% or the Memory Pages/Sec counter is consistently higher than 5, add RAM to improve performance.   low levels of usage of the Paging File % Usage and Memory Pages/Sec counters indicate adequate memory.

The performance of the paging file can be improved by

    • Setting its minimum and maximum sizes to the same amount.

    • Moving the paging file to a physical disk (or disk partition) that is not used as much as others.

    • Using a striped volume for the paging file. A striped volume is identical areas of disk space stored on two or more dynamic disks that are referred to as a single drive letter. Create a striped volume with the Windows XP Disk Management tool.

    • Creating multiple paging files on multiple physical disks in the system.

    • Moving the paging file away from the boot drive.

To adjust the location and size of the paging file in Windows, follow these steps:

    Step 1. Open the System Properties window.

    • For XP: Click Start, right-click My Computer, and select Properties or open the Control Panel and click the System icon, then the Advanced tab.

    • For Vista: Click Start, right-click Computer, and select Properties. Then click Advanced System Settings under Tasks.

    Step 2.   Click the Settings button in the Performance Options box.

    Step 3. Click the Advanced tab and then the Change button.

    Step 4. Choose the initial and maximum sizes you want to use for the paging file and its location (see Figure 13-54). Click Set and then click OK to finish. (In Vista, you will have to deselect the Automatically Manage Paging File Size checkbox first.)

   Step 5. If you make any changes to size or location, you must restart the computer for the changes to take effect.

    Note For the longest time the default settings for the paging file were Initial size = 1.5 × RAM, and Maximum size = 3 × RAM. This was a good rule of thumb for a while. However the rule might not work so well with the increasing need for fast memory, and the resulting increase of RAM in today’s computers. For example, a Windows XP computer with 4 GB of RAM might be set this way: Initial size = 1/2; RAM, and Maximum size = RAM. It will all depend on the system you are running and the applications being utilized.



A+: Getting Windows Optimized, Virtual Memory, Performance Monitor, and System Monitor

If you run short of money, you can borrow some from the bank (assuming your credit’s in decent shape). However, there’s a penalty: interest. Similarly, if your system runs short of memory, it can borrow hard disk space and use it as virtual memory. The penalty for this type of borrowing is performance: Virtual memory is much slower than real RAM memory. However, you can adjust how your system uses virtual memory to achieve better performance.

    To minimize the need to use virtual memory, increase the physical memory (RAM) in a Windows system to at least 1GB (1.5GB on a system with integrated graphics; 2GB for Win 7). When additional RAM is added to a computer running Windows, it is automatically used first before the paging file.

The Windows Vista Performance Monitor and Windows XP System Monitor can be used to determine whether more RAM should be added to a computer.

    • To access the Windows Vista Performance Monitor, open the Run prompt, type perfmon.exe and press Enter. This opens the Reliability and Performance Monitor window, click the Performance Monitor node.

    • To access the Windows XP System monitor, open the Run prompt, type perfmon.exe and press enter. This opens the Performance console window. Click on the System Monitor node.

Many different types of performance factors can be measured with these programs. This is done by measuring objects. Objects include physical devices such as the processor and memory, and software such as protocols and services. The objects are measured with counters. For example, a common counter for the processor is % Processor Time.

To see if additional RAM is needed in a system, select the object called Paging File, then select the counters % Usage and Pages/Sec as shown in the following steps:

    Step 1. Click the + sign or right-click in the table beneath the graph and select Add Counters.

    Step 2. Choose Paging File as the Performance Object and then choose % Usage. In Windows Vista, simply add pagefile.sys.

    Step 3. Choose Memory as the Performance Object and then choose Pages/Sec. In Vista, this is shown as a drop-down menu within the object. In XP it might be added already.

    Step 4. Click Add.

    Step 5. Click Close and then run normal applications for this computer.



A+: Remote Desktop Connecting Remotely

Start the process of connecting with  Start | All Programs | Accessories | Remote Desktop Connection || Enter the name or IP address of the remote machine and select Connect. Provide a username and password from the list of authorized remote users and click OK when prompted. The remote desktop appears.

Note: If you need additional connection options, click on the Options button. This opens a multi-tabbed connection dialog with options for saving connection settings (General tab); adjusting the size and color depth of the remote desktop (Display tab); configuring options for remote computer sound, keyboard, and devices (Local Resources tab); what program to start on connection (Programs); connection speed, screen handling, and reconnect options (Experience); security and advanced connection settings (Advanced).

A tab at the top of the remote dialog displays the name or IP address of the remote PC, and provides options for minimizing, maximizing/windowing, and closing the session

You have three options for quitting the remote session:

    • To end the remote session but stay logged in, click the X in the remote dialog tab and click OK on the Disconnect Terminal Services Session dialog.

    • To log out of the remote session, click Start Log Off, and click Log Off when prompted.

• To disconnect, click Start, Disconnect, and click Disconnect when prompted.



A+: Remote Desktop use and configuration

Windows since XP Professional includes Remote Desktop, a feature that enables a user on that system to access the system remotely and use its desktop, programs, drives, printers, and other resources.

The Remote Desktop server program (a subset of Terminal Services) accepts remote logins, but you can also use other Windows versions as well for the Remote Desktop client. You can download the Remote Desktop client software from Microsoft’s website (www.microsoft.com); search for Remote Desktop Connection Software for current and older versions of Windows. The Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac 2, also available from the Microsoft website, enables MacOS-based systems to connect remotely to a Windows Vista or XP Pro system.

Ordinary Windows can handle only one remote connection at a time; if another user is currently logged on locally, he or she must log off to permit the remote connection.

Configuring Your Windows System to Accept Remote Client Connections

Windows since XP Pro automatically runs the Terminal Services service, which is required for Remote Desktop incoming connections. To accept remote connections, you must also:

    Step 1. Make sure the remote user has been added as a user for this computer and has a password. Use the User Accounts applet in Control Panel (Classic mode) to check this information.

    Step 2. Configure your firewall to permit connections via TCP port 3389. If you use Windows Firewall, selecting Remote Desktop on the Exceptions menu automatically opens this port. However, if you use a third-party firewall program or device, you might need to configure this setting manually. See your firewall documentation for details.

Step 3. Open the System properties sheet, click the Remote tab, and select the Allow Users to Connect Remotely to This Computer option in the Remote Desktop portion of the dialog

    Step 4. Click the Select Remote Users button to view the list of Remote Desktop Users. If the user you want to grant remote access to isn’t on the list, click Add. On the Select Users dialog, enter the name of the user, and click Check Names. If the name is on the list of users, the server name is added.

    Step 5. Repeat Step 4 until all remote user names are added. Click OK when finished.



A+: System Restore

Ever wish you had a “wayback machine” so roll back time before you added a corrpted driver or a malware app? Windows since XP features a “wayback machine”, System Restore.

Be aware that System Restore is not necessarily the first step you should try when troubleshooting a computer. Simply restarting the computer has been known to “fix” all kinds of issues. It’s also a good idea to try the Last Known Good Configuration. You can access this within the Windows Advanced Boot Options menu by pressing F8 when the computer first boots. Also, if System Restore doesn’t seem to work in normal mode, attempt to use it in Safe Mode. Safe Mode is another option in the Windows Advanced Boot Options menu.

Be wary of using System Restore if you’re fighting a computer virus or malware infection. If you (or the system) create a restore point while the system is infected, you could re-infect the system if you revert the system to that restore point. To prevent re-infection, most anti-virus vendors recommend that you disable System Restore (which eliminates stored restore points) before removing computer viruses.

System Restore enables you to fix problems caused by a defective hardware or software installation by resetting your computer’s configuration to the way it was at a specified earlier time. The driver or software files installed stay on the system, and so does the data you created, but Registry changes made by the hardware or software are reversed so your system works the way it did before the installation. Restore points can be created by the user with System Restore and are also created automatically by the system before new hardware or software is installed.

To create a restore point in Windows Vista, follow these steps:

    Step 1. Right-click Computer and select Properties. This opens the System Properties window.

    Step 2. Click the System Protection tab.

    Step 3. Click the Create button. This opens the System Protection window.

    Step 4. Enter a name for the restore point and click Create.

To create a restore point in Windows XP, follow these steps:

    Step 1. Navigate to Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. This opens the System Restore window

    Step 2. Click Create a Restore Point and click Next.

    Step 3. Enter a descriptive name for the restore point, such as Before I installed DuzItAll Version 1.0 and click Create.

    Step 4. The computer’s current hardware and software configuration is stored as a new restore point.

Follow these steps to restore your system to an earlier condition in Vista:

    Step 1. Access the System Protection tab again, and this time click the System Restore button. This opens the System Restore window.

    Step 2. Select either Recommended Restore or Choose a Different Restore Point.

    Step 3. The Recommended Restore point will ask you to confirm. If you are choosing a different restore point, you will need to select the appropriate one and confirm.

    Step 4. The system will initiate the restore and will automatically restart.

Windows Vista also allows you to undo a system restore if it did not repair the problem.

To restore your system to an earlier condition in Windows XP, follow these steps:

    Step 1. Go to the same location you did when creating a restore point.

    Step 2. Click Restore My Computer to an Earlier Time and click Next.

    Step 3. Select a date from the calendar (dates that have restore points are in bold text).

    Step 4. Select a restore point and click Next

    Step 5. Close any open programs and save your work before you click Next to start the process; Windows will shut down and restart.

    Step 6. The system will initiate the restore and will automatically restart.

If System Restore is not available, it might be turned off. Within Windows Vista you can enable or disable System Restore on any volume from the System Properties window/System Protection tab. Simply check or uncheck any volume that you wish to enable or disable. Within Windows XP, the state of System Restore affects all drives, you can only turn the utility on and off. This is done from the System Properties window/System Restore tab. You can also change the amount of disk space it uses here.



A+: Event Viewer

Windows since 2000 generates many log files during routine use which can help fins what goes wrong. Many logs can be read through the Event Viewer. To see Event Viewer events, right-click Computer/My Computer, click Manage | Event Viewer.

It captures various types of information, and the three most important logs to know for the exam are: Application, Security, and System. In Vista they are inside Event Viewer\Windows Logs; however, in XP these are listed directly inside of the Event Viewer.

To view details about an entry, click on a log in the left window pane; entries appear in the right window pane. To open the event and view more, double click the event, or right-click it and select Event Properties/Properties.




Regedit edits the Windows Registry. (There was another registry editor known as regedt32, which had a different look. If you launch it, it just brings up the standard registry editor.)

Changes made in Regedit are automatically saved when you exit; however, you might have to log off and lock back on, or restart the system, for those changes to take effect. Under most normal circumstances, the Registry will not need to be edited or viewed. However, Registry editing might be necessary under the following circumstances:

    • To view a system setting that cannot be viewed through normal interfaces.

    • To add, modify (by changing values or data), or remove a Registry key that cannot be changed through normal Windows menus or application settings. This might be necessary to remove traces of a program or hardware device that was not uninstalled properly, or to allow a new device or program to be installed.
    • To back up the Registry to a file.

    Caution:     The Registry should never be edited unless a backup Registry copy has been made first, because there is no Undo option for individual edits and no way to discard all changes when exiting Regedit.

    Editing the Windows Registry is even more difficult because registry keys can be expressed in decimal, hexadecimal, or text. When editing the Registry, be sure to carefully follow the instructions provided by a vendor.

Follow these steps to back up part or all of the Registry to a text file:

    Launch Regedit (open the Run prompt and type regedit, and then click OK), and do  File | Export.

    Pick a folder for the Registry backup. (To back up the entire Registry, highlight My Computer/Computer at the top of the left window pane, or Select All to back up the entire Registry.)

   Name the file, and click Save.




The Microsoft System Configuration Utility, Msconfig (starting with XP), allows selective disabling of programs and services that run at startup. If your computer is unstable, runs more slowly than usual, or has problems starting up or shutting down, it can help you determine if a program or service run when the system starts is at fault. To launch it, do  Start | Run |  msconfig  | click OK.

All versions have a multitabbed interface to pick startup options. The General tab lets you select from Normal, Diagnostic (clean boot), or Selective Startup (you choose which items and services to load). You can also expand or extract files or launch System Restore from the Windows XP version of Msconfig.

Other tabs control settings in Msconfig, System.ini (legacy hardware), Win.ini (legacy software and configuration), Boot.ini and services (Windows XP), startup programs, and other version-specific startup options. Vista/7 versions eliminate the System.ini and Win.ini tabs.

Although it wasn’t part of 2000 by default, you can download it from the Internet, or copy it from XP, and it works the same in 2000.



A+: Task Manager

Task Manager gives a useful real-time inside Windows and running programs. Launch it by:

    • {Ctrl-Shift-Esc}

    • Right-click on the taskbar, select Task Manager

    • Open the Run prompt and type taskmgr

    • {Ctrl-Alt-Del} then choose Task Manager from the Windows Security dialog box. (In Windows XP, this requires turning off the Welcome Screen option.)

Tabs include Applications (shows running applications); Processes (program components in memory); Performance (CPU, memory, pagefile, and caching stats). XP added a Networking tab (lists network utilization by adapter in use) and a Users tab (lists current users). Vista added a Services tab (displays the services on the computer and their status).

The Applications tab shows if a program has stopped responding; you can shut down these programs by using the End Task button. Use the Processes tab to see which processes are consuming the most memory. Use this dialog along with the System Configuration Utility (MSConfig) to help determine if you are loading unnecessary startup applications; MSConfig can disable them to free up memory.

If you are unable to shut down a program with the Applications tab, you can also shut down its processes with the Processes tab, but this is not recommended unless the program cannot be shut down in any other way.

Use the Performance tab to determine whether you need to install more RAM memory or need to increase your paging file size. Use the Networking tab to monitor the performance of your network.

The top-level menu can be used to adjust the properties of the currently selected tab and to shut down the system.