Last Updated: February 2015
I get asked for recommendations a lot, especially when people get new computers for the holidays, so here’s a writeup.
First, if you’re running anything older than Windows 7, upgrade. This doesn’t mean throwing away your computer – it might just mean a RAM (memory) upgrade and an OS reinstall. I’ve seen too many perfectly working computers tossed out when all that was needed was $50-100 worth of RAM, a fresh reinstall, and a “tune-up” by someone who knew what they were doing.
- If you’re running Windows XP, upgrade to Windows 7 (NOT Vista), as all support for XP ended in April 2014.
- If you’re running Windows Vista, look into upgrading to Windows 7 – it’s what Windows Vista should have been in the first place.
- If you’re running Windows 8 or 8.1, I’m sorry. Windows 10 is coming in 2015 as a free upgrade, and is everything that 8 should have been to begin with.
If you don’t want to have to bother with any of this – ask a friendly neighborhood geek if a version (“distribution”) of Linux would fit your computing needs!
Second, you can never have too much RAM (not hard drive space; that’s different). Running Windows 7, you want two gigabytes of RAM at the absolute minimum, and if your motherboard / system model will take it, you want at least 4G of memory. Windows 7 really wants at least 2G to be “barely usable”. Think of RAM as “working space”, or the size of your desk, and your hard drive as your filing cabinet – your filing cabinet can store a lot more than will fit on your desk, and you swap stuff in and out of it as needed.
If you’ve got a 32-bit processor (CPU) or are running a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor, don’t bother putting more than 4G of RAM in the system. Due to address space overhead and limitations, you will only be able to “see” and use around 3-3.5G of that 4G total. If you’ve got a 64-bit processor and a 64-bit installation of Windows 7/8, you will be able to use as much RAM as you can afford and that will fit into your system. Memory is relatively cheap; 16G of DDR3 memory can be had for less than $150. None of my personal machines have less than 8G of RAM, some of them have 16G.
Now, on to the software.
A lot of people use anti-virus / anti-spyware / anti-malware products from companies such as Symantec, Norton, or McAfee. These companies may have had great products ten or fifteen years ago, but nowdays they’re bloated size-wise, slow your system down, adversely affect performance, and in a lot of cases don’t stay as up to date regarding system threats as they should. If you’re running one of these products, no matter if you got it free or have already paid for an update subscription, it is my professional recommendation that you dump it.
My personal choices for the best system protection packages:
FREE: (in order of preference)
Microsoft Security Essentials
COMMERCIAL / PAY: (in order of preference)
Webroot Spysweeper + AV
In addition to the primary AV/spyware/malware package on your system, there are a few other free utilities that I highly recommend be used to run scans and cleans once a week if the system is used heavily, once a month otherwise.
CCLeaner (aka “Crap Cleaner”)
I don’t use it anymore, but there’s also Spybot Search & Destroy:
The built-in Windows defrag program is a piece of junk and should not be depended on. For free defrag utilities I like these:
Auslogics Disk Defrag
IOBit Smart Defrag
One more important note:
STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER.
Instead, use one of these:
These are just my personal preferences and what I tell people to use; I welcome alternative suggestions and comments from other tech types as to what they use and why.
My personal systems are all Macs running OS X or are various Linux desktop distributions. The only Windows machines I own are either virtual machines for development or a system dedicated to playing video games.