Stores like Best Buy will charge you $49.99 to “optimize” and “tune up” your PC — either in-store or online. These services are generally a complete waste of money — you can easily do this all yourself for free.
Electronics stores like these services because they’re very high-margin and almost pure profit. But don’t fall for it — we’ll show you how to do everything yourself without spending a dime.
Remove Unnecessary Software
Stores like Best Buy call this stuff “unnecessary software,” but the rest of us call it bloatware. It can dramatically slow down a new PC and computer manufacturers are paid to include it. To get rid of bloatware on a new PC, you can try PC Decrapifier, which will automatically remove known bloatware.
This program doesn’t know about all bloatware, however — you’ll probably have to go into the Uninstall a program pane in the Windows Control Panel and uninstall the software you don’t want yourself. if you’re unsure about whether a program is bloatware or whether it’s useful, try Googling its name before uninstalling it.
A Consumerist investigation from 2010 showed that Best Buy doesn’t actually remove this stuff, anyway. They just delete the desktop shortcuts to it, making the PC look a bit less cluttered but run no differently. Whether you pay Best Buy or not, you’ll apparently have to remove this stuff yourself — so you might as well save the money.
Yes, Best Buy will update Windows for you, just as they’ll charge you a fee to install the latest software updates for an Xbox or PlayStation console. Both of these options are silly — like consoles, Windows is built so average users can install updates without the help of professionals. Modern versions of Windows are even set to install updates automatically out of the box, so you may not even have to do any of this updating work on your own.
You can view your Windows Update settings and manually perform updates from the Windows Update pane under System and Security in the Control Panel.
Free Up Space By Removing Files
If you’ve been using your computer for a while, you can probably free up disk space by running the excellent (and free) CCleaner utility. It will scan your computer for temporary files and other unnecessary system files you can delete, then delete them and free up space. If you really want to use a registry cleaner — and we don’t recommend it because it won’t help you at all — you can use the registry cleaner built into CCleaner.
Best Buy promises to optimize your startup process, but you can do this yourself. On Windows 8, open the Task Manager (right-click the task bar and select Start Task Manager), and click over to the Startup tab. From here, you can manage your startup programs without installing any other software.
If you’re using an earlier version of Windows, you can use the MSConfig application to control your startup programs or use the startup program manager built into CCleaner.
Run an Antivirus Scan
The Geek Squad’s technicians aren’t going to use any in-depth virus-scanning tools that you can’t get your hands on. They’ll use a commercially available virus scanner to scan your system for malware. Skip the payment and do this yourself. If you’re using Windows 8, you already have Windows Defender installed. If you’re using an older version of Windows, you can get the same protection by installing Microsoft’s free Microsoft Security Essentials. If you don’t want to use Microsoft’s antivirus programs for some reason, both avast! and AVG are solid, free alternatives.
If you’re already running an antivirus and wish you could get a second opinion from another antivirus program — just to be safe — follow these instructions to safely perform a scan with a second antivirus program. You should never have two antivirus programs installed and running in the background at the same time, as they can interfere with each other.
Defragment Your Computer
Best Buy will no doubt “optimize your hard drive” by defragmenting it. If you’re using a solid-state drive, you can skip the defragmenting entirely. If you’re using an older mechanical drive, you probably don’t have to worry about it because Windows runs defragmentation operations automatically on a schedule. If you want to defragment your hard drive on your own, just open the Disk Defragmenter tool and click the button to run a defragmentation operation.
Note that this tool is now named “Optimize Drives” on Windows 8. It’s no longer the Disk Defragmenter.
Create Restore Discs
You can create restore CDs to easily restore your computer back to its factory default state if its software ever becomes damaged, and stores like Best Buy may charge you to do this for you on new PCs. This isn’t necessary much of the time, as computers ship with recovery partitions and Windows 8 includes built-in refresh and reset options.
However, on Windows 7, you can likely create restore CDs or DVDs using a tool your manufacturer provides. On Windows 8, you can create a recovery drive that contains a copy of your entire system, just in case the recovery data on your hard drive becomes damaged for some reason.
Restore Your PC To Factory Defaults
One of the biggest tricks up a computer technician’s toolkit is the restoring a computer to its default settings or reinstalling Windows. This will fix whatever is wrong with a computer’s software and put its software in a literally “like new” state. In the past, average people have been put off from reinstalling Windows by the scary-looking text mode installation screens that appear at the start. However, this is now much easier.
- On Windows 8, you can run a refresh or reset your PC to quickly get your its software back to its factory-default state.
- On Windows 7, you can reinstall your operating system from your manufacturer’s recovery partition.
- On either version of Windows, you can reinstall Windows entirely from a Windows disc you have laying around.
If you’re having computer problems and just can’t seem to solve them or you just want to wipe everything out and start fresh, this is the thing to do.
In the past, Best Buy has claimed they perform 100 system tweaks, but we’ve covered all the important stuff here. This sounds like a lot, but you could argue that CCleaner alone performs 100 different system tweaks by deleting different types of files.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 07/4/13