12 of the Biggest PC Myths That Just Won’t Die

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Computers are like anything else. Myths and urban legends have built up over time, passed from person to person. Some myths once had a grain of truth, but are no longer true thanks to technological progress.

A few myths are simple misunderstandings, while others exist to help people make money from you. Windows alone has many unnecessary Windows-tweaking myths build up around it. No, you don’t need to disable services or delete your pagefile.

Hackers Are Trying to Hack Your PC

Yes, it’s a dangerous Internet full of malware and social engineering schemes out there. But the Hollywood fantasy of a “hacker” actively trying to compromise your PC just isn’t accurate at all.

Attacks are automated. Your computer absolutely could get malware that attempts to log your keystrokes and steal your personal information. You probably will get the occasional phishing email trying to get your credit card number, bank details, or social security number.

But there’s no “hacker” out there typing at a terminal screen, probing for holes in your PC. If something is probing for holes in your PC, it’s probably a botnet probing for open security holes on unpatched computers.

Unless you’re a high-value target — say, at a big business or government agency — there are no hackers out there attempting targeted hacks on your computer. Attackers are taking the shotgun approach.

Hacker Activity Stealing User Information

There Are “Clean” Windows Freeware Download Websites

The Windows freeware download scene is bad and getting worse. Even SourceForge has turned to the dark side. Remember when uTorrent was a great program well-respected by geeks? Well, they’ve bundled software that maxes out your PC’s CPU to mine BitCoin.

All freeware download sites are bad these days. Big download sites like Download.com, Softpedia, FileHippo, and SourceForge often add their own garbage to the freeware they offer for download.

Even the “good sites” host garbage-filled installers. We spoke to the owner of MajorGeeks, and he informed us that he’d have an almost-empty download site if he refused to offer programs bundled with junk software.

If you’re downloading from a program’s official website, you’ll often have junkware pushed on you in the installer, too. Ninite is the only trustworthy centralized Windows freeware site we’ve found, and it offers a fairly limited selection of software.

You Have to Turn Your Computer Off At Night

Shutting down your computer isn’t something you should regularly have to do, assuming you’re using a computer made at any point in the last decade.

No, you don’t want your computer running at full-tilt all night. But putting it to sleep makes it use almost no power, and it’ll be ready to go immediately when you turn it on. On a typical laptop, just closing the lid should make it sleep. Even powerful desktop PCs can use low-power sleep and hibernate modes.

Computers can be set to automatically hibernate after a while, and they’ll use no power in this mode — but all your open applications and work will be ready when you sit down at your computer again. Going through a full shutdown every night and restart the next day isn’t necessary at all and just wastes your time. You might want to reboot occasionally, but you don’t need to shut down every day.

Exhausted woman sleeping in front of computer

Automatic Updates Will Always Break Your PC

Automatic updates aren’t as scary as they seem. Some people go out of their way to disable Windows updates and even browser updates because they’re worried about things “breaking.” Yes, sometimes Windows updates do break things.

But, overall, automatic updates are good. They close security holes and keep your computer working properly. Breakages are rare. Security holes are a bigger concern — it’s usually best to just enable automatic updates for your operating system, web browser, plug-ins, and other software and have them stay up-to-date automatically.

If you don’t trust a company to responsibly install automatic updates, you probably shouldn’t be running their software in the first place. On Windows 8 and 10, automatic updates no longer force reboots of your PC and are generally less obnoxious. You can also prevent Windows 7 from automatically rebooting to install automatic updates with a quick registry hack.

Internet Explorer is Slow, Vulnerable, Non-Standard, and Bad

Among geeks in the know, Internet Explorer is a joke. Microsoft is even replacing Internet Explorer with a new browser named Edge in Windows 10 to get away from Internet Explorer’s reputation.

But recent versions of Internet Explorer are actually pretty good. Internet Explorer 9 improved things dramatically, and IE 10 and 11 are even better. Modern versions of Internet Explorer support a lot of the modern HTML standards found in other browsers and have speedy JavaScript engines. Internet Explorer also has a “protected mode” sandbox and a multi-process design, two important features Mozilla Firefox still doesn’t offer. Some tests have even found that Internet Explorer is easier on a Windows laptop’s battery than Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

No, we’re not saying you necessarily need to use Internet Explorer — we’re still mostly Chrome users here at How-To Geek. But Internet Explorer isn’t the laughing stock it used to be.

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In-Use Memory is Bad

Modern operating systems try to use as much of your computer’s RAM as possible. This is true for everything from Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X to Android and Apple’s iOS. Modern web browsers also use quite a bit of memory.

This is a good thing! When data is in RAM, your computer can access it more quickly. It makes sense to leave applications, data, temporary files, and everything else in RAM where it can speed up access times in the future.

Crucially, empty RAM is entirely useless. If your computer does need more RAM for something, it can instantly purge some of that cached data from your RAM to free up space. If you look at your resource usage and see high RAM usage, that’s probably a good thing — as long as your computer or device is performing well.

You certainly don’t want to use a “memory optimizer” or “RAM booster” on Windows, or a “task killer” on Android. These applications purge cached data your RAM, making it look more empty but slowing down your computer.

Manual Defragmentation and Expensive Defragmentation Utilities Help

Here’s what you need to know about defragmenting a modern computer: Don’t worry about it. Windows contains a built-in defragmentation utility that it automatically runs on a schedule. You shouldn’t need to open it and run it automatically — it’ll all happen automatically. Maybe — maybe — if you install a very large PC game and need maximum performance, you might want to run a manual defragmentation right after the installation. But that’s a rare occurrence, and you don’t need to run manual defragmentation processes regularly. For example, Steam has a feature that will defragment a single PC game’s files only — you could just use that.

Third-party defragmentation utilities just aren’t worth paying for, either. For example, Diskeeper Professional costs $70. For that much money, you can actually purchase a solid-state drive and upgrade your computer. Even if the defragmentation utility would help speed up your mechanical hard drive a tiny bit, the SSD will be much, much faster. Yes, you could get cheaper defrag utilities, but you’re better off just putting that money towards and SSD.

Codecs Are Required to Watch Videos Online

There was a time when you needed codecs to watch videos online. RealPlayer, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, and DivX were all often necessary. Sometimes Java was used for videos, and later came Microsoft’s Silverlight. Nowadays, most videos should play with either the HTML5 video feature in your browser or the Adobe Flash plug-in. A few websites may still be using Microsoft Silverlight.

But you don’t need to install codecs to watch videos on the web. If you do click a link on social media or another website and are asked to install codecs, don’t — it’s a trick to get you to install junk you don’t want on your computer. If you’re told you need to download codecs to watch a downloaded file, don’t do that either — just get VLC. Be sure you get VLC from the official site at videolan.org, not other websites that bundle it with garbage.

Viruses and Malware Are Why Your Computer is Broken

Is your computer not performing well? “It must have a virus,” some people think. But this isn’t really true. In fact, modern malware is so profit-driven that you might not even notice a performance change if you have a keylogger running in the background.

Sure, it’s possible that your computer is infected by malware and is using its resources on behalf of a botnet, mining BitCoin and participating in DDoS attacks against legitimate websites. But viruses aren’t usually what slows down a computer. Perhaps you have too many programs running at startup or your browser is loaded down with unnecessary add-ons. Or there may be an actual hardware problem — it’s not just a mysterious “virus” that makes your computer slow and sick.

Your Antivirus Will Always Protect You

Most people do understand that antivirus software isn’t perfect — nothing can function perfectly 100 percent of the time. But many people seem to think that antivirus software is pretty effective. The truth is scarier. Antivirus software is a helpful last line of defense on Windows, but it’s nothing you should rely on completely. Even Symantec — makes of Norton Antivirus — have said that antivirus software fails to stop most cyberattacks.

Worse yet, most antivirus software doesn’t even protect you against obnoxious software you don’t want. Antivirus software allows obnoxious adware and spyware that inserts itself into your web browser, forcing you to use worse search engines and pushing additional advertisements onto you. Heck, free antivirus programs usually bundle this junkware.

This doesn’t mean the sky is falling, and it doesn’t mean you should abandon antivirus completely. But antivirus should be your last line of defense behind other security precautions.

Clearing Your Cache Will Speed Up Your PC

Some applications store cache files, which are offline copies of files they’ve already downloaded. They hold onto these files in case they need them again, so they can be accessed from your hard drive instead of re-downloaded. This saves time and bandwidth.

Your web browser has its own cache full of bits of downloaded web pages, scripts, images, and more. Tools like CCleaner will wipe this cache to free up space, but that’s not necessarily a good idea. Regularly clearing away this cache means your browser has to redownload everything every time you use it — it’ll slow down your web browsing. You save a bit of disk space, but that space fills right back up again with more cache files.

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PC Cleaners, Registry Cleaners, Driver Updaters, and Paid Uninstallers Are Helpful

All those Windows system tools you see advertised around the web just aren’t necessary, either.

PC cleaners are usually scammy, promising to dramatically improve your computer and finding all sorts of “issues” with your PC if you run them in free mode. PC cleaners might be able to delete some temporary files and free up space, but you can just do that with CCleaner or Windows Disk Cleanup.

Registry cleaners are similarly useless. Your registry just doesn’t need to be cleaned — those extra entries in the registry are tiny and won’t slow down your PC.

Driver updaters are also bad. You don’t always even need the latest versions of drivers — except graphics drivers, and graphics drivers have built-in updaters. You’ll regularly get driver updates via Windows Update, anyway.

Paid uninstallers won’t help you uninstall programs much more cleanly, either. Well, okay — they might. A third-party uninstaller might help you delete a few extra tiny files or registry entries when you uninstall an application, but that has no effect at all on your computer’s performance. You may rarely need an uninstaller to clean up a program that refuses to uninstall properly, but that’s different.

These are all just types of fiddly system tools that exist only to take your money. Take all the money you’d put toward these utilities and buy an SSD or another real hardware upgrade for your computer — you’ll get an actual performance boost. Sure, you can find free versions of many of these tools, but they’ll just waste your time — with the exception of a tool that helps delete temporary files to free up space. But that’s all you might need, not even a full “PC cleaner.”


Of course, there are more PC myths out there. It’s not just about PCs either — everything technology-related, from smartphones to other types of hardware have their own myths. We may not be throwing salt over our shoulders, but most of us probably believe at least a few myths that just aren’t accurate.

Image Credit: Meme Binge on Flickr, Blake Patterson on Flickr, li kelly on Flickr

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+.