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In previous columns, we’ve talked about ways of speeding up the performance of your computer through some common maintenance tasks as well as by adding additional hardware.

But there are also many programs out there that will take care of some of these common tasks for you, as well as perform more involved routines that will increase the efficiency of your computer operations.

Among the many commercial software solutions is a program with a promising enough name, SpeedUpMyPC, available from www.uniblue.com. The program is available as a free download and will run a scan on various components that can be optimized for efficient use. In order for it to actually complete the routines, you will need to pay the $29.95 registration fee. (Here’s a tip: To save an additional 10 percent, browse away from the site, and you’ll be offered the discount). I’ve used this program, and have obtained decent results with it.

Another well-regarded program is Diskkeeper Pro Premier, now in its 2008 version with Windows Vista support. You can download a fully functioning version of this software for a 30-day free trial. Use it, and see if the increase in performance is worth the $50 investment. Diskkeeper will automatically de-fragment the hard drive of your computer while working in the background to free up resources.

Other utilities combine backup and antivirus processes with system tune-ups. For example, Norton 360, at a cost of a $79.99 download, provides one year of protection from viruses, spyware and phishing, as well as PC performance tune-ups.

If your virus protection is about to run out, this might be a worthwhile package. But my personal tendency is to use different programs for individual tasks, rather than purchase all-inclusive suites that perform multiple tasks.

If you are more adventurous and prefer to do things on your own, Microsoft has an application called process explorer, which among other things can show you what process may be running on your machine that you don’t need.

By killing those processes, the machine will perform more efficiently. Be careful, however, that you don’t kill a necessary program, as your machine might crash.

And don’t forget the simple utilities that come with Windows as well, such as Disk Cleanup, which can be found at Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Cleanup.

You can also remove unwanted startup programs by going to Start>Run>msconfig> and click on the Startup tab. Many programs are not needed until you actually need them, so having them start automatically isn’t necessary. De-select the ones you don’t need on demand, but don’t remove anything you aren’t sure about. It could create a problem when it’s time to reboot.

Also, computer magazines such as PC World and PC Magazine have Web sites with free utilities to download that will perform various tasks, including system improvements. Be sure to read over their specifications thoroughly before installing.

Another alternative is to take things into your own hands with a free course on improving PC performance. CNET offers a number of free online classes you can take on computer basics. Go to www.cnet.com for more information or to sign up.

BRIAN R. HARRIS is the director of information technology for the ALM Pennsylvania division and the former editor in chief of The Legal Intelligencer . Technology questions can be sent to Harris at [email protected].

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