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Solutions: How to speed up a computer that is slow to boot

I have a Dell Inspiron 14R (N4110), Service Tag 7RX9YP1, Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium, SP1, 8 GB RAM (max, I think), Intel i3-2310M at 2.1 gigahertz. It's 3 years old. It used to be quite responsive and boot quickly, but now it is very slow to boot and a lot of operations are running. I have installed and do need: AutoCAD, Sketchup, Adobe Creative Suite, Autodesk Revit. Can you recommend the best tools to clean up and tune up the PC back close to its original state? I have Norton 360 installed but its Tune-Up appears not to help much.

First, the nontechnical approach. Make sure that your PC air intake is not clogged. A PC running hot will slow itself down to keep from overheating. A blast from a compressed air can will clean that out. You most likely have software bloat that has littered your startup with unwanted and unnecessary programs. Go to sysinternals.com (it's a Microsoft site), click Process Utilities and download 'AutoRuns' from the link on the right. I don't often recommend downloading programs or utilities, but this is one exception. It is from Microsoft and is safe. Use AutoRuns to examine your running programs. Everyone's system is going to be different and you will have to research whether a process is necessary to run at startup. If you don't know, leave it alone. But you will probably find a few that have crept in over the years and you will be able to disable their autostart capability through the AutoRuns utility. The stock MSCONFIG.EXE program on all versions of Windows can also be used to do this, but AutoRuns is a little more comprehensive. Stay away from ''Registry Cleaners'' or the ''Make my PC Faster'' products you see on TV. It's all snake oil. They don't make much of a difference and can cause things to get worse.

I built a PC and am dual booting Windows 7 & 8. They are installed on a SSD for speedier startup and I'm very happy with it. My problem is that I can't always get new software to install on my standard 320 gigabyte hard drive. I don't want to clog up the SSD because it's just big enough for the two operating systems. Is there a secret to this process, or am I at the mercy of the software that I happen to be installing at the time?

Prices for 1-terabyte, 7,200-rpm drives are crazy cheap, so I've no problem dumping the SSD for a new HDD. I just hate giving up too soon.

You're obviously knowledgeable about computers based on your building project, so I feel a bit silly asking if the software you're installing asks for a destination drive and folder during the installation process. In fact, I can't remember the last time I installed any software that didn't offer the destination drive or folder as an option. There are some products that claim to move entire programs from one drive to another but they don't always work, and I don't think they're a good option. The SSD drives, which are similar to flash memory, are much faster than the traditional drives of spinning platters and read/write heads. SSD drives have fewer moving parts and the chances of hardware failure are much less, but their best advantage is allowing smaller and lighter PCs. They make a lot of sense for laptops.

I am running Vista and just started getting a pop-up every few seconds of a Web page that says "Google Chrome isn't your default browser," with options to set as default or don't ask again. No matter what we do, it continues to pop up repeatedly. I checked control panel and Chrome is not downloaded. I have run my virus and malware scans — nothing. In the browser section, the IP address is different every time it pops up.

Well, it sure sounds suspicious. If it is a virus, there is a good chance it has disabled the effectiveness of your antivirus and antimalware scans. Try booting into Safe Mode and running them both again. If that doesn't fix the issue, my recommendation is to use Windows Defender Offline to create a boot CD allowing you to boot into Windows without activating any resident virus and automatically performing a full scan of your hard drive. You can find it at windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/what-is-windows-defender-offline. Most PCs are set to look to boot first from a CD and then a hard drive, but if your PC is not set for that sequence, you might need to go into your BIOS (at boot time) and resequence the order. Check your PC vendor's support website for details on how to do this for your particular model.

Send questions to personaltech@tampabay.com or Personal Tech, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Questions are answered only in this column.

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