Laptop Spring Cleaning

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In two weeks, my current laptop will be four years old. Wow! It’s a little hard for me to believe that I have resisted the siren song of all the new hardware that has come out during that time.

While I covet the latest stuff, and configure up a dream laptop online at least twice a year, I am (marginally) embarrassed to admit that I still love my current laptop. Clearly, I chose wisely back then, thankfully.

Over the last few months, some of the things on the machine seemed to be dragging me down. For the most part, things were reasonably peppy, but on occasion, things would be slow. It never felt like a horsepower problem, as the same thing that was peppy before, would now be slow. The next day, it might be faster again.

One particularly noticeable problem was typing in dialog boxes in Quicken (I believe other programs as well, but Quicken was obvious and reproducible 100% of the time). When I typed my master password in the dialog box in Quicken, the delay between key presses was insane. It would also complete (meaning, I could type as fast as I wanted), but it was annoying.

Lois was experiencing similar (but different) slow downs. One thing that seemed to be happening too frequently to both of us (but to Lois much more than than to me) were application crashes. Most were in ancillary programs that weren’t central to our everyday computing. Unfortunately, more for Lois than for me, when it happened, the infamous dumprep.exe (Microsoft’s reporting program) would take over the machine. It can suck the life out of the machine, locking everything up for very long stretches while it’s gathering information.

I found the following article on the net on how to disable dumprep.exe. That alone made a world of difference, again, in particular on Lois’ machine.

That got me to thinking. Over time, I have installed so many different applications. The vast majority of them proved less useful than I originally expected. Of course, if they weren’t meant to be used all the time, I probably didn’t uninstall them, because I wouldn’t have thought of them. Many of them leave little footprints, including some that start up in the background automatically.

I finally decided to do something about. I analyzed all of the processes that got auto-started, and removed a number of them. I uninstalled quite a number of programs that I had no interest in any longer.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I uninstalled and then installed from scratch an updated version of my personal firewall (yes, going through the pain of teaching it my rules again). This also caused a full system scan for malware, which was not present on the machine (meaning, the slow downs were not caused by a virus, root kit, etc.).

Voila! The system became springier. Typing in Quicken is now normal. Whew.

I then did this on Lois’ machine as well, and things are a little better there as well. Here’s the one thing that is still maddening (beyond description or belief) on her machine. A few weeks ago, her machine started to Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) whenever it was turned on in the morning. Yes, every single day!

On the second boot, it would just work. Shouldn’t computers be nearly 100% deterministic in the boot and initial login sequence? If so, shouldn’t a BSOD (without the user clicking or typing anything!) repeat exactly the same way every time?

So, perhaps it’s a warmup thing, like the drive warms up by the time of the second boot? Who knows. Anyway, it’s distressing, to say the least, but at least it consistently worked on the second boot/login, every single time. This went on for weeks. Now, out of the clear blue, it’s been at least five days in a row where it just boots up correctly the first time. Go explain that! (Not that I’m complaining…)

The moral of this post is that you can’t (or shouldn’t) go for years without tuning your machine to your current needs. Experimentation is OK, but leaving all of those experiments hanging around forever is just like having too much plaque on your teeth or arteries.

I intend to buy new laptops for both of us at some point, possibly even in 2008, but I’ve just bought us enough life to make the decision without any pressure. The biggest decision is whether to repeat my previous choice (giant, ultra-heavy, ultra-high-end model), which is painful to lug around, but gives me a real desktop replacement wherever I am, or go smaller, lighter, more convenient, but less beefy.

I didn’t regret my last choice, so I might end up repeating it, but we’ll have to wait and see… 🙂