Free or inexpensive tools improve Windows

In their travels around the world of Windows, my readers - always my best source of information - run across many valuable resources. My favourites are free or inexpensive power tools that are designed to solve a problem or make the use of Windows less, um, exciting for everyone involved.

My recent four-week series on improving Windows' performance sparked several suggestions for further tweaking.

A number of readers pointed out that ordinary Windows tools do not always reveal all the programs and processes that may be consuming your CPU's time and memory. This makes it difficult to know what to uninstall if you're trying to reduce the bloat that has accumulated in your system.

Reader Jim Stuart likes the process-viewer utility PrcView. PrcView is a free download from, and it works with Windows NT, Windows 95, and Windows 98.

He also prescribes TaskInfo98, which works only with Windows 98 and Windows 95. The trial period is free; registration costs $US12.

You can download it from http://www.

Both of these utilities provide more information about running processes than you normally get from the Close Program window (press Ctrl+Alt+Delete once to see it) or the System Information window (run msinfo32.exe) in Windows 98. They can help you identify resource-hogging applications or the leftover baggage from programs you uninstalled that didn't completely remove all of their components.

Reader Mike Gladych uses a little-known tool called System Configuration Utility.

This advanced facility is part of the Tools menu of Win98's System Information applet. You can also start the System Configuration Utility by typing msconfig.exe in the Run dialog box of your Start button.

This utility shows you all the drivers and programs that are launched by your autoexec.bat file, System.ini, the Registry, and other startup points.

You can turn off particular lines of a startup file or particular drivers, one at a time, in order to troubleshoot a problem.

Of particular interest is the Startup tab of System Configuration Utility. This tab reveals virtually every process that loads when you start Windows.

Important: Do not start turning things on and off in this dialog box. You should use these diagnostic utilities only to identify portions of your system that bear further investigation for possible removal. (For example, you might contact the vendor of a program you uninstalled and confirm that myvendor.exe is an orphan that was mistakenly left behind and can safely be removed.)Another free program that several readers have raved about is called Cacheman.

This utility, once you install and configure it, automatically frees up disk cache and file cache memory when doing so would improve overall performance. Cacheman can reduce the number of times your system needs to write to and read from a swapfile on disk, thus speeding up your work.

Cacheman is "postcardware" - that is, the author asks that you send him a postcard if you like the program.

You can download it from http://members.

Another piece of software that other readers point to is known as MemTurbo.

This utility is designed to give your Windows system that "just booted" feeling.

It does this by defragmenting system memory and recovering memory "leaks" caused by ill-behaved applications. This can make your PC more responsive and efficient.

MemTurbo doesn't modify any system DLLs, but it can automatically detect critical memory situations and act to recover memory for you to maintain a desired level.

To download a free, 30-day trial version, see

I'd like to hear more readers' experiences with these and other tools.

It's one thing to try them out, but much better to compare notes with thousands of users who have found what works for them and what doesn't.

When sending me e-mail on this topic, use "power tools" as the subject. This helps me sort out the comments in this vein from comments on several other mattersI'm currently gathering research on - such as the new Windows 98 Second Edition and Microsoft Office 2000.

Send tips to brian_livingston@ He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions