Windows System Tools

I’ve been having some trouble with my Windows XP SP3 machine the past 72 hours. Suspect either a bad update to either Windows, the anti-virus scanner, or something more sinister. @n3wjack pointed me at some of the tools he recommends and figured I should share my favourites too:

  • Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – the best malware detection tool I’ve used to date that works! Will catch things that an up to date AV, adware, and spyware scanners fail to find. If you suspect you have a problem, get this tool, update it, and do a quick scan. Odds are this tool will save you from a tedious system wipe and rebuild.
  • Avast! Home Edition – free for private and personal use. This has been the one I’ve been using for a couple of years now. See AV Comparitives.
  • NOD32 – commercial AV with free trial, not yet tried this, but I’m told by a fellow sys.admin. friend that swears it is the fastest, least resource consuming. See AV Comparitives.
  • Vipre – another colleague suggested last night this AV scanner, but it appears to be completely unknown underdog. But I trust the source of the suggestion.
  • ClamAV for Windows – free open source anti-virus scanner; however it lacks an on-access scanner, which is essential for being alerted to problems quickly. Have tried to find add-on on-access scanners for ClamWin, but not yet found a suitable one. ClamWin is great for whole disk scanning though, but with modern disk being so big, how often do you bother to scan a whole disk or individual files.
  • System Internals Tools – bought out by Microsoft, they have a superior Process Explorer, and many many other neat power user / admin. tools.
  • Tweak UI – part of the Microsoft Power Toys suite and essential for customising Windows behaviour, like turning off the annoying “Ballon Tips” or disabling CD/DVD autorun to prevent installation of the evil PC Friendly (causes nothing but grief) or other potential nasties the studios try to slip onto a machine, like DRM root kits.
  • Registry Guide – formerly and, they used to provide a Windows helpfile download showing many many handy registry keys, but now it’s only available online (grrr). Documents much of what you can change using TweakUI or regedit.exe. Handy information for locking down a Windows computer. Here’s an out of date copy of the last free Registry Guide downloadable.
  • SiSoftware Sandra Lite – everything you wanted to know about your computer hardware.
  • Memory Testing – A comprehensive free memory testing tool.
  • SpeedTest – a handy bandwidth testing web site. BTW it helps if you know where your network provider’s “peering” is done in order to compute favourable results.
  • Ranish Partition Manager – a free tool for resizing and managing primary & extendied disk partitions. Handy if you want to setup dual boot systems.
  • Admin. Password Reset Tool – have you ever forgotten the admin. password for your Windows system or have you ever had to service someone’s machine to remove virii and needed admin. access.
  • Treesize Free – handy tool for seeing what the size of directories are and where you might be wasting disk space. Also handy for estimating CD/DVD backup sizes. I have a copy of the older TreeSize Pro 2.4 which is just brill.

When it comes to AV tools, I’ve given up on Symantec and McAfee. I think they’re past their heyday. Symantec Norton Anti-Virus is a resource pig that can slow a Windows machine down at least (I estimate) 20%, certainly noticeable; the user interface is slow; and frankly it misses catching virus, trojans, spyware, etc. In my humble opinion its rubbish. As for McAfee, I stopped using it some where around Windows 98, when it just stopped being as affective in identifying malware. At the time I switched to Norton AV and was happy for a long time until Windows XP and performance problems started appearing. I’ve not revisited McAfee since, but frankly if I’m going to pay for an AV, I’m going to trying something different, like NOD32.

Forget about installing adware or spyware detection tools; remove them if you have. Frankly I do not trust these tools to not be the actual source of adware and spyware themselves. This should be the job of a good and well known anti-virus scanner. The only tool I’ve come to trust that I’ve seen catch stuff that an AV scanner have missed has been Malwarebytes. I recommend running this even if you have an AV scanner.

The above are just some of the handy tools I’ve kept booked marked for emergencies or use on a daily basis. I have others I could probably mention, but for Windows sys.admin. and field support the above is a good place to start and should keep you calm enough to get the job done. You’ll still curse Windows as rubbish, but at least it you might be able to fix it enough to tolerate it longer.

Update 2009-10-07:

  • Avira AntiVir Personal – free for personal use. I’ve been using this for the past 10 months as I’ve found it to be less resource intensive (aka faster) than Avast! and just as good. It lacks many of the extra features of Avast!, such as SMTP, POP, IMAP, P2P, IM, and web scanning, but then for power users who are aware of the pitfalls, use secure channels, and use tools already adapted to their situation, like Firefox web browser, then Avira’s light weight nature compared to Avast! will be better. Still for the average joe unfamiliar with internet security, Avast! Home Edition will probably be a more comprehensive solution.