It's time to bring your PC in for a PC Pitstop


August 5, 2001



If you've been using your recently purchased home computer for a while, chances are you've wondered how well it's performing.

Maybe you've noticed Web pages aren't popping up on your monitor as fast as they once did, or certain programs don't run quite as quickly as they did when your computer was new.

If we were discussing automobiles, I would say it might be time for a tune-up.

Fortunately for PC users, there's a Web site that can "look under the hood" of your home or office computer and evaluate how well it is operating.

PC Pitstop offers a full range of tests, complete with a detailed analysis and suggestions for upgrades or performance improvements -- and it's all free of charge.

The site is incredibly easy to use. Users aren't forced to register, but those who don't register are doing themselves a disservice by missing out on one of the site's best features -- keeping a history of performance tests on your computer for comparison -- which in my view, makes giving them my personal information worthwhile.

The Web site is a partnership between PC World magazine, the magazine's Web site,, and PC Pitstop, which its founders called "an online Jiffy Lube for PCs" when it debuted in March 2000.

I was impressed with how thorough an examination my machine received. It's a site that's not designed just for techies; anyone who owns a PC can benefit from a pitstop.

PC Pitstop will evaluate your CPU; memory usage; hard disk, CD and DVD drives; video resolution; Internet connection speed; security options, a full virus scan and more.

There's a full glossary of terms to help sort out any techno-babble you might not be familiar with (for example, "ActiveX" sounds more like a villainous character from the "Speed Racer" TV cartoon series than a computer feature). A fully supported bulletin board at the site gives users a chance to interact with technical-minded folks at PC Pitstop in search of answers to questions not addressed elsewhere at the site.

PC Pitstop's virus scan is just that -- but a very detailed scan. It doesn't delete or repair viruses it may find, but at least you'll know they are there. You'll find that PC Pitstop updates their virus scanner frequently (handy for people like me who forget to do so on our home computers).

If you're interested in trends, you'll want to take a look at some of the information on computers PC Pitstop has amassed.

They have compiled charts tabulating some statistics on the computers that have visited its service, including the most common video displays, CPU speed, memory size and more.

Testing your computer at PC Pitstop is a free service, though I would be willing to subscribe to something this useful. There are some ads promoting the magazine and advertisers' products, but the service is still a great stop for anyone wondering how their PC stacks up in performance with others.

PC Pitstop gave my system good marks in most areas. "This is a very fast system that should meet all your computing needs. You may be able to add a few upgrades to improve performance and convenience,'' the site announced after checking my computer.

Of the performance needs it identified, there were several that I had overlooked.

The first was the low performance of my disk drive. The cause wasn't the drive itself, but the number of programs I had running in the background during the testing process.

Another tune-up hotspot it identified was the security setting on my ActiveX controls.

When I built my current PC, I installed Windows 98 SE and since I seldom use Internet Explorer, I never took time to upgrade it to IE version 5.5, which has the patches to fix all of the security problems that PC Pitstop identified.

The solution? Download for free or order IE 5.5 on CD for both the PCs in our home.

ActiveX only runs under Internet Explorer Web browser. Since I use Netscape Navigator for most of my Web surfing, I'm probably not facing many risks. However, the patches and security update are all available in IE 5.5.

PC Pitstop doesn't fix all the deficiencies within your computer, but it will tell you how to do it and provide links to appropriate resources. In the case there's nothing to download, the site will give you simple-to-follow step-by-step instructions about how to improve your machine's performance.

PC Pitstop's only fault in my book is it excludes any not running a Windows-based PC. Macintosh users can't take advantage of PC Pitstop.

For more information, visit

VIRUS UPDATE. With all the threats to PCs and servers that have been printed and broadcast in the media, it never hurts to evaluate your own computer virus defenses.

Most home PC threats have come from viruses or worms spread as e-mail attachments using suggestive or deceptive subject lines to trick users into clicking on them.

In the past few weeks, I've received several viruses a week -- which were actually detected and deleted by my anti-virus software as my e-mail was being retrieved.

Here are five steps that can help keep cyberbugs from attacking your computer:

1. Make sure your e-mail software won't automatically run scripted attachments. Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express have this feature, and it should be disabled.

2. Scan your PC weekly with an updated virus scanner.

3. Update your anti-virus software regularly.

4. Don't run any file attachments without knowing what they are. If you have any question about something you receive from a co-worker, it is best to call and make certain they sent a file (and one was not sent automatically by a computer virus).

5. Back up your data. Sure, we all should do this regularly -- particularly with our PCs at work -- but few of us do in practice. If you have some files that are irreplaceable, copy them regularly to a CD, Zip disk or other media, just for the peace of mind it can bring. If a virus attacks your system or you have a drive failure, you haven't lost valuable data.

FREE ISP BLUES. NetZero, the onetime leader in the free Internet provider market, cut its work force by 26 percent and joined other free providers who have restricted their once unlimited and free services.

The company announced last week it was slashing the amount of free Internet access it gives away from 40 hours per month to 10 hours per month effective Oct. 1. NetZero also plans to drop service in many rural areas where the cost of providing service is prohibitive.

As a pioneer of free Internet access, its slogan had been "Defenders of the Free World."

Users who go over the 10-hour limit can subscribe to NetZero's fee-based plans.

Kmart's Internet service is totally dropping its current free access plan and shifting subscribers of its free and $9.95 unlimited-access premium service to a $8.95-per-month unlimited service.

Kmart's exit from the free ISP business leaves United Online, the united efforts of NetZero and Juno Online services as the largest free provider remaining in a once-crowded field. Time will tell if the free Internet business model can survive the test of time.

IE6 DUE SOON. Microsoft's new Web browser, Internet Explorer 6, is set for final release Aug. 15.

Among the main features added to IE6 include itegrated media playback, improved support for Cascading Style Sheets and interactive media languages.

What's received more press coverage is what is being left out of the new browser. A feature called Smart Tags will be omitted from the final version.

Smart Tags is a feature which automatically turned words on a Web site into links to more detailed information. Critics said these links were biased towards Microsoft's Web sites in early test versions of the software.

Other features, including a personal tool bar and a Contacts feature, will also be left out of the finished product after receiving poor reviews by beta testers.

Microsoft's Web browser will be available for download from the company's Web site, and included with Microsoft products, including the Windows XP operating system set for release Oct. 25.

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