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Teaching Old PCs New Tricks

Brian Huther has a question concerning protection for an older PC:

My father owns a circa 2001 Dell (DELL) PC running Windows XP. It has the original security software. This has never been updated. Not surprisingly, my father is having system issues, ranging from slow download times on his dial-up connection to a significant increase in spam. He is looking for a recommendation on what software package he should purchase to fully protect his system. He is interested in a complete upgrade, from spyware/spam/virus protection to a firewall with full security protection from Web nasties. Knowing my father, his budget would be about $100 for the software. Could you make a recommendation?

Given the price of PCs these days, you probably want to think about how much effort you want to put into a nearly 5-year-old PC instead of simply replacing it.

CLEAN SWEEP. A new PC will let you start clean with a system that is better able to protect itself. Just make sure to subscribe to the preloaded security service when the trial subscription expires.

If the security package doesn't include antispyware software, you'll want to add that. Microsoft offers a free product called Windows Defender at It's pretty good, even though it's officially still in testing.

If you would prefer to fix the old system, start by making sure the PC is running Windows XP Service Pack 2. Right-clicking on My Computers and Properties will give you what version you're running. If the machine connects to the Internet by dial-up, you probably want to order the Service Pack on CD from Microsoft (MSFT).

FULL SCANS. Also, you'll want to make sure automatic updates are turned on. Again, right-click My Computer, choose Properties, and select the Automatic Updates tab. (With dial-up, do this only after installing Service Pack 2 or you'll spend the better part of forever trying to download a 200-megabyte-plus update.)

Next, you'll want to uninstall the old antivirus software and install an up-to-date security suite. I would suggest either McAfee (MFE) Internet Security of Norton Internet Security by Symantec (SYMC), not because they are necessarily the best but because they are probably the simplest for a nontechnical user. Make sure you run full virus and spyware scans when you set up the software.

None of this is guaranteed to restore the PC to its youthful vigor. In computer years, your father's machine is pretty old. And for reasons that no one has ever fully explained, Windows PCs tend to slow down over time, even without viruses or spyware, which is why replacement may be a better solution than repair.

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