I need to clean up my folks’ Windows Vista laptop, and I haven’t done it in years. Normally, I would install AVG antivirus, look through msconfig and remove non-essential start-up programs, and then maybe perform a defrag, however, I have a feeling that the machine is riddled with viruses, but a fresh OS install is not an option.

Can anyone recommend other practices or free software I should be using?

marked as duplicate by Ramhound, Xavierjazz, Synetech, nc4pk, CharlieRB Jan 3 '14 at 17:55

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  • You seem to know where you should start, I would start there, then read up on your other options that exists in the market. – Ramhound Jan 3 '14 at 16:18
  • There is usually a hidden partition to re install the OS. Depending on the make of your PC, you can choose either destructive (HHD reformat, all user data destroyed) or non destructive (user data automatically saved to a folder) I have found a reformat of one sort or the other the simplest way to go, the time is the same whether you clean it manually, which sometimes never gets it all or the redo and the reinstall of updates, data, etc. – Jack Jan 3 '14 at 16:22
  • then read up on your other options that exists in the market Yes, go and waste a bunch of time re-inventing the wheel from scratch instead of making use of others’ experience by just asking people who have already been there and done that. ¬_¬ – Synetech Jan 3 '14 at 17:02
  • Again, start with an OS reinstall. How sure are you this system is infected? – MDT Guy Jan 3 '14 at 17:28
  • Go out and buy two external drives. Back up the system as it is on the first, disconnect it, then let a good AV package take its best shot. If it survives, back up again on the second drive (and disconnect that). Then make a judgment as to whether the system is clean. If not, do a "clean" reinstall and then copy individual files from the backup as needed, being careful to not copy any executables and being a bit leery of spreadsheets, et al. Reinstall all apps "fresh" from their original install media. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 3 '14 at 17:53

Reinstall the OS, this lets you install updated drivers, applications, OS patches and clean out the whole thing. Vista disks are easy to find online, as long as you have a key that works, its relatively easy to do. YOU DON'T NEED TO FORMAT to do this. Just reinstall the OS, keep it easy.

  • How exactly does an in-place installation “clean out the whole thing”? If there are viruses, then they will still be there after the installation? Only system files will get overwritten with clean copies (well, presumably, the virus might very well prevent the replacements and/or re-infect the files are they are replaced). All of the non-system files (downloaded files, installed, program files, etc.) that are infected would still be lying around waiting to re-infect the system. – Synetech Jan 3 '14 at 17:01
  • ...or nuke it, I didn't see any real indication the machine was in fact infected other than an amateur opinion, ahem - a "feeling" it was "riddled" with viruses. Start with a reinstall, and IF it turns out it is infected, THEN nuke it. – MDT Guy Jan 3 '14 at 17:26
  • As Synetech said, an in-place installation may still leave the virus intact or able to propagate, and OP doesn't want to nuke. – cutrightjm Jan 3 '14 at 20:25

I don't like AVG much, I'd go with Microsoft Security Essentials. I also like Autoruns, versus msconfig, for removing startup items and other nasties (make sure to enable "Verify Image Signagures" and "Hide Microsoft Entries". Be careful with this however, as you can break things if you don't know what you're doing.

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