New computer vs. repairing old one

My wife’s grandparents have a Dell (not sure of the model) that’s about 5 years old with Windows XP Home edition and tons and tons of spyware and viruses. IE easily takes 10 minutes to load on this thing. They got it through PeoplePC and still have that dial-up account. (Why they haven’t gotten a replacement computer from PeoplePC in the interim, I don’t know.)

Anyway, despite the fact that all they do is play Solitaire and print Word documents, they’ve decided they’d like to get a new computer and cable internet, and are asking my wife and I for recommendations for what to buy. But I was thinking that it might be possible for me to burn a CD with free anti-spyware and firewall software and somehow repair their existing computer, since nothing they do really requires a new computer. I have two Macs with CD burners and a Windows PC laptop with a CD-ROM/DVD drive, but no burner.

Is there somewhere I can download the necessary software on my Mac to burn to a CD that I can start their computer with and at least try to clean it up? Or is it not worth the hassle? My concern is they don’t want to spend a lot of money, so trying to explain to them that the 256 MB of RAM in the base HP model isn’t enough is just going to frustrate them. And no, they aren’t getting a Mac, so don’t ask; even though it might solve a lot of problems, the $599 Mac mini looks expensive to them when there are $250 computers for sale. And I should also mention that they don’t want to take their computer to Best Buy or someplace like that to get it cleaned, because they think they’ll get ripped off (and they may well be right.) But could I do it for free?

By the way, this is the computer they want to get. Can’t beat $250, now can you? :rolleyes:

There’s a thread in GQ you should check out - it’s called Computer Question? Read This First.. I’m not trying to rub your nose in it – you posted to IMHO, and probably haven’t seen it before. I think you’ll find it useful, because the very first post in the thread has a list of free malware detection and removal software.

You would probably be best off booting into safe mode with the machine completely disconnected. Run as many of the tools as possible straight from CD (to prevent them being broken by counter-anti-malware tactics) and continue running the tools until you get the same results twice in a row. If the machine is clean, boot into regular mode and give it another go.

Your goal is to get as many trojans and viruses off the drive before performing the Last Full Backup to some external hard drive[sup]1[/sup]. Run the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, store their profile on the external drive, and then format and reinstall Windows. This will probably take you a full day or possibly a full weekend.

  1. Ideally, this would be a regular IDE hard drive in a FireWire enclosure. A Mac on the same network (does their machine have an ethernet card?) would also do the job, but you run the (low, IMHO) risk of cross-platform infections.

You’d be better off just doing a “nuke and pave” after moving all their documents off (burn a CD, USB jump drive, whatever) with either the “restore” disc the PC came with, or a standard copy of XP. It’s not too hard to get the “OEM” price if you buy it with a token bit of hardware. Usually, the online shops have it bundled with a $3 cable. In this case, you’d be better off looking to buy it along with enough RAM to get them to 512 meg, or better yet, 1 GB.

Act fast if you want to buy Windows XP - now that Vista is here, XP is starting to disappear. Don’t even think of putting Vista on a 5 year old PC with 256 MB of RAM. You think it’s slow now??

While using the restore disc will be free, it will load in all the Dell and PeoplePC garbage. Dunno about PeoplePC, but Dell is known for loading down PCs with junk.

Trust me on this - attempting to fix the PC will take far longer than giving it a fresh installation of Windows, and even if you do manage to get all the viruses, worms and such out, you’ll be left with a very beat-up installation that’s had the stuffing knocked out of it, and patched up with twine and chewing gum.

Whatever you choose to do to fix it, once it’s fixed tell them to leave the computer on overnight once a week and set up their machine with scheduled scandisks and defrags. If I don’t do them at least once a month, my old machine slows down quite a bit.

Okay, so I looked through the GQ page and downloaded a bunch of software to my Mac, and I’ll try burning the programs to a CD. I also have, somewhere, a (legal) version of XP Pro with SP2. (I have the CD sleeve but I don’t know where the CD itself went.)

If I can’t find the Windows CD, and I have trouble booting into Safe Mode (because I think I tried that once before and for some reason the computer wouldn’t boot into Safe Mode), I take it I shouldn’t bother trying to fix it?

Also, do the installation packages for the spyware and virus programs come with definition files, or do I have to download those separately and put them on the CD as well?

Thanks for helping out a Windows newbie.

You’ll want to update the anti-badstuff apps after you install them. Some will actually go off and do it automatically once they’ve been installed.

The definitions are updated rather often - weekly, if not even more often, so it’s unlikely that even the current version of whatever app will be truly up to date.

You didn’t say what you were using, but my recollection is that you can easily download the current signatures file for AVG and put that on a CD with the application itself. Other apps are probably set up to do similar.