I'm a huge believer in protecting my PCs (all three) from viruses, Internet hackers and crashes. I know I have way too many startup programs...

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I’m a huge believer in protecting my PCs (all three) from viruses, Internet hackers and crashes. I know I have way too many startup programs, because my PC boots up like it’s powered by a junkyard Yugo.

I’m running out of hard-disk space because I never get around to deleting temporary Internet and installation files.

My PCs are slow because my system memory is fragmented, to say nothing of the scattered files on my hard drive. When I double-click on an icon, nothing happens, because the shortcut goes nowhere.

When I accidentally erase a file, I can’t get it back, even though I know it’s there somewhere. And when I want to get rid of a file, I have the suspicion it’s still there, somewhere.

Let me introduce you to my PC’s newest best friend: System Mechanic 7 Professional, for PCs running most versions of Windows.

This program, which can be installed on three computers legally, actually is five separate programs that can be installed all at once or separately.

Since I was running a whole suite of Norton anti-virus, Internet Security and other utilities, I had the option of keeping my Norton programs or getting rid of them.

I have nothing against Norton, except that a similar package of utilities would have cost much more and could be installed on only one PC.

Here are the programs, and what they did for me:

• System Mechanic 7 diagnosed my PC and found errors in everything from broken links, registry problems and stuff I never think about. It backed up my system registry, got rid of a couple gigabytes of clutter, fixed some security problems and defragmented my hard drive, so it runs faster.

• The antivirus program checks for the latest protection every hour and stops viruses before they find the hard drive.

• Personal Firewall puts up a virtual high, solid steel fence, topped with barbed wire, to keep hackers away.

• Search and Recover will help you retrieve that photo of Aunt Gladys you keep deleting. Likewise, Drive Scrubber will get rid of it for good.

After trying each program, I took the big step of uninstalling similar Norton programs nearing expensive updates.

The programs in System Mechanic install easily, work in the background to monitor everything that comes in and goes out of your PC without slowing it down, update themselves and keep figuring out ways to keep your PCs healthy and running smoothly.

System Mechanic 7 Professional (www.iolo.com) is listed $69.95.

Kensington notebook case

Kensington

www.kensington.com

$80

You can tote your laptop in style, and give your back a break, with Kensington’s Contour Balance Notebook Case.

Designed to maximize comfort while minimizing strain, the case has a special panel that dissipates heat while comfortably hugging your body.

Available in black or brown with a decorative trim, the case has an impact-resistant notebook compartment with a cushioned bottom.

— Deborah Porterfield

Gannett News Service

R-Tam Keyboard

TW Enterprises

www.r-tab.com

$40

Number crunchers will appreciate the ingenuity behind the R-TAB Keyboard.

Designed to speed entry of data, the keyboard features a numeric keypad on the right. Better yet, it has a Tab key to the right of the numeric keypad, so you can easily move from one data entry to the next.

It has an Escape key above the right Tab key, allowing you to quickly undo any mistakes.

— Deborah Porterfield