Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to Fix a Slow Computer

There is nothing more frustrating than a slow computer.  Whether it's trying to load a web page, open a folder, or even just shut down, a computer that runs like molasses can really try your patience.

Computers can be slow for many different reasons, and it can sometimes be difficult to figure out why.  But by using the tips below, you can troubleshoot your slow computer and hopefully get it running up to speed again.

- For slow web browsers

Just about every web browser uses add-ons, plug-ins, or other piggyback programs that add functionality or offer other advantages.  However, these add-ons can sometimes drag your browser's performance down, and occasionally even slow it to a crawl.  If your web browser is slow, disable all of your add-ons and see if you notice a difference in speed.  If so, enable the add-ons one by one until you can figure out which one is causing the bottleneck, then give it the axe.  Google's toolbar add-on is notorious for bogging down web browsers.

If your browser still seems slow, you may want to try a different browser altogether.  Chrome and Opera are two alternative browsers that are both free to download.  Try one or both of them, and see if they are faster than what you're using now.

- For slow startup

Many programs will try to configure themselves to launch when Windows boots up.  For some programs, this can be a nice feature, but for others it's just a waste of memory and system resources.  The more programs you have set to load on startup, the slower your system will run.

There are two main places to check to see which programs automatically run every time you turn your PC on.  The first is the Windows Startup folder, which you can view from the Start menu (Start > All Programs > Startup).  If you see any programs in this folder that you don't want to run automatically, just delete them.  Their shortcut will be deleted from the Startup folder, but the program itself will remain installed.

Another, more comprehensive, place to look is the System Configuration Utility.  Type "msconfig" into the Run bar or Search bar and when the application opens up, go to the Startup tab.  The programs here will be listed with abbreviated names, but you should be able to get a good sense of what each one is.  Many files listed here can safely be unchecked, such as GoogleUpdate or AdobeARM -- just be careful not to uncheck critical system files.  Once you've made your changes, click Apply or OK, and the next time you turn your computer on, those programs you selected won't start up.  You should notice a difference in startup time, and hopefully in general system performance as well.

- For slow speeds during normal operation

If you notice your computer slowing down suddenly during use, it could be any number of programs causing the drop in performance.  Look in the Task Manager to see which programs or services are eating up your resources; scan the "CPU" and "Mem Usage" columns and look for files with much higher numbers than the programs above and below them.  (To open the Task Manager, right click on an empty area of the taskbar and select Task Manager.)

Anti-virus or anti-spyware programs can bog your system down periodically.  You'll notice a drop in performance if either of these applications is running a scan or downloading updates.  One way to combat this slowness is to schedule scans and updates for times when you don't use your computer, such as late at night or early in the morning.  The same can be done with Windows' automatic updates, which also account for occasional drops in performance.

If the files you're seeing in the Task Manager are a different type of program, check that program's preferences or options to see if it has any settings for automatic updates or other functions that would cause it to use up resources when you're not using it.  Some programs also stay resident in memory even after they've been closed, which means the memory that they claimed can't be reallocated to another program.  If you see files in the Task Manager for a program that you've already shut down, highlight those files and click End Process to free up that memory.

- For slow hard drives

Hard drives come in varying speeds, and even a fast hard drive can get bogged down as it starts to get close to maximum capacity.  Run a disk cleanup program like CCleaner to erase all of those unnecessary temporary files, setup files, and cookies that can slowly take over your hard drive.  Windows even comes with its own utility, aptly named Disk Cleanup, that will do an adequate job of erasing unneeded files.

Videos, pictures, and songs are notorious for taking up space.  If possible, offload your media files onto a DVD, CD, or external hard drive to free up space on your main drive.  You can also go into the Control Panel and, using the Add or Remove Programs applet, delete old programs that you no longer use.

Once you've freed up some hard drive space, run the Windows Disk Defragmenter (or another defragmenting program) to reorganize your drive and make some sense out of all that mess.  Your hard drive will now be more streamlined and have better access times, which means better performance.

(Originally posted on Helium.com, January 2011)

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