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Why Is My Computer So Slow?

You Have the Tools to Speed Up Your PC

One of the most frequent questions I hear is,
"How can I speed up my PC? It has become very slow."

There are a number of factors that can cause a computer to run slowly. Here are some of the main ones:

  1. Unnecessary Startup Programs Running in the Background
  2. Hard Disk Fragmented & in Need of Being Defragmented
  3. Hard Disk Errors May Be Corrected with "Check Disk"
  4. Hard Disk Needing "Clean Up"
  5. Adware & Spyware
  6. Windows Registry Issues
  7. Viruses
  8. Anti-Virus Security Programs
  9. Your PC May Need More RAM (random access memory)
1.  Use MSCONFIG to Disable Unneeded Startup Programs

Today's computers are capable of doing many different things at once; however, having multiple programs running at the same time (especially ones you're not using) can cause everything to slow down.

What might such a needlessly running program be? Well, a good example is RealPlayer. This media player is used to hear songs whose file names have .RA or .RAM extensions. However, RealPlayer is programmed to start running the moment you turn on your PC — whether you plan to use it or not. Windows Media Player, conversely, is not so-rigged.

Acrobat Reader and AOL are other programs that are often rigged to start running when you turn on your PC.

Here's how to use MSCONFIG (Microsoft Configuration) to control these startups:

WinXP users go to Start>Run, type msconfig, and click OK. Vista and Win7 users click on Start and type msconfig into the Search box.

Click the Startup tab to see a list of programs with a check box next to each. It's not uncommon to find all of them (many with cryptic names) selected with checkmarks.

MSCONFIG Startup Programs
     Most of us don't need more than two or three of these items checked. In any case, unchecking an item does NOT delete the program — you are simply telling it not to start running when you turn on your computer. Furthermore, any deselected item can be re-enabled whenever you want.

The illustration above shows part of my computer's MSCONFIG list.

  • My anti-virus program Microsoft Security Essentials (msseces) is checked because I always want it up and running.
  • I want ipoint always running because it's part of my programmable optical mouse's many features.
  • Stickies is a program I use constantly, so I do want it running all the time.
  • I do not need Adobe Reader running in the background because I rarely use it. Likewise with AIM and Chrome3. I activate them if and when I need them.

If you are uncertain about what to turn off, deselect everything. Reboot to see how your PC is behaving. If anything seems amiss, return to MSCONFIG and checkmark whichever program you suspect might be the culprit. If uncertain, mark the first item in the list, rebtart, and review the computer's performance again. Repeat the process as needed.

Do not assume that this is a one-time ritual. Software authors have sneaky ways of adding new items to the Startup list, and re-enabling items you have deselected. For instance, I recently downloaded the latest version of Acrobat Reader, and found that Adobe had placed "Adobe Reader" on the list, despite the fact that I rarely use Acrobat Reader.

2 - Defragment Your Hard Disk

New files are normally added to your hard drive in sequence. However, moving or deleting files can leave gaps that make your hard drive resemble Swiss cheese. Defragmenting will rearrange the files in logical sequences that make them easier to access. The process usually takes less than an hour, and you can continue working during defragmenting. Click on Start>My Computer. Then, right-click on C-Drive (or any drive that needs maintenance) and choose Properties>Tools>Defragment.

3 -  Check Disk

Check Disk (Error Checking) This is a utility that will scan your hard drive and fix a variety of problems, some of which you don't even know you have. Click on Start>My Computer. Then, right-click on C-Drive (or any drive that needs maintenance) and choose Properties>Tools>Check Now. Next, checkmark "Automatically Fix File System Errors" and "Scan for and Attempt Recovery of Bad Sectors." Finally, click Start.

        A message will appear that says Error Checking cannot be performed while Windows is running and that you need to restart your computer. Click OK and then do a normal reboot by going to Start>Turn Off Computer>Restart.

    ChkDsk may require two to four hours and the computer will be unusable while running. I usually do it at night or when out of the house for a while.

4 - Disk Cleanup

Also under Start>My Computer, right-clicking C and choosing Properties>General will display Disk Cleanup, which shows options for deleting unneeded files and recovering disk space.

5 - Windows Registry Issues

Another problem is getting stuck with unwanted files in your Windows Registry. For example, if you download and install RealPlayer, and later decide you don't want it, using the normal Start>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs>Remove may appear to uninstall the program; however, many files will be left in your Registry that can give you all kinds of grief.

Such files can often be deleted as follows: Click Start>Run, and type REGEDIT (Registry Edit) into the Run box. Click OK and use Edit>Find (Ctrl+F) to look for entries bearing the word REAL. (This will display phrases such as RealPlayer and RealAudio.) Right-click the icon to the left of each entry and choose DELETE. Repeat this process until no more are found. Finally exit the Registry Editor.

    Warning: The Registry is a complex area that is usually best left to a technician. However, it can usually be fixed with System Restore if you, say, mistakenly delete RealTek, which is an audio card and not part of RealAudio.

    Beware of ads on the Internet that offer a "Free Download" for "Speeding Up Your PC." or "Repairing your Registry."You will be told your computer has multiple problems and needs fixing, which the advertiser will do for about $40 to $60.

    If you encounter a problem that appears to be system-related, things can often be fixed by restoring your system to a previous date. Click on Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>System Restore. Click Next when you see "Restore My Computer to an Earlier Time," whereupon a calendar will be displayed with certain dates shown in bold type. Choose any bold-face date that precedes the date on which your problem began. Finally, click Next and follow the prompts to restore your settings to what they were on that date.

    The list of things that can go awry in your system settings is too long to itemize here, but I have used System Restore to fix all kinds of problems.
6 - Adware & Spyware

Spyware can come in many different forms. If you spend any time at all on the Internet it's a pretty safe bet you've picked up some "adware" or "spyware." "Adware" is usually benign merchandising information used by online vendors. It is normally placed on your computer in the form of "cookies." Some "spyware" can come in the form of cookies or can be picked up by clicking on a misleading link while online. The traditional way to remove spyware used to be to scan your hard drive with an anti-spyware program, such as Microsoft Defender. Nowadays, however, most anti-virus programs include an anti-spyware feature.

7 - Viruses

Viruses come in many different forms and can do all kinds of harmful things to your computer. Most people have a real-time anti-virus program running continually in the background to interecept malware that may come to you as an email attachment or which you might pickup online by clicking on a deceptive link.

Norton and McAfee are probably the best known anti-virus programs, but we have been using Microsoft Security Essentials since Microsoft made the program free in early 2010.

8 - RAM

One of the fundamentals of any computer is: The more RAM (random access memory) it has, the faster it will run. There are some limitations to this rule, but it pays to check with a technician to see if your computer could use more RAM. RAM chips can be user-installed, but I prefer to have a technician install mine. However, if you buy your memory units from Crucial.com they come with user-friendly instructions for installing them yourself.

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