My Computer Is Slow

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, "My computer is slow", I could be writing this blog from a beach in the Caribbean. Slow is one of those ambiguous terms that really has no reference point. It is mostly based on perception. I'd like to dispel a couple of notions and give you some ideas on things you can do when your machine is really slowing down.

One of the biggest things you can do to make your computer seem like it is slow or at least slowing down is frequently visit the electronics section at your local big box store and try out the latest computers on display. These display models have some things going for them that the trusty PC on your desk at home doesn't. They are brand new with the latest technology. They are locked down and do not have someone installing all kinds of trial software and freeware that undoubtedly bog down a system immediately. The hard disk has been freshly imaged and is optimized.

If you're going to compare your existing computer to the ones at the big box store, or your neighbor's latest purchase for that matter, you have to compare apples with apples. What is the RAM difference between yours and theirs? What is the manufacturer of the CPU and what is the clock speed? Often speed is a function of the graphics chip. Are they the same between your machine and the one you are comparing it to?

My advice for comparing is don't. When you purchase a new PC purchase a PC with all of the hardware and memory you need plus 50%. This should last for 3 to 5 years as long as you don't compare it with your neighbor's or the one at work. If you are going to compare, what is the age difference? If there is more than a year difference you might as well be comparing a car built in 1940 with the latest Corvette.

You may be asking, "I have compared my PC with others, and fair or not, I know my PC is slowing down." You are correct. It is. Bogging down and getting slow is inevitable. There are a number of factors you can control to help keep your computer maintained and it's speed relatively constant.

Only install software you are going to use. We all install applications that we want to try out. I install different things for different tasks or for review all the time. The key is to remove them when you no longer need them or when you find they don't meet your need. The more programs your computer has installed, the more hard drive space is used, and often times background programs running. This is especially true in your browser. Many legitimate programs now come as adware or have other bundled things that come with them. Browser tool bars are very frequent. Pay attention when you are installing something and read each installation screen and make sure you understand what that step is saying and doing.

Defragment your hard drive. Let me say that again. DEFRAGMENT YOUR HARD DRIVE. Your hard drive does not operate the way your file cabinet does. The visual interface you see is of organized folders with hierarchies. The drive fills empty spots as it goes, breaking your files up into pieces as it fills empty spots on the drive. It then updates a table at the front of the drive that catalogs where every piece of a file is on the drive. Let me give you an illustration. I want to save a fourteen page document to my hard drive. It saves pages one and two in one spot, page three in another spot, pages four through nine in yet another spot, and then each of pages ten through 14 in individual open spots. It then adds to the table of contents, so to speak, at the front of the drive where it put each piece. When I open the file in my word processor, the computer references that table and fetches each piece and then reassembles it. Defragmenting your hard drive will reorganize your hard drive and move the files around so they are all together. This makes saving and retrieving information to and from the drive faster, like when it was new. Fortunately Windows 7 and beyond can be scheduled to do this regularly in the background when your computer is not in use as long as it is turned on when it is scheduled. Earlier versions of Windows must be defragmented manually. Linux and Unix (including the *nix based Mac OSes) do not fragment nearly as much and there fore do not have a defragment procedure.

Keep your PC cool. This doesn't mean you store it in the refrigerator. It does mean, you need to keep it clean. The largest contributing factor to computer overheating is dust. Is your laptop getting hotter on your legs when you're using it? It's probably dust built up inside. Is your computer tower on the floor under your desk? It's pulling in all of the dust, animal hair, and carpet fibers from the floor in it's immediate area. If you have a laptop use a can of spray air you can get in the office/stationery section of almost any store and squirt it in the vents of the laptop. make sure the laptop is turned off during this. You will see clouds of dust coming out of it. You will also see it operate a little quicker afterward, not to mention it will live longer. With a tower or desktop computer you can use the spray air from time to time, but if your computer is on the floor, it won't be enough. You'll have to occasionally shut it down, pull the cover off and carefully vacuum out all of the dust bunnies. Use your spray air to get into the crevices and between the cooling fins. If it is necessary to have your computer on the floor, buy a child's small step stool and place the computer on that. It will get it eight inches or so off the floor and the dust problem will be significantly reduced.

Something that is typically automatic unless you turn it off is keep the operating system up to date. ALL operating systems have flaws. They are written and distributed by imperfect people and there are folks constantly looking for ways to exploit vulnerabilities. By keeping your operating system and software up to date with critical and security updates, you can remove problems due to bugs before they happen and help keep your computer and subsequently your data safe.

Finally keep your anti-virus software and anti-spyware software up to date. If you are a home user running Windows, Microsoft has a free program called Security Essentials you can download and install. It is updated as part of the Windows operating system and does a great job. Security Essentials is not free for commercial use (this includes non-profits), but is very affordable. There are others available too. Do not be fooled, none of them are perfect and will catch everything. None of them! On networks that I administrate i will often use one product on the computers and a different product on the servers so we have a better chance of catching any virus, worm, spyware, or other malware.

I have given you an overview of things that will make your computer seem slow and others that will slow it down. If you'd like to know more, or find out what we can do to help you set up a maintenance plan or usability/replacement plan for your computers, feel free to contact me using our contact form.

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