Why is my computer so slow? ~ Ask The Admin

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why is my computer so slow?

If you are the type to enjoy sites like "AsktheAdmin" then I'm willing to bet you are the person the family calls when they have a computer problem. I think the problem I get most often is "Why is my computer so slow?" Well, there are a number of reasons your pc experience has started crawling at a snails pace, I'll try to cover some of my basic ways to get your machine back to the days of snappy response.

First what we need to realize is when people say their machine is slow they generally mean their overall user interface experience....ie Windows. We're not talking rocket science or trying to factor the number of cells in the human body, this your Mom's PC, or Grandma's...or the guy next door that just wants to get email and check on the weather for the weekend. So fairly simple PC setups that have grown tired from use such as loading applications or surfing the web. For these scenarios (and others more complex) I have some simple methods to get things cleaned up and running smoothly:

  1. Start Up
  2. Clean Up
  3. Memory
First things first; many people don't realize that when Windows starts up there are a number of hidden little programs that plant themselves at startup to run automatically. Now this is usually done "to help the user out". How? Oh, well if I run my program EVERY time you start your PC then the 1 or 2 times a month you actually need to use it it will be ALL READY to go for you. Nice huh? Not exactly. Most "helper" apps such as these put unnecessary load on your machine and when speed is a premium, we need to address them.

A few people know about the Start Up folder in their Program files folder, which is a simple way to get programs to launch at start up. Most often though, the "helper" apps hide in the registry where the average user is less likely to find them or remove them. For these situations I recommend using a Start Up Manager program. Windows has it's own built right in called "msconfig" that can be launched from the RUN command, but I have found freeware alternatives that in my opinion do more and are easier to use. One such program is "Starter" by a group called CodeStuff.

Their website was not available at this writing, not sure what the story is there, but you can find it all over the web including on Snapfiles: http://www.snapfiles.com/get/starter.html.

This program will show all the applications that launch at Windows Start up. Do you really need Adobe running on every start? How about Office? Yahoo Toolbar?

The great thing about these StartUp Managers is that they allow you to disable rather than just delete an application. You might find something cryptic and think "What the heck is that? Delete it" only to find it was part of your antivirus or printer program. Disabling allows you to reboot and try out if you are missing any functionality when in doubt. I always choose to disable and then in a few months I'll go back and delete it if nothing is "missed".

Use a StartUp manager to stop unneeded applications from hogging your system resources and slowing things down.

Now that we have removed all the unnecessary applications from launching at start up the next thing to review is "Clean Up". This doesn't always yield faster response but it's a general good practice and may help performance. What happens is over time all your temp files and cache gets loaded up, and there is no process to clean things up. Enter CCleaner: http://www.ccleaner.com/.

This great little utility (affectionately called "Crap Cleaner") will clear up those areas as well as do a number of other things to help tidy up the PC. Getting and running this program with the defaults is more than enough to get things cleaned up, I'll let you experiment with all the other features this little gem can accomplish.

The last item I like to check is how much system memory is installed. Memory is relatively cheap and I find that sometimes the basic consumer level PCs have barely enough to run.

Now I have to admit, for all the PCs I've built, fixed and loaded I still get confused by memory. You may not have this issue but a tool I like to use is a free program provided by Crucial (http://www.crucial.com) called Crucial System Scanner: http://images.crucial.com/drivers/CrucialScan.exe or run it on-line here: What I like about this program is that once run it will tell you what you have installed, what configuration and if you have the ability to increase the memory. No more "cracking the case" just to see how many memory slots are there or if they are all used! Sure, Windows can tell me if 1 gig of ram is installed, but it doesn't tell me if that equates to 1 gig ram chip or 2 512mb ram chips. Of course the Crucial tool is going to show you the Crucial brand memory equivalent of what you can upgrade with, but now that you have the information you can choose whatever brand you want should you decide to upgrade. (AskTheAdmin recomends Crucial memory and gets a few cents for every purchase you make through this link here.)

So there you have it - 3 simple things you can use to help get your (or your Mom's) PC back to a more snappier pace. Load them up on a thumb drive so you can take them with you for "field visits" like Thanksgiving or Easter....

Have other tools or practices to share? Let's hear about them in the comments....