Computer Maintenance 101 - How to Fix A Slow Computer

A good friend of mine asked the question, "My computer is running slowly, so what is the first thing I should do before I go buy more memory or take it in"? That is an excellent question, and something that a lot of people wonder, so I will do my best to answer and help out.

Anytime I run into slow computer problems, the first few things I check are the hard drive, whether the computer is running anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, and then the amount of RAM. If all of these things check out, I actually worry about the temperature of the hardware, because excessive heat can make a computer do funky things. If you do all of the following troubleshooting tasks, and find that your computer is still running slow, try cleaning it on the inside. Get rid of those dust bunnies. See my blog article titled (computer maintenance 101-cleaning up dust).

If your computer is running so slowly that you can't complete the following maintenance tasks, its time to take it in to a professional who may have to wipe your hard drive clean and install a fresh copy of Windows.

I will try to explain my reasoning behind these troubleshooting tasks so you can do them yourself, and hopefully figure out why your PC has slowed down. You may be able to fix the problem on your own. How cool is that?

#1. Check the hard drive. For those of you who don't know what a hard drive is, it is where all of the information on your computer is stored permanently. Check the hard drive first to make sure that there is enough free space on the hard drive. Insufficient free space will cause all kinds of slow down problems on a computer.

To check the amount of memory that is free vs. the amount of memory that is being used, you go to "My Computer," right click on the C:\ icon, and chose properties. Here is an example of the properties window. Notice that it shows you in a pie chart how much of the hard drive is being used?

In this example, my hard drive is more than 75% empty. I have 94.6 GB of free space. If your hard drive is more than 50% full, you will run into problems with Windows slowing down. On my home computer, I try to keep the hard drive that contains Windows less than 50% full at all times. My rule of thumb is that it is best to have a second hard drive for storage of video files, MP3's, and other large datablocks that may take up a lot of hard drive space. Your computer is capable of running Windows with the hard drive almost full, but it really slows down the fuller the hard drive gets.

So, solution #1 is, if you see that your hard drive is more than 50% full:
A). get rid of some of your files. You can delete them, and then go to the Recycle Bin and delete them from there as well (empty the recycle bin). I commonly use a second hard drive to store my files, and I back up my really important files like family pictures by burning them on a writeable DVD. After deleting all of the files,

B).defragment your hard drive. See the blog post before this one to learn about defragmenting). You should also run the "Disk Cleanup" tool found in the properties or under System Tools. (You can see the Disk Cleanup button in the picture above).

Another thing to be aware of is that there is a possibility that you have so many programs installed on your computer, that it is overtaxed and slowing down. If you have a ton of programs on your computer, especially large graphically intense programs,

C).try uninstalling all of your extra programs that you don't use. Get down to the bare minimum of programs you have to use, and then defragment and use the disk cleanup utility.

After you take all of the unnecessary programs off your computer, start to reinstall each one and see if it effects your computer speed or performance. Sometimes, computer programmers really screw up and write computer programs that make computers angry and use up a lot of system resources. Uninstalling everything except the most basic and necessary programs will help you pinpoint if this is the problem.

#2. Ensure there is no virus, spyware, malware, or other malicious "ware" on your computer.
If your hard drive is pretty free and empty, you've defragmented and run the Cleanup disk wizard, you have uninstalled all of the extra programs on your computer, and your computer is still running slow, it is best to check and make sure you don't have any malicious software running on your computer.

Regrettably, not all anti-virus software is good enough to prevent all of the malicious software that is available to infest your computer. It is best to run an anti-virus program, anti-spyware program, as well as a firewall on your computer. Typically, when I see that someone has an anti-virus program installed, but their computer is still running slowly, I suspect that there is malware or spyware gunking up the computer that the anti-virus program didn't catch.

There are many free programs you can use to scan your computer and remove malicious software. Here are the ones I recommend and use frequently while fixing computers. These are anti-spyware/malware removal tools.

  1. Ad-Aware This is a reliable free program that I usually use in conjunction with an additional spyware removal tool.
  2. Spybot Search and Destroy Another reliable free spyware searching program.
  3. Zone Alarm (free trial of Anti-virus, Anti-spyware, and Firewall software). I used this program most recently to discover 36 malware programs that were running on my grandma's computer that Norton Internet Security Suite had missed entirely. You can download a trial version to find and eliminate current threats, and then uninstall the program once the trial is up. I would then recommend you install the free firewall from Zone Alarm, or install the Comodo firewall (which is also free).
A firewall is a nifty way to keep track of all of the background activity that happens behind the scenes on your computer. When you first start using it, it can be annoying because it will popup as soon as any program attempts to access the internet or install/run itself on your computer. You have to train the firewall to know which programs are acceptable and which ones aren't. Once the firewall is trained, it is a highly effective way to keep malware and spyware off of your computer. It won't let anything in or out without your express permission. It won't let any program run on your computer unless it is a trusted program.

After working on a computer that had a lot of malware on it, I was happy to find that removal of the little malicious programs sped the computer up quite a bit. Give it a try.

#3. Check the amount of RAM (a.k.a. "memory") installed.
RAM stands for random access memory. Its a place on your computer where information is stored temporarily for fast recal. Its kind of like a buffer that can store information from your permanent memory (the hard drive). Most computers come from the factory installed with sufficient RAM (memory) to run Windows and a few other programs.

If you browse the internet frequently, use light weight programs such as Word, Solitaire, etc,. then the RAM you have installed is usually sufficient. However, for those of us who are power users, or who like to install and try out many different programs, a lack of RAM can cause a computer to slow down significantly. Before considering installing more RAM, make sure you take care of the hard drive space and the malware first. If you don't ensure these two things are taken care of first, no amount of RAM is going to help your computer speed up.

Again, there are some computer programs that use a lot of RAM because they are either RAM hogs, or the computer programmers weren't smart. If you are running a lot of computer programs, most likely buying a new stick or two of RAM will help speed things up. There are some really geeky ways to check and see if you have sufficient RAM installed, but a general rule of thumb is that if you are running 512MB of DDR RAM, you are pushing the envelope for computer slowdowns. I was running 1GB of DDR RAM and my computer was still slowing down while running typical applications like Firefox and Photoshop. I upgraded to 2GB of DDR RAM (the max my system will take), and now my computer is running a little faster. I like to multi-task, so having a lot of RAM helps my computer run a lot faster. For those of you who usually only run one program at a time, or who don't use multiple tabs in Firefox, adding more RAM will not be as noticeable as those of us who revel in making our computers work really hard by multi-tasking.

Picking out RAM is difficult if you don't know what you are doing. There are many types of RAM, and if you get wrong kind, it won't work in your computer at all. The easiest way to get the right RAM is to check the RAM stick on the inside of your computer to see what model you have. If your computer is a few years old, its most likely running DDR RAM, but the trick is to find the RAM with the right frequency so it matches what you already have, or your motherboard.

So, if you really have no clue, take the RAM out of your computer. (Its easy to remove when the computer is OFF). Go to a computer geek, and ask them what kind it is so you can buy more.

You need to know:
A). The type of RAM: A). "DDR" B). "DDR2" C)."DDR3"

B). The frequency of the RAM. (typically you can say its either DDR366, DDR400 etc. or its PC2700, PC3200, etc....). I know its confusing. Hence the reason you need your geek friend to tell you what type of RAM you have so you can buy more.

If you don't have a computer geek friend, email me a picture of it and I will tell you what kind it is and help you pick the right kind.

The reason why I don't want you to take it to a store and have it installed is that typically the markup for RAM in an electronics store is at least 100%. I always buy my RAM from www.newegg.com. They are the cheapest and most reliable computer parts store in the world.

Installing RAM is as simple as getting the right kind, and then placing it on the correct part of the motherboard. It doesn't require anything more than a good snug fit. Windows will recognize the RAM, and your computer won't have to install any extra drivers or programs. Just get it and stick it in. Its that simple.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me. I am happy to help.


Kelli said...

holly cow, did you type all that? hey, do you think my computer is running faster this week because I had to call comcast and have them reboot my box thingy from there end? because it seems like it does to me. just wondering

Eddie the Girl said...

whoa, your amazing. It's gonna take me a min to read through this.