Tech & Work

'My computer is slow': 5 quick tips for troubleshooting friends and family over the holidays

Do you end up as tech support for relatives and others over the holidays? Here are five quick tips to help you resolve their speed problems.

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Image: iStockphoto/SIphotography

The holidays are a great reason to break bread and spend quality time with family and friends. If you've come to be known as the techie in the group, though, the holidays are also a time when people may come to you for advice.

Almost every computer-literate person has to brace himself or herself for the question: "Hey, can you take a look at my computer?"

SEE: 10 mistakes to avoid when troubleshooting IT problems

The issue isn't that you don't want to help your loved ones, it's just that the issues are often more complex than they seem. To help get your troubleshooting started off on the right foot, here five quick tips that you can use as a launching point for figuring out what's wrong.

1. Clear the cache and cookies

Nowadays, most computing is done on the internet. So, when people complain about their computer being slow, what they really mean is that their favorite webpage isn't loading quickly enough, or they cannot access their email.

An easy first step to remedy this is to clear the cache and cookies. As a reminder, the cache is basically temporary storage for files that relate to loading a given website, and cookies are bits of information about how you interact with specific websites.

The process for clearing the cache and cookies will be different for each browser, but it often is nested under "settings," "preferences," or "history." Just remember to check if the user has any saved passwords before clearing the cookies, as it will often clear those out.

2. Remove spyware and malware

Does your uncle incessantly click on pop-ups and fake emails telling him that he won a million dollars? If so, he likely has some form of malware or spyware that is affecting his computer's performance. There are a plethora of tools available to help you remove malware, many of which offer a free version. However, a nice gift might be to purchase a premium product and set it up on their computer for them.

Here are some additional articles that could help you remove malware and spyware:

3. Look for the RAM hogs

If the speed issues are local, there could be applications and programs that are using too much memory. Check your Activity Monitor for Mac, or Task Manager for Windows to see how much memory each program is using.

One of the key ways to make sure these RAM hogs aren't causing regular problems for your user is to make sure they aren't booting at the start up. Both Windows (Startup) and Macs (Startup Items) have a folder that includes the applications that will launch at startup, and subsequently will run in the background. Make sure that there are no unnecessary programs in this folder.

4. Uninstall programs and apps

As many in IT know, simply deleting an application doesn't remove it from your device. Instead, you'll need to manually uninstall applications to get rid of them for good. In Windows, this can be accomplished from the Start button under the Control Panel, clicking on a program and selecting uninstall. On a Mac, however, you'll need a third-party application (ironic, isn't it), like AppCleaner.

While you're at it, make sure to empty the recycle bin and get rid of any files that the users doesn't use on a daily basis. While it may take a long time to go through batches of photo or video, it may save you a headache in the future.

5. DEFCON 5: Reinstall the OS

If all else fails, it may be time to reinstall the OS. This is a serious step, but it often leads to a much better user experience and can take care of a multitude of problems at once. Just be sure to back up everything the user needs in a couple different places before pursuing this option.

These articles may provide some additional assistance in reinstalling the OS:

What are your thoughts?

Do you have any other tips that techies should know before assisting their friends and family? Any family tech support horror stories? Share them both in the comments below.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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