TR Dojo: Five tips for troubleshooting a slow PC
November 22, 2010, 12:44pm PST | Length: 00:07:38
Don't just accept a computer that runs slowly. Bill Detwiler shows you how to fix five common culprits of slow PC. Once you’ve watched this TR Dojo video, you can find a link to the original TechRepublic article and print the tip from our TR Dojo Blog
Bill Detwiler: If your PC is running a bit more slowly than when you first bought it, you're not alone. And, luckily you don't have to just accept a slow computer.
I'm Bill Detwiler, and during this episode of TR Dojo, I'll explore five common culprits of system slowdowns and tell you how to address them.
When someone with a slow PC asks me how to fix it, I unfortunately have to tell him or her that there's no silver bullet. Several factors can cause a computer to run more slowly than it did when it was new.
To help you narrow your list of potential culprits, I'm going to describe five common causes of PC slowdowns and give you ways to address them.
The first item on our list can, not only cause your computer to run more slowly than it should, but it can also be a significant security threat and that s malicious software (or malware).
Once infected by malware, your computer can be used to generate spam and phishing emails, continuously send traffic to a website for a denial of service attack, or simply display dozens of pop-up adds while you surf the Web. All of this activity can be a drag on your computer's performance.
Before you do try any other "fix" on a slow PC, start by scanning the machine for malware. For detailed advice on detecting and removing malware, check out my March 8th TR Dojo Episode. I'll link to it and other TechRepublic malware-fighting resources in the TR Dojo blog.
The second common cause of a slowly running PC is a highly fragmented hard drive. Unless you're working with a solid-state drive, you should regularly defragment you hard drive. If you're using Windows XP you may need to manually perform this process or setup a Scheduled Task to do it. Windows Vista and Windows 7 automatically configure their built-in defrag utilities to run at regular intervals.
For a great list of third-part Windows defragmentation utilities, check out TR Dojo roundup of four free Windows defragmentation utilities.
The third culprit on our list goes hand in hand with defragmentation. I'm talking about hard drive clutter.
Over time, hard drives that once seemed amazingly spacious fill up. Bits and pieces of old applications, downloaded installation files, old restore points, and the like can eat up a surprising amount of disk space. And since Windows needs a certain amount of empty space or "headroom" to operate efficiently, a full drive can significantly impair your computer's performance.
Furthermore, some files (such as unused device drivers, temporary Internet files, and left over bits of uninstalled applications) can cause a slew of problems from program conflicts to Windows registry errors.
Along with defragmenting your hard drive, you should also clean the clutter off your drive on a regular basis. And, you can do this in number of ways.
You can manually delete old files through Windows Explorer. You can set your browser to delete its temporary files when you close the application. You can use the Windows Disk Cleanup utility to remove unused files.
More advanced users can even try third-party tools like CCleaner or Revo Uninstaller to keep their systems neat and tidy.
And if you're dealing with a system that hopelessly overcrowded, sometimes starting fresh is the best option. Just wipe the hard drive, reinstall the operating system, and only install the applications you really need. Just remember to backup all your important data first.
The fourth common cause of PC slowdowns is a user running too many background applications.
Now, veteran IT pros can often spot systems suffering from this problem with a quick look at the System Tray. With only a few exceptions, each icon in the system tray represents a process or application that's running. And each of these processes is consuming system resources.
Users often don't know they're running at all since these processes often run without any visible sign (other than the System Tray icon) are a launched automatically when Windows starts.
To see which applications Windows loads at startup, open a command prompt and enter msconfig to launch the System Configuration Utility. Now open the Startup tab. Each of the items with a checkmark next to its name is loaded every time Windows starts. To prevent an item from starting, simply remove the checkmark and Click OK.
The fifth and last item on our list isn't really a problem; it's just a fact of living with technology. Eventually, advances in software will push right up against and even past the capabilities of your computer's hardware.
A five-year-old PC just isn't going to run the latest software as well as a new machine. This is particularly true of operating systems.
Now, if you've recently installed a new OS and your machine is running a bit more slowly than it did before the install, you might be able to improve performance by disabling some of the operating systems new, but unnecessary features.
For example, the Aero visual effects that make Windows 7 look cool but use a significant amount of system resources, particularly on older computers.
To disable Aero, open the Control Panel, click the System applet and in the left pane, click Advanced System Settings. Under Performance, click the Settings button and then the Visual Effects tab. Here, you can disable individual Aero effects or just click Adjust For Best Performance, which disables them all.
The issues I covered during this episode are five of the most common causes of PC slowdowns, but they're not the only ones.
For more advice, on troubleshooting poor system performance check out Debra Shinder's article 10 tips for troubleshooting PC system slowdowns. In it, she addresses issues like overheating processors, bad RAM, and Windows services.
I'll link to her article and all the resources I mentioned during this episode in the TR Dojo blog.
And as always, for more teachings on YOUR path to becoming an IT Ninja, visit trdojo.techrepublic.com, or you can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/billdetwiler.
Thanks for visiting the TR Dojo.