While browsing around TechRepublic’s Technical Q&A recently, I found a post from member Kevinscase, who is troubleshooting an extremely slow-running PC for a user. In fact, according to his post, it takes three to four minutes just to open My Computer. The computer is a P2 400-MHz with 128-MB RAM, and 90 percent of the hard drive is free. Kevin has checked for unnecessary software, run Disk Cleanup, run Scandisk, and defragmented the hard drive, but to no avail. Since I’m currently having the same problem with my laptop, I decided to offer Kevin some advice.

Scan for viruses
In a situation like this one, the very first thing that I recommend doing is performing a thorough virus scan on the machine. Some viruses can severely degrade a machine’s performance. Both Sgt_shultz and Mcarlso1 agreed. “My guess would be a virus on [the] system, probably Klez and or ElKern virus,” Mcarlso1 wrote. “Many systems I have been working on as of late have [had] the same symptoms.”

Check for overheating
Once you’re sure that the machine is virus free, I recommend checking the temperature of the processor. Member Cglrcng concurred. “Make sure the CPU and other fans are running well and providing enough cooling, and [that] the room temperature isn’t excessive (78 degrees or higher).” Intel has designed its newer processors to slow down as the processor heats up. This is to prevent the processor from overheating to the point of being damaged or destroyed. There are a couple of ways to check the processor’s temperature. You can give the processor the “finger test” and see if the processor feels like it’s hot enough to burn you. If you use this approach, unplug the computer first, and use a grounding strap to avoid damaging the processor with static electricity. A more scientific method is to use a multimeter with a temperature probe to test the temperature.

The appropriate temperature will vary depending on the make and model of the processor, but generally speaking, the temperature should be below 110 degrees. If you find the processor to be above this temperature, check the machine’s fans to make sure they are operating properly. Also, check the fans and internal components for excessive dust buildup and clean if necessary.

Check for DOS compatibility mode
If the system is running Windows 9x, member Blackcurrant recommended checking to make sure that the hard disk isn’t running in MS-DOS compatibility mode. “If it [the hard drive] is running in this mode, your computer will crawl along,” Blackcurrant wrote. To check this, open the Device Manager, right-click on the hard disk in question, and select the Properties command from the resulting menu. This will display the drive’s properties sheet. You can use the properties sheet to determine the driver being used and the drive’s mode.

To compress or not to compress
Blackcurrant also suggests that Kevin check to see whether the disk is compressed. “I experienced a severe reduction in performance on a machine once after it was compressed,” Blackcurrant wrote. You can check a disk’s compression by right-clicking on the disk in My Computer and selecting the Properties command from the resulting menu to view the drive’s properties.

Check for application or driver issues
There are some other possibilities as well. It could be that some program that’s running during the boot process is slowing the machine down. To test for this condition, try booting in safe mode. By its very nature, safe mode runs slower than normal mode. However, if you boot in safe mode and find the machine to be running much more quickly than it was in normal mode, then a program or driver is probably causing the problem. If you suspect that a program or driver is causing your problem, check out these articles from TechRepublic:

Try a drive transplant
If booting in safe mode doesn’t pinpoint the problem for you, try taking the hard disk out of a comparable system and hooking it up in the system that’s having the problems. If the system boots slowly from the known good hard disk (which should also be running a known good operating system), your PC has a hardware problem. This hardware problem could be related to a bad ribbon cable, a bad disk controller, or a bad system board.