Why is it that, despite all the advances in computer technology, today’s computers still seem to run slow? You might have the latest PC to hit the store shelves, but without frequent maintenance and careful usage, that PC can become slower than molasses in no time. Here are a few easy to not-so-easy hints and tips to help keep your PC running fast:
Close unneeded applications. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many users open tons of windows on their desktop without ever closing them, and then wonder why their PC is running slow. Even the fastest PCs with tons of memory have their limits. More opened applications means greater loads on the processor and memory. If the total amount of memory consumed by open applications exceeds the computer’s available physical memory, the computer starts a virtual juggling act, swapping out portions of your application’s code out to the hard disk to compensate for the memory deficiency. If you don’t plan on using an application for awhile, close it and let the applications you are actively using get their fair share of the computer’s resources.
Reboot. The first and easiest fix is to reboot your computer. Operating systems and software applications don’t always work well together. Hundreds, if not thousands, of developers have created all the programs, drivers, and operating system code residing on your PC. The millions of combinations of interactions between specific applications can never be completely accounted for. A process may go awry, leading to excessive processor consumption. A application may fail to release memory it is no longer using, preventing it from being accessed by other applications. Lack of free memory and excessive CPU usage are two primary reasons why a PC may appear to run sluggishly. Don’t just turn the machine on and off, restart in a “clean” manner, giving the operating system an opportunity to close applications and files, ending the session in a proper manner. an improper shutdown forces the computer to terminate the OS abruptly and in an unknown state, potentially leading to more problems in the future.
Quick, But Not So Quick Fixes
Hard Disk Defragmentation. The hard disk is where a PC stores it’s operating system code, applications, and user data. This data gradually becomes spread out all over the disk as it continuously reads, writes and deletes through the course of normal use. The hard disk takes more time to access these data fragments the more it is spread out. Running a hard disk defragmentation program periodically with help speed up a PC by combining data fragments for speedier file access.
Optimize Startup. By default, an operating system typically loads a lot more applications and processes at startup than a typical user needs. My application installers tend to sneak in unwanted startup software, such as adware and browser toolbar add-ins. Many of these do nothing more than sit around wasting CPU time and memory. These programs are sometimes referred to as “bloatware” as they tend to be take up space and provide more harm than good. Run a startup optimization tool that allows you to disable unwanted system components that load upon startup.
Antivirus software. As helpful as they may seem, antivirus programs are a tremendous burden on a PC. Antivirus software is to a CPU what an air conditioning compressor is to a car engine–it doesn’t do the engine any good but isn’t something the driver wants to go without! Antivirus software puts a tremendous load on a processor, especially when it is in active mode seeking out the undesirables in real-time. The untrained eye would never figure this out either, often blaming a “rogue productivity application” or “bad Internet connection” as the cause of a slowdown. The reality is most popular antivirus programs are so bloated and inefficient they often pose more problems than they solve. Consider using newer, less mainstream antivirus programs. Many run more efficiently and actually catch more viruses than the popular ones due because most hackers simply aren’t targeting them. If you absolutely must keep your existing antivirus program, try to minimize the amount of active scanning it performs while you are using the PC and check to see that it only performs full scans while you’re away.
Power Management. Most modern PCs (and especially laptops) have power management circuity built-in designed to minimize power consumption and prolong your computer’s lifespan. To get the most performance out of your computer, change your power settings to allow for maximum performance. This will definitely drain your battery if you are not connected to an outside power source, but your computer will run its fastest (at least until the battery runs out).
Network Issues. Users often complain their computer is running slow when, in fact, it is their Internet connection to blame. Most users don’t make the distinction between their computer running slowly or their network connection simply delivering it data slower than they desire. If the network speed is a temporary one, try rebooting your modem and/or router. Close unused applications that may unknowingly be accessing the Internet. Shut off other computers on the network that you aren’t using. If network speeds are a continuous problem, you may want to consider upgrading your connection plan.
Routine Cleaning. Computers are like dirt magnets, accumulating dust, lint, and other debris faster than you’d expect. Clean the inside of your computer frequently, at least once a month (or more if you smoke or have pets) with a small vacuum or can of compressed air. Computers need good airflow to keep its components cool and running well. This is especially important for the CPU, hard disk, and graphics card, as these components tend to generate the most heat. Modern computers will throttle down their CPU speed if they start to overheat, thus causing your overall PC operations to slow down. Removing gunk and furballs from heat sinks and cooling fans will allow your processors to run at their fastest.
More Serious Considerations
Add More Memory. Computers may be getting faster, but applications always seem to gobble up more memory than your PC has. When Windows XP was first released, it was touted to operate fine on 512 megabytes of memory. Anyone who actually tried this learned the hard way; there simply wasn’t enough memory for both the operating system and application to play nicely together. Let’s face it–memory consumption is only going to worsen with the likes of new operating systems like Vista and Windows 7. You can have the fastest CPU in the world but without enough memory to work with you and that spinning hourglass are going to become very angry companions. With memory becoming cheaper and cheaper, it never hurts to have more of it.
Defective Components. New and used computers alike can suffer from defective hardware. A burned out screen or DVD player that ceases to play movies are pretty obvious. Components like hard disks and memory that are on the verge of death are not. If your computer suddenly starts to randomly freeze or lock up with “blue screen” errors, your memory may be defective. Programs taking ten or twenty times longer to load than usual or strange file read/write errors are indicators of a hard disk on its last leg. Backup your data and replace the bad components immediately!
As you can see, there are a wide variety of ways to keep your PC in great running shape. Try the easy solutions first, as they equally applicable to both new and older computers and take virtually no effort to carry out.