Recently, I had the pleasure of working on a computer which was painfully slow. This machine had an excessive amount of junk on it and was in desperate need of some maintenance.
Typically, when I see a slow computer, it is usually because the user has a lot of junk software on their computer. Junk software can easily find its way onto a PC by way of a drive-by download, typically by clicking a button on a web page. A lot of free software out there comes bundled with other software which may not be useful.
Software doesn’t always affect the speed though. A PC with a failing hard drive will run slower than lava flowing down the dark side of an iceberg. A lot of times, something as simple dust can cause serious performance problems.
As I mentioned before, dust can have serious performance implications on a PC. The reason this happens is because dust is an insulator for heat. Dust will clog up vents in your PC and the fins on your processor’s heatsink. If the processor does not run cool enough, it will slow itself down to prevent damage. This is known as thermal throttling. If your computer is running sluggishly and the fans are running very loudly, you may be experiencing thermal throttling.
Luckily, thermal throttling is an easy problem to fix. To do this, you will need a screwdriver and a few cans of compressed air, sometimes sold as office duster. Depending on how long it has been since you last dusted the inside of your PC, wearing a dust mask is not a bad idea.
- Disconnect your PC and take it to a well ventilated area.
- Open the computer’s side access panel to reveal the internal components.
- Using the compressed air, direct a few quick bursts of air in through the back of the power supply. The power supply is typically at the top or bottom of the case and is where the power cord plugs into. Blowing the dust into the case sounds counter-intuitive, but since the fan in the power supply exhausts air out of the case, we want to blow the dust in the opposite direction the air normally flows. It is best to use the straw that comes with the compressed air to provide for a more focused jet.
- Next, we want to focus on the heatsink on the processor. This heatsink is normally the largest heatsink in the case. Direct some blasts in the fins to dislodge any dust in there. Take care not to allow the fan to spin too quickly as it could decrease its lifespan.
- Repeat step 4 for any other fans and heatsinks inside the PC.
- Finally, remove the straw and gently blow out any remaining dust that is inside the case.
It is important that you keep the can upright while you clean because tilting it too far could cause liquid to squirt out all over the inside of your computer. Also, never use a vacuum cleaner to clean the inside of your computer. The end of the wand could generate static electricity which could be discharged on your components, causing damage to your PC.
Take Out the Trash
Often times, as we use our computers, the hard drive gets filled up with junk, in form of temporary files. While Windows does have a nice built in utility that will clean up the drive, it doesn’t get everything. My cleanup tool of choice is CCleaner. CCleaner has the ability to scan for and remove temporary files left behind by many applications, all in one place. In most cases, the default options are ideal for cleaning up your hard drive.
The main window of CCleaner will show the cleanup options for both Windows programs and other applications. When you click on Analyze, the program will perform a search according to the parameters you selected and display a report of what will be removed and how much space you will regain. It breaks it down by the associated program and shows how much space each one is using and the amount of files there are. Clicking on Run Cleaner will allow the program to delete the files it has found.
The registry portion of CCleaner will scan the registry for orphaned keys. These are usually left behind by programs when uninstalling them. The registry cleaner will look for things like broken links to shared files, unused file extensions and issues with ActiveX controls. CCleaner will delete the offending registry keys, making the registry smaller and more efficient. It is highly recommended that before you make any changes to the registry, that you make a backup of it. CCleaner will prompt you to do this. It is very easy to render a PC unusable if you are not careful with the registry.
The tools section has options to uninstall programs, find duplicate files, clean up startup programs and even clean up System Restore. The Startup section is nice because it not only includes applications that start up with Windows, but also any applications that start up when you launch other programs. The Startup section also shows which method is responsible for starting an application when Windows starts. This can be especially useful when troubleshooting startup issues.
Another great utility is PC Decrapifier. This utility allows you to search through all installed applications and uninstall any you check off. It’s as simple as checking off programs on a list and clicking uninstall. The program will then launch the uninstaller for each checked program, saving you from the need to uninstall each program one at a time. I run this utility on any new computer that I set up since most new computers come with a load of useless software pre-installed.
Defragment the Hard Drive
Imagine you’re putting a puzzle together. You have some pieces in the kitchen while some are in the bathroom. There might be a few in the bedroom and some out in the yard. Just imagine how much easier, and faster it would be if all the pieces were in one place. That is the idea behind defragmenting the hard drive.
Over time, as files are added and deleted from the computer, the hard drive becomes more and more fragmented. This is because as new regions of free space is created, they are filled up with data from other files. It is often impossible to append to the end of the file on the disk. As a drive fills up, regions of free space become even shorter, making it difficult for the file system to allocate contiguous space for new files.
All this translates to your computer spending a lot of time “thinking”. Often times, you can hear the drive churning away as you launch a program or open a file.
To solve this, I like to use Auslogics Disk Defrag Free. The best feature of this program is the scheduler, which allows you to defragment the hard drive automatically. For a desktop system that is always on, you can set it to automatically defrag when the PC is idle. For notebooks, you still have the daily, weekly or monthly options. Additionally, you can schedule defragmentation to run on boot.
You can also glance at the health status of a drive thanks to the S.M.A.R.T. reporting that’s built in. Please be aware though that this does not work on all drives and S.M.A.R.T. has to be enabled in the system BIOS or UEFI.
Do Your PC a Solid
Solid State Drive (SSD), that is. Since SSDs have no moving parts, they have three benefits over a conventional hard drive. First, they are orders of magnitude faster than conventional hard drives. Second, they are not prone to mechanical failure. Finally, due to their superior random read speeds, they don’t suffer from the same fragmentation woes. With an SSD, your computer will boot faster than you can ask “how fast?” and programs will launch almost instantly. Since SSDs are more expensive than their mechanical counterparts, most people will use a solid state drive to install Windows and other programs on and keep their data on slower mechanical storage. I find that for most people, a 250GB SSD is the sweet spot.
Boost Your RAM
Random Access Memory, or RAM, is a very high speed storage location for programs that are currently running. The more of it you have, the more programs that you are able to run simultaneously without having to rely on the much slower hard drive for virtual memory. Even an SSD’s performance can’t come anywhere near that of RAM.
The system scanner at Crucial will scan your system and recommend a memory upgrade based on what’s compatible with your system.
How much RAM is enough? While I subscribe to the theory that you can never have too much RAM, the truth is that it all depends on how you use the PC. If you’re using the PC for web browsing and general office productivity while listening to music by way of a local media player such as iTunes or a streaming service like Spotify, 4GB to 8GB is ideal. For someone who is a power user who runs many demanding applications at once or like to play games on the PC, 16GB of RAM is the sweet spot here. For the creative professional who is editing music, photos, videos or other media, 32GB or more is recommended.
I’ll confess, this one will not make your computer faster, but it will allow you to multitask more effectively.
How? By adding a second monitor. A multi-monitor setup allows you to work on more than one thing at a time without the need for minimizing or moving windows all around. Studies show that productivity increases when using multiple displays. Basically anyone who uses multiple applications simultaneously would benefit from multiple displays.
Should I Upgrade my PC or Buy a New One?
There isn’t a simple answer to this question as you have to look at a few factors. First, how old is the PC? IF it’s a year or two old, I’d upgrade it. More than that, we need to consider other factors.
Are we talking about a laptop or desktop? Typical useful life of a laptop is 4-5 years, 6-8 for a desktop. We also want to look at the possible upgrade paths. What is the fastest processor you can put in there? If it’s not a quantifiable upgrade, you should consider replacing the PC. What is a quantifiable upgrade anyway? Well, going from a Pentium D to a Core2 Duo wouldn’t be a quantifiable upgrade; going from a Celeron to a Core2 Quad would be. Look at the cost to upgrade your current PC versus the price of a new PC as well.
Now, there are a few hard and fast rules I like to go by when it comes to upgrading versus buying a new PC. I would replace the PC if:
- The memory technology is more than one generation older than the current mainstream standard. Since the current standard at the time of writing is DDR4, I would replace a computer that uses DDR2 RAM.
- The PC cannot run the latest operating system. If the latest version of Windows the computer can run is XP, it’s time for a replacement.
- The upgrade requires replacing the motherboard. The motherboard is the heart and soul of a PC. New motherboard = new PC.
- You’re upgrading more than three components. If you’re upgrading the RAM, CPU, hard drive and graphics card, might as well replace the thing.
- You’re at the end of the upgrade road. If you have the most amount of RAM installed and the fastest CPU the motherboard can handle, there’s nothing else you can do to upgrade it.
What do you do if your computer is slow? Do you have any tricks to share? Let me know in the comments.