OK, let’s see if we can help. Most people immediately think “Malware” at this point. But that’s not always the case. Yes, some malware does indeed slow down your system and use up precious resources. But there are other possible causes as well, so let’s explore some of these, and look at some ideas to help.
Is your PC clean?
And by that I mean – is it free from dust and dirt? Dust and dirt builds up inside a computer and this can affect your cooling fans, reducing the amount of airflow. Reduced airflow can cause your processor to overheat resulting in slow operation or even unexpected shutdowns. Many of today’s processors have the ability to “throttle back” (slow down) if the core temperature reaches a certain threshold. Cleaning the inside of your system is relatively easy – you just need to take some sensible precautions.
Clear out your Temp files.
Why? Well temp files can build up over time and eat into your precious disk space. When you install programmes, the installer uses temp (temporary) files as part of the set up process. Some programmes also use temp files when in use. These temp files should be removed when the installer or programme is finished, but this does not always happen. And, of course, your browser will collect temp files as well. A build up of temp files could leave Windows struggling to find room for its swap file (see below) – so everything slows down.
How do you clean out temp files? There are two easy ways – manually or by using a proprietary cleaning programme. Note that the cleaning programmes will often offer the option to clear out Temporary files created by your browser.
Manually (XP & Vista) – Firstly, exit all programmes, including browsers and AVs. Go to Start > Run and type %Temp% in the Run box and click OK. A folder will appear – it will contain temp files and temp folders. If you want to delete everything, press Ctrl+A (to select all) and then press the delete key. If you want to keep any files then hold down the Ctrl key and left click the file or folder. Then press the delete key. Click OK to confirm deletion. Once done, remember to go to your Recycle Bin and empty the bin.
don’t forget XP does have it’s own utility for cleaning – it can be found via Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup.
Any old programmes?
Do you still have some old programmes installed? When did you last use them? Remember that ‘trial’ software you installed? Has the trial period expired? Could you perhaps uninstall it (assuming you have the original installation disks)? Uninstalling such programmes will help free vital disk space. Oh, always re-boot after uninstalling – it helps to clear away the final remnants of an uninstalled programme.
Are you using unnecessary programmes?
By this I mean some of the numerous “enhancement” programmes available, that, while they may make your desktop look terribly exciting, are actually eating up precious resources. Things like third party screensavers and fancy wallpapers, Windows Taskbar replacements, WindowBlinds, Actual Transparent Window, XP Visual Styles, Stardock Theme Manager and so on. Nothing wrong with using them – they are all respected legitimate applications – but they may be contributing towards the slow down of your system.
Reduce the number of programmes loading at start up
Many applications insist on starting either the complete programme or a component of the programme whenever Windows starts. Many of these start ups are unnecessary and can be stopped. A good way to review the number of start up programmes is by using a start up manager utility, such as Spybot Search & Destroy, StartUpLite or Autoruns. In Spybot, you’ll need to click Mode > Advanced to ensure you have access to the Tools section, then select System Startup in the left pane. A list of programmes that start when you boot up will be displayed in the right pane. You simply uncheck the ones you don’t need.
StartUpLite is very easy – just download the small file and double click StartUpLite.exe. A box appears showing programmes that don’t need to startup at boot. Choose whichever options you prefer and click Continue.
Autoruns gives you similar information, although presented in a slightly different way, and with more detail. Again, you simply uncheck a box beside the entry you wish to disable.
Remember to research a start up if you are not sure what it is – some of the entries that may appear and which can safely be disabled are things like Update Schedule entries for Adobe Acrobat, Sun Java, QuickTime and so on. If in doubt, post in our Forums, choosing the Forum that’s relevant to your Operating System.
Note: You should NOT use MSConfig to permanently disable programmes from automatically starting at boot up. This utility is meant as a trouble-shooter – not a long term solution. If you uninstall a programme that has already been disabled using MSConfig, then it’s likely there will be orphaned Registry entries left behind. These could cause potential problems when trying to start your system. Use one of the start up managers mentioned above.
Do you have enough RAM?
Lack of memory can be a real issue, especially with today’s high performance machines and Operating Systems (OS). If you’re using Windows (and let’s face it, most of us are) then you need to ensure you have the appropriate amount of RAM for your system. Microsoft list “minimum requirements” with each OS – but they are in the business of selling software. That’s why their “minimum requirements” are always at the lower end of the scale. There are numerous sites around that will advise you need “x” amount for XP and “y” amount for Vista. As a general rule, Vista works well with 2GB and XP with 1GB. You can use more, of course, but as a minimum these figures are accurate.
If you don’t have very much RAM, what happens? Well, Windows loads programmes into memory to allow fast access. When it has no more memory left, it will start using your hard disk. This is much slower than using RAM, so your programmes will appear to run more slowly. The part of the hard disk used by Windows is called a swap file. So, a lack of RAM can also eat into your hard disk space as well.
RAM is not terribly expensive at the moment, so it makes sense to upgrade. You can find out what type of RAM you need by downloading PCWizard – a system analyser (it’s free!) or going to one of the manufacturer’s sites such as Crucial and using their memory advisor tool. Once you know the type of RAM you need, there are plenty of online stores to choose from.
Defrag your hard disk
Over a period of time, data written to your hard disk becomes fragmented or scattered all over the disk. This makes it harder for the system to find the data it needs. By defragging your disk, or putting the data in a more logical sequence, your system performance will improve. NOTE: Windows will not let you defrag a drive if there is less than 15% free space available. Keep an eye on your free space!
You could use a defragging utility such as Sysinternals PageDefrag – this is free and easy to use.
What about my swap file?
You can change the settings on your swap file to allow Windows to have more disk space to play with. This disk space is also known as Virtual Memory. For a 32 bit Operating System (which most users will have) set any amount up to a maximum of 4Gb. Try and at least match the amount of RAM in your system. Of course, you will need to have enough free disk space for this swap file.
Something else to consider is that the swap file should not be fragmented in order to obtain the best results. This can be done by selecting ‘No swap file’, rebooting (you have to do this, to apply the changes), defragging the drive and then resetting the swap file to a size of your choosing. The swap file will now be an area of the maximum contiguous (uninterrupted) free space – and therefore optimum performance.
Note: When choosing a value it is often suggested to set a static size swap file – set the Initial and Maximum amounts to the same value. This saves Windows from using resources to manage a dynamic swap file.
Does your hard disk contain errors?
A hard disk will not last forever. Even a new hard disk can have problems. However, many problems can be fixed, simply by running a Windows utility called ChkDsk. This will scan your hard disk and repair any file system errors while verifying the integrity of the drive. Guides from Microsoft on using ChkDsk can be found
Do your System Files contain errors?
Sometimes critical system files may become damaged or corrupt. This will obviously affect your computer’s performance. However, Windows has the ability to replace any damaged files on its own – this facility is called Windows File Protection. It can be started manually by typing a simple command into the Run box – sfc /scannow. This command immediately starts the Windows File Protection utility and it then checks and scans all system files to ensure their integrity.
For users with a pre-installed version of XP, sfc may ask you for your Windows CD in order to copy the relevant files. If you don’t have a Windows CD or if sfc cannot find the files it needs, please refer to Marc Liron’s article below.
For users who installed Service Pack 2 for XP by downloading from the internet, sfc may ask you for an XP SP2 CD – which you won’t have. You may need to create a slipstreamed CD to ensure sfc works correctly. Slipstreaming is simply a way of incorporating SP2 into your Windows installation – you create a new disk with Windows and SP2 all in one.
Note that Windows File Protection in Vista is now called Windows Resource Protection which, as well as protecting critical files, also protects the Registry. However, the basic principles are the same. To run the sfc command in Vista, you must be logged in as an Administrator.
Stopping unnecessary services
Windows generally comes with a raft of running services, many of which are not really required. You can safely stop some of these services and improve the boot time and speed of your system. Many installed programmes make themselves start up as soon as you boot the PC. They just run in the background, even although you don’t actually use them. Usually these programmes can be stopped from automatically loading – if you need to start them, you can do this manually.
One service that often causes a system to slow down is the Indexing Service – this can be turned off
Are all your hardware drivers up to date? Using an out of date driver could cause hardware conflicts and crash your system.
IE 7 includes a phishing filter – very useful indeed. But it can slow down your browsing as the filter checks each web page.
Anti Virus Programmes
Never use more than one Anti Virus. Although it might sound like a great idea to run two or more, in reality it’s not. AVs usually have a ‘real time’ monitor that helps protect your system. This monitor will want to have a look at any file that changes or has been added to the system. If you have 2 AVs then every time one looks at a file, the other AV will think that file has changed so it will want to take a look as well. Now the second AV thinks that file has changed so it wants another look. So, of course, the first AV thinks that file has changed….you get the idea. You could end up with an unstable system, a really slow system or unexplained crashes.
Having done all your tweaks and clean ups, create a new System Restore point – this gives you a ‘fall back’ position with all your new changes.