My Computer Is Running Slow, How Do I Speed It Up?

If your computer is not as fast as the day you bought it you are not alone. This happens to everyone. Though this may be true it makes it no less annoying. The real question is ‘how much slower is it today than when you bought it; and can you tolerate the difference? Realistically, if you notice a difference in your performance, chances are you are seeking a solution. Look no further, you’ve found your first step. If you are reading this you are on the path to knowledge. Your first step is to become informed.

Find the cause.

From time to time I may state the obvious. Often, the obvious answer is the easiest to overlook. All of life’s challenges come with a cause. A newly noticed drop in your computer’s performance is likely due to a recent change. Changes on your system may come from a recently added application, a system update from Microsoft, an application update from a specific vendor, changes in your hardware, changes in your startup, changes in your registry or any number of other astrological changes in the universe.

The point here is to recognize which change or combination of changes affected your system. In major cases, system restore may be a consideration. Though this solution is not at the top of my immediate action list, if the change in your system is less than 24 hours old or can be attributed to a specific application immediately after installation, system restore can be your best friend.

If the changes in your system performance have been slow in coming over a period of time, you may simply benefit from a good cleaning. Many independent technicians will come to your home or office and perform these services for minimal investments (typically $50 – $100). Before running to the big retailer to have them do the cleaning for their $29 special, recognize the time and effort of dismantling your system and restoring your system (which they won’t do for you). Add to this, most retailers will not offer follow-up service if the cleaning causes any ‘unforeseen’ system issues.

Don’t immediately assume you have a virus. Viruses can take any number of forms. As the name implies, viruses can be as elusive as determining what strain of the flu you’ve contracted. At the end of the day, such distinction is not as important as to simply find a cure.

If you have reason to believe or strongly suspect you have a virus, just like calling your doctor’s office, stop what you are doing. If you value the information on your system and do not wish to lose it or share it with information thieves the best thing to do is turn your system off – DO NOT restart it until you have it in the hands of a trained professional to remove the virus or substantiate its existence. Err on the side of caution.

Finding the cause is a process not a task. Making the wrong diagnosis can lead to information loss or susceptibility to information thieves. Don’t let his scare you. The likelihood of an intentional attack is comparable to the likelihood of home burglary. They happen but to be specifically targeted without cause is reasonably uncommon.

Fixing common causes.

Once you’ve determined the cause of your dilemma you have only 3 choices. You may repair the computer yourself, have someone else repair it or give up on the system entirely.

I liken doing your own computer repairs to doing your own car repairs or home improvement repairs. If you know how, you can really do well. If you don’t, don’t kid yourself… trying and failing often leads to more costly repairs.

Imagine changing your oil and inadvertently punching a hole in your oil pan. Your $20, half hour maintenance has turned into a multi-hundred dollar repair of a few hours. Imagine fixing a hole in your roof and spilling the adhesive down the side of your home covering the side of the home and several windows. Your ‘simple’ repair is now anything but simple. The same holds true with your computer.

A friend suggests you reinstall your operating system on your computer to enhance its performance. During the process you are asked if you wish to format the drive (a step in reinstalling Windows XP) you inadvertently hit the wrong key. Congratulations, you have now cleared all of the information on your computer. In many cases, the information loss is not irreversible but its repair can be REALLY expensive and time consuming.

In short, if you wish to do it yourself, know 2 things… your limitations; and the potential pitfalls.

Paying a pro may be your choice – especially now, since you just read what could go wrong.

Paying a pro is a double edged sword. Again, as with your car, you take it in for a $60 tune-up and maintenance check. An hour into the service, the technician tells you that several items in the engine compartment must be replaced or repaired. You can only trust you are not being taken. Unfortunately, in the world of computers, this is not simply an issue of ethics. Many times, issues should be addressed on computers where no immediate threat is detected. Case in point, a user brings a computer to my shop to be serviced. They complain the computer runs slow. Their ‘friend of a friend’ sped the computer up by clearing the startup folder in the registry. Since then the computer hasn’t been the same. Well, the fix may not be as simple as the cause. The possibility always exists that the fix is worse than anticipated. The issue stems from the level of trust and customer service you expect from the computer pro you entrust with your computer and its contents.

Your third option, ‘to give up’ may take a couple of forms. It, by now, probably seems most appealing. To this I will say that this is done far too often and too soon. There are times that the fix is more expensive than the system, but let’s face it, at some point your computer becomes more valuable than the sum of its hardware. If your information is really sensitive or on the verge of loss, you may have to take the extreme step of paying thousands (yes, plural) of dollars to recover data you deem worthy of the cost. In these cases, ‘give up on the system’ is not a good option. The other side of this coin is that many give up on a system they deem ‘out of date’ or slow, or ‘just junk’ when the fix is literally a 20 minute system restore away.

Many areas have pros that under a given set of circumstances will conduct a free assessment. This was the extra mile many small computer pros took to combat the retail giants. This is good news for you. This war continues throughout the country and the computer world. As such, check with your local pros to see if they offer this service (if not for free, at a comparable price for your area). Approach your problems with a cache of information. That’s the whole point of having read this far.

For now, I will say, if you decide to discard the old broken system, look into the different methods of proper or responsible disposal. I’ll save this for a later article.

Avoid the causes.

Pay attention to what you install; Monitor changes to your startup; Monitor Updates

This is the best solution of all because if it don’t break, you never have to fix it. We often wish that life was so simple that we could solve problems before they arise. Though not common in the physical plane, this is a reasonable state in the cyber-world. Perhaps, not entirely but you get the idea. We all realize death and taxes are unavoidable. Death applies to your computer as well. The hope is we will upgrade by desire before we are required to upgrade by necessity. The following are some tips to bring that dream closer to reality.

Know what you’re installing. As a general rule, only install 1 Anti-Virus program. This is a case where more is not better than one. Anti-Virus programs assume that other Anti-Virus programs are simply viruses. They then combat each other. This is one of the more common reasons for reduced system performance. Check your labels before you install a new Anti-Virus. Uninstall expired or ‘no longer desired’ Anti-Virus programs before installing a new one. This will save you many headaches.

You will also wish to read the label on new software to ensure your system can handle the added workload before you install them. Often new software has memory requirements that will exceed the available memory in your system. This will surely slow your system immediately – if it doesn’t bring it to a screeching halt. After a new software installation pay attention to your system performance. If you notice a significant difference, uninstall it immediately. The longer you wait, the harder it will become to remember and hence, detect. This process is as important as knowing what type of gas you put in your engine or cargo you place in your trunk. If you put open bowls of oil in your trunk and go for a drive about town, chances are you’ll end up with a dirty, oily trunk – typically, not a desired condition.

This leads me to my next point. Pay attention to your computer when it starts. Often when a virus (of any sort) makes a change to your system it will give you a warning on startup to this effect ‘changes to your system are being deployed’ or some similar warning. If you have made changes to your system (knowingly) this is not bad. If you did not, now is not a good time to be in the kitchen getting milk and cookies. If you notice a warning of this nature and are sure no changes to your system were scheduled, turn your system off and call a qualified tech. The tech will probably check your update log built into your Windows operating system first. If there is no entry that explains the changes, the tech should then look for spyware and viruses.

With all the changes that continually happen in the computer world, Microsoft designed your system to receive updates automatically. Most of us are used to them by now. Again, we have come to a crossroad of questionable circumstance. These updates are most often good for you and your system. However, because no two systems are the same, the updates for one may cause another to crash without any mal-intent from our Washington-based friends. On occasion, driver updates may be delivered to your computer that conflict with the installed hardware or any combination of existing hardware or software drivers. This happens. This is why we were blessed with system restore. Also most Windows updates are reversible for this reason. Check with your local tech for your specific circumstance. Again, no two systems are the same because they are not used the same way by the same people, all the time

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