There are many reasons a PC runs slower than when it was new, ranging from malicious software intended to mess things up to simple general Windows use. Your PC performance may slowly degrade over time without you noticing but when you buy a PC from new it’s only a matter of time before you have to think about maintenance. There are PC optimization tools that will do most of the work for you, e.g. System Mechanic and some are free to try, but more thoroughly you can check each aspect of performance.
Here are the problems, causes and solutions to most PC performance issues:
1. Viruses, Malware, Adware, Spyware
Your PC may be infected with software designed to either mess things up, spam you or just to gather information about you without you knowing. All this is unwanted software which adversely affects the performance of your computer.
You may have installed software containing any of the above, you may have been directly hacked or they may have got onto your PC simply by browsing the web.
1) Firstly – don’t download or install anything you don’t trust. You should get a feel for this based on where you downloaded software or the website you are browsing. If your naughty and download things using peer to peer software, remember this comes from other peoples machines and could contain anything someone has decided to include.
Your browser may ask to download ActiveX controls which are supposedly required for a website, for example, you may have seen this appear using Windows Update for XP so the update pages get extra functionality to work, but this could be anything from sources you don't trusted .
2) Ensure you have protection from internet threats, both a firewall, antivirus and anti spyware software should be active.
a. A firewall acts as a barrier between your PC and the Internet, it’s supposed to stop people from gaining access your PC monitoring all communication to and from your machine. Windows XP, Vista & 7 have firewalls built in but some people proffer a more specialized firewall from 3rd parties such as Symantec, Mcafee, ZoneAlarm etc. If your using your Windows Firewall you can check it’s turned on by going Start > Control Panel > Security Centre.
b. Antivirus software sits on your PC side of the firewall and looks at everything locally on your machine, finds and contains or removes this unwanted software. Antivirus may also be included with your firewall software or you may need to set this up separately; to check, go to the security centre again (as above). Some antivirus applications have free versions, such as AVG.
c. On top of this you may want an anti Spyware program to clean up the smaller threats that your Antivirus may not concentrate on, however, good Antivirus packages will cover this. Lavasoft Ad-Ware has a free version available.
3) Update all your security programs – new threats are appearing all the time so you should constantly update them before you scan (most will have a setting to do this automatically).
4) Scan your computer with your antivirus and anti spyware software to remove any threats.
2. Update your Windows and Drivers
The hardware you use inside your PC may not be running to its full potential.
Hardware manufacturers normally supply updated drivers to make better and more supported use of their hardware, not upgrading keeps you behind.
1) Perform a Windows update which may pickup newer hardware drivers as well as update Windows functionality and fix security issues.
2) Update specific hardware
a. Particularly graphics card manufacturers provide updated drivers on a regular basis so their cards can be fine tuned for use with newer games and Windows etc. Go to your manufacturers website (e.g. NVIDIA, ATI etc.) to download the latest drivers for your graphics card.
b. The motherboard in your PC may also have newer drivers than the ones it shipped with – again go to the manufacturers website(e.g. Gigabyte, Asus etc.), choose yours and download the latest. If your unsure which model your motherboard is then programs like Si Soft Sandra or PC Wizard can give detail like model numbers or if you don’t mind opening the side of your case it should be printed physically on the board.
3. Check Windows Start-up
Programs may be set to start up when Windows starts.
When you install software it may add itself to your PC’s start up list so it’s ready and available without having to run the program separately. A common culprit is msn messenger and mobile phone software (among others) – so connection can be made as soon as you plug your phone into the PC without having to run the software explicitly.
Software on your PC start up may appear as icons in the ‘System Tray’ (bottom right of the screen), if you have a number of icons here then you might benefit from removing some.
1) Check running processes and see how your system resources are being used.
a. Press ‘Ctrl’ & ‘Alt’ & ‘Del’ together for the ‘Task Manager’ (you may have to select ‘Task Manager’ from the list depending on your Windows version).
b. Click the ‘Processes’ tab to see all the process running on your PC and their CPU usage (processing power used). You can order the list by clicking the column name at the top. Have a look and note if anything stands out to be using allot of CPU usage, the system idle process should be taking up most CPU time if your PC isn’t doing anything.
NOTE: You see a load of ‘svchost.exe’ processes because there are used to run services, there are many of them so if one service crashes it may not mean an entire system crash as the others run separately. Click the services tab, right click a service (that has something in PID column) and hit ‘Go To Process’ to highlight the svchost process that’s running that particular service.
2) Now we have seen any processes that take up CPU usage go to Start > Run – and type “msconfig” (without the quotes). Click the ‘Startup’ tab to see the list of programs added to your PC start up. You can disable the start up entries by un-checking the check-box on the left.
WARNING: do not remove anything you aren’t certain about, there are items that Windows relies on and could adversely affect your PC if removed.
To help identify what an entry is; expand and look in the ‘Command’ column to see the location of the program it starts, which may reveal more as to what it is. You can do the same with the ‘Services’ tab but be extra careful as the service that windows needs to make your PC work are listed here. A service is a running process without an interface, i.e. a window or icon, for example, a programs background service allowing it to automatically update itself without bothering you. Re-boot for the changes to take effect.
NOTE: If you lose sound or have any other problems you may have removed something you shouldn’t have – go back and enable it again. If something really messes up the boot menu (normally hit F8 before Windows starts to load) and choose to boot your PC in Safe Mode. This will load Windows minimal drivers and services so you can get in and fix things without the risk or a crash.
Also check programs listed in Start > Programs > Startup - Windows will execute anything listed here.
4. Check Your Visual Settings
Windows may be set to show visuals to a high degree, not manageable by your graphics hardware.
Visual settings set too high.
Change your visual settings in Windows. A great number of things can take up your PC's graphical performance, for example, the Windows Aero theme (introduced in Vista) which puts extra animation into the windows you have open and gives you the nice blurry look around the title bar and edges. You also have the sceen resolution (density and size of your desktop) among other general Windows effects.
1) Right click your Windows desktop and choose 'Personalize' ('Properties' previous to Vista), here choose the display settings where you can change resolution.
2) Choose 'Windows Color and Appearance' to change to and from the Windows Aero theme, which takes up visual power.
3) To fine-tune the individual Windows effects (in Vista) right click 'Computer' and choose 'Properties', choose 'Change Settings' on the right, in 'System Properties' click the 'Advanced' tab and in the 'Performance' group box click 'Settings'. In XP you can click 'Advanced' directly after choosing 'My Computer' properties.
5. Cleanup Your Registry
The registry on your PC is used as a central point for Windows and other software to store settings and over time can grow, contain errors and become fragmented - slowing your PC's performance.
As you use your PC software uses your Windows registry. This general use can leave remnants of old programs you have removed, data stored can be fragmented and there may be errors. This can potentially slow down all software on your PC, including Windows.
Use a registry scanner to identify and remove or correct these problems. There is free software out there so if you don't want to buy you may find some utilities on download.com or just google, beware that some will tease you by fixing the first 10 or so errors then ask you to buy the software! In my experience one utility usually doesn't cover everything and using another registry cleaner may pickup some issues left behind so use a couple.
6. Cleanup Your Hard Drive(s)
Over time your hard drive can get cluttered with un –necessary data, for example, temporary internet files, system reports etc. This can take up space and hinder performance.
General PC use, including web browsing can cause all this to accumulate.
Go Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup to bring up this windows utility. Click OK on the drive Windows is on, then it will show how much space is taken up by these unnecessary files, click OK to clean it up.
7. Scan Your Hard Drive(s) For Errors
Your hard drive may have developed an error physically or in the way it has ordered your data.
Problems can occur through general usage over time.
Open ‘My Computer’, or ‘Computer’ for Vista/7, right click your hard drive and go ‘Properties’, choose the ‘Tools’ tab and you’ll see a group box at the top titled ‘Error-checking’ – click ‘Check Now…’, this will ask to schedule a disk check for the next re-boot. Re-start the PC and allow it to perform the check. You will be made aware of any unfixable problems.
8. Defrag Your Hard Drive(s)
Over time the data on your hard drive will become fragmented (data all over the place) meaning that Windows may have to look at multiple locations just to run one program or open one file thus resulting in performance issues.
When you use your hard drive, i.e. install and remove software, copy files etc. data gets copied into separate clusters and you will leave gaps in-between where data is stored, meaning that when that section of the hard drive is used, it may not be big enough to store everything related to the data it's saving in a consecutive order, so the rest will be stored at another location on the drive. This means that when loading fragmented data the hard drive has to work harder to get everything it needs from the different locations.
Defragmenting a hard drive finds fragmented data and puts things back in order so when it’s accessed, Windows can load it all from one nice neat location. Bring up your hard drive ‘Properties’ window as in the previous section and find the group box titled ‘Defragmentation’ and hit ‘Defragment Now…’. This can take some time (especially in Vista!) and you may proffer a 3rd party application to do this like Disk Keeper.
So now you have a virus and spyware free, clean and optimized hard drive with no errors and up-to-date drivers to run your hardware. Keep your security software definitions up to date to keep up with new viruses, if your PC is still slow you may have underlying problems. Still going through the above steps beats having to format and re-install your system again.