My PC or laptop is slow

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “My computer is slow, can you help me?” Well yes, I usually can. However, there are things you can do yourself to help your poorly machine.

Important note! Some of the steps detailed below involve opening your machine and fiddling with the bits inside. Before doing anything you must make sure it is switched off and disconnected from the mains. If you are in any doubt, get a qualified professional to help.

When dust gets into anything electrical, it’s bad. Not only does it clog up fans and prevent air flow, it also creates a blanket of insulation around all the important bits. When circuits heat up the resistance increases, which makes them slow. The simple solution is to remove any dust you find either on the outside of the case or the inside.

Dusty front vent
Dusty front vent

Most PC cases are easy to open, some just unclip while others may have a couple of screws that you can loosen by hand. A word of warning though. If you have recently bought your PC, check your warranty to make sure you aren’t invalidating it by opening the case. I have seen some PCs with a special label which once broken (by opening the case) invalidates the warranty. Once inside take extra special care not to damage any of the gubbins. If you intend touching anything, make sure you ground yourself first by touching something metal (like a radiator for instance). I normally just blow the dust off (which can result in an occasional coughing and/or sneezing fit as it gets up my nose, etc.) or use a vacuum cleaner (carefully!).

When a computer runs a program it retrieves the information from the hard disk. It then stores this information in the RAM of the machine for the processor to access, etc. The more RAM you have the more information it can store at any one time which means the computer has to access the hard disk less often. RAM is much faster than the hard disk, so it stands to reason that if you have lots of RAM then your computer will be able to run larger programs faster.

The other side of the coin is if you do NOT have enough RAM. Then you are looking at a situation where the computer can only store a small part of a program at a time and therefore has to access the hard disk frequently. You may have the fastest RAM in the world, but if your computer has to access the hard disk every few seconds then that speed doesn’t get a chance to show what it can do.

Generally speaking (on a Windows machine) you can get away with around 2GBs of RAM for most things. More is always better though and RAM is cheap. So if you find your PC is slow, or you have less than 2GBs of RAM, try adding some more!

Replacing or adding more RAM does mean getting to grips with the inside of your machine. If you are in any doubt about doing it, find someone else who can help you.

Fans do wear out over time and may suffer from prolonged clogging. If you are confident enough to replace one, go for it. Improved air flow channelling the heat out of your machine will help speed it up. The cooler your computer, the faster it will be.

Replacing a fan is a little more tricky than adding more RAM. First you need to disconnect the old fan from the motherboard and power supply, before removing it completely from the case. Then you need to seat the new fan in place and connect that to the motherboard and power supply. If in doubt, don’t try it yourself.

Disk fragmentation
No, this isn’t your hard disk falling apart. When a disk is fragmented it simply means the files on it are spread over a wide area, which in turn means your computer has to do more work trying to find all the bits for a particular file.

Here is an explanation of the process. You are writing a letter on your nice and shiny PC and save it. Let’s say it is file A. Next you write another letter, called file B. On the disk these two files get rather cosy and sit right next to each other. In fact, you wouldn’t even be able to get a gnat’s whisker between them! Now, you aren’t happy with the way you ended file A and decide to change it. When you save your changes where do they go? There isn’t any physical space between A and B, so the new bit goes the other side of B. In other words file A is now fragmented.

File Fragmentation Example
File Fragmentation Example

The good news for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users, is that the defragmentation process is scheduled by default. So the chances are you won’t need to worry about this at all. If you are still using Windows XP, you will need to check the state of your hard drive every so often. It’s not hard, but it does take time. From the Start menu click on My Computer, right click on the hard drive you want to check and select Properties.

Disk Properties ToolsThen click on the Defragment Now button.

The next screen you will see is the Disk Defragmenter.

File Defragmenter

Click on Analyze to check if a drive actually needs defragmenting. Click on Defragment to start the process. Once it has started it will likely run for a long time. Just leave it alone, go and have a drink and something to eat, or watch some TV. It will finish eventually.

The CPU is the heart of your computer, if you are confident enough to replace one, then you really don’t need to read about doing it here. This is not something I would advise you to do unless you really know what you are doing.

Having said that, I will explain a bit about CPUs so you at least have some understanding.

GHz is the speed of the CPU. The higher the number, the faster it will be.

Cores. Early processors used to have just a single core. Multi core processors effectively mean you get more than one processor per chip. So a quad core processor acts like 4 separate processors all working together in tandem. This does mean that you can’t always rely on the GHz listed for a processor, as more cores is generally faster.

Desktop Icons
Every icon on your desktop uses up some of your computer’s resources just by being displayed. The more icons you have, the more resources are used up. If you really do like to have everything on your desktop, my advice is to use folders. Stick all of your related icons in a folder and you will speed up your PC.

It’s dead simple.

A lot of programs (trying to be helpful) will run when your computer starts up. This is fine if you want the software to actually run as soon as you switch it on (like anti virus software), but it does add an unnecessary load to your system’s resources and increases startup times a lot.

The best you can do is check what programs are listed in your Startup folder (you can get to it from the Start menu). If there is something you don’t want, remove it. If you find it is still running when your machine starts, check the settings for the specific software in question. There should be an option to load the program when Windows starts, which you can then deselect.

Failing that, it’s time to go to Add/Remove programs and remove the offending piece of software completely. Some things really aren’t needed, so why use up valuable disk space for something you are never going to use?

As usual for this and everything else in this post, if in doubt, get a professional to help.

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