A recent comment on one of my blog posts suggested that my blog was a bit too technical and did not really address the issue of why a computer might be running slowly. This is true, my blog really is aimed at software developers, system administrators and diagnostic engineers trying to keep commercial software ticking along smoothly. It is not really aimed at the ordinary user who just wants their home computer or laptop to run fast and error free.

But the comment got me thinking. Numerous times I have helped out friends and family with this exact problem -  “My computer is running very slowly”. And although there is not always a magic cure for such a situation there is a fairly standard formula I follow so let me try and write it down.

This blog post assumes your computer is running Microsoft Windows.

1) Uninstall unnecessary or unwanted programs. Many computers come pre-installed with software that the buyer neither needs or wants. This is often called “trialware”. It may be time limited or functionality limited. Either way if you don’t use it or wanted it is at best taking up space on your disk or at worst actually running anyway or taking up memory or processor power.

Furthermore, over time people often end up installing things “by accident”. They may have been to a web site from where it was “suggested” they try out a particular program. Or they may have bought a printer or camera or other device that came with an “installation disk” that installed far more than the software actually needed to make the device work. Again, more unwanted “trialware”.

So go to Control Panel, “Programs and Features” or “Add Remove Programs” and uninstall things you don’t want. Be careful though - if you are not sure what you are doing get a more computer literate friend to help you. There are sometimes things you didn’t know you needed but you do actually need to keep. It may be making something else work.

2) Have a good anti-virus program and keep it up to date. There are plenty out there both commercial and free. Microsoft Security Essentials is an excellent and free anti-virus program.

3) Keep your copy of Windows up to date by keeping automatic updates on the recommended settings.  Not doing so could leave your computer vulnerable to attack from malware which will always be detrimental to your computer’s performance, not to mention your sanity and possibly your bank account.

4) Don’t get burdened with unwanted browser add-ins and plugins. Often when you download one piece of software your are often offered some extra toolbar or add-in or extra utility as an “optional” extra and very you are opted in by default. Watch out for this whenever you download something.

5) Consider using a trusted tool to improve your computer’s performance. For example, if you go to Microsoft Fix it you can find automated and guided help to find out why your computer is running slow.

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Automated tools like this from Microsoft draw on the expertise of 1000s of Microsoft’s Customer Service and Support Professional Staff from around the world.

6) Be very wary of web sites or advertising embedded within web sites making unsolicited offers to improve your systems performance. Although there are legitimate tools and services out there, there are also many offerings of questionable value and in some cases there are ones which are themselves malicious software disguised as performance enhancers, registry cleaners and system clean-up tools.

7) Consider buying more RAM. Adding some more RAM to your system can be a very cost-effective way to quickly improve your system performance. RAM is the fast memory in your computer and having more of it means your computer spends less time going back forward to disk. There are specialised memory vendors around who will provide you with detailed information about what you can and can’t put into your machine based of the model specification. The computer manufacturer should also be able to give you details of what your system can and cannot use.

8) Make sure you have a reliable and fast internet connection. This one is not, strictly speaking, about speeding up the computer itself. However these days almost everyone uses their computer to do things on the internet and perception is everything. If a person’s internet connection is slow they often perceive their computer to be slow. If you spend time on the internet it is worth investing in.

9) Reinstall your operating system or get someone to do it for you. All of the above should provide dramatic improvements to system performance. But occasionally I find that a friend’s system has got into a bit of a mess over the years and it can be easier just to “reset” and install everything from scratch. Most mainstream systems come with a “factory reset” option. Beware though that you will lose all your personal files, data, settings, photos and music.  But hopefully you’ve been storing you valuable stuff in some kind of offsite storage like SkyDrive. Reinstallation can be a particularly good option if they’ve been unfortunate enough to be infected with malware of some kind. I would consider this a bit of a last resort however

10) Consider buying a new computer. I would never recommend this as a first step but if after investigating all the above and you’ve had your computer for several years then it may be time to invest in a new one. The old one need not go to waste as there are many charities able to use or recycle it for you. Prices have come down a lot over the years and it may not cost you as much as you think.

HTH

Doug