6a019104fef791970c01a73d8f0108970d-800wiIs your computer slow?

 You know when your computer is not doing its thing when you click on something and you can count the seconds before the computer responds. And given that we’re so used to performance at the speed of light those seconds can feel like minutes and hours.

It’s almost natural to assume that its part of the computer’s ageing process, a bit like a body that simply wears out over time. But before you begin gnashing your teeth and pointedly digging a pen into your desk, it’s worth considering that performance problems can be fixed. There are many reasons why computers run slow and by and large they tend to form a common pattern.

What you need to need about your computer

Before we get to some of the reasons that slow down your computer it’s worth running over the basics of how computers work so you can understand the processes that take place when you press the start button.

Simply, computers are comprised of hardware and software. The hardware includes devices like the keyboard, printer and mouse. Inside the computer there are lots of different bits of hardware including the motherboard. The motherboard is where you find the main processing chips that make up the central processing unit or the CPU as it’s commonly known. This hardware processes the commands it receives from the software and performs tasks.

Software is essentially the programmes that are installed on the computer and designed to perform specific tasks. For example, there’s the operating system such as Windows, which is the most common, and there is application software for certain types of activities, such as playing games, word processing and so on.

A traffic jam when you start up

Traffic jam

If your computer is taking a long time to start up, that is up to 10 minutes or longer, you know something is not working. Many applications are set to run automatically when the computer starts up. Some do it by default when you install them. While some programmes should be in the start up process there are many that don’t need to be. They can create bottlenecks and add to the time it takes for your computer to fire up, which can lead a start up traffic jam.

One way to get around this is look at the programmes you have running on your computer and ask yourself whether you really need all of them. It’s a general rule that the more programmes you have installed, the more work your computer has to do. This is because they need the computer’s memory and the computer’s processor to get them going. So the more programmes that open up when you start the computer, the greater the demand on the computer’s resources.

If you’ve got a bleeding-edge four core processor this is great because it can handle lots of tasks at the same time without pausing for breath. But most ordinary computers don’t have these mini-powerhouses, because they’re a bit expensive. A simple fix is to uninstall the programmes you don’t use, freeing up memory and giving the processor a breather, so it can direct its power to the programmes you are using.

Your spinning disc may be slowing down

Your spinning disc may be slowing down

Almost every computer has something called a hard drive. These technological marvels are encased in a protective box, because they can be a bit fragile, and they store all the information you use. They do this in a really clever way, by ordering the files of information just as you would file papers in a filing cabinet.  However, what often happens is that as you create and delete files, the hard drive can’t store them as a single file or unit but instead splits the files up and stores the different portions at different locations on the hard drive.

Over time this ‘fragmented’ data builds up so when you try and pull up a file, it takes the hard drive longer to retrieve all the relevant bits. The drive gradually becomes overburdened and in time begins to wear out.

Laptop hard drives tend to have an average life of about three years and its quite common to see computers that are slow as a result of poor drive performance.

A solution is to ‘defrag’ the drive, which is basically a reordering of all the information on the drive so the information is easier to retrieve. This can certainly speed up the computer. If you’re using a machine with Windows on it, do a search for ‘defragmentation’ in the start up bar and you’ll be pointed to some clear, easy-to-follow instructions. Keep in mind it can take a few hours sometimes.

If you use a laptop and it’s about three years old you might want to consider replacing the hard drive. At the very least you should consider backing up your files and information to an alternative source, because if your drive crashes you could potentially lose everything. It does happen.

Crawling through the day

Sometimes computers can seem to slow down the longer you use them during the day. This is often the result of declining RAM. RAM, which means Random Access Memory, is basically the working memory in a computer. It’s a thin stick of hardware that sits on the motherboard and allows a computer to work with more information at the same time.

If you’ve got lots or programmes open at the same time and some of them are large in terms of how much memory they require from the computer, it can reduce the amount of memory available to other programmes. As a result RAM can get fragmented as you open, close and use programmes. Memory leaks can also occur when a programme doesn’t release memory after a programme is closed. If you think you have a RAM problem reduce the numbers of programmes you have open at any one time and consider adding more RAM to your computer.

Is my computer infected with a virus?

Computer Virus

It’s entirely possible that your computer could be full of adware, spyware, viruses or Trojans.  These are nasty programmes that not only slow your computer down but also take over its functioning. If you’re not running good antivirus software that also includes a firewall and spyware detection, and updates regularly, the chances are you’ve got some viruses in your machine. You won’t even know that you’ve picked these things up; you can visit a web site, click on an ad or download some free software and unwittingly become infested with these parasitic programmes.

These viruses are launched for many different reasons. Adware for example automatically displays or downloads advertising material such as banners or irritating pop-ups when you’re online.

Some viruses are even designed to steal your CPU power. However, what they have in common is the fact that they will eat up your computer’s resources.  If you’ve got a relatively new computer, up to two years old, with no or limited protection and its running slowly there’s an extremely high chance it’s infested with malware.

You can get a free online scan that will identify viruses and quarantine them by simply clicking here. You might be surprised at how many viruses it detects.

The above are some of the most common reasons why computers slow down, particularly virus infection. If you’d like to get a fuller breakdown on other issues there’s a great article here that gives you the top ten reasons. It’s from the Geek Squad but don’t worry it’s in plain English and easy to understand.

Stay safe!

Written by Steve Bell (103 Posts)

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and in the past has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies in a copy and content producing capacity. He has a particular focus on IT security and has been involved in writing about the industry at various levels ranging from magazine launches to producing newsletters. He also runs a small copy writing business called Art of Words. When not bashing away at a keyboard he can sometimes be found in a boxing gym making futile efforts to keep fit or marveling at the works of Sufi poets such as Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz.


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