Is your system slowing down?
Published 02/01/2009


If your computer is running very slow and you want to do something about it, you have come to the right place. The most frequent complaint I hear in the field is that "my computer is running very slow". There are many reasons your computer could be running slow, but there is a solution for every single one! And some of the problems can be remedied by you at no additional expense, assuming you are willing to take the time to complete the necessary processes. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution and resolving this problem can be very time consuming. Most of the problems that can cause your computer to slow down do so over a very long time and you don't really notice it until the system becomes very sluggish. Of course, hardware failures, hijackers, viruses, etc. can almost disable you system in an instant, so these types of problems are usually much easier to identify, although they can be very difficult to resolve.

Here are some of the more typical problems that can cause your system to slow down (you may click on any problem title to move directly to that section or simply scroll down to read them all):

Data Fragmentation
When your computer writes data to your hard drive, it finds the first available empty sector and begins to write the data to that area. Frequently, the data to be written is larger than the sector, so your computer moves to another sector and writes more data, continuing this process until all the data is saved. Click here for detailed information about defrag.

Disk Errors
Disk errors usually occur when one or more sectors on your hard drive are damaged or they loose their formatting. Any data stored in those areas is usually lost, but bad sectors can slow your computer significantly. Click here for detailed help to repair disk errors.

Insufficient Disk Space
Although the total amount of free disk space is different for each operating system, you should always keep a minimum of 10 gigabytes or 10%, whichever is smaller (unless you are burning DVD's, which will sometimes require free disk space equivalent to the space to be copied to the removable disk). You can free up disk space by removing unwanted programs and files (especially graphics and pictures), emptying the recycle bin, emptying temp folders, etc. Click here to learn how to use Windows XP's built in disk cleanup tool to free up more disk space.

Insufficient Memory
At the time this document was published, the very minimum amount of memory that is required on most computers is 1 gigabyte. If your computer has less than this, you should consider an upgrade immediately! If you are not sure how much memory your computer has, you can right click on "My Computer", then left click "Properties" to open a window where your processor speed and memory will be displayed. So, how much memory do you need? That depends on three factors: what types of programs do you use; how much money are you willing to spend and what will your motherboard support? If your computer is not more than 2 years old, increasing your memory will probably give you the best overall improvement, but you should try to triple the amount you currently have installed if possible.  You should also be sure you have configured a large enough virtual memory page file. Click here for more details about setting virtual memory.

Slow Processor
If you have owned your computer for more than a couple of years, your processor speed to could the cause of your system slowdown. At this time, any processor slower than 2.8 gHz (2800 mHz) is probably too slow to handle today's resource intensive operating systems and applications. Years ago, it often made sense to upgrade your processor because computers cost several thousand dollars and the upgrade could usually be completed for a few hundred dollars. Today, however, you can purchase an entirely new system for a few hundred dollars, so this type of upgrade seldom makes sense any more. Click here to learn how to check your processor speed.

System File Corruption
Some software programs or hardware installation routines will modify your operating system file in order to run properly. If you uninstall the software or hardware, it will usually not attempt to undo the changes it made to the system files and this can cause your system to slow down or even lock up completely. Windows 2000 and XP have a built in utility to resolve this problem (you will need your original Windows system disk to complete this process). Click here for more information about system file checker.

If you have employees or relatives (especially teenagers) who access your computer frequently, you might want to consider setting up your computer as a public PC. This is what is done by motels, hotels, libraries, some schools and colleges, etc. which allows the public (or students) to access their computers. When the PC is rebooted each night, each and every change that was made to the PC during that day is completely erased! So, no matter what the user does, it cannot harm your computer. Unfortunately, this is not an inexpensive solution since your hard drive will need to be re-partitioned or a second drive will need to be installed to contain the backup image which will be restored each time the computer is rebooted. You can download either or both of these free spyware programs by clicking the appropriate link:

Ad-aware         Spybot S&D

If you prefer to purchase a full version, I recommend Spysweeper. You can purchase it at various retail stores or click here to purchase and download it online (about $29). You might also want to consider Windows OneCare.

There are 200-300 new viruses released onto the internet every month, so keeping your computer protected for the damage and/or privacy invasion they can cause is a never ending job! A virus running in the background on your computer can make it run at a snail's pace! There are many anti-virus programs available that will do a good job of protecting you, but I have found that AVG Antivirus by Grisoft does the best job with the least annoying pop-up warnings at the cheapest price. You can download the program from the internet and subscribe to automatic updates for $38 for two years! I would strongly encourage you to NOT try to update your Norton program files using an online update since there is a very high risk that the update and download will not complete and will cause serious (and sometimes even fatal) problems with your computer. I don't like McAfee because it constantly pops up windows that become very annoying and distracting and you must create an account and remember a username and password in order to update your virus definition file. Additionally, Norton and McAfee cost around $50 a year, which is over twice the cost of AVG ($19 per year at the time this document was published). Click here for more information about AVG Antivirus.

Programs Running in the Background
If you notice the icons displayed in your taskbar on the lower right corner of your screen, you will see all the programs that are loaded into your computers memory at this time. If you use the "Quicklaunch" toolbar which displays icons on the left side of your taskbar, these icons are simply shortcuts and do not use any memory until you click on them to open the program. Those on the right side, however are called TSR's (for terminate and stay resident). The fewer of these icons you have displayed the better. By default, Windows does not display inactive icons in the area, but they are still there, using up valuable memory. There are several ways you can reduce the amount of memory that is being used by these programs. One is to remove programs that are not necessary. Many programs such as Jave, Micorsoft Office, Apple Quicktime, etc. will automatically install their own TSR just so the users will become more familiar with the company logo! The program associated with the icon will almost always function flawlessly without the TSR running at all. You can also check the "Startup" folder in the "All Users" folder in Documents and Settings to be sure there is nothing being loaded from there. In most versions of Windows (except Windows 2000), the developers have included a very useful tool called msconfig.exe. This utility is a simple way to disable programs that are being started every time you boot your computer. Click here for more information about running msconfig to control your startup programs.

Registry Errors   
This is probably the most significant factor contributing to system slow down in computers which are more than 6 to 12 months old. Software engineers get paid to write programs that work well and have lots of "bells and whistles". But they spend very little time writing code that will clean up after the program is either closed or removed from the system entirely. Your computer registry is a very large database that contains information about every aspect of your computer, including applications, hardware, operating system, etc. When you uninstall a program from your computer, that program may leave traces of itself in the registry. If this is done frequently, it can significantly slow your system since the computer refers to registry information often and errors can cause your system to slow down.

If your registry becomes damaged or destroyed, not only will your computer slow down, it will not boot up at all. So you must be very careful when doing anything to your registry or you will render your system inoperable!

There are several free registry cleaners available on the internet. One that works well is CCleaner.

System Degradation
Normal day to day use of any computer eventually causes the operating system to degrade and become less efficient due to registry errors, memory page errors, fragmented files, improperly applied software updates, etc. How quickly your system degrades to a level that it is noticeably slower depends on many factors, so there is no way to predict how long your system will operate at maximum speed and efficiency. Since I use my computers every day and require them to perform many tasks, my computers may degrade at a faster rate than yours, so I totally rebuild all my computers at least once a year (except my server, which has been running 24/7 for nearly 8 years without any problems). The primary computers I use at my office and my home are rebuilt about every 90 days to keep them in top shape and operating at maximum efficiency. If you are not sure how long ago your operating system (i.e. Windows XP, etc.) was installed, you can find out by left clicking on the START button, then RIGHT clicking on "My Documents", then left click on "Properties". Then left click the "General" tab and look for the section that is labeled "Created". This will tell you the exact date you operating system was installed on your system, assuming the account you are currently logged onto was created at that time. Reinstalling your operating system restores your computer to the condition it was in when you first took it from the box the day you purchased it.

While I recommend that almost everyone have their operating system reinstalled at least every 18 to 24 months, there are a few very important points you should consider before doing so:

  1.  Backup all your data! Restoration will delete everything on your hard disk drive! And you should backup less obvious items like your Favorites, your address book, calendar, emails, etc. If your computer has stored your email password so you don't have to type it in any more, you might have forgotten it and this can be a problem.

  2. Be sure you can locate all your original program disks for applications such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), Quickbooks, etc. since each program will need to be reinstalled just like you did when the computer was first purchased. You will also need the installation disks for any hardware you added after you initially purchased the computer such as printers, network adapters, etc. And if you recently subscribed to a service such as virus updates, spam filters, etc. and did not purchase the retail versions, you could nullify your subscription (but this can usually be avoided by contacting the vendor beforehand for instructions).

  3. If your computer is on a network, all those settings will need to be restored. If your computer is sharing files or printers to other computers on the network, all these connections will need to be restored after the computer is rebuilt.

  4. Expect things to be different! Few of us willingly accept changes to those things that have worked well for us for a long time. And although we can replicate most of your computer settings after the reinstallation, there will necessarily be lots of small things that are different. You probably don't realize all the little things you have done to your computer over the years to personalize it and make it a tool that suites your needs exactly. It is impossible to make years worth of changes and enhancements in just a couple of hours.

This entire process actually takes about 3-4 hours and then setting up the computer in your office takes about an hour. Our charges for the rebuild are usually 1 to 2 hours offsite (since much of the 3-4 hours is spent waiting for files to be downloaded, copied or installed) and whatever is required to setup the system in your office (usually an hour or less). I have never done this for a client who was less than astounded at the results!

You could also consider using the same process I use for my fleet of loaner computers. Since my clients expect a loaner computer to work flawlessly and not have any contamination such as viruses or spyware, I must totally rebuild each machine every time it is loaned out, no matter who uses it or for how long. Since I could easily move 10 to 20 loaners into the field in a month, I could spend dozens of hours each month  restoring the systems if I did not have a better way to do it. But I do! I use a custom drive imaging utility (similar to Norton Ghost, but much better) to create and store an image of my entire hard disk drive. I create the image as soon as I have completed the installation of the operating system and all the drivers and applications, as well as all the software updates from Microsoft and other vendors. Using this process, I can restore a loaner and make it ready for use in the field in about 10-15 minutes!

The only obstacle to this process is the size of the backup image. It is usually 2-3 gigabytes in size (which would take 4 or 5 CD's if the file could be spanned over multiple disks). This is not a problem for me in my office since my servers have several terabytes of storage space (a terabyte is 1000 gigabytes), but could create challenges in your home or office.



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Bobby Kendrick
Kendrick Information Technologies
603 E. Hwy. 67, Suite 103
Duncanville, Tx. 75137
Ph/Fx: 972-223-5146   Mob: 214-773-7377