It happens to all of us; the moment when you’re browsing the internet or playing a game on your PC and suddenly it becomes slow and unresponsive (and possibly very noisy), or possibly it takes an extremely long time to start-up. If you’re like me and have an old, outdated computer, chances are this is a daily occurrence. As someone who’s studying computer science and hoping to make a career out of it, it’s extremely frustrating when my own PC doesn’t want to work. It’s especially frustrating if you’re in the middle of something important. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get your computer back up to speed without having to spend any money on new parts or a new computer.
NOTE: All instructions provided below are based on Windows XP Professional. If you have a different operating system, the steps will work, but the specific instructions may not.
1. Get rid of unnecessary processes. In my experience, this is the thing that’s responsible for 90 percent of my computer freeze-ups. At any given time, Windows actually has a lot more processes running in the background than what you see in your task bar windows. It’s important to know what’s currently running and what’s taking up the most of your memory. To do this, you need to open up the Task Manager.
1. Click the Start button at the bottom left corner.
2. Click Run.
3. Type in taskmgr and click OK.
This should open up the Task Manager for you. From there, click on the Processes tab. Here, you can see every single process that’s running in Windows. What you need to do now is check the Memory Usage (on the far right) of each process you have opened. When your computer has too many processes taking its resources at once, it can slow down. If you’re on an older machine and have a lot of processes taking up 50,000K or more of memory, that’s probably what’s slowing down your computer. To stop a process that’s running, you need to right-click it with the mouse and click End Process.
NOTE: You should not delete any processes until you know what they’re for. Otherwise, it’s possible to end a vital process that Windows needs to function, which will force you to restart your computer. While this isn’t that dangerous, you should look up the process name on Google before you end it.
It’s also worth noting that computer memory is different from hard drive space. Just because you have a lot of files saved to your hard drive doesn’t mean they’re taking up memory. Just deleting files probably won’t help you if your computer is running slowly. While this is obvious to people used to working with computers, it’s amazing how easily people can get them mixed up or think they’re the same thing.
2. Disable start-up programs. This is a pretty big one. Many programs that you download and install, (such as Skype or an anti-virus) are set by default to start up automatically when you turn on your computer. Convenient, maybe, but that many programs trying to start at once will really slow down your computer, which you can read more about here. They can make the start-up time as long as 10-15 minutes, and can affect your computer even after it’s up and running if they continue to run in the background. Needless to say, it’s best to set these aside and only start them when you need them. To disable start-up programs:
1. Click the Start button, and then click Run.
2. Type msconfig then click OK.
3. This should open up your System Configuration window. From here, find and click the Startup tab.
4. Here, you’ll see a checklist of all programs that will start upon turning your PC on. Uncheck any ones you don’t want (most of them are probably unnecessary).
5. Click Apply then click Close.
Doing this should greatly improve performance when you start your computer up.
3. Defragment your disk. This one is fairly obvious for a lot of people, but it can be an easy thing to forget to do. While this probably won’t do much if you’re having problems with programs and browsers freezing up, it will make browsing the contents of your computer much faster. The contents of your hard drive are constantly changing as you download and delete files. Over time, this usually causes the data to become fragmented, which makes your computer take longer to access the hard drive’s contents. Defragmenting it periodically will put everything back in order and make your computer run more smoothly. You can read more about how it works here. Here’s the easiest way to do this:
1. Click the Start Button, go to My Computer.
2. Right click drive that your hard drive is in (for most people, it’s C:), and click on Properties.
3. From there a window should open up. Click on the Tools tab, then the Defragment Now button.
4. This should open the Disk Defragmenter. From there click the Defragment button on the bottom.
Now all you have to do is wait for it to finish. Note that this can take a long time and might slow down your computer while it’s doing it, so it’s probably best to do it when nobody’s going to be using the computer for an hour or two.
4. Disable your anti-virus. NOTE: Before I continue here, I cannot stress enough that you should not do this if you are worried about getting a virus. You should only do this if you’re confident that you’re able to avoid getting a virus.
Many anti-viruses are designed to protect your computer in real-time and stop any incoming threats, While this can help protect your computer, the fact that they do this constantly also makes them one of the largest memory hogs, which you can read more about here. Disabling or uninstalling them can give a good boost to your PC’s performance, but only if you’re sure you can avoid a virus. Most viruses are acquired by downloading suspicious files or going on a suspicious webpage, usually through clicking on ads. If you’re careful, you can probably avoid a virus.
To uninstall an anti-virus:
1. Click the Start button then click Control Panel.
2. From the Control Panel, click on Add or Remove Programs.
3. Find the name of your anti-virus in the programs listed (it should be alphabetical).
4. Click the Remove button.
5. Follow the uninstall instructions.
Simply disabling an anti-virus is a bit trickier. You can just disable its process in Windows Task Manager (it’s almost always one of the ones with higher Memory Usage), but sometimes it’ll just start up again in a few minutes.
5. Run a Virus Scan. Like step 3, many of you have probably heard this one a million times before. But it’s true; if you have infected files on your computer, they can greatly affect its performance. And if you want to go ahead with step 4, it’s important to run periodic scans of your computer to make sure you don’t get a virus while real-time protection is disabled.
To do this one, simply open up whatever anti-virus you use (I prefer Malwarebytes myself), and there should be an option to run a scan of your computer. Just tell it to scan it and wait for it to finish, then let it remove any infected files it might find. Like defragmenting, this can take awhile and greatly slow down your computer while it works, so don’t do this while you’re working at the computer. This should be done about once a month to keep any malware or viruses out.
From my experience, I’ve found that if you do these five simple things, you should see at least a slight (if not significant) improvement in your computer’s performance. However, you should always make sure that you know what you’re doing before making any drastic changes to how your computer runs.