Speeding up your computer
By: Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
Many of you have seen the segment by Eric Taylor this week as he interviewed me about how to speed up your PC. It seemed to have helped a lot of people, but many more had lots of questions. I will try to answer them here.
Q: Should I buy a program that speeds up my computer?
A: The one big reason for buying a program that speeds up your computer in one easy step is that it’s one easy step. The program does all the work finding the utilities and running them for you in the background. Windows already has almost all of the programs already built in if you choose to learn how to use them. I will help you out later on in this article. Be sure to buy something that isn’t a virus that’s pretending to look like a legitimate program. How would you know? You can email me or ask a computer professional. Just because it’s advertised on a known major media site doesn’t make it legitimate. The New York Times website was hacked with spyware and viruses that people accidentally downloaded, so the risks are high.
Q: Is my computer running slowly because I have a lot of pictures and videos on my hard drive?
A: No it is not. As long as you have at least 15% free on your hard drive, it will run just fine no matter what kind of files you have on it, as long as it’s not malware. The reason you need 15% is so the disk defragmenter can take all those files and organize them in order for the fastest possible access. If you open all those picture and video files at the same time, it won’t be the hard drive that’s the bottleneck. It will be the RAM.
Q: How can I see what’s slowing down my computer?
A: Eric had that same question so we right clicked on the task bar and chose the Task Manager. In the Performance tab you can see if your processor is spiking upwards fairly quickly. If it runs constantly at a higher rate than 1% with no programs open, then you have a lot of programming running in the background we need to stop. Also, check out the Processes tab. Be sure to press the button to show processes from all users so nothing is hidden. Then look at how many are running and which ones are using the most RAM and CPU. You can right click and end those tasks, or we can keep them from running in the first place. Eric’s computer had 84 processes going, no free RAM, and the processor was running around 40% with no programs open. That was a problem. You should have no more than 40-50 processes with no programs open running on a PC. Less is even better.
Q: What utilities can I run to speed up my computer?
A: You are full of good questions today! Here are the main ones included in Windows.
Disk Defragmenter: This puts all your data in one long circle on your hard drive. Over time this gets split up into fragments as data is added and deleted. This utility will definitely speed up your computer and add life to the hard drive. You can find this utility under Start- Programs- Accessories- System Tools. There’s not much to configure. Just click Defragment Now and off it goes. It may take several hours, and you can schedule it to run automatically in the Control Panel- Scheduled Tasks, or Control Panel- Administrative Tools- Task Scheduler if you have Vista or Windows 7.
Hard Drive Scan: This utility can be found in the same place. You should choose all types of scans in the options area. You’ll have to reboot so this is done offline. It may also take hours to run so be prepared. Not only does this scan and fix errors but it also marks bad sectors on the drive so data won’t be put there again in the future. A key program running on a bad sector will crash your computer or slow it down considerably.
Disk Cleanup: This utility can also be found in the same location as previously mentioned. Your hard drive will be scanned for temporary files left over from application installations, files in the recycling bin, internet cache files and others that are just taking up space. It can be run while in Windows, but expect it to take up to an hour if you haven’t ever done it on your PC before. Run this before you run the defrag utility. It will open up some holes in your hard drive where the data was deleted that the defrag utility can fill back in.
MSCONFIG: This is the best utility for speeding up your PC, but it’s also the trickiest. But don’t be scared. I will walk you through it. Go to the Start Button and choose the Run or Search box, depending on the version of Windows. Type in MSCONFIG. A new box pops up with several tabs. Choose the Startup tab and disable all startup programs. These programs just take up RAM and processing and slow you down. They were originally designed to help launch programs faster, but with so many of them running all the time in the background they use up too many resources. Plus, your electric bill will be higher with unused programs running, and that isn’t Green Friendly now is it? You will be prompted to reboot after you click OK. If you get any errors from programs that needed any of those to Startup on reboot, then write down which programs they are, launch MSCONFIG again, and just click the ones that had errors. Another tab in this program shows Services. If you know you have services you’re not using, then you can uncheck them here. You may make your computer not work correctly, so there is a risk. There is no risk on the Startup programs tab, however, so you should have no problem that can’t be quickly undone. Eric’s computer went from 84 processes down to 48 after we disabled all of the startup programs, and we had no errors on reboot.
Q: What else may be slowing my computer down?
A: Here are a few simple things that we looked at on Eric’s computer that may help you. In Task Manager, I noticed he only had one GB of RAM. He should upgrade that to at least two GBs, and it doesn’t cost more than around $50 to do so. If you have a computer less than two years old it may have the ability to go even higher. Check the manufacturer’s website to find out, or just email me.
Check the processor type. There should be a sticker on the computer with it. Anything less than a Core Duo may be too old to get much faster. After Core Duo came Core 2 Duo, Quad Core, and then the i3, 5, and 7 series from Intel. AMD has different numbers, but you can type in your processor name into an internet search. If the manufacture date is older than four years, it may be time to replace the computer.
Make sure Windows updates are done and up to date. I realize that sometimes the updates make things slower, especially if you get a bad one, but there are also driver updates that are optional. Sometimes these can really speed up your computer. If they make them worse, there is a roll back feature to save you.
Eric had an up to date antivirus and utility program so he didn’t think his computer was slowing down due to viruses or other Malware. But I found his processor was still running even after making all those changes with no programs open. I suspected his computer was infected. We downloaded a different kind of anti Malware program. There are several out there that can remove viruses and spyware without constantly running the way Symantec, McAfee, and other brands do. You should have one of those monitoring your computer as well, but don’t rely on them to catch everything. We installed Malwarebytes, which is free from download.com. It found over 200 pieces of Malware that his regular antivirus didn’t catch. After we rebooted the computer it ran like a champ. Microsoft Word went from taking 15 seconds to open down to less than 4 seconds. His computer is over three years old with only one GB of RAM, so we didn’t think it would get much better than that.
Although Windows doesn’t have a good registry cleaner, you can also download the free CCleaner from download.com. It will remove fragments of the registry that are no longer in use to speed up your computer.
You can run these programs to make your computer like new again, and you don’t have to buy anything. It just takes a little education and patience. You will be amazed at how much better your PC will work.
To reach me for computer support at your home or business call All Tech 1 at 503-598-8408. We have a team of Microsoft certified technicians and engineers.
For great tips, you can check here, listen to Bob on All Tech Radio at 9 a.m. Sunday morning on AM 1360 KUIK, or go here - http://alltechradio.com.
To buy Bob's latest book, go here http://howtobeanitadministrator.com/.If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, Bob will always answer by email.