What To Do When Your PC Is Slow (Part 1)

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Years ago, car engines used to lose power now and again. They’d go out of time, or their ignition points would need maintenance, and so performance would suffer.

Today, better designs and more reliable components keep our engines humming. Computer control over fuel, air, and spark helps, too.

Ironically, the computers we use for work and play occasionally get sluggish, too. Sudden slowdowns usually indicate a frozen process or software problem. More common is a gradual slide into lethargy; sometimes your hard drive is to blame.


Most gradual PC slowdowns are related to the hard drive. Use Windows’ Disk Defragmenter or a third-party utility to keep your drive in the pink

Most gradual PC slowdowns are related to the hard drive. Use Windows’ Disk Defragmenter or a third-party utility to keep your drive in the pink

As you use your computer, the OS and apps save data here and there on the hard drive. If there’s no free space large enough to store a larger file, the drive saves parts of the file wherever there’s room. This fragmentation slows down read and write processes, and the effect is cumulative.

Drives also become slower to save and retrieve data as they ill up, so the first step to restoring their pep is to get rid of unnecessary data. This includes applications you don’t use, so launch the Programs And Features window to get rid of them. In Windows 7, click Start, Control Panel, and Uninstall A Program.

Next, use Windows’ Disk Cleanup feature to delete temp files, Recycle Bin remnants, and other virtual trash. Press WIN-E (the Windows logo key and E key) to launch Windows Explorer. Right-click your C: drive, select Properties, click Disk Cleanup, and follow the directions. (If the View Basic Information About Your Computer window appears instead of the C: Properties panel, close it and right-click a different part of the C: drive icon or label.) If your hard drive has other drive letters, such as D: or E:, repeat this process with them.

Finally, use defragmentation software to reunite all the split files on your hard drive. Win7 runs its Disk Defragmenter by default every Wednesday morning at 1 a.m., assuming your PC is turned on then. To change this time or to run a defrag manually, click Start, type defrag in the Search Programs And Files field, and click Disk Defragmenter. Note that several third-party defrag utilities can recover even more drive speed by running constantly, but unobtrusively, in the background.

SSD. Because SSDs (solid-state drives) read and write files at the same speeds whether fragmented or not, you don’t need to defrag them. In fact, you shouldn’t defrag SSDs at all because it only accelerates wear on their memory cells.

In Task Manager’s Processes tab, click the CPU or Memory categories to sort them so that the processes using the most resources rise to the top

In Task Manager’s Processes tab, click the CPU or Memory categories to sort them so that the processes using the most resources rise to the top

That said, SSDs can slow down over time due to a delay in the way flash memory writes files to memory cells with deleted data that’s still physically present. Win7 automatically runs a command called TRIM during idle periods to ix this issue on SSDs that support it.

However, if you’re running an older OS, an SSD without TRIM support, and/or an SSD RAID (redundant array of independent disks), check the SSD manufacturer’s site for a performance recovery utility commonly called “garbage collection.” Some vendors also provide firmware updates with speed increases. Installing new firmware can be risky, however, so back up your data beforehand and follow the directions exactly.

Windows tweaks

Sometimes there’s an obvious reason for a sudden slowdown, such as your antivirus software starting a scan. Other culprits include opening a multi-gigabyte folder with thousands of media files, launching a group of tabbed browser bookmarks, and running enough programs to max out your RAM.

And then there’s the odd program that won’t open or close correctly. Press CTRL-SHIFT-ESC to launch Task Manager. Select the application (it may be marked Not Responding) and then click End Task and Yes.

The Processes tab can reveal a process that’s sucking up resources, as it will have high numbers in the CPU and/or Memory columns. Select it and click End Process twice.

If all else fails, rebooting your computer may help. If the normal Restart method doesn’t work, press CTRL-ALT-DELETE and then click the red arrow icon at the lower right.

Malware can cause a major slowdown, especially if it makes your PC send out spam or participate in online attacks such as DDoS (distributed denial of service). Update your antivirus and run a scan.

Apps often add items to Windows’ startup list.  You can prune away gratuitous processes with Msconig.exe

Apps often add items to Windows’ startup list.  You can prune away gratuitous processes with Msconig.exe

There are also some more long-term tweaks you can do to keep your system humming. One is to disable any unwanted programs that start up with Windows. Click Start, type msconfig in the Search field, and click Msconig.exe in the results. Under the Startup tab, uncheck any apps you don’t want. can help you identify unfamiliar items in the Command list (you may have to widen the column to find the program name at the end of each file path). Be sure not to disable any update utilities for common apps such as PDF (Portable Document Format) readers, as these often download security patches. When you’re finished, click Apply, OK, and Restart. If you see a Security Configuration message window, click the Do Not Use option.

Some users also report gaining some speed by using Windows’ ReadyBoost feature, which employs removable lash media to temporarily store files that your system is using in an effort to increase performance. Plug in a fast USB lash drive and then right-click it in Windows Explorer and choose the ReadyBoost tab.

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