Five Ways to Speed up a Slow ComputerKim Boatman
When Derek Meister, a double agent with the Geek Squad in Cleveland, makes house calls, he almost always hears the same thing: “My computer’s running a little bit slow. What can I do about it?”
Sound familiar? “If you have a computer that is more than a year old,” Meister says, “it’s more than likely not running anywhere near as fast as when you first got it. It’s very common.”
If your computer functions at a crawl rather than a sprint, it helps to understand the common culprits -- and the fixes. Here are five reasons your computer might not be up to speed:
- Your computer is memory-starved. “Many times, you get a great deal on a computer that has a nice monitor, lots of feature and a decent-sized hard drive,’’ says Mark Smetana, owner of a CMIT Solutions computer support and service franchise in Hayward, Calif. “The way the manufacturers keep the cost down is by skimping on memory.”
- You need to defrag. Your computer’s hard drive is like a file cabinet, and over time, the contents of files become scattered across “different drawers” as you use them, says Glenn S. Phillips of Forte Online, a computer consulting business based in Pelham, Ala. You should perform defragmentation monthly. If you have Windows XP or an earlier system, open My Computer, right click on the C: drive, select Properties, then the Tools tab, then Defragment Now. You can defrag while you continue other tasks. If your computer runs Window Vista, it should be set to automatically defrag. However, sometimes systems come with the auto defrag turned off, cautions Meister, the Geek Squad double agent. If you go to your startup bar and simply search Disk Defragmenter, you can check.
That said, it isn’t necessary to go defrag crazy, warns Meister. It can put wear and tear on your hard drive. And Mac users are lucky. Experts say you needn't defrag if you own a Mac because of the way the operating system works.
- Your hard drive is too full. As a rule of thumb, you should keep at least 10 percent of your hard drive empty, say the experts. If you’re storing many photos and music on your hard drive, consider purchasing an external hard drive, say Belzer and Smetana. “This will free hard drive space so your computer can access the data you need on a regular basis more quickly,” Smetana says.
- Your computer has been infected. Malicious software, or malware, is the top cause of slowdowns, Meister says. Tempted to download free software, to click on unfamiliar emails and to install free games? Realize you’re putting your computer and your personal data at risk. Criminals are looking for ways to access your computer -- and to harness your computer’s memory and operating power for their own criminal purposes. Make sure you run a reputable anti-virus/anti-spyware program, says Belzer, and make sure it is updated daily. Run a full system scan weekly.
- Your computer is running too many programs at startup. Is waiting for your computer to start up akin to watching grass grow? Too often, we have a number of programs set to automatically start up with the system, says Meister. Here’s how to avoid it: First, when you download or install a program, don’t check the option for open at startup. Next, review your current software. Click on each program icon to see which ones are auto-starting. Only allow the frequently-used programs to start up automatically. Once you are finished, close them.
Random access memory (RAM) is where your computer stores frequently used files or active data. Programs increasingly require more speed and more space, and adding RAM can help your computer’s speed, says Tara Belzer, who owns Friendly Computers in Charlotte, N.C. Experts say you need a minimum of a gigabyte (GB) of RAM if you’re running Windows XP and 2GB if you run Windows Vista. While Apple recommends at least 512 megabytes (MB) of RAM for most Macs, users say that applications run better if you upgrade to 1 GB or more. If you multi-task or play a lot of games, consider “as much memory as the machine will hold or that you can afford,’’ says Smetana.
Don’t know how much RAM your computer has? On a Windows machine, click on System Properties under Computer or My Computer on your operating system. To check RAM on a Mac, open the Apple menu by clicking on the apple in the upper left hand corner of your screen. Choose either About This Macintosh or About This Computer. Look for the total memory line. If the figure is listed in kilobytes (KB) you'll need to divide by 1,024 to arrive at the number of MBs. One GB is equal to 1,024 MBs; one MB is equal to 1,024 KBs. If you’re uncomfortable installing RAM yourself, a computer service company will add the memory for a nominal cost. Meister says you will pay about $39 plus the cost of the memory if you have the Geek Squad install, then test added RAM in a Best Buy store.
There’s no reason to sit back, enduring the mind-numbing, patience-robbing agony of a slow computer, say the experts. Almost always, the problems leading to a slow computer can be fixed by the user, says Smetana, of CMIT Solutions. A bit of regular maintenance on your part and some common-sense security practices will go a long way.
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