My Windows PC is Running Really Slow - Help!

This article will help you to diagnose common problems, such as Spyware, Adware, Viruses, RAM and Hard Drive problems, that cause your Windows PC to run slowly.

Over the course of time, everything becomes dirty and needs some cleaning. Computers are no different; many different programs do many different things on your computer, and 'dirt' can result. It's a good idea to clean up your computer from time to time, and it's usually not very hard to do! Be sure to read through this whole article to find advice for keeping your PC running smoothly far into the future.

Now, in addition to fixing your computer's software, you can take additional steps, such as upgrading your hardware, to make your computer faster. One of the easiest things to do is to purchase additional RAM. As a rule, I say you can never have too much RAM. If you don't have at least 1 GB of RAM, you should immediately upgrade. In addition to RAM, you should consider getting a faster/larger hard drive, video card, or CPU. If your computer is more than three years old, however, you might want to consider purchasing a new one.

The following are essential utilities for keeping your Windows PC running smoothly. (Click the links to go to their download sites):

Running the Above Programs

AdAware and Spybot are two programs to help you detect and remove "spyware" and "adware" from your computer (click here to find out what spyware is). It is a good idea to download the latest versions of these two programs, then, before you scan your system the first time, use the built-in 'web update' feature to get the latest scanning definition files.

Startup Control Panel is a good utility for seeing all the programs, system tray items, and extensions that load when your computer starts up. Instead of rooting through your computer's registry and possibly messing things up, you can turn on and off most of the essential startup items using this utility.

Norton Antivirus, McAfee VirusScan and other Virus detection and removal programs are very important for every PC user to have. If you simply go on the Internet, chat or check your email, you are at risk for viruses (yes, even the most scrupulous of users!). I don't recommend free scanners such as AVG Lite because they do not do as good a job at preventing virus attacks. It's a good idea to pay for a subscription to get virus definition updates as often as possible using Norton or McAfee products.

Microsoft Windows Update is built into your computer, but can be accessed by the above link, as well. It is important to try to keep your computer as up-to-date as possible, because more viruses, hacks and vulnerabilities are found every week. Sometimes updating can be quite a pain, and patches can cause problems, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Just make sure you have your important files backed up before you do large updates!

If you have all of the above programs, it is a good idea to run each of them (excluding the Startup Control Panel) at least once a month, if not every week or even daily. Most of these products are able to actively scan and protect your computer, and you should let them do so. You can change these settings in each program's 'preferences' or 'settings.'

Ways to Keep Your Computer Running Fast

In addition to using the above programs, you should keep in mind a few important things while using your computer to check email, install programs, browse the Internet or chat:

  1. Never open any attachments on emails that either you don't know who they're from or you don't already know what is in the attachment. Some malicious software can even make an email look like it was sent to you from a friend or relative! Better to be safe than sorry.
  2. When installing new software, ALWAYS watch the installer and make sure you know what's being installed. Some programs will ask you if they can install additional software. This additional software is often unnecessary and can cause problems on your computer.
  3. Don't use Internet Explorer unless you absolutely HAVE to. Internet Explorer is full of vulnerabilities and bugs. Plus, alternative browsers such as FireFox are faster, offer more advanced features, and are more secure than Internet Explorer.
  4. If you chat, don't click on links sent to you by friends unless you are absolutely sure your friend intended to send you the link!
  5. If you see a window pop up while you're browsing the Internet, or if you close your web browser window and you see a window that looks like an error message, warning, or otherwise legitimate window, beware—it could be a link to spyware. If you see the link cursor instead of your mouse button when you move your mouse over the 'cancel' or 'X' button, DON'T click! Instead, you may have to force-close the window by pressing 'Control-Alt-Del' and quitting it via the Task Manager.
  6. Don't download 'free' software unless you really need it and/or it doesn't seem 'too good to be true'. Many 'free' programs, such as the WeatherBug, the MySearch bar, and many file-sharing programs (such as BearShare, Kazaa, and LimeWire) can make your computer run slow and also send information from your computer to marketing companies (including personal information!).
  7. Upgrade your computer's RAM (Right-click on 'My Computer' and select Properties to see how much you currently have). The more RAM you have, the less your computer will have to access the hard drive to run programs (especially if you run more than one program at a time!).
  8. Make sure you have about 10-20% of your hard drive empty. If your hard drive is almost full, you should consider getting a new drive; larger, faster drives can be very inexpensive when on sale at retailers such as Best Buy, NewEgg, Micro Center, Fry's and others.
  9. Keep your computer clean; if you have never opened your desktop computer and cleaned the dust from the inside, you should do so—you might be surprised at how much dust you find! You can use a Shop Vac and soft brush (keep static away, though!) or a can of compressed air (a few bucks at a computer store) to get rid of all the dust bunnies. Dust can cause a LOT of problems with a computer!
  10. Reinstall Windows. In some cases, if you can't get your computer running its best via the methods outlined above, it's best to backup all your documents, music, videos, etc., format your hard drive, and reinstall everything from the CDs that came with your computer. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, you might want to turn your computer in for this service (but it will cost a bit).