What you can do for a Computer that is (so) Slow

Reasons Why Your Computer is Slow

What you can do for a Computer that is (so) Slow

Many of us think that when a computer starts performing poorly then it's time to buy a new computer. Does your desktop or laptop often hang on the hourglass for several minutes at a time? Is it slow to load files or applications, and does it take a long time to boot? Even if you're extremely careful about how you use your computer and never download questionable material, over time it is inevitable that your system will accumulate unwanted registry entries, errors, clutter and debris. It's important to clean your computer up and get it running faster again.

Below are some of the most common reasons your computer is slowing down – and the simple measures you can take to get performance back.

Update your antivirus software and run a full scan.

Antivirus software helps protect you from virus's and other suspect files that can spread by simply opening email. It performs regular system checks and detects when foreign files are trying to infiltrate your computer.

 Run a Virus Scan

Clear up some space on the hard drive.

Clear some Disk Space

Deleting unnecessary files that your computer stores is an easy and simple way to free up memory and improve overall performance.

To do this, access Disk Cleanup in Windows and delete Temporary Files on a Mac.

For Windows XP, Windows 7, and Vista: Click Start, click All Programs, click Accessories, click System Tools, and then click Disk Cleanup.

Run Windows Disk Cleanup

For Mac: Go to Applications, click Utilities, and click Command Prompt. In the Command Prompt, type in "sudo rm -fr /tmp/*" and hit Enter.

The temporary files that have been left behind on your computer will now be cleared.

Your browser has too many add-ons

Browser with too many add-ons

Not all browser extensions are created for good. A lot of the time a slow computer is because of  a browser add-on or plugin bundled with a free software download.

These typically 'free' browser add-ons may proclaim themselves popup blockers or search protectors, but they're actually browser adware that can slow your computer down by downloading ads and popping up ads every time you open your browser.

Fix it

Disable or remove browser extensions and toolbars you don't really need:

Firefox: Hit the menu button on the far right, select Add-ons / Extensions, then select disable or remove for each item on the list.

Chrome: Right-click on any extension button / Manage Extensions, then uncheck the box to disable a particular item, or click the trash can to wave it goodbye.

Safari: Hit Safari (top left) / Preferences / Security / Extensions, then select an item to uninstall. You can also turn off all Extensions here.

Internet Explorer: Tools / Manage add-ons / Show All add-ons, then select the offender(s), and click disable or remove.

Uninstall useless programs or programs you rarely use.

These can include games or media files that you or your children never use, as well as programs that have become redundant or obsolete.

For Windows: Follow the Start Menu to Settings and then to Control Panel. From this screen click on Add/remove programs or Uninstall a program and uninstall programs that are no longer needed.

Uninstall old / unused Programs

For Mac: Kill unwanted or redundant programs by dropping the program files into the Recycle Bin.

Your hard drive is failing

Check hard drive for bad sectors

Hard Drive flagged for a chkdsk will run on next system start

Non SSD hard drives have moving parts, so they do fail eventually, and that is why backing up your files is so important. As for solid state drives (SSDs), which don't have moving parts and are theoretically less likely to break down (but I have seen a few totally fail).

Fix it

Run a hard drive check. Avoid dropping, throwing or otherwise causing impact to the hard drive to extend its lifespan.

You are running too many programs at once

Check CPU Load with Ctrl-Alt-Del

Doing a lot of things at once is exactly why we have computers but, at some point, your processor will struggle and falter. Your computer's ability to run multiple programs at the same time hinges in part on its memory, which allows it to switch from processing one program to another with fast fluidity, but if the demands of the open programs are outstripping your computer's memory and processing power, you'll notice a lag.

Keep in mind not to have too many windows open. That includes minimized windows, which continue to run in the background, using up processing power.

Fix it

Shut 'em down. For Macs, Windows 10, Windows 7 and earlier versions of Windows, you can close the programs from the file menu. In Windows 8, programs are built so that they run in the background for a while, then automatically shut down. But if you want to manually shut one down and ensure all associated files shut down with it, drag from the top of the screen to the bottom, and hold there until the icon flips over.

Too many browser tabs open

Too many browser pages (tabs) open

If you're in the dozens of open tabs camp (“All the better to never lose a link”, you claim), your browser is likely hogging far more than its fair share of RAM.

Using multiple browsers windows [tabs] can slow certainly slow the computer.

If any of those browser session are auto-refreshing then expect a remarkable drop in performance (for example - a live blog with advertising).

Fix it

Bookmark those “necessary” links (for organization's sake, in a Bookmarks folder titled “To Read”) and shut those tabs down. Even better, One-Tab for Chrome and Firefox does the work for you, compiling all your open tabs into a simple list on a single tab, which can then be accessed as needed. 

Rogue programs are hogging all the processing power

It's not always a heavy-duty video or music app that's eating up your computer's processing power.

Some programs or system processes may be stuck in a loop or have encountered an error.

Fix it

Check how much processing power programs and processes are using by heading into Task Manager (Windows; Ctrl+Alt+Delete) or Activity Monitor (Mac; in Applications / Utilities). For both, click the “CPU” tab to order the programs by how much processing power they're taking up. If a program that you're not actively using is still up there in the top few programs, you can select to quit the process.

When it comes to browsers, Internet Explorer is especially heavy on your computer. Instead, use Google Chrome or Firefox

You have an overzealous antivirus program

overzealous antivirus program slowing things down

Having an active anti-malware program is a vital part of computer hygiene – but yours may be running regular background scans at the possible times you are using the computer. Some antivirus programs may be set to weekly full scans, which can take a few hours and suck up a lot of processing power.

Fix it

Setup your antivirus settings and configure it to scan late at night when you are not likely to use the computer.

Download and install a spyware removing program.

Spyware is a kind of malicious software installed on computers that tracks certain information without the user's knowledge. For both privacy implications and the health of your computer, it's best to delete spyware and other "malware."

You should be able to download anti-spyware software on your computer for free. Once downloaded, install the program and run it; if you are not an advanced computer user, read the directions.

  Check for Spyware

You have too many startup programs

Check your Startup Program list

Newly downloaded programs often try to weasel their way into your Startup menu (Windows) or Login Items (Mac). If you didn't uncheck the box for that permission, you could have dozens of unnecessary programs vying to be ready and running as soon as your computer boots up (as if that's happening any time soon).

Having a large number of icons on the desktop can also slow down a Mac's startup.

While some programs – such as antivirus and firewall software - should be allowed to run from startup, others – such as iTunes or Microsoft Office – could quite easily stay closed until you actually need to access a file from their digital depths.

Fix it

Mac: Applications / Systems Preferences / User Groups / Login Items, then uncheck unneeded programs. Delete desktop icons you don't use by trashing them or, in the case of files you've saved to desktop for convenience, reorganizing to the appropriate folder.

Windows 8 and 10: Windows key + X / Task Manager / Startup tab, then right-click on the programs you want to remove and select Disable.

Windows 7 and older: Start button, then search for System Configuration. Go to Startup tab, then uncheck each of the programs if you don't want starting when the system boots up.

Your hard drive is near full

Hard Drive Near Full Your Disk is almost Full

When your hard drive gets to 90-95 percent full, programs will run at a crawl. Optimize your space as much as possible.

Hard drive space is taken up by programs, updates to programs, and downloads, as well as temporary files and associated files of deleted programs, so you may be able to clear a good amount of space just by emptying your trash. Check your hard drive situation by (Mac) clicking the apple and selecting About this Mac, or (Windows) hitting Start / Computer and right clicking the primary hard drive (usually C:), then go to Properties.

Fix it

Deep clean your computer of unnecessary files from unused programs to defunct downloads and temporary files.

Bloat: Toshiba, Lenovo and other PC manufacturers put their own software on computers that are supposed to run utilities or cleanup. In terms of the old computer cleaning ritual of 'defragging', that is only required for Windows XP.

System backups and restore points also can take up a huge amount of space, so don’t keep more backup versions than you really need.

Video and Visual

Windows optimize Visual Performance Options

It's the age old battle of appearance over performance: Having visual effects enabled (basically eye candy) like those time based transitions for minimizing windows – can impact the speed of your PC (and to a lesser extent, Mac), if its hardware only just skates within the minimum requirements for your OS of choice.

A good video card should have at least 1GB of RAM. With less than that, having Windows visual effects enabled can slow your computer down.

Fix it

Windows 7 and older: Start / Control Panel / Performance Information and Tools / Adjust Visual effects, then click adjust for best performance or manually choose which effects you'd like to keep.

Windows 8 and 10: Windows key + X / System / Advanced System Settings / Performance Settings / then select as above.

Mac: System Preferences / Dock, then for minimizing applications, change that super-swish Genie effect to a utilitarian Scale effect (basically just disappearing). Uncheck “Animate Opening Applications”.

Excess dust inside the computer

Performance issues with excess dust

Often the CPU cooling fan is nearly blocked with dust, and that causes thermal detection safety mechanism's to throttle back the CPU speed.

Is the back of your CPU casing matted over with dust? This can prevent ventilation which cools the processors as they whir away in an attempt to run Photoshop, Spotify, Outlook and Skype. Heat increases the likelihood of malfunctions and crashes.

As for laptops, any time you notice your laptop heating up, you should check that its vents, usually on the sides, aren't blocked. For example, don't put your laptop on something soft like a pillow where it can sink in.

Fix it

Remove the dust. If it's really severe, you can use a vacuum cleaner (carefully) or a canister of compressed air.

Your computer does not have enough memory

Performance issues with low memory

If you've deep-cleaned your computer and modified your browser, but your computer is still slow, you might consider a upgrade in the form of additional RAM.

If memory is the real problem, your computer will be slow whenever you start a new application. If your computer is only slow when you turn on your computer or reboot, it is more likely that it is some other problem.

Some programs take a lot of your computer's RAM to run – for example, programs that work with huge files such as photo or video editing software.

Fix it

I recommend a minimum of 2GB of RAM for Windows 7, or 4GB for Windows 10.