One of the most common frustrations experienced by computer users is the speed of their systems. Startup time extends to several minutes where drivers get loaded, new antivirus definitions are installed and helper applications become memory resident. It is not unusual that a computer that is a couple years old take no less than five minutes to become fully functional and responsive. Strategies to drown this frustration become habits like: pushing the power button, waiting for the welcome screen, signing in, and getting a “latte-macchiato-half-sweet-extra-hot” from the nearby coffeeshop while the machine finishes loading the user environment.
Since the release of earlier PCs, utility software has flourished fulfilling the voids left by Operating System (OS) manufacturers. Swiss Army Knives of the software industry, suites like the Norton Utilities, PC-Tools, McAfee, and others, are permanent companions of power users or performance orientated individuals. Expensive and intimidating are not favoured by average users, that is until the computer slows down to a crawl.
⇒ How can I easily improve my system’s performance?
Please keep reading to find out…
5 Easy Tricks to Speedup Slow Computers
1. Clean That Disk!
It does not matter how big hard drives are, they tend to always fill up. Alongside pictures, music and videos, which are the most space hungry, there are thousands of temporary files created by the operating system and applications, cached web content, logs, system restore points, shadow copies, etc. The accumulation of files is not the problem per se; but how these files relate to the operation of the computer in indexing and organization.
As available disk space dwindles below 15%, the computer will start to malfunction with crashes, “hiccups” and a general decrease in performance.
In addition to moving old pictures and movies to alternative storage devices like external hard drives, clearing off temporary and cached files is the next logical step.
CCleaner is one of the best tools to get the job done, and it is FREE! The standard cleaning process will remove most of the detritus leaving your system with, hopefully, a lot more room to operate efficiently. More advanced options will delete old restore points and more esoteric files that are not needed by Windows and popular applications.
Less mentioned huge files are hibernation containers that match the amount of installed memory. If your computer has 4 GB of RAM and hibernation is enabled, then, there is a 4 GB file sitting at the root of your primary disk. If you do not use hibernation as part of your power management, disabling it will remove this huge file from your system.
2. Defrag it!
Defragmentation was “big” in the days of Windows 3.x/9x/Me when the main file system was based on the old FAT/VFAT (File Allocation Table). Back in those days, computers were left to defrag the 80 MB (yes, MB) hard disk in overnight sessions. The reward was very noticeable and it became a routine IT task for most users.
A disk becomes fragmented when parts of files get stored in non-contiguous segments of the physical disk; as the files are accessed by the OS or the application, the disk heads do a lot of travelling back-and-forth retrieving the data; that overhead has a big impact in responsiveness and performance. Defrag utilities reallocate files by writing them into temporary, contiguous blocks and then placing them back in their final “resting” place (see animated image to the right). More sophisticated utilities place the most used applications and data towards the centre of the disk where linear speed is higher, delivering faster access rates and data retrieval.
NTFS, the more advanced file system introduced with Windows NT and later inherited by Windows XP and beyond, is more intelligent than the old format. In combination with bigger hard drive caches and faster speeds, it does a very good job in keeping files contiguous and minimizing the need for defragmentation.
The newer HFS+ (used by Mac systems) implements advanced algorithms that minimize file fragmentation. If the disk becomes fragmented, third party utilities will have to be used or, in a more extreme alternative, the OS will have to be installed from scratch and all user files will have to be restored from a backup.
Defragmentation is not recommended in SSD (Solid State Drives) as the constant read/write operations will shorten the life of the device.
3. Check for Disk Errors
Disk errors are a common cause of computer crashes, slow responsiveness and data corruption. In addition to physical problems of the disk surface, like bad sectors, logical inconsistencies can be created by power loss, application crashes or the infamous Blue Screen of Death. Many times the computer will fix these issues upon the next reboot; however, there are times where user intervention is required. In Windows, the “Tools” section of the Disk Properties contains “Error Checking”, a utility that can detect and correct logical disk problems (an advanced option can verify the physical properties of the disk). It must run outside Windows and it will be scheduled to be part of the next reboot.
4. Eliminate Malware
Viruses, trojan horses and spyware can have great impact on computer performance, particularly when active capturing user information or behaving as a botnet in an army of spam relays or attacking other networks. For Windows users there are many anti-malware software options, commercial and free. Recently, Microsoft released its own free solution called Microsoft Security Essentials which has received positive reviews. I like, in particular, that it is not “in your face” and it does not require annual subscriptions.
5. Optimize the Registry
As the years go by and software gets added, updated or removed, the Windows registry (which is like a database of settings and configuration parameters) can get polluted with invalid entries that become obstacles for the operating system to load and operate efficiently.
A new breath of life can be given to a slow system by a registry check. My favourite application is, again, CCleaner. It does a great job finding inconsistencies and fixing them very quickly. A newly checked registry may need up to three consecutive runs to produce a clean report. No matter which application is used, it is very important to make a backup of the registry before any change is applied and most programs will do so automatically or prompt the user for action.
Keeping a regular maintenance schedule for your system is vital for its health and performance. We will be very happy to assist you in becoming more productive by optimizing your computer, and healthy, by reducing your trips to the local coffeeshop.
Did you know that… It’s time to cleanup your computer from unwanted files, spyware and old software? Please contact us to arrange a system maintenance appointment!
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