Computer Courage Newsletter – April 2008 – The Slow Computer – What To Do

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Computer technology is said to double in speed and capacity every two years (a phenomenon called Moore’s Law.)If our computers are doubling in speed every two years, why is it that we find ourselves waiting for computers to respond every day?Why does it sometimes take 5 minutes just to open our email?In this month’s article, Computer Courage will explain why so many computers still suffer from performance problems and show you some free tips on how you can speed things up.

System Resources – An Introduction
The speed of every system is limited by the availability of its resources.When a particular resource is unavailable, the system has to wait until it becomes available, often leaving the user hanging.The important resources for you to understand are CPU Cycles, System Memory (RAM), and Hard Drive storage.

CPU Cycles
Your CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the chip which performs all of the instructions for the computer.It’s the closest thing to a “brain” in your system.Almost everything you do goes through the CPU.While your computer does multitask, the CPU can only do one (or two in the case of dual-core) task at a time.Each task takes literally less than a millionth of a second, but a typical job such as opening an email might take millions of CPU tasks.Faster CPUs (like the new Intel Core 2 Duo line) make for faster systems.But these CPU cycles have to be used optimally, or the power of a system can go unharnessed.

System Memory (RAM)
RAM is one of the harder things to describe in a system.We use the tool belt analogy.Imagine you are doing a job on your house and need about 50 different tools (screwdrivers, hammers, ladders, etc.)Your tools are in a shed in the back.If you had to go back to the shed every time you needed a different tool, a job would take all day.Instead, you use a tool belt.The belt can hold fewer tools than the shed, but reaching for a tool from the belt takes just a second or so. Occasionally, you still need to go back to the shed, but overall your job will be done much faster.RAM is super fast memory which holds active programs (tools) and operating system components, speeding up your system.When you use all of your RAM, the computer has to go “back to the tool shed” (the hard drive) to get data.More RAM (a bigger tool belt) means less trips to the shed.

Hard Drive Storage
You hard drive is where your data is stored.Unlike the speedy RAM, a hard drive has moving parts and is relatively slow (though holds tons of information, and keeps that information even when the power is off.)When your hard drive gets full, or disorganized (fragmented), your system slows down.

Common Causes of System Slowdown, and How To Resolve Them

Unnecessary Programs Running
What’s Happening: Unnecessary programs running on the system can eat up valuable resources.Some programs run all the time, even if you aren’t using them.While this is often necessary (like antivirus), it’s often unnecessary and counterproductive.For instance, HP is known for adding all sorts of superfluous monitors and toner alters that slow down the computer.
What To Do: First, back up your system (contact us for help.)
Mac Users: Go to System Preferences -> Accounts -> Login Items.Look for programs that are set to run at startup which might be slowing you down.
PC Users: Go to Start Menu -> Control Panel -> Add/Remove Programs.You’ll get a list of all the programs installed on your system.Start removing programs you don’t use or don’t need.When you’re done, restart.If the system is still slow, give us a call.We can use advanced tools to look deeper into the system and slim down hidden programs and startup items.

What’s Happening: Spyware and viruses can get into your system and use your previous system resources to send out spam, show your ads, track your activity, or just to waste time.This is an absolute waste.To learn more about properly protecting your system from viruses and spyware, see last month’s post.If you think your system is infected, contact us immediately and we can send someone over to clean things up.

Not Enough RAM
What’s Happening:When your system runs out of memory (RAM), it has to use the hard drive as “virtual RAM”.This is horribly slow.Getting rid of unnecessary software, viruses, and spyware will help with this, but the ultimate solution is to get more RAM.We recommend at least 1 gigabyte (GB).This is the most common and affordable way to improve system performance.
What To Do: Getting more RAM into your system is a bit complicated, and can be somewhat dangerous to your system if done improperly.The good news is that we can do it cheaply, safely, and easily.Just contact us with your system information and we’ll help you get upgraded, often for under $100 in parts and labor combined.

Operating System Corruption
What’s Happening: A final common cause of system slowdown is corruption of the operating system.In Windows, the “Registry”, which is a file containing thousands of settings, can become bloated or corrupted.In any operating system, vital files can become corrupted or destroyed
What To Do: A hard drive defragmentation is a good, safe first step.A quick Google search will reveal how to perform this.Going deeper, there are many tools out there that claim to clean up systems, but we recommend caution.Some of these registry cleaners or similar products can cause more problems than they resolve.One safe and effective tool is CCleaner (, a system can get so corrupted that it needs to be completely reinstalled.If you aren’t sure what to do next, contact us and we’ll have someone out there to fix up your system right away.


Done properly, these tips should help you increase the performance of your system significantly.Please remember that these are just guidelines.Some of the practices described in this article need to be used very carefully.Remember to back up before trying any performance enhancements.Computer Courage is not responsible for any problems that may arise when attempting these solutions – we are happy to perform these (and more) techniques for you.