Tech Magazine

Why is My Computer Slow?

Posted on the 05 October 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds

A slow computer can really try your patience. Read this article and go back to being impatient


  • Reboot
  • Anti-Virus
  • Clean up temporary files and Take out the trash
  • Remove unused programs
  • Defragment you disks
  • Detect and Repair disk errors
  • Stop start up programs
  • Clean up your registry
  • Wrap Up

For those of you that don't know me, I am a horribly impatient person. I'm the guy that is looking for the check the moment I take my last bite at a restaurant. I expect web pages to load instantly and I expect my computer to never keep me waiting. My impatience with technology sometimes collides with the fact that I am notoriously, let's say frugal. I still own the computer I bought in high school 8 years ago. And it still runs great. If you're like me and you require your computer to be fast, and last for years, you're in luck. I've got some great tips for you to make sure you computer runs as fast as possible. And best of all, the total cost of these repairs is $0. That's right, what you'd pay $60 or $70 an hour for really costs nothing. Since I don't own a Mac, and apparently they never slow down, I'm focusing this article on cleaning up a Windows PC.


Anyone that's ever called technical support for a computer problem can tell you that the first thing to do is restart your computer. Sometimes, all it takes is forcing a program to relinquish it's hold on memory to give your computer some pep in it's step. There are numerous reasons why restarting your machine will cause it to run faster, and they really aren't important to know. But for the curious minds out there, we're going to briefly discuss one culprit that a restart fixes.

In programming, a big part of our job is to efficiently manage memory. All programs require some sort of memory allocation and usage. Whether it be as simple as creating variables, or more complex data structures, memory management is vital to the success of a program. But some times, we as programmers get a bit careless and overlook certain behaviors in the code. There is an error called a "memory leak" in which a program allocates memory and, for one reason or another, never deallocates it. Allocating memory is kind of like a miner stacking his claim; the first person to stick their flag in the ground owns it. So if program A goes out and claims a bunch of memory and then never pulls it's flag up, no other programs can use it. And if the program does this enough, there won't be any memory left for other programs, which results in them all slowing down and waiting on memory to become available.

Rebooting clears this up by forcing the program to give up that memory. But a simple restart may or may not be sufficient. Some systems are designed to retain that information for almost a minute after power down; meaning a brief restart isn't enough time to for the memory to be reclaimed. So here's my tip; if your computer is running slowly, turn off the power for about a minute or two. This is sufficient time to ensure no programs are still holding onto memory. Then, turn your computer back on and pray that was the problem.


If your computer did not speed up after the reboot, the next thing to check is whether you have malware. We've touched on malware a couple of times in the past, so we won't rehash those articles here. If you need a refresher course, check out removing malware and safe browsing basics. As I mentioned in yesterday's article, malware can significantly slow down your computer. So even if it's not the culprit this time, regular malware scans are essential to keeping your computer's performance level high. If you have an anti-virus or anti-spyware installed, now is the time to run some scans. If you don't have any installed, shame on you. Go to yesterday's article and get them installed. Follow the steps in that article to remove any malware your scans reveal.

For the longevity of your system, make sure you keep your anti-malware programs up to date. If they don't know what to look for, they'll let anything through. Most will alert you when they need to be updated, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Running disk cleanup can really speed up your computer

Clean up temporary files and Take out the trash

Have you ever removed a program from your desktop or "deleted" a file? Of course you have. I put deleted in quotations because you're really just moving a file to a place that's likely to get deleted. Deleting a file or removing a program from the desktop is like throwing trash into your trash can. If you don't move your can to the curb, it's just going to remain with you. Speaking of which, I forgot to move my trash down to the curb today, too bad I didn't write this yesterday, I may have remembered. Anyways, even though you've "deleted" them, they remain on your hard drive taking up space.

In addition to these deleted files lurking around, your computer probably has a ton of temporary files on it. Temporary files are files created by programs during their execution. They are called temporary because they're supposed to be removed after the program stops needing them. But as you probably guessed since I'm mentioning them, they don't always get deleted.

No one likes a moocher, so let's kick these babies to the curb, shall we? We're going to go to Start->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Cleanup. This nifty little tool allows us to remove several types of useless files from our computers. I ran it yesterday on my computer and had three gigabytes of crap slowing my machine down. When it loads up, you'll be asked which disk to clean up. If you only have one hard drive, this is easy, just click OK. If you have two or more, just be sure to run it on all of them. The next screen allows you to choose the types of files to get rid of. I recommend choosing them all, unless you have some special reason not to. I've never had a problem arise from deleting them all, so I say go big or go home. Check all of the boxes and click OK. Your computer is now running the cleanup program and depending on how much there is, this could take a while.

Remove unused programs

Another reason computers run slowly is due to the plethora of programs installed on them. Some computers even come from the factory this way, with games, demos and promos on them. I recently cleaned about ten gigs off of my mother's computer. Think of cleaning programs off your computer like losing weight; if you want to run lean and mean, you've got to trim the fat. There are certain programs you need to keep, and that's fine. You've got an abundance of hard drive for that reason. We just want to get your computer ready for swimsuit season. For it to fit into that tiny two piece, we'll need to say goodbye to some unused programs. My mom's computer had three different word processing packages. No one needs that many choices. Go to Start->Control Panel->Add or Remove Programs. On some systems, that last one is just called "Programs and Features". I like to sort the list by program size, which you can do by clicking the "size" heading. Go down the list, program by program, and assess whether you need them or not. If not, click on the program and then click "uninstall" from the top of the list. If you're prompted to grant access or something, just agree. Your computer will take care of the rest.

Defrag makes your hard disk more efficient

Defragment your disks

We never touched on how a hard drive reads data, and we're not going to get deep into that now. But it is important to know that your disk drive has a moveable head that travels around the disk to find the location of your programs and such. Over the course of your computer's life, programs come and go, leaving gaps in the memory locations on your disk. This makes it more difficult for the head to get to the right place if it has to deal with all of these gaps. That's where disk defragmentation comes in. Defrag, for short, is a program that rearranges the files of a disk to reside on contiguous locations on the disk. This not only makes reading and writing faster, but it also increases the system startup time.

To run a defrag, go to Start->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Defragmenter. You may be given the option to choose which disk to defrag. If you have multiple disks, it doesn't matter which goes first, just be sure to do them all. You'll want to analyze the disk first. This is done by clicking the Analyze disk button. This tool will tell you how fragmented your disk is. Mine is currently at 0%, so defrag isn't necessary. But if yours isn't at zero, I'd go ahead and run the defrag tool. There's no reason to wait for a huge amount of fragmentation before you run it; it'll just take longer if you wait.

Detect and Repair disk errors

Another possible reason your computer has slowed down is due to disk errors. Over time, bad sectors develop on your hard disk. These bad sectors hinder performance and can make data reading and writing data impossible, or very difficult. Naturally, repairing these bad sectors can drastically increase your system performance. Microsoft recommends checking your disks once a week for bad sectors. But I say just run it with your monthly malware scans.

To run error checking, Open the start menu and click My Computer. In the My Computer window, right click on the drive you want to check, usually C:, and click properties. Go to the Tools tab and then click Check Now. Check the box next to "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" and then click start. Try not to be doing too much else on the computer when you run this, since it is checking your primary disk drive. If prompted to repair a bad sector, go ahead a do it.

Stop startup programs

When you start your computer up, you also start a lot of other programs. Many of these are not necessary to start your computer, but they sneak in there without you knowing. I just did a quick check and I had about 30 programs that start with the system that I don't even use, Adobe Reader being an example. To stop these from starting, go to the start menu and in the run dialog box type "msconfig". When the msconfig utility comes up, click on the "Startup" tab. You will then see a list of programs that start when your system boots up. If you're certain it's not necessary for your system to start up, uncheck the box next to it. If you're unsure whether it's important, just leave it alone. Once your done, apply the changes and exit without restarting. We have one more thing to do before we reboot.

A clean registry is a happy registry

Clean up your registry

The registry is an interesting beast; if you've heard of it, it's probably because you're been told to clean it before. It's a vital part of your Windows computer, but it's existence is little known. This is because it's not really for general browsing. The registry holds important information and settings for lower level programs. It holds information about device drivers, installed programs, things like that. And just as your disk becomes defragmented over time, so too does you registry become bloated. It can hold information about files that no longer exist and more. So our last step on the free PC tune up train is to clean up our registry. Luckily, this is not a manual process. We're going to download CCleaner.

After you've downloaded and installed CCleaner, we're going to run a scan. First off, analyze your computer. This will tell you how much CCleaner can remove and how much space can be freed up. Once the analyzing is done. go ahead and clean house. You'll need to close your browse in order for CCleaner to clean internet files; so either copy this and paste it into a document, or just run the scan later.

Wrap Up

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