How to speed up your PC

Updated: July 14, 2011
Man at slow computer

This. Is. The. Worst.

The basics of making your computer run faster

So you are sitting there at 3:23 am waiting for your computer — wondering, why is my pc running so slow?

You are a normal computer user, doing normal things: You have a few web pages open in at least one browser, maybe more (IE8, Firefox, Chrome, Safari), some video playing, Flash plugin ads running on the browsers, the normal weather applets and printer applets and update applets running in the taskbar. Let’s not forget the latest, aggressive anti-virus software running all the time.

Of course, all you really want to do is to get the spreadsheet/presentation/word processing done for your job tomorrow and go to sleep, but you’re searching your massive Outlook email archives for relevant info to get the job done, and your computer is running extremely slow.

Yeah, and my pc used to work fine and it’s not even that old!

Step 1: Check your memory

First, close all your web browsers; even the one with the latest Kanye West video, the Huffington Post, Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. Suspend the anti-virus, shut down all the little weather apps, and the screensaver.

Wait, don't destroy your computer! ... yet.

Wait, don't destroy your computer! ... yet.

If you can now get your work done and your computer is working again, congratulations, you’ve debugged your computer. Diagnosis? Your computer has run out of memory. Also, you’ve learned you can’t really multi-task, at least not on your existing machine.

How does it happen that your computer doesn’t have enough memory now, after you’ve been running the same system for years? If you’ve been keeping up to date with the latest anti-virus, and the latest browsers, and the latest plugins, and you really should be for security, then they all use more memory now, then the same applications a few years ago.

For example, your older computer might have shipped with 512MB of memory, then maybe you added another 512MB chip. So you have 1GB of memory, but the new web browser and all the new software is probably using more memory then ever. So if you add more memory your computer will run faster?

Possibly not.

Your inexpensive machine probably shipped with a slow hard drive, a slow bus, and only 2 places for memory chips. If you upgrade to 4GB of memory you will be trying to move all this data around through a bus that was designed for 512MB or 1GB. Also because the system probably only has the two places for memory, you will need to not just buy the additional memory, but all new memory. That means you can’t add more memory, you need denser memory.

For example, the machine as two memory slots filled with 512MB chips. To add more memory you need to replace both chips with denser, 1GB memory chips, giving you 2GB of memory. But really the whole system will still be overburdened. The machine will at least be more responsive, and you might be able to keep your Twitter and Facebook feeds going while you are putting together that big presentation, but really, you need to buy a new computer.

What about those software programs to speed up your computer, registry cleaners, and the such? Sorry, no. In most cases, they are likely some sort of trojan, or spam/advertising application. There are tools available, but they are already included with your system — tools like MSCONFIG for Windows. The Windows registry does get loaded into memory, so cleaning it out does help with memory issues, but the amount of memory you are going to clear out is tiny compared to the photo gallery you are browsing. So the gain is almost insignificant, and the cost could be some weird software installed on your system.

Step 2: Is it a virus?

If you have a new computer with gigabytes of memory and the latest fastest hardware, and your machine still has performance issues, then you probably have something running on your computer that is using those resources.

It could be a normal thing, and that the machine is aggressively indexing all your files, so your searches come up fast, (ironic that it slows down your machine so that later… it can be fast) or more likely that your computer has joined the borg collective and is using all of it’s power to be the best bot it can be in the botnet army. Some command and control server in a far off country is controlling your machine to send out spam or it could be used in distributed denial of service attacks. You can debug this by looking at your network connection traffic and your processor usage. If you have 100% processor and high network traffic when you aren’t doing anything, then resistance is futile. You are part of the “collective.”

Step 3: Is it a DNS or network problem?

If you know that’s not your problem and your computer is still slow, it could be a network issue. Whenever you open a web browser it takes forever for the page to start to load.. The browser says.. waiting… all the time. Once the page starts to load, then it seems okay. This is probably a misconfiguration of your domain name service, or DNS. Sometimes the network configuration DNS gets set to a DNS server that is not available. Your computer will try each DNS in order, so if the first one doesn’t work it will wait, then move onto the next DNS in your computers network configuration.

If that’s not it, and the computer is downloading data slowly, then you have a network problem. The network usually has more issues, then the internal components, like memory, hard drive, because of the external nature of it. Cables on the floor get run over by rolling office chairs, the ends of the cable lose the clips that hold them into the devices and come loose. The 2.4Ghz wireless network won’t work when the 2.4Ghz wireless phone that is right next to the wireless access point is being used. You can tell that when everytime you talk on the wireless phone, the wireless network goes slow. Static electricity and a bad electrical ground can short out your network devices. The little 5 port switch that you don’t even know you are hooked into has been crushed behind the desk.

And that’s just your part of the network, then you have to add in your cable or phone company’s last mile of network. Your cable or DSL modem is usually the most inexpensive device the company could find, so it will have a high failure rate. Usually replacing the cable or DSL modem is the first step after cleaning up your network and checking with your providers tech support.

Step 4: Buying a new computer

If you can afford it, you’re better off just getting a newer, faster computer.

The most inexpensive, new computers are easily four times faster than the inexpensive computers that are more than three years old. An older computer will just not run HD video content, but even the cheapest new computer will: it’s all in the hardware. The system is designed to run with more memory and faster hard drives that can contain massive amounts of data.

A standard Dell that shipped with the most cost conscious components (40GB 7200RPM IDE drive/512MB memory) is just not going to work much better when you add the max amount of memory (4GB) and a 1 terabyte hard drive. You will be able to save more data and open more applications at the same time, so you are better off, but you still won’t be able to play HD video. Even the most inexpensive modern computer will be much faster then your three plus year old computer, because of the advancement in hardware development.