This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
My computer used to be fast, but now it runs slower and slower. I have a high-speed Internet connection. How can I tell if it is my computer or my Internet connection that is causing the slowdown? The longer I use my computer during the day, the slower it gets when loading pages and programs and the more likely it will get hung up.
West Valley City
Gayle's problem, unfortunately, is one that begins to plague all computer users over time.
She sent me another message that went into more detail about her computer problem, and it sounds as if her issue involves the computer and not the speed of her Internet connection.
After a year or so and without regular maintenance, your computer especially a Windows-based machine will get clogged with all kinds of unwanted programs and malware. For example, every time you install a new program even after you uninstall it it will leave all kinds of changes to the Windows registry file that cause the computer to run sluggishly unless you clean it out. Here are some simple procedures to consider.
For starters, go to Control Panel in Windows, then the Add/Remove programs section. Look for programs you don't use anymore and uninstall them. Some of those programs may be running in the background, using precious processing power.
Gayle uses the free AVG antivirus software to keep her machine clean of malware, but it may not be doing a complete job. I like AVG and use it on my computer, too, but one of our crack IT guys here at The Salt Lake Tribune also recommends she use a free program called CCleaner. This utility cleans out unused Windows registry entries that might slow down the computer. Another similar program is free software called Free Window Registry Repair. You can get either at http://www.download.com.
Also, look in the bottom-right corner of your taskbar where your notification icons are for those programs that are running in the background. While there are important ones running like your antivirus program, some unneeded ones are taking up processing power. For those, go to the settings menu for each and tell them to not turn on during your computer's startup. That means they won't automatically launch when your computer boots up, saving that all-important processing power. Also, check your "startup" folder and take out any programs from the folder that you don't want to launch when you turn on your computer. (I'd suggest going to the Task Manager to turn off more programs, but that gets much more complicated and requires an experienced computer user.)
Consider running the defragmentation program in Windows (in the "System Tools" folder). This rearranges the data on your hard drive to streamline its performance, and it might help.
Finally, there is the more costly suggestion of installing more system memory or RAM. As you run software on your machine, it takes up some of that RAM. And even when you turn off the program, some of that memory may still be in use. The more you use the computer during the day without rebooting, the more RAM is used and the slower your computer may get, which explains why Gayle's computer is getting slower as the day goes on. But the more RAM you have, the less that becomes an issue.
The average PC should have at least 2 gigabytes (GB) of RAM to run most programs smoothly, and 4GB is better. But that costs money along with the price of installation. Fortunately, the price of RAM is as low as it's ever been.
The final suggestion is the most severe and requires computer know-how (perhaps a friend can help here). I always recommend that about once a year you reformat your hard drive and reinstall Windows and all your programs. Doing so erases the hard drive, and a fresh install of everything gives your computer a new lease on life by taking out all the extraneous, unwanted data that can slow your machine down.
Need a tech question answered? Email it to Vince at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow him on Twitter at @ohmytech.