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How to Fix a Slow Computer


Many people can't help but notice that their one-or-two-year-old computer is running much slower than it was when they bought it--especially if it's a Windows computer. They start to wonder if maybe it may be time to buy a new one. Chances are good it's not. Here's why.

Computers run slower over time for one of two reasons: hardware or software. The two main reasons for hardware slowing down are a bad hard drive or a CPU to running too hot. The main causes of software slowing down are too many background tasks running at the same time, malware, corrupted files, or the wrong hardware drivers.

Overheating CPU

Before you spend perhaps hours fiddling with software, test your computer to see if it's overheating. Start here, especially if your computer has slowed down gradually over a period of several months or years. Modern Intel CPU's are designed to run slower as soon as they hit 100 degrees C. So, before you do anything else, make sure that nothing is obstructing your computer's vents. If the vents are blocked because they're on the bottom of your laptop, and you have it resting on carpeting, stop that. Never use your laptop on a soft surface like a carpet.

If all the vents are clear, install a CPU temperature monitoring program like the free program Core Temp for windows, or Conky for Linux. Then, run something on your computer that takes a lot of processing power. A video transcoding program would be ideal. Look at the temperatures of your CPU cores after a few minutes have passed. If any one of them is regularly hitting 95 degree C or above, this may be your problem. It is most likely your problem if the temperature of any of your CPU cores are also above about 80 degrees C when your computer is idling. If either or both of these are the case, read the section called "Keep Your Computer Cool" in this article.

Failing Hard Drive

Another hardware problem that you may be encountering with a slow computer is a hard drive that is going bad. This may be the problem if your hard drive light indicates that it is spending an inordinate amount to time reading from the hard drive at boot or whenever you try to run a program. You can check if you have a hard drive problem through one of a number of ways. First, try typing "chkdsk C:" without the quotes from the command prompt in Windows. If this shows a bunch of bad hard drive sectors, your hard drive may be going bad, especially if there are a lot of new bad sectors since the last time you ran chkdsk. There are other hard drive monitoring tools that you can also use for this. Many hard drive manufacturers have their own tools for their specific hard drives. Many of the new hard drives have SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology), with which they save a lot of information about the state of the hard drive on the hard drive itself (actually, in the firmware of the hard drive). One program that can read and display this data is PassMark DiskCheckup. Some other free ones are here. I should warn you that SMART data is pretty esoteric, so you may have some difficulty interpreting it. If you have a bad hard drive, the first thing you should do is make a new backup of your hard drive. Then, if you want to replace the hard drive yourself, get a new one. By the way, hard drives and SSD's (if they are replaceable) are fairly easy to replace yourself. You can look online to find out how to do this. Be wary of static electricity!

Troubleshooting Software Problems

If your computer is not overheating, and it's hard drive is not going bad, then you probably have a software problem. If this is the case, there are several possible solutions. Which solution or solutions work depends specifically on what is wrong with your software--too many background tasks running, malware, corrupted files, or the wrong hardware drivers. First, if you are aware that your computer has slowed down drastically only in the last few days, then most likely whatever you did to it a few days ago is the culprit. If your computer has been slowing down gradually over several months, Windows itself is most likely at fault. Many people are not aware of this, but Windows becomes corrupted and inefficient through no fault of yours. This is an example of, in my opinion, Microsoft's generally low-quality software. Defragmenting your hard drive may help some with this.

If you just noticed that your computer has slowed down over the past few days, begin with this. What did you do a few days ago? Did you install a new driver? Did you visit one or more questionable web sites? Did you download and run a program from the internet? You didn't fall for one of those scams where you visit a website and it tells you your computer is infected and that you need to install some software to get rid of the infection, did you? One of the major causes of slow computers is antivirus software. And I mean a major cause. Years ago I installed a particular brand of antivirus software, and my computer slowed to the point where it was basically unusable. That was the last time I installed any type of antivirus software on any of my computers. Now, when I want to do a virus scan, I use some type of antivirus software that runs on a USB stick and is never installed on the computer. So, if you can remember what you did a few days ago that may have caused your computer to slow down, try to undo it, and see if your computer speeds up.

If your computer has been slowing gradually over several months, the first thing to try is a free program like CCleaner for Windows. CCleaner will do several things, including removing unwanted files and correcting problems with the Windows registry. CCleaner can be intimidating, so if you need it, here is a guide to using it.

If CCleaner and disk defragmentation didn't solve the problem, the next thing to try is scanning for viruses. The important thing to understand here is that no virus scanner will find all viruses or other types of malware. So, running more than one may be beneficial. Then, remember what I said above about using a virus scanner that runs off a USB stick. Some free virus and malware scanners that I have used in the past are: ClamWin Portable, Emisoft Emergency Kit, Spybot Portable, and Malware Bytes. Of those just named, ClamWin and Malware Bytes seem to be the easiest to use. Virus scanners take a long time to run, so I would recommend that you plan to let them run for at least a couple of hours, if not overnight. Also, they often give false positives, so before you remove any files from your computer, check on the internet to see if the files that your virus scanner flagged are actually dangerous. Often they aren't.

It is also important to be aware that virus scanners will not catch anything that has taken up residence in your computer's firmware. So if you are unfortunate enough to have a firmware virus like BadUSB, I'm sorry to have to tell you that you are probably out of luck. Firmware is the software that resides in the chips in your computer, not on your hard drive. If your BIOS firmware has a virus, you could try reflashing your BIOS. But I wouldn't recommend that except as a last resort, because if you don't do it right, your computer will be a brick (meaning it won't run at all). If the virus is in firmware other than the BIOS, then without a lot of knowledge that is beyond the scope of this article, you are definitely out of luck.

If nothing I've suggested so far has worked, the next thing I might suggest is that you try to determine if you have background processes running that are unnecessary. This isn't always easy, and if you start removing things without understanding what you're doing, you could end up with a computer that is misbehaving even more than it was before. If you are reading this article for guidance, you probably don't know enough to do this successfully. So, I would recommend that you skip this and go to the next possible solution.

Reinstalling Windows

If all else has failed, you may have one of a number of problems that can be solved by reinstalling your operating system. So, you may want to try this. There are ways of doing this without completely wiping your hard drive and starting over. But if there is a chance that your computer is slow because you have viruses that your virus scanner couldn't find, my recommendation is to bite the bullet and wipe the entire hard drive clean before reinstalling Windows. If you do this, you will have to reinstall all your programs and data. Before you do this, make sure your backups are up to date. You do make regular backups, don't you? After you have complete backups of everything you want to save (preferably more than one backup), you can reinstall Windows one of a few ways. I say more than one backup, because I have lost data from corrupted backups. And I have not had much luck letting Windows make backups for me. So, I prefer to make the backup myself, by directly copying files onto an external hard drive. I should mention here that if you are temeritous enough to let Windows make the backup for you, do not move the backup to a different location than Windows copied it to. This is because Windows backups have hidden files that will not be copied to the new location, so the backup will not work if you move it.

Reinstalling Windows from a Recovery Partition

If you have decided to reinstall windows, the first thing you should find out is if you have a Windows Recovery Partition on your hard drive that was put there by the factory. If so, you will be able to reset Windows to the factory condition. This is the easiest way of reinstalling Windows. The Windows Recovery Partition will be a hidden partition that doesn't show up in your window that shows all your hard drives and connected USB drives. You can use a free hard drive partitioning program like Gparted to see if you have a hidden partition. Or you can just assume the partition is there, try to use it to reinstall Windows, and hope you get lucky. There are several ways of restoring Windows from a recovery partition that vary by manufacturer and Windows version. Try pressing F10 or F12 at boot time to get into the boot menu, and then select the option that lets you boot into the recovery volume. If this doesn't work for you, and there is a good chance that it won't, you'll have to search online for the method that works for your particular computer and version of Windows. Try googling the make and model of your computer followed by "recovery partition". In Windows 10 you may have the options of keeping your files or not keeping your files. Either way, all the programs you have installed will be wiped off your hard drive. So, you will have to reinstall them after you reinstall Windows. That may take longer than reinstalling Windows.

Reinstalling Windows from a CD or DVD

The next easiest way to reinstall Windows is with a Windows CD or DVD. With this method, you must go into BIOS (try pressing F2, F10, escape, etc. at boot time) and set the boot sequence to boot from a CD before booting from the hard drive. Then, boot from the CD and follow the prompts. You will be asked about drive partitioning (how much of your hard drive to allocate to your Windows partition and perhaps the partition format you prefer to use). If you don't understand this, make sure you do before you make a decision about your partition size and type.

Reinstalling Windows from an ISO File

The last (and hardest) way of reinstalling Windows is to go to the Microsoft website and download the Windows ISO for your version of Windows. You must then copy the ISO to either a DVD or a USB stick. You have to do this with a Microsoft program (or some other program) that copies the ISO to the DVD or USB stick in such a way that it becomes bootable, just like the Windows installation DVD that I discussed in the paragraph above. Microsoft's tool for doing this is "Windows Media Creation Tool". If you need to reinstall Windows 10, go here to get the windows media creation tool or to to learn how to install the ISO yourself. You will need to use a different computer for this if your Windows 10 computer is not working at all. If you are using an older version of Windows, you may or may not be able to find the ISO for it on the Microsoft website. Over the decades Microsoft has been very unpredictable as far as what version of Windows it will let you download. So, if you've gotten to the point where you need to download a Windows ISO and none is available, you may be truly out of luck. Try calling the manufacturer of your computer and begging them to allow you to pay for a Windows CD. I tried that a few years ago with an old Dell laptop that I own and was told that the laptop was so old that they were no longer supporting it. That meant that they would not mail me a DVD.

Assuming that you can locate the Windows ISO file for your version of Windows, first make sure that it matches your exact version of Windows. For example, Windows 7 has a "home" version, a "pro" version, and a few other versions. If your license (the sticker on the back of your computer) is for Windows 7 Home and you download a Windows 7 Pro ISO, it may not install. Or it may install and then not let you activate or register it. So, be very careful here.

Once you have the right Windows ISO, and have created a bootable DVD or USB stick, boot from the DVD or USB stick by modifying the BIOS as explained above. Then follow the Windows installation instructions as they appear on your screen. Then, reinstall all your programs and data.

Hopefully, you have now found and corrected the problem that was causing your computer to run slowly. If nothing here has helped, you may have one of the more unusual problems. If this is the case, you may want to take your computer to a professional. Or if it's an old enough computer, you may be better off buying a new one.

Related Articles:

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Making Your Computer Last Longer

The Importance of making Regular Backups


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