How to Speed Up a Slow Computer

Posted by Timothy Platt on Nov 5, 2017


How to Speed Up a Slow Computer – the step by step guide

Why is my computer so slow?

Apple iMac - a computer that might be slow, and needs help
Have you ever found yourself wondering: Why is my computer so slow? You are not alone. Here at Virtual Operations, Orlando’s best IT Managed Services provider, a very common customer complaint is: “Why is my computer running so slow?” In this article, we’ll review the most common issues, and how you can resolve them. We’ll start with the easiest (and cheapest) recommendations and proceed to the more complicated strategies. We’ll have that slow computer running faster in no time!

For this discussion, we’re assuming EVERYTHING IS SLOW, not just Internet web pages or a specific program. Those are separate issues that require different troubleshooting.

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Have you rebooted? (Seriously)

Windows 7 Pro - Restart Options - First troubleshooting step for a slow computer? Reboot!
The quickest and easiest recommendation – rebooting the computer – has become the fodder for many IT jokes. But it works, and it works well. Rebooting a machine clears out the memory (RAM), reloads all the processes fresh, and ensures you are at a good starting point. Why does this work? You may have a background task running out of control (Anti-virus is a common culprit), or a “memory leak” in a program. Rebooting will resolve both of these issues. Lastly, all computers need a reboot occasionally to ensure that security patches are applied.

Apple Mac people – you’re not exempt – while in my personal experience MacOS needs less frequent reboots, it is still required.

After reboot, look for out of control background processes

Windows 10 Task Manager - Look for out of control processes hogging CPU or RAM - and end them to fix a slow computer
So now you’ve rebooted, but it is still slow. Check “Task Manager” (Windows) or “Activity Monitor” (Mac) and look for any program using either a lot of CPU or RAM, or both. You can try killing the task, and see if performance improves. If it does, assess what the program is and consider disabling or uninstalling. We are assuming you are allowed to do this, and have some level of knowledge of what that program is! We do not recommend randomly killing or uninstalling programs you don’t know the purpose for. Additionally, you can try running CCleaner. This program does an excellent job of cleaning up items on your computer that might be causing slow performance. Also, the price is right, because a “free” version is available. Running a full anti-virus scan and anti-malware scan is also recommended – viruses and other malware can run in the background and bog down your computer – this is a problem in addition to the obvious security risk. For anti-malware scanning, you can’t beat MalwareBytes. There’s even more options for anti-virus – personally I like Kaspersky, but there are many options.

Install more RAM (Random Access Memory)

RAM stick - Add RAM to speed up a memory constrained slow computer
If the two previous steps haven’t helped, perhaps your computer is simply too heavily taxed for the resources it has. The easiest route is to simply install more RAM. This is also your cheapest next step. The RAM is where all programs are loaded, and execute, and the more RAM you have, the more you can run at the same time. How to do this varies greatly from one computer to another, so we can’t possibly cover that here, but you can find excellent instructions on sites such as iFixit. You can check RAM usage using Task Manager (Windows) or Activity Monitor (Mac).

NOTE: If you are running Windows 7 32 bit – the most RAM you can use is 4 GB. In the future, make sure you are running on 64 bit, which can utilize more RAM than you will likely ever need. Secondly, for Mac users, much of the new Apple equipment has the RAM permanently installed, and cannot be upgraded. We recommend you max out the RAM when you order that equipment.

Replace hard disk with Solid State Drive (SSD)

Samsung SSDs - an excellent option to speed up a slow computer.  SSD provides lightning fast I/O.
After you’ve determined you have sufficient RAM, the next thing to check is your disk drive speed. Every program your computer runs and all the data it uses must be read from the storage. Speed up the storage, and you’ll be up and running quicker. Many computers can get a new lease on life by upgrading from an older hard disk to a “Solid State Drive” (SSD). SSDs are orders of magnitude faster than hard disks, because they have no moving parts – as compared to the spinning platters of a hard drive. This option has recently become very affordable and results in the feeling that you’ve put a supercharger under the hood! Lastly, we often see very slow performance from hard drives right before they fail permanently – so be aware if this is the root cause of your issue, you might be sitting on a ticking time bomb. To perform this step you’ll need to clone your disk drive, or restore from a backup – again, this varies greatly according to your specific situation, as does installing the SSD itself.

What about disk defragmentation? – honestly, we don’t see this as much of an issue any more. Windows and Mac now do an excellent job of ensuring your hard disk doesn’t get overly fragmented in the first place. Additionally, de-fragmentation only applies to hard disks, not SSDs. Having said that, if your computer is extremely old and has a hard disk, this step might be worth a try. It’s easy and cheap.

Re-image (reinstall everything from scratch)

Windows 10 Logo
At this point, it might be beneficial to simply re-install everything from scratch. Perhaps you have too much installed and some programs are conflicting and it’s time for a good house-cleaning. It’s also possible a deeply rooted piece of malware, such as a “root kit” is on your computer. A re-image – installing everything including the Operating System files from scratch will ensure you are at a known good starting point. As with the previous step, this is very in-depth and care must be taken to preserve your files and documents, so you can restore them. You also need a Windows install disk, or “recovery partition” on your hard drive to install from. Another tricky part is ensuring you have all the various install media (DVDs) and product keys you will need to re-activate all your application software. Again, we assume you’ve got a handle on this, but proceed with caution.

Upgrade Central Processing Unit (CPU)

An Intel Xeon CPU - a very fast, high performance CPU
It’s possible your CPU is the bottle-neck, but honestly, this step is a lot of work, and not feasible on many machines such as laptops. We normally recommend you consider purchasing a new computer instead. If you do decide to proceed, select a CPU compatible with your motherboard and make sure you have the other parts you may need – thermal paste, etc. As far as the actual steps, iFixit is probably your best resource.

New Computer

Consider this the “nuclear” option. A new computer, with the latest OS, RAM, SSD, and CPU will give the most noticeable benefit. Computer hardware continues to improve every year. The RAM being installed in new machines is much faster than RAM from 2 years ago. The same concept applies to the storage and CPU. This option of course is also the most expensive. Lastly, if you are going this route, buy an SSD right up front (as opposed to a hard disk). Trust me, it will be worth it in the long run. Not only are they quicker, but they are lighter, more durable, and draw less power – a great choice for a laptop.

A desktop computer with Windows 10

If All Else Fails … Get Professional Help

We hope this article has been helpful to you, and please remember we are here to help. This is the sort of tech drudgery we’d love to take off your hands, so give us a call at (407) 268-6626. We can handle these sorts of issues efficiently, because we’ve seen it all, and we know how to handle it.

Contact VO for computer support help now

IT Support by Virtual Operations

Virtual Operations provides IT support for small businesses in the Orlando and Central Florida area. Our managed IT services offering provides the expertise and quality care your small business needs. Please contact us today to find out how we can help with your computer support and network support needs.

Quick Tip – In this weekly series of articles, we’ll provide a quick, simple overview of an IT related topic – relating complex topics in easy to understand terms. This particular topic is part of our computer repair series, which includes what to do if you’ve got a slow computer, among other topics.

Photo Credits

photo credit: RAM DIMM via found_drama b0rked DIMM via photopin (license)
photo credit: Samsung SSD and Intel CPU courtesy of manufacturer.


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