Friday, January 8, 2010

Four Ways to Speed up a Computer

Quick Tips to get a Sluggish Computer up to Speed

As personal computers continue to become more of a mass-market item, with $400 Netbooks and "computer package" deals at every electronics store in town, as well as the rise of "gaming PCs", the number of computers owned by North Americans continues to climb.

Often, due to their initial makeup or use over time, these computers will experience a "slowing down" effect which will make programs slower to respond, take longer to load and will generally interfere with the regular use of the computer. Here are a few easy ways to get things back up to speed.

Find Out What's Running

This is the big one, especially for Windows users. Whenever a computer starts up, there are a number of programs which run in the background. Some are absolutely necessary to the functioning of the device, but some were placed there the manufacturer or by the user, sometimes without the user being fully aware of it.

These programs running in the background take up space in the computer's active memory, or RAM. Too many programs running at one time, even if they are not actively displayed on the screen, can cause the computer to slow down.

One way to find out what is running behind the scenes on a computer is to look in the lower right corner of the screen, near the clock. There will likely be several icons there or a small arrow button. The arrow button simply slides out of the way when clicked, revealing the icons underneath. It is good idea to left-click on all of these buttons to see what they are.

On many pre-packaged computers these buttons can include a music suite or video editing program, along with virus scans and sound options. Take a look through all of them, and determine what is needed and what is not. If the icons are right-clicked on, it will allow them to be closed, which will stop the program from running. Right-clicking will also often grant access to a menu where the program can be set up to run only when told to do so by the user, not on start-up.

Closing the programs will not mean they are gone forever, but that they have simply been turned off. They will still be present in the computers "programs" list under the start menu.

Another way to do the same thing is to press ctrl-alt-delete at the same time and, when prompted, click "start task manager". This will show a list of all programs running on the computer currently. It is possible to close programs from this menu as well, but be wary – any program can be shut down by the user from this menu, so be sure that what is being shut down is the right thing.

As well, the Task Manager will show what percentage of the total CPU processing power is being used, how much of the physical memory (RAM) is being used, and how many programs are currently running. This can assist in streamlining the computer's functions.

Defragment the Hard Drive

As more and more data is stored on a computer's hard drive, it is not all stored in the most optimal place. The hard drive is a vast repository of information and the "closer" all of the bits of information are to each other, the quicker and easier it will be for the hard drive to retrieve what it is looking for. Over time, the hard drive starts to "fragment" as data is placed in sub-optimal places.

In Windows, defragmenting the drive is done by clicking on "Start", then "Programs", "Accessories" and then "System Tools". Under System Tools there will be an option for Disk Defragmenting. Often, this will be set up to run automatically, but if it is not, or if the last date it was done was quite some time ago, running it will be beneficial. This process will allow the data on the hard drive to be "ordered" properly for easy access and retrieval.

Run a Virus and Spyware Scan

Viruses and Spyware seem to come from everywhere these days, be it e-mail, downloaded programs or even just searching the web. While there are some truly horrendous programs out there which will chew up and spit out a personal computer, most operate quietly in the background, collecting or corrupting data and slowing down the computer's speed.

For this reason it is a good idea to run a virus and spyware scan every month or so, or if the computer is acting particularly slow. Most personal computers come equipped with a virus-scanning program which will generally take care of the basic problems, but virus scanners such as McAfee and Norton also offer downloadable options, for a fee of course.

Buy more RAM

If all the above tips have been tried but the computer still remains sluggish, a final solution could be to purchase more RAM. The more physical memory that the computer has available, the more programs it can run at one time and the more efficiently it will be able to run a single, complex program. When buying new RAM, be sure to check how much RAM the computer currently has by going to the "Control Panel" option under the Start Menu, and then clicking "System".

As well, the computer case will need to be opened (when the power is off) to determine what type of RAM is present and if there is a free slot to add more RAM or if the current RAM will need to be replaced. If uncomfortable with doing this alone, it is best to have a knowledgeable friend assist or take the computer to a professional.

Be being vigilant about what programs are running on a computer and when, as well as doing regular maintenance, optimizing the computer to run as quickly as possible can be a simple task.

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