Date: January 8th 2009

Why Is My Computer Slow?

by Basil Irwin



Windows computing systems tend to get slower and slower as time goes along. Why is that? Based on my own experience, I've compiled the following list of major performance issues, roughly in the order of frequency:

  1. Accumulation of garbageware and poorly tuned software is the leading cause of poor performance.  Garbageware includes a constellation of programs, services, and tasks that run in the background, pointlessly and uselessly consuming memory and CPU resources. Right out of the gate, consumer-class systems come massively overloaded with garbageware, which hardware vendors are paid to install by garbageware vendors. Sony even has the audacity to offer systems without garbageware for an extra $50.00! Interestingly enough, business-class systems do not come loaded with garbageware, meaning PC vendors are quite happy to willingly cripple brand new consumer systems.

    Also, as time goes along, garbageware is concurrently installed almost every time you install other software, such as a printer driver disk, a broadband installation disk (unneeded) or free software such as itunes, Adobe Reader, Java, and many others.

    Vista has it's own special performance issues, namely a whole pile of built-in garbageware tasks that continuously and uselessly grind your hard drive in the background. In fact, Vista will come to be known as the great hard drive destroyer because hard drives, particularly laptop drives, more or less fail proportionately to the amount of use they get.

    The solution to garbageware is to remove or disable unnecessary software. Unfortunately, this usually takes an expert to do, as it is often difficult to determine which software is needed and which software is superfluous. Additionally, some software should be removed, whereas it's best to simply disable other software rather than to completely uninstall it.

  2. Insufficient RAM, particularly in conjunction with Item 1, will really wreck system performance. Most vendors skimp on RAM on consumer-class systems, even though this is an inexpensive component, and by far the most cost effective means  for improving performance. Just out of the box, a system may perform barely acceptably, but one or two unknowing garbageware installations later, system performance can tank. Even with garbageware removed, adding RAM is a big win for RAM-starved systems.. Windows XP performs best with at least 1 GB RAM, and Windows Vista needs a minimum of 2 GB RAM. On new systems that use PC5300 memory, the cost of a 2 GB RAM kit is $30.00 for good name-brand memory!

  3. Bloated  all-in-one security systems like Norton and McAfee products consume tremendous amounts of memory and CPU resources. Even worse, they are ineffective against modern malware, and worst of all, they are annoying and frequently cause awful system behavior problems, like silently blocking access to some or all of the Internet. There are free, lightweight, non-annoying alternatives that are more effective than Norton and McAfee products.

  4. A failing hard drive can kill system performance. Hard drives degrade over time, causing the drive to silently retry accessing failing sectors repeatedly, as well as using up the limited number of spare sectors available for reassigning to bad sectors. Unfortunately, Windows makes this failure process completely opaque to the user, and by the time the first (obscure) drive failure messages begin showing up in the system events log, the hard drive is on the verge of crashing. Aside from slowed performance, the first symptom of a failing hard drive is often the crash itself.  Even more unfortunately, it doesn't have to be this way since hard drives maintain onboard health statistics that Windows ignores. However, third-party tools can be used to read these statistics and determine whether a hard drive should be replaced.

  5. Malware infections usually create obvious havoc with both performance and usability. However, sometimes malware infections have no other symptom except awful system performance. With the proper tools, malware can be successfully removed at least 90% of the time, though sometimes malware leaves behind residual system damage that must be manually repaired.

  6. Once a hard drive is 85% to 90% full, performance will really tank as the system struggles to find contiguous areas big enough to write new data files on. The hunt for unused areas also works the hard drive much harder than normal and can eventually cause the drive to fail prematurely. The solution is to replace the old hard drive with a new drive that has larger capacity, first cloning the old driver onto the new drive.

  7. Performance can sometimes be improved if the hard drive desperately needs to be defragmented. Defragging the hard drive once or twice a year is usually sufficient. However, sometimes heavy, continuous system usage requires defragmenting more often.

Please don't hesitate to call or email me for a free consultation.

                                            Basil Irwin




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