Is your computer running slow?

February 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Here is my process for cleaning a stubborn and slow PC…

  1. Verify that there is enough disk space left, especially on the C: drive which is where the operating system is installed. If there isn’t much space left then it will take extra time for the computer to find a place to save files as it will have to find a space big enough to put the file. If there is no space big enough, it might spread the file across a few different places on the hard drive. I try not to use more than about 85% of the available disk space.
  2. Download and run RKill. It doesn’t clean your computer, but if your computer is infected with a nasty virus which likes to close programs before you have a chance to use them, RKill will try to “kill” it and prevent it from closing programs prematurely until you restart your computer. If you restart before you run all the cleaning tools, you might have to run RKill again. If RKill starts and then closes immediately, you might need to run it several times until it is able to do its job as the virus can close it just as easily as any other program. If you have trouble running RKill, try downloading one of the versions with a different name so that the virus doesn’t recognize the program.
  3. Install and run CCleaner, short for Crap Cleaner. They shortened the name to make it more palatable for businesses. This utility will find and remove all your temp files (left-over install files, temporary internet files and such), as well as clear your browser history, previously opened documents list and more if you want it to. You can also use this tool to scan for and remove registry entries that aren’t doing you any good. By the way, your registry is a Windows proprietary database full of tons of system settings. This is typically where malware embed itself so that it starts along with all your other programs during the Windows startup process.
  4. Install and run CWShredder. This tool finds and removes several variants of CoolWebSearch which is adware usually installed along with common online poker games, peer to peer file sharing services and other less savory software. If you have one or more extra toolbars in your Internet browser, you might have one of the CoolWebSearch variants and they can slow your computer down.
  5. Install, update and run Spybot Search & Destroy. There is an immunize tab which you should check after updating. Click Immunize to help protect your computer from a lot of known threats. When you install Spybot S&D, you will see the option to enable the Resident TeaTimer and Resident SDHelper. The TeaTimer is a program that runs in the background and as soon as it sees a known piece of malware, it will kill it and notify you that it happened. It will also detect any changes made to system settings or the registry. This feature will mostly just be annoying, especially if you install and uninstall programs frequently, but it WILL help prevent infections in the future. The SDHelper is a tool for Internet Explorer which blocks known bad ActiveX programs. ActiveX programs are little programs used by many websites and while most are benign, ActiveX programs can take full control of your computer just like a program you install off of a CD.
  6. Install, update and run Ad-Aware. Ad-Aware cleans in the same way as Spybot S&D, but the two programs usually find slightly different things so I like to run them both.
  7. If you have an antivirus program, run a full scan and go watch a movie while you wait. If you don’t have one you can get a free copy of Avast! or AVG, or you can pay for a year or two of ESET NOD32 which is my favorite for-pay antivirus program. I don’t like McAfee or Symantec because they both tend to slow your computer down. If your computer isn’t all that fast to begin with or has less than 1GB of RAM (memory), you’ll probably see a considerable performance hit after installing one of them.
  8. My last step is always to defragment the hard drive. Windows comes with a defrag utility which you’ll find in Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools. You can also download Defraggler which will do the same thing but I kindof like it more than the built-in Windows utility and you can tell it to defrag every time you login to Windows if you want (I don’t do this though). You’ve probably heard of defrag since its been around from the Windows 3.x days, or maybe even longer, but you might not be sure what it does, or what a “fragmented hard drive” really is. The easiest way for me to explain it is that a fragmented hard drive is like a room full of file cabinets where each page of each document is stored in a separate folder in a different drawer of a random cabinet. As you can imagine, it would take a lot more time to read a document if you have to hunt for each and every page. When you defragment a hard drive you are putting all the pages in order. In reality these pages are your programs and files, games and settings so a computer with a very fragmented hard drive will definitely run faster after defragging.

If your computer is STILL slow after all of this, and your hard drive isn’t low on space, there might be a problem with the hard drive, memory, or even the motherboard. There is a boot disk out there called UBCD or Ultimate Boot CD. The CD is filled with tons of useful programs for testing hardware among other things. You can download the ISO for UBCD which is basically an image of the CD that you can burn to a blank CD using your program of choice. I use ImgBurn to make CDs out of ISO files. There is also a Windows program called BurnInTest which you can install and use to stress test all the components of your computer.

After all of this, if the hardware passes the tests, there isn’t much left to do but to backup your files and re-install the operating system. Sure, someone might be able to find out why Windows is running so slow by digging through the registry but in the long run it may be cheaper and take less time to simply re-install Windows.

I encourage everyone to try the tools above. Most of them can be found on www.FileHippo.com and they’re all free for personal use (some are free for business use as well). The process builds a bit of computing confidence I think, but I’m always here for you if you don’t have the time to go through it all!

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Josh Hendricks
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josh@fixitpnw.com

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