One of the most common complaints I hear from clients about their computers is that they are ‘so slow’. We live in a world where, increasingly, we expect everything to be instantaneous. Speeds which were acceptable a few short years ago are no longer acceptable today. Nevertheless, when your computer is running too slowly, there is always a reason for the poor performance, and there is also always a solution.
Why is My Computer so Slow?
When a client asks me this question, I can usually begin to ascertain the cause as soon as I start to look at the computer. I’ll begin by asking how old is the computer, checking the health of its hard drive, and taking a look at what software has been installed. Let’s look at four potential causes of the slowness, together with solutions.
An Ageing Hard Drive
It’s a fact that traditional SATA hard drives operate more and more slowly as they get older. For this reason, one of the first things I do is to check the SMART status of the drive. SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology and is a tool built in to hard drives which provides information about the health of the drive.
The SMART status of a drive can be checked from the command line, both to determine the status of the drive, and to predict whether it is likely to fail imminently. However, I prefer to run a utility which will give me a little more information. My personal favourite is CrystalDIskInfo. This tool returns the health status of the drive, together with lots of other details. This includes how many hours the drive has been powered on. This figure alone gives me a good idea about what to expect from the drive. A disk with tens of thousands of power-on hours is clearly more likely to be approaching the end of its life than a drive with just a few hundred hours.
Of course these SMART statistics are only relevant if the drive in the computer is a traditional spinning hard drive. If the computer has a Solid State Drive (SSD), then it’s a different matter and the age of the drive shouldn’t be affecting its performance.
Solution for an Ageing Hard Drive
Replace the hard drive with a new one. This can either be another traditional SATA drive or an SSD. I would almost always install an SSD because of the vastly superior speed. By replacing an ageing hard drive with an SSD you not only solve the performance issue, but you’re implementing a solution which means that the computer will run much faster than ever before.
After replacing the hard drive, you can either clone the contents of the old drive to the new one, so that everything is identical, or you can reinstall the operating system from scratch. Following this you would reinstall your applications and copy any required files from the old drive. I would usually choose this option. Cloning the drive means that you bring across any other pre-existing performance issues from the old drive.
Too Much Clutter
The older a computer is, the more clutter it is likely to have accumulated. People tend to install various bits and pieces over the years, download files, and generally fill up their hard drive with content of all sorts. Many of the applications installed may become superfluous, but continue to occupy space on the computer’s hard drive, as well as potentially consuming precious resources. I have a couple of solutions for computers with too much clutter.
Solution 1 for Too Much Clutter
Carry out a routine health check on your computer. This would involve such things as cleaning up the hard disk, checking for malware and viruses, uninstalling unnecessary software, optimising your computer’s startup, and clearing the caches of the internet browsers you use.
Solution 2 for Too Much Clutter
Reinstall the computer’s operating system. By doing so you eliminate all the causes of the clutter and start again with a clean slate. This is my preferred solution as it’s much more likely to result in a marked improvement to the computer’s performance than just carrying out maintenance operations. It is, however, a more time-consuming process. You’ll need to reinstall your applications and copy back across any required files from the old installation.
Malware or Virus Issues
I’ve come across computers which were literally crippled with malware. The presence of a virus or other form of malware is a common cause of a computer running too slowly. Often there will be other symptoms, but a radical and sudden reduction in a computer’s performance is often a tell-tale sign of an intrusion. Malware and viruses are most commonly introduced through attachments in emails, or by installing software containing malware (often inadvertently), or by visiting certain websites. There are a couple of solutions to this problem.
Solution 1 for Malware or Virus Issues
Scan the computer thoroughly with a reputable antivirus product. For a really rigorous scan I would often run up to three scans in parallel using different anti-malware products. However, if you use just one tool to do this I would recommend Malwarebytes. This is my scanner of choice and I’ve used it on numerous client computers. The results are impressive and the product is available as a free download on a 7-day trial.
Whichever product you use, I would recommend first carrying out a disk cleanup, which will reduce the time taken for the scan. I would also recommend carrying out the scan in safe mode as this means that there are less processes running which could interfere with your scan. If you don’t run the scan in safe mode then just make sure that any other antivirus products are disabled for the duration of the scan, otherwise they may prevent Malwarebytes from actually removing the malware.
Solution 2 for Malware or Virus Issues
The second method for dealing with these issues is to reinstall the computer’s operating system. By doing this you automatically eliminate most malware, except for potentially infected files in your file system. Of course if you erase the hard drive prior to the reinstall this is the surefire way of eliminating all malware. However you may not want to do this as you may have files which are important to you. If this is the case you can either back up these files to external media, and then erase the hard drive, or you can just reinstall Windows without erasing the hard drive. Either way you should run a malware scan after you’ve copied your files back across to your new installation.
A Corrupt Operating System
It’s quite common for some element of the Windows operating system to become corrupted. If this does happen, it’s likely that you’ll notice some features of your operating system which aren’t functioning correctly. It’s not that common though, for a corrupted operating system to cause a reduction in operating speed without other symptoms being present too. However, if your slowness isn’t being caused by an ageing hard drive, by too much clutter, or by malware or viruses, then there may indeed be an issue with the operating system.
Solution for a Corrupt Operating System
The only possible solution in this case is to reinstall the operating system. Once again you can either erase the hard drive before doing so, or reinstall to the boot drive without erasing it first.
I’ve covered four potential causes for your computer to be running too slowly. In my experience, having worked on numerous slow computers with Norm’s Computer Services, one of these is highly likely to be the culprit for this issue. The good news is that there is always a solution, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that your computer has reached the end of its life.
This diagnostic guide was written by Norm McLaughlin, founder of Norm’s Computer Services, a local computer repair and IT support business in Brisbane, Australia.