That question is all-too-common these days. That shiny, brand-spanking-new computer seemed to fly when you first got it. Now, six months later, it’s maddeningly slow, and everything seems to take forever.
What changed? Why does this happen? And why does it happen to every computer you own?
Unfortunately there isn’t a single, simple answer. There are a variety of possible causes, and each of them requires different solution. Here’s a partial list:
It could be a hardware problem.
Although it’s unlikely, the problem could be a pending hardware failure. For example, if your hard disk drive is about to fail, that could cause the system to become quite slow. When a disk drive is in danger of failing, it has to read the same section of the disk many times before it’s successful. That has a BIG effect on your computer’s performance.
The good news is this kind of failure is pretty rare and easy to diagnose. If you start regularly experiencing the “Blue Screen of Death” or you see “Checking Disk” messages every time you boot your computer, you should ask your IT provider to check your computer. Or, you might hear a loud whining noise whenever your computer is turned on.
What about defragmenting your hard drive?
This used to cause significant performance problems. But since Windows 7 (way back in October 2009), disk defragmenting is automatic. Unless you have a really old computer (which is a whole ‘nuther discussion), this is probably not your problem.
It could be your Registry.
Microsoft uses a really dumb design for tracking your computer’s settings. It’s called the Windows Registry. Essentially it’s a very large database that contains information about your logins, software, settings, etc. That database can grow to be very large and over time it can become corrupt, causing your computer to slow down and misbehave.
The good news is that - most of the time - the solution is pretty simple. You simply need to run a Registry Cleaner like Piriform CCleaner or iolo System Mechanic. They’ll tune up your registry, remove old junk and generally improve performance.
Just don’t expect miracles. Unless your computer is really messed up, a Registry cleanup will only improve things by 10 or 20 percent. Not that this isn’t welcome. But it’s probably not your only problem if your computer is really slow.
Could it be a virus or some other kind of malware?
It certainly could. In fact, it’s the most frequent cause we see for severe computer slowdowns. A really bad infection could let a remote hacker turn your computer into a “zombie” and use it to attack other networks, making your computer extremely slow.
If you think your computer is infected we strongly recommend a Virus scan using your AntiVirus software (Symantec, AVG, etc.) Let it run right to the end and - if it finds anything - reboot your computer once it has finished scanning. Then run the scan again.
You should also use a malware scanner like Malwarebytes and follow the same process described above. If your computer is infected, removing all the viruses and other malware will give it a new lease on life.
What else could it be?
The other frequent cause of computer slowness is “software bloat.” Lots of computers come preloaded with tons of software, most of which you’ll never need. Chances are your computer has a bunch of software that you downloaded, used once and never used again.
Every time you add software, it increases the boot time and adds to the load on your system, dragging performance down. The simplest solution is to go to your Control Panel and remove the software you never use. Then run a Registry Cleaner and reboot.
But what if none of the above helps? Once in while we run across a computer that’s so badly behaved that none of the above solutions solve the problem. If that happens, the only option is to backup your data, reload the system and restore the data and software. Unfortunately, that process takes several hours.
Did we say that reloading is the only option? Actually, there’s one more: buy a new computer! Seriously, if your computer is more than 2.5 years old, investing time in reloading it is a waste of money. New computers are inexpensive and will give you much better performance. Now there’s some food for thought!