Why is my computer running slow?



My computer is running really slowly. The mouse pointer will freeze every ten seconds or so fo a few seconds at a time and any program running will also freeze. Under task manager there are lots of programs running. i stopped some services that i didnt think i needed and it was fine for a while but has returned to freezing! any help would be most appreciated.


This question was answered on November 30, 2004. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Computers need to be cleaned up sometimes, just like many people do a spring cleaning of their homes, a computer needs periodic "sweeping up" as well There are several ways to delete unused files and organize your file space This will often free up system resources and allow your computer to run faster and more efficiently The following are examples of ways that you can clean your computer as well as things that you should do as regular maintenance for your computer It's a good idea to do at least some of these items at least once every three months as a minimum

1 - Empty Your Recycle Bin Regularly

One important thing to remember is to empty your recycle bin/garbage can Whenever you delete a file isn't actually deleted It's stored in your recycle bin and saved in short term memory, using up RAM that your programs may need to run efficiently To empty your recycle bin right click (second mouse button) over the icon of the garbage can and choose Empty Recycle Bin (See picture to the right.)

You can skip this step if you are going to use the Disk Cleanup Accessory in the following step.

2 - Clean Unneeded Files Using the Windows Disk Cleanup Accessory

Use the accessory that comes with most Windows operating systems called "Disk Cleanup" Go to the Start Button menu, choose Programs (or All Programs), Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup

This program will delete Temporary Internet Files, Downloaded Programs (which may have been installed, but the original downloaded file that is no longer needed is still taking up space), the Recycle Bin (garbage can), and Temporary files (files the computer saves automatically during some task, but which are not needed anymore) As you highlight each one, it will give you a quick explanation This image shows what it says for Temporary Internet Files.

Under the "More Options" tab there is the option to remove some of the Windows Operating System extras These may include games, online services, address books not used by your e-mail program, etc Deleting some of these extras can also help you reclaim space on your hard drive

The setting tab offers you a box to check if you want Disk Cleanup to start automatically if your drive runs low on space This is always a good option to have checked.

3 - Check For Operating System Critical Updates

Verify manually that your operating system doesn't have any critical updates that need to be applied Go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com and check for updates Do this even if you think you have set your computer to apply updates automatically This is a checkup, remember? You are doing it to make sure that nothing is wrong and one thing that could go wrong is your setting for automatic updates This site automatically looks at your computer and then suggests high priority and optional updates specific to your operating system and your computer

4 - Check Your Antivirus Software

Check your antivirus software Usually you can do that by clicking, double clicking, or right clicking on the little icon in the task tray Check the date of the last virus definition file If it has a red exclamation mark next to it is definitely out of date Also if it isn't recent (within the last week) you probably don't have automatic updates turned on and should turn this feature on (Automatic updates will update your virus definitions every time you connect to the Internet Virus definitions are the files used by your antivirus software to prevent viruses.) Don't have antivirus software? Well then get some! Invest in some sort of Antivirus program like Norton Antivirus or McAfee VirusScan and update it regularly to prevent future problems and worries A free and quick virusscan tool put out by McAfee is Stinger http://vil.nai.com/vil/stinger/) It will help with certain most common viurus types and is free However they still recommend getting a full virusscan program.

5 - Clean Up Your Mailbox

There are two main reasons for organizing your mailbox One is organizational, it will help when you try to find things in the future if they are each stored in a folder with a clear explanatory title The other is that if you have a ton of messages in your inbox it can slow down all other functions of your computer when you have your e-mail open.

If you are using something like Outlook or Outlook Express and leave it open so you can see when you have a new message, then all of those messages in your inbox will effect your temporary memory This means that if you are working on a large document in another program and it needs lots of memory to do something like save or insert a giant picture/graph your computer may freeze/crash and you may lose whatever you were working on Organizing your mailbox and deleting old messages or moving them to folders on a regular basis is worth it (Note: You must remember to delete messages in your deleted folder or have the option to delete them when you close your e-mail turned on Otherwise they are still around and taking up space Also keep in mind many programs save your sent e-mails as well That's a great place to start if you need to free up some space So don't wait until you have 50,000 messages to start deleting or organizing your inbox!)

6 - Backup Your Hard Drive

I can't emphasize enough how important doing regular backups is Hard drives fail...all the time Average life span of a hard drive is about 1 1/2 to 2 years So how old is yours? If the data on your hard drive isn't too important to you what about your contacts? Or the info from your Palm or Pocket PC Could you recreate all the important dates, phone numbers, etc in your life? If the answer is no, back it up Today most computers come with CD burners Burn your files and folders to CD or buy a USB Flash Memory Key for your really crucial stuff A great program from Symantec is Norton Ghost or True Image by Acronis These program take a “picture” of your hard drive or partition exactly the way you have it now

Another thing offered by many newer computers running Windows XP is Systems Restore Start Menu>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>System Restore Get your system exactly the way you want it and then set a Restore Point Note: All changes to your computer will be deleted so every time you add a program or save a significant file or set of files, set another restore point otherwise it will not be on your system any more if you do a restore!

7 - Run Defrag Regularly- especially after deleting lots of files

Defrag is a command that reorganizes your files It is has the same effect as reorganizing your closet to use the space more efficiently after getting rid of a bunch of old things Files are saved by the computer by breaking them down into little pieces (bytes) and saving these in lots of locations on your hard drive When you delete files it leaves lots of little holes that aren't always used again By running defrag you are pushing all the data together to fill in these holes, leaving more big empty spaces to fill later This helps your computer run more efficiently as well, because these big empty spaces are utilized whenever a task takes more memory than you have in RAM (short term storage)

Before you begin Defrag, close all open programs, including e-mail, files, etc and turn off your screensaver (click once on your desktop anywhere there are no icons, choose Properties, click on the Screen Saver tab, and click on the drop down arrow and choose None)

To Defrag your computer click on the Start Menu button and choose Programs (or All Programs), Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter (It is right below the Disk Cleanup command.)

Then click the OK button * Note: if you have never run defrag before it may take a very long time to finish If you need to do something on your computer, hit the Pause button and then the same button to Resume when you finish your task Each time you do something on your computer without pausing you will cause the program to restart from scratch because the contents of your computer will have changed.

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Posted by Henry of Katharine Gibbs School - New York on November 30, 2004