Your computer ran great the day you brought it home. But now, it is running more slowly every day. You've used the Windows Task Manager to see its performance and it always seems to be busy with something, even when you aren't running any software applications. If you are not a computer expert, fixing this can seem daunting. This page is not meant to be a how to. We want you to know what you're up against. Anyone can learn this if they don't want to pay for an expert.
Here's what we do to fix these issues.
- Operating systems and the applications they support are not perfect. Memory leaks and other errors build up over time hogging resources that would otherwise be available for you. A reboot give you a fresh start. You should reboot all versions of Windows at least once a month.
- You must run an anti-virus program on your system. A computer virus will cause your system to slow down to a crawl, steal your ID, or lockup your files until you pay a ransom. Anti-virus programs generally do the following: a) Check files you download for viruses; b) Scan your email attachments; c) Regularly scan you system for viruses, and; d) Manage your firewall. Some have additional features that you might find useful. If your computer came with anti-virus software already installed, you can switch to a different one if you wish. The best reason to switch is if a virus gets on your system. (Obviously it did not work!)
Whether you stay with your current software or choose a new one, do the following: 1) Make sure your anti-virus program signatures are up-to-date; 2) Ensure you are using the latest version of the software; 3) Review your settings and have the software check for signature updates automatically, at least once each day (at night when you're asleep), and; 4) Make sure a full scan of all files takes place at least weekly (but daily is better). All done? Now run a full scan of your system and follow the software's guidance if it finds anything. If it did find something, do another full scan.
Recommendations: Use Norton or McAfee. As a business, we use Symantec Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition.
- Wait, you're not done with the nasty stuff. Malware is malicious software that will do harm to your computer system. So how is this different from a virus? A virus is just a type of Malware. There is a lot of overlap between the two and a lot of differences of opinion regarding definitions. Regardless, to cover all the threats you should also run anti-malware software. If you purchase a version that will run on a schedule, set the anti-malware up like you did the anti-virus. Just make sure they don't both scan at the same time. If it doesn't run on a schedule (probably a free version), make sure you keep it updated and run it regularly.
One warning, if anti-virus and anti-malware both run on the same system, they can trip over each other. Its important to set these to exclude scanning each other's directories.
Recommendation: Malwarebytes (Get the free version). We use the professional version on our servers and other critical computers.
- Windows Update
- Microsoft provides updates to its supported operating systems as often as once a week. If you're not sure if your operating system is supported, the Windows lifecycle fact sheet should answer your question. You should check your settings and ensure Windows looks for updates at least once each week. (If you have Windows 10, your choices are more limited.) For most people, the option to download and install automatically is the best. We do so for our servers, but not so for laptops and other end user systems. An automatic download can disrupt work and installing/rebooting could be a disaster. So think about how you use your computer system and choose accordingly.
If you've completed all of the previous steps you should run an update by hand to make sure you have all the latest security and other fixes.
- Driver Updates
- This part is a bit tricky as any mistakes can really mess up your system. A device driver is software that enables your operating system, and sometimes a software application, to exchange information with your computer system's hardware. Updates can add new features to the hardware. Because they are low level, often used software an update can improve your system. A mistake, however, can cause that hardware to stop working. Drivers updates are provided by the device manufacturer for free (it's in their best interest). Tracking them down, though, is a pain so there are paid service that collect these together for you.
Recommendation: Do not attempt this yourself! If you do, practice on a non-critical computer and use the paid services by Driver Agent.
- Junk Removal
- There is junk on your system. Some of it just occupies hard drive space, some is in your registry, and some junk programs start up as soon as you start your computer system. We use CCleaner to fix these. Download the free version and do these three things: 1) Use Cleaner to look for files that can be deleted. The default settings are fine, but as you become more comfortable you can add additional checks, 2) Scan your registry and fix all of the issues that are found. Ensure you save a back up copy of your changes when offered the chance. We've never needed them, but it good to be careful, and 3) Under Tools->Startup look at all the programs that start running when you start your computer. Use the Internet to look up these programs to see if you really need them running. Not sure? Disable one and restart your computer. Anything bad happen? If not, leave it off.
The professional (paid) version of CCleaner offers some additional features. We run the professional version on critical systems.
- Windows Task Scheduler
- The Windows Task Scheduler does a lot of work behind the scenes. Its responsible for running all sorts of programs in response to a time schedule or an event that has occurred. You can get to this from your Control Panel under Administrative Tools. Spend some time studying this to see how and when your computer initiates activities that may impact your user experience.
- Event History
- The Event Viewer is a great tool that most people rarely use. It is found from the Control Panel under Administrative Tools. When your system come across a problem, its details are logged here. Not every error or warning is cause for worry, but if you are having computer issues you will want to review this log.