127. Fighting computer slowdown
By Andrew D. Wright
I have a fairly new computer but I find it very slow. Can you offer any
A very cool Chebucto mousepad is in the mail for your question, Lori.
Lots of things can slow down a computer. Not enough RAM, or computer
memory is one of the top reasons. Microsoft recommends a minimum 128 MB of
RAM for Windows XP. In real life, Windows XP can easily use eight times
that: 1 GB of RAM. Power users should double or triple that amount: 2 - 3
Too little free hard drive space or a badly fragmented hard drive can also
slow things down. Windows users should defragment their hard drives every
few weeks to keep them speedy. A hard drive should have at least 25 per
cent free space available.
Newer personal computers with the Windows Vista operating system require a
lot of system resources and run slow without them.
Microsoft's system requirements for Vista Home Basic, the stripped-down
barest-bones version, is for a 1 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, and a DirectX 9
compatible video card with 32 MB video memory.
For the other Vista versions, Microsoft recommends 1 GB of RAM, and a
video card with at least 128 MB of video memory.
It's better to have at least 2 GB RAM, a 2 GHz CPU, 100 GB hard drive and
a new video card with 256 MB or more of video memory.
Unwanted programs running on the computer can slow things down. There are
two basic kinds of unwanted program, crapware and malware.
Crapware, also called craplets (crappy applets), can come with legitimate
programs or be installed by default on new computers. It loads when the
computer starts and may try to speed up a program start up by pre-loading
portions of it first.
One sign of crapware is a lot of icons in the system tray, the part of the
Windows task bar next to the clock. Usually right-clicking on an icon will
offer options to disable it starting up, otherwise go to Start - Run and
type in msconfig. Click the startup tab to see a list of programs set to
start with the computer. Uncheck the checkbox next to a program to disable
it starting, click OK and reboot.
Modern computers are fast enough that there's little to be gained from
pre-loading software. It's better just to run a program when you need it.
Another alternative is malware. Your computer may have been taken over by
bad guys and is now leading a double life as a spam-sending bot. The
majority of spam, or unsolicited junk mail, comes from infected home and
office computers with owners having no clue their computer has turned
Cleaning off such an infection can be a job for the professionals since it
is in the bad guys' interest to make malware hard to find and delete.
When you turn on the computer without starting up any other programs you
should see the hard drive activity light run for a couple of moments until
all your startup programs are loaded. It should then stop except for an
occasional flicker. If after everything is loaded the hard drive light
does not slow down at all it could be a sign the computer has been
Checking task manager (right click on the task bar to find it) should tell
you what is keeping the computer so busy. Process Explorer, a free
download from Microsoft can tell you in more detail what is going on and
verify the signatures of legitimate programs.
Microsoft offers a number of free programs for determining and controlling
what your computer is really doing.
Microsoft Process Explorer (free):
Microsoft Sysinternals Utilities (free):
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Originally published 7 March 2008