If that super-fast PC you purchased just a year ago seems to run slower than it used to, don’t run out and buy a new one. In most cases, there are a few basic tricks you should try first. I suggest attacking this list in order – from 1 through 5 – until you’re as happy with your computer as the day you bought it.
Uninstall programs you don’t use.
I’m amazed after a year how many programs I’ve installed, tried once, and never used again. Cleaning out old programs means less files on your hard drive, as well as making it easier to find the programs you use every day.
How to do it. There are two ways to remove a program – the right way and the wrong way. Just deleting the program’s folder or icons doesn’t speed up a Windows PC. Instead, go to the Control Panel and use the “Uninstall a Program” option in Vista or the “Add or Remove a Program” option in XP.
Defrag your hard drive.
When your PC stores files, if it doesn’t have enough room to put a file in one place on your hard drive, it will split it into two or more pieces. When you defrag (short for defragmentation), you run a program that puts the files physically back together again. But before you defrag, you should clean up any temporary files.
How to do it. If you’re running MS Vista, go to the start menu, and type “disk.” The “Disk Cleanup” and “Disk Defrag” programs will both appear. Run Cleanup first to remove temporary files, then Defrag. The Defrag program should be set to run at least once a week in the middle of the night (leave your computer on that night). If you’re running XP, click “My Computer”, right click on the C: drive, click “Properties” on the menu, click “Disk Cleanup” to run, then click the tools tab and the “Defrag” button.
Remove any spyware.
If you run an anti-virus program like McAfee or Norton, your PC could still be loaded with spyware. These are little snippets of code designed to record websites you click on, or to redirect your browser to other websites. Even if your anti-virus program says it can find spyware, experts agree you need to run two different programs to make sure one finds what the other cannot (never run 2 anti-virus programs at the same time).
How to do it. Download and install the free versions of Ad-Aware and Anti-Malware (don’t take my word for it – check the ratings here). Since the free versions doesn’t have a schedule program, you should make a note to yourself to run them at least once a month. Alternatively, you can purchase the full versions that run automatically.
Clean out the Start Menu folder.
Lots of programs like to install a portion of themselves in the Start Menu so that they can be accessed more quickly when you need them. Unfortunately, this means they are always taking up memory, even if you don’t need them.
How to do it. In Vista, click Start >Programs, and click on Windows Defender. When Defender opens, click on the “Tools” gray gear icon. Then click “Software Explorer” and set the category to “Startup Programs”. Look for any programs that you may have installed at one time, but no longer or rarely use. Highlight the program, then click “Disable.” In XP, right click the Start menu click “Explore All Users”, click the “Programs” folder, then the “Startup” folder. Drag any icons in your Startup folder to your desktop and reboot. If your PC runs fine, you can delete the icon. Otherwise, just drag it back into the Startup folder.
Add more memory.
If you bought your PC on sale at a big box retailer, chances are they installed just enough RAM memory to get it to run. In most cases, you can double the amount of memory on your PC (or Mac) and significantly speed it up, especially if you use Photoshop.
How to do it. The easiest solution is to download and run the Crucial.com memory test for Windows or Mac. It will tell you how much RAM you already have in your computer, then suggest additional RAM chips to buy. Order the RAM online from Crucial (we use this brand exclusively at the lab). When the memory arrives, watch one of their videos to learn how to install your own RAM chips. Finally, make sure Photoshop is configured to use the new RAM memory.
Reformat your hard drive.
Actually, this is #6, but I don’t recommend this step unless you’ve tried the ones above. Reformatting destroys every file on your computer. If you don’t have a backup copy, you will lose everything!
Chances are when you purchased your PC you received instructions about how to return your computer to its original condition. If you’re lucky, it came with 1-2 CDs or DVDs called “Rescue” or “Installation”. Otherwise, the CDs are hidden on your hard drive and you’ll have to burn them before you can reformat.
How to do it. Before you do anything else, make a copy of your hard drive! Pick up a portable USB hard drive at any appliance store and make a copy (not just a backup) of everything on your hard drive. Next, gather the original installation CDs for all your programs like Photoshop, Microsoft Office or Quickbooks. Make sure you have all the license keys for your programs written down. Then, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for returning your PC to its original state. If you’re not sure how, go to the manufacturer’s website, look up your PC model, and you’ll find the instructions there. If your PC is still under warranty, call the manufacturer’s help line and they can walk you through the process. If reformatting your hard drive scares you, pay a technician to do it. It is still cheaper than buying a new PC.