Revitalizing Your Computer

Tips to get back system performance lost over time

So after what seemed like just a short while of use, your computer has gone from blazing fast to slow as molasses. You get strange errors, annoying popup windows, and/or it takes forever for Windows to start or to load an application.

It looks like your computer may have been infected with adware, spyware, a virus, or other annoying programs. The following advice may prove helpful. This article is a companion article to an article on preventative computer maintenance: Five Essentials of Maintaining a Healthy Computer.

Try the following troubleshooting steps to save your symptomatic or slow system, roughly in order:

  1. Try the preventative measures to get rid of viruses, spyware, adware, and other problems
  2. Inspect startup programs and other installed software
  3. Repairing applications
  4. Restoring or starting anew
  5. More help

1. Try the preventative measures to get rid of viruses, spyware, adware, and other problems

Do this step first. Visit the companion article, Five Essentials of Maintaining a Healthy Computer, and follow the advice on that page: install a firewall, install antivirus software, and install a spyware/adware remover. Then scan your computer for viruses, spyware, adware, and other bad programs on your computer with these tools. Remove or repair any virus-infected files and get rid of adware/spyware on your system. Additionally, scan your hard drive for errors--hardware errors may manifest strangely as you use your computer.

If a system that's now a lot slower than before is your problem, or you are getting inexplicable errors, you can also try downloading the latest updates for Windows, your web browser, and other applications. Slowed down systems can also be restored to prior performance by defragmenting the hard drive, which is also described in the preventative measures article.

2. Inspect startup programs and other installed software

If you tried the preventative measures and your system is still slower than you remember, you may have too many applications loading when Windows starts up. This can be a problem because they take time to load, slowing down Windows' startup, and they also take up memory and processor time after Windows loads, slowing down your entire computer.

To remedy the issue, you can view the programs that startup and selectively disable less important ones. You can do this by clicking on your Start Menu, clicking on Run, typing in "msconfig" (without quotes), and pressing enter. This will launch Microsoft's System Configuration Utility. Click on the Startup tab, and you will see a listing of all programs that are set to run when Windows starts. You can selectively disable (and later reenable, if you wish) these applications by clicking on the checkboxes next to each program. Note that disabling a program from starting with Windows might affect your use of that program, so use with caution and reenable an entry if disabling it causes problems.

The System Configuration Utility is only available on Windows 98, ME, and XP. For Windows 95, NT, and 2000, there are many shareware and freeware programs which you can use to accomplish the same task, which can also be used on Windows 98, ME, and XP. The advertised links on this page contain startup program managers which may be helpful. See also CNET's system utilities page, where additional ones are listed.

Besides inspecting startup programs, you should also inspect your other software, which may be problematic. Getting the latest versions and updates is always a good idea. Also, make sure you are not running too low on disk space--not enough disk space can cause all sorts of strange problems. We recommend having at least a few hundred megabytes of hard drive space free at any time. To help eliminate unused applications and free up disk space, you can access Add/Remove Programs in your Control Panel, or try using software specifically designed to uninstall and remove such old debris from your computer (see CNET's uninstallers listing).

3. Repairing applications

If it's just a single or small number of applications that are giving you trouble, you can try repairing them in various ways. Some applications have built-in repair functions that you can access from within the program (usually from the Help menu) or from the Add/Remove Programs control panel. You can also try uninstalling and reinstalling the application to replace any damaged files. Finally, make sure you have the latest version and updates to the application you are using, as it may solve any bugs or issues that you are experiencing.

4. Restoring or starting anew

Warning: These measures are more extreme because they involve modification of your entire computer contents. Proceed with care, use only as a last resort, AND backup all of your data before attempting! You have been warned.

On Windows ME and XP, a feature called System Restore can move your system to an older point in time, when hopefully you did not have the issue you are now experiencing. To access System Restore, open your Control Panel and click on System, then click on the System Restore tab.

If Windows really seems damaged and you've tried everything listed above to no avail, you can try reinstalling Windows. This is generally a large endeavor that may take several hours, which does not count reconfiguring Windows after install, reinstalling software on your computer, and reimporting data. You might try formatting your hard drive, which will completely erase everything, before reinstalling Windows. It's almost always a drastic and extreme measure, but it does essentially give you a completely fresh start. Make sure that you have a licensed and working Microsoft Windows installation CD before attempting to reinstall Windows or format your hard drive.

5. More help

Depending on your issue, you might be able to access more help. Search online for articles or information specific to your problem; almost always there will be other users who had the same problem and had it fixed. You can use that information to your benefit. You might even try searching for portions of the exact text of an error message you're getting.

One particularly helpful online database with regard to issues relating to Microsoft products is the Microsoft Knowledge Base, which you can search through at http://support.microsoft.com/search/?adv=1.

Possibly of use is also CNET's listing of Windows utilities, including system utilities, backup software, spyware/adware removers, and more.

Good luck!

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