Help! My Machine Has Slowed Down…


I do a fair bit of IT work for the seniors in town. Some of it is easy to diagnose – printer doesn’t work, lost my wifi password – but by far the most common and baffling complaint I get is – my computer has slowed down, it’s sluggish. What can that possibly mean?

  • Is the computer slow to boot up and takes a while before you can use it?
  • Do programs take a long time to load?
  • Is Web surfing slower than it used to be?
  • Do you get hangups, glitches, blue screens?

Nobody can describe the exact problem and to be honest I have no way of figuring it out. I don’t know how the machine ran when new.

Older versions of Windows did slow down a lot over time due to a variety of reasons that have been fixed. Maybe folks think it’s 2002 now and the same fixes apply. But you can’t defragment a hard drive today and speed things up like you used to.

The normal knee jerk reaction is to reinstall Windows. But unless you have your own separate copy of the operating system, that is hard to do. Most machines today have a separate hard drive partition  where there is a copy of the factory installed software. Reinstalling that eliminates your data and any software you added, plus brings Windows back a few years and a few hundred updates. Also you get all the bloatware back that you may not have wanted in the first place. So no.

If you have Windows 8 you may be able to “refresh” without a reinstall – but the vast majority of people around here have Windows 7.

Before getting into this further I’ll give the ultimate solution set that has worked for me – and which I cannot reasonably suggest to anyone who calls.

  • Buy or build a desktop with a fast processor, scads of memory and a discrete graphics card. I have two of these and one is trigger quick and the other one just blazes. One was purchased as a business class machine and upgraded. The other was built from scratch. Neither is state of the art today but they ain’t too shabby either.
  • Use Linux – far faster, uses less resources, doesn’t need resource hogging security software, never slows down – ever.
  • Install your operating system on a Solid State Drive. That’ll speed things up by a factor of five.
  • Get decent broadband and make sure it’s working at the speed you are paying for. I don’t have the highest speed but it’s plenty fast enough for my home network.

So what is the typical unit that has “slowed down” ? It usually is a 4-5 year old cheaper laptop. Slow AMD processor and graphics, memory challenged, slow hard drive, not worth upgrading. Operating system is Windows 7.

It’s hard to imagine that such a machine ran that fast when new. Since then it has invariably had a printer, iTunes, Skype, some sort of photo organizing program and a camera software suite added. Many of these apps have startup run features. It isn’t uncommon to see that 70% of the RAM is in play before you actually do anything. Start Skyping or watching YouTube or open a bunch of browser windows and things get slow – especially if you need to use the hard drive for anything. I advise my “clients” to uninstall old printer drivers and programs they never use but I don’t take them off myself.

Then there’s malware. Most users I meet are concerned they have a virus but I hardly ever see that. Even Windows 7 has a decent firewall and antivirus program provided by Microsoft. Some users have heavyweight security like Norton or McAfee which provide their own level of kneecapping to the system, but do give virus protection.

What’s more likely present is spyware and adware downloaded with “free” software – such as the abominable Ask toolbar and Search Protect browser hijacker. I always run Malware Bytes to get rid of that stuff and then try a different anti-malware program like Hitman Pro. The last machine I cleaned up had over 150 pieces of malware on it and I have seen some with over 1000.

A lot of people never clean up unneeded temporary files and browser cache, history or tracking cookies. Some of that you can get rid of with Malware Bytes but for a good cleanup I like CCleaner. It’s free and effective.

I’d like to think that cleaning out malware and unnecessary files helps speed things up but if a machine is old, slow and lacking memory it’s a losing battle. In the final analysis, all one can do is recommend a new machine or an upgrade. I would recommend at least 8GB of RAM in a laptop these days and most of the machines I see have 4 or less. However, if you bought a cheap machine in the first place how motivated will you be to pay more?

I do my best to make sure the machine is crap and virus free and send it home. Miracles are not in my toolbox, unfortunately. Most folks are happy I tried.



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