(written in conjunction with NonSuch, askey127 and silver)
We get a lot of people coming here complaining of slow running computers, and posting HijackThis logs for us to look at. They suspect that an infection is causing their problem. In a great many cases, Malware is not the cause of the problem, and a few simple procedures are all that it takes to resolve things.
Computers need regular maintenance, I know this comes as a shock to some of you, but it's true nonetheless.
Now before you start to panic, don't worry. I'm not going to be asking you to start ripping off the covers of your machine and fiddling with the circuit boards, and I'm not going to be asking you to start following some arcane ritual known only to TechnoGeeks. What we're going to do is simple enough for anyone to do.
It's best if we break things down into two sections, the first are those that should be done regularly, the next are those that only need to be done once, or very infequently.
First, the tasks that need to be carried out regularly
- Clear out your Temporary files
During the normal operation of your computer, Windows and your other programmes create an awful lot of temporary files. For the most part they are just that, temporary. But for any number of reasons, when they're no longer needed they don't get removed by the programme that created them. So over time their number builds up, and unless you clear them out they can slow down your computer noticeably.
In the case of your Browser, the problem can be worse. All browsers cache the web pages you visit. The original reason was to make loading pages faster. When everyone was on dial-up this was quite a good idea, but with modern fast connections it's mostly unecessary now. However browsers still cache webpages, and unless cleaned out regularly they build up to a position where they can have some pretty dramatic effects on how your browser works. Any number of wierd browser problems are caused by nothing more than an overfull cache.
So once a month, or once a week if you're a heavy user, it's a good idea to clean out your Temporary files.
How to clean out your Temp files
- Defrag your Hard Drive
Every time you write a file to your Hard Drive, the drive controller has to find space on your drive. It will often break files into fragments, so that it can use the available disk space efficiently. However over time files can become very fragmented because of this, and your drive controller has to work harder to find all the fragments and re-combine them so that a programme can use it. This slows things down, depending on the amount of fragmentation of your files, it can slow things down a lot.
So once a month (for heavy users), or once every 3 or 4 months (for light users), it's a good idea to defragment your hard drive.
This will re-arrange the fragments on your drive so they form contiguous entities which are much easier for your drive controller to deal with.
It's a time consuming operation, usually taking several hours, so best to do what I do, and start it going before you go to bed.
How to Defrag your Hard Drive
Next, the ones that you only need to do once or very infrequently.
- Reduce the number of programmes that are Auto Starting
Pretty much every programme you install these days is set to auto start when you boot up. The programme manufacturers tell you it's for your benefit, but the truth is for most of them it's just not necessary that they do so. Lots of auto starting programmes will severely slow down your startup time, and having lots of unecessary programmes running in memory will slow down the running speed of your computer as well.
Luckily it's not hard to prevent unecessary programmes from auto starting. Doing so does not mean you can't use the programmes, you start them by double clicking on their icons, just as you always have, it just means they won't be running when you're not using them.
Of course programmes like your Firewall and Anti-Virus need to auto run, so we won't be touching them at all.
How to disable unecessary programmes from Auto Starting
- Do you have a Hosts file installed?
If you are using one of the pre prepared Hosts files to block unwanted and dangerous sites (eg MVPs Hosts or Bluetack) then if you are not part of a domain, and notice a slowdown, you will need to disable the Windows DNS Client Service.
How to disable the DNS Client service
- Disable your Indexing Service
This service does what its name suggests, it indexes all your files, in order that you can find things faster when searching.
It does it on a continuous basis, using up a great deal of CPU time and working your hard drive for no real good reason. As a result, although it may speed up your search times, it slows down your computer at all other times.
I don't know about you, but I know where most of the files I want are located. For the number of times I have to run a search I'd rather have a faster computer than a faster search, so I turn this one off.
By default this service is not installed in Vista, if you see it on your Vista then it has been deliberately added for reverse compatability reasons, leave it alone.
How to disable the Indexing Service
- Check the amount of free space you have on your Hard Drive
Windows (XP and Vista) needs a certain amount of "overhead" (free disk space) if it's to operate efficiently. If it doesn't have that space, your processor has to "page out", which will slow everything down considerably.
Ideally you need at least 15-20% of your disk to be empty, if you don't have 15% then it's time to start freeing up some disk space.
How to check your free disk space
- Presuming you don't have enough free disk space, here's a couple of suggestions for freeing some up
- Remove unecessary programmes
OK, time to be honest with youself, are you really using all those programmes you've got installed, or are there some that you haven't used in a lifetime. If there are, then why not get rid of them and free up some disk space. Your hard drive will thank you for your efforts.
How to remove unused programmes
- Reduce your System Restore Points
Windows creates System Restore points on a regular basis (every 24 hours), they take up a great deal of space on your hard drive (upto 12% for XP, 15% for Vista). If your computer has been running without problems (other than the slowness) for some time, then you can free up a lot of space by reducing the number of System Restore points to one (the latest).
Windows will continue creating more RPs, but it'll take some time before you need to thin them out again.
How to remove all but your last System Restore Point
Links to additional subjects related to speeding up Windows
These are very much optional, use at your own risk.
Tidying Up After Installing SP2 by Alex Nichol
Disabling unecessary Services XP SP3 Vista SP1
Removing unused fonts
Adjusting the Visual Effects in Windows XP