A computer does not degrade in performance over time, but not keeping track of how things are running on the software-side can simulate it as things get “clogged”. They’re like cars, 20 years later they’ll run just as fast as the day you got them as long as you give them proper maintenance every so often.
Image somebody bought a Ford Model T and “suped it up” to race other Model T’s, they could win the race with it. Then, 100 years later (the original Model T was released in 1908 ), they take it to a race of today. It fails spectacularly, it has no chance of winning. Does that mean it got slower? No. The tasks expected of it grew until they exceeded it’s ability. While a web page 10 years ago might have involved some color and a few images, web pages today can have dynamically styled content, videos, even custom programming that runs within the page itself (sometimes multiple instances).
Doing a little checkup every so often can keep your machine running as well as the day you got it, and this guide will show you how. In addition many computer problem are easy to fix once you know what the actual cause is, and this guide will show you common methods of spotting the cause of a problem.
Gathering general information.
At times you may be asked certain things about your computer. This post will show you how and where to get some of the most common pieces of information needed to help with a computer problem.
- Computer Specs (Specifications).
One of the most helpful things to let us know would be what computer you are using. The model of your computer can be found on the tower. The tower is that (usually) rectangular bulky thing you stick CDs/DVDs into, it has the main power button on it. The model will be something like “Inspiron 3000” or “T2899”. If there’s lots of things and you’re not sure, tell them all to us.
If you’re on a laptop, it might be on the underside.
If you know that your computer has been upgraded since you got it in some way, tell us how, please. If you’re not sure about that or don’t know how it’s been upgraded/modified, you can use this tool to see your specs, simply take screenshots so we can see the specific areas.
- Windows Version.
To find what version of windows you are running, go to where you can see the “my computer” icon, either in your start menu or on the desktop. Right-click it, click “properties” in the menu that shows up, and after a second or two, a window should show up on your screen. That will tell you, among other things, which version of windows you are running. Common ones are XP, Vista, and 7. Right under the version will be other info that’s useful, so please post a screenshot of that window for us.
- If it’s a fully-custom computer…
If, by some chance your computer is custom-built, then telling us what parts it’s made of works. If you do not know, you can either use this program, or ask somebody that would know.
A few times, you might be asked to provide a “screenshot” or “screencap“. That is giving us an image of what you see on the screen, so we can better know your situation since we’re not there to see what’s on your screen.
How to take a screenshot in Windows XP
How to take a screenshot in Windows Vista or 7
When helping, we may tell you to go into safe mode and try something, or tell you to see if something works “in safe mode”.This page shows you how to get into safe mode. You’ll most often want “Safe Mode With Networking”, which will give you internet access (regular safe mode has no internet).
Keeping your software up-to-date is important for a stable system. It’s usually something you don’t need to worry about, as the important security parts will be done for you automatically if windows update is on.
- Go into your control panel (switch to classic view if needed), and open the “automatic updates” section. Make sure they are on “automatic”.
- Go to your start menu, and to the “programs” or “all programs” section. Find “windows update” in the main section, and run it.
If you cannot find it, open internet explorer and go to http://www.windowsupdate.com and choose “custom”, and get everything. You will probably be required to restart afterwards.
- If you have not, I recommend getting the latest version of internet explorer, and the latest service pack for your computer (3 for XP, 1 for Vista as of now).
- If a specific program you’re using is having issues, go to the official website and see if there’s a newer version than you’re using. In most programs, of you go to the “Help” menu (usually the very last option) on the toolbar at the top which contains “File”, “Edit”, and so on, you can find an “About Program Name” option. Click that, and usually a new small window will come up with some info about the program. The info includes the version number. Write it down somewhere, then go to the program’s website and see if they offer a newer version (it will have a higher number). Install that, and see if the issue with that program is fixed.
While there are programs you can buy that will attempt to find driver updates for you, they sometimes don’t get the proper ones, and it’s not worth the money when you can get the updates yourself for free in less time. In fact Windows Update is often better at getting proper drivers than those programs are, if that tells you anything…
- Go to the site of the company that made your computer, there should be a “support” or “downloads” section. Go there, find your computer model, and you should find downloads for it. If it mentions a “download manager”, tell it NO.
- Most of what you find will be drivers. Download the most recent driver for the following things, depending on what it calls them.
1 – Chipset/Motherboard.
2 – Video/Graphics.
3 – Sound/Audio.
4 – Ethernet/LAN.
5 – Wireless/WLAN
There may be more categories, too, but you can ignore the “BIOS” one.
If you see multiple different things listed for a category (Like if it lists both an ATI driver and Nvidia driver for graphics), download them both, only the real one will install, the other will be able to realize it’s wrong and won’t install.
If you see multiple types for a single download, like there’s “Driver”, but also a version that offers the software+driver, get the version with the software as well (except for wireless cards, the software Windows has should work just fine).
- Install them (in that listed order if possible), you might be required to restart after each installation.
- Press the CTRL+SHIFT+ESCAPE key combination to open the Task Manager.
- In the task manager, click the “processes” tab, and you should see a large list. Click and drag the very bottom-right corner of the window to resize it, to show everything in the list. Click “show processes from all users” at the bottom, and then take a screenshot of the list, and save it somewhere.
Do not be alarmed by the number of things in the list!
It is normal to have at least 35-50 things in the list, and a lot of them are important!
Some of them allow you to print, some control your internet, some control your sound, stuff like that, so don’t go killing things at random!
- Look near the top of the process list. There will be column labels, like “Image Name” and “PID” and such. You can click them to sort by that column.
What you want to pay attention to is the “CPU” and “Mem Usage” sections. Copy down the names of anything using more than 0 CPU, and anything using more than about 25,000K memory. If it’s something you know should be running that you want to run, like firefox, then ignore it for this part.
- Go to http://processlist.com/ and look up anything that’s using processor percentage or a large amount of memory. It should tell you what what process is and does. For example, “ashDisp.exe” is part of the “Avast!” anti-virus program. By searching that site (or the internet in general) you should be able to figure out what a process actually is. If you can’t find it listed anywhere and you’re on Vista/7, you can right-click it and choose “Open File Location” to see where it’s located, that should give you a hint.
- Go to your start menu, and if you’re on XP/2K, click “run”. If you’re on Vista/7, type in the white box at the bottom of the start menu. Type in msconfig and press ENTER.
In the new box that comes up, go to the “startup” tab, and you should see lots of things, with some or most of them checked. Take a few screenshots for us, we need to see everything that’s checked. The unchecked ones do not matter.
- Go through the list, look at each thing. Think to yourself “Do I really need this running 24/7?” If not, uncheck it.
For example, if it’s something like your anti-virus software, you want to leave that checked.
If it’s something you never actually use but recognize that you need, like wireless software, leave it checked.
If it’s part of a program you only use once a week, go ahead and uncheck it since you can run it manually from the start menu or by running it’s icon on your desktop.
If it’s something you never actually use and know you can live without, uncheck it.
- Too many browser plugins, or browser plugins that are badly-coded.
This goes for both Firefox and IE users! It’s entirely possible to have plugins you didn’t personally install. Some software will also install a browser plugin or toolbar for whatever reason, and a plugin can exist without having a toolbar visible on your screen. Some plugins are badly-coded and can cause errors, so we may have you mess with those.
- Small infections or browser hijackers.
There’s multiple categories of infections, and a single antivirus scanner can’t catch everything. Checking out the infection removal sticky and running through the basic removal steps is suggested, even if you don’t think you’re infected.
Flash is notoriously bloated and slow for what it does, and a single page can have 2 or more flash ads, each of which are constantly executing code. People tend to browse in multiple tabs at once, so slowdown from flash easily builds up and slows down the entire browser. The solution is to install a flash blocking plugin into your browser. This will make it so you have to click on something made with flash in order for it to load, so you can still watch videos on youtube or play games if you want, but the majority of flash things, which slow down the browser, are not loaded.
- Running more than one antivirus program at the same time.
An antivirus program can be a bit of a stress on your computer, but usually you barely notice it. If you have two running at the same time, however, they can be constantly getting in each other’s way and making things a lot slower than they should be.
- An antivirus program that’s gone into an “Overbearing Obsessed Protective Mother” mode.
Imagine your antivirus program as a parent constantly checking up on what you’re doing, telling you whether you should or shouldn’t do this or that. That’s okay if it’s only happening every few hours. Despite how annoying it is, you know deep down they only have your best interests at heart. But imagine what it would be like if that was happening every 30 seconds. You wouldn’t be able to get anything done!
If an antivirus program’s detection settings, firewall restrictions, phishing filters, and such are set at too high of a security level you can get false positives (scans which find malware that isn’t there), pop-ups warning you of threats which don’t exist, and constant nagging for your approval. Lowering your overall security settings to something like “moderate” or even “automatic” may help your system feel more responsive and less annoying while still providing a decent level of security.
- An antivirus program that’s old and out of date.
If the program has expired, it’s basically useless and you should replace it with a free one that’s getting proper updates. On the other hand even if you’re still getting updates, if the version of the program you’re using is old it might not be as fast as it should be. You should consider uninstalling it and installing the latest version from the company’s website.
Modern computers will downclock (run slower) when they’re getting too hot in an attempt at giving themselves some slack so they can cool down. This can be caused by a buildup of dust, or an improperly-attached heatsink. A program likeSpeedFan can monitor your temperatures and alert you if anything gets too high.
- A fragmented drive.
Fragmentation of a drive can slow down loading times of programs and make your entire system seem sluggish. While windows includes a free defragging program, alternatives like Defraggler can do more. It’s often better to defrag in safe mode, because that way the defragger can fix up files that it can’t touch in normal mode (because they’d be in use).