Sometimes it may not seem like it, but each version of Windows has many of the best minds in computing working on ways to make it faster, smoother and more reliable. One of the features these guys added in Windows XP is called the "prefetch." Numbering sometimes over 100 files, this bit of programming gives XP a head start in starting up, and is supposed to reduce boot up times.
At least, in theory that's what it does. In practice, files in the prefetch can become corrupted. And that mean achingly slow boot times or even the occasional startup crash, which many XP users have become all too familiar with. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes to clean out the old prefetch files for faster load times.
Prefetch from Scratch
You can usually find prefetch with your Windows files, so search for C:\Windows\prefetch (or replace C with whatever drive you've installed Windows on). When you open the folder containing prefetch files simply select them all - then delete them all. Please note: clean the slate sparingly. Although it's perfectly safe, and recommended, to delete these files, I would only do so about once or twice a year - most computer experts think that gathering all these prefetch items is a bit taxing for your hard drive.
Strange but real reasons your PC might be going a bit a slow:
Your PC doesn't get enough fresh air.
No, I don't mean you should do all your work on your PC al fresco. But you should keep the vents on your computer clean and free of dust, hair, carpeting and dirt. Air is needed to keep your PC cool, as overheating can affect performance - and even damage the heat-sensitive electronics inside. Regularly vacuum around the vents or use compressed air to clean them.
Your laptop is on your... lap. Or any other soft surface, like your bed, the sofa, or cushions. Soft material can block the vents and cause your computer to overheat. And as we know, that can lead to sluggish performance and even hardware damage. Always work on clean, hard, flat surfaces if you can help it. And for men, having a lot laptop on your lap can decrease your chance of being a father! (See this Discover article.)
Things are loose on the motherboard.
This is especially likely if you've gotten a memory upgrade, but even computers direct from the factory can come with loose memory chips. If you don't feel comfortable opening up your PC and checking to see if the chips are plugged in, bring your PC to the store you bought it from (or to a trusted technician) and see if they can put them in place.
A messy desktop is not simply an aesthetic problem. Items on your desktop use up a bit of your PC's memory. Organizing your files is one of the easiest ways to free up a bit of wasted computing power.
Turn off life-support for crashing programs.
Windows generally is like a sensitive doctor who has a hard time letting programs go. Usually when a program is non-responsive – something that happens a lot with slow PCs – Windows, by default, gives it a ridiculously generous 20 seconds to respond. This lag can cause other programs to stall, triggering a cascading collapse of other apps. You've got to be tougher than Windows, and have it automatically close any program that stops responding.
(CAUTION: the following directions involve tampering with the registry. Always make a backup before changing the registry, and proceed with care.)
To have Windows automatically close unresponsive apps, click on Start, go to Run, and type regedit. (If a window asks if you'd like to continue, click Yes.) Next, find the correct key on the left sidebar of the new window. It should read HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop. Now, the last step: double click AutoEndTasks, and then bump the value from 0 to 1. Presto: no more life support for crashing programs.
The Windows operating system has a tragic flaw: the registry. The registry is an area that keeps records of changes to your system. Over the lifetime of your computer, it fills up with dead or corrupted entries that squander memory, cause slowdown and can sometimes crash your computer. Worse, malicious programs love the registry, as it's a great place for them to hide while they work their voodoo on your machine. (Goofing around with the registry can cause permanent damage to your computer, so it's generally hard for anti-malware software to go in there to find the bad guys.)
No wonder then, in the last couple of years, registry cleaners have proliferated, and are now one of the most-downloaded types of software. Once controversial, numerous studies have shown that using a reliable registry cleanser can result in real improvements for most computer users. The trick is, of course, finding the right one.
What to look for in a registry cleaning product
- Safety features. A good registry product will make a complete backup of the registry before doing anything else, and it'll give you the option of restoring any erased or fixed entries to their original state. This way, on the off chance something goes wrong, you can fully restore your system.
- Log keeping. Again, the registry is really sensitive, so you want accurate records of any changes made in there in case you want to fully restore the registry to how it was before the cleaner started its work. As an extra precaution, the best registry products will keep careful records of all registry activity.
- Entry repair. In addition to wiping out junk entries left by discarded programs (or malware), you'll want a registry product that helps repair good entries that have become corrupted. Many computer researchers believe that fixing damaged entries of commonly used programs is one of the keys to improving PC performance.
- Detailed reports. Find a program to shows detailed reports of each registry key it will fix and what's wrong with that key. Many programs find false-positives or inflate the error count to make you think you have more problems than you really do.
- File management. To get the most bang for your buck, choose a registry product that includes speed-enhancing extras like a defragmenter for your hard drive, a disk clean up tool that helps you locate and eliminate unwanted programs, or a startup manager that lets you choose what programs run when your PC boots up.
Viruses, worms, bots, spyware, adware, keylogging devices. One of the most common causes of a sluggish PC is malicious software infection. From hijacking your machine and using it to pollute the web with spam, to cluttering your registry with bogus functions, bad code you pick up from web
surfing or downloading software is the number one culprit behind PC slowdown.
Chances are, you already have a decent antivirus program – but chances are, the subscription has already expired. As our friends at Shadowserver – a nonprofit made of volunteers who fight malware – always remind us, hundreds of new viruses are created each day. If you don't have an up-to-date subscription, you might as well not have the program running altogether. Besides, a year's worth of protection will only set you back between $16 and $50 dollars.
What to look for in an anti-malware program
Before you renew your subscription or buy a new program, make sure you're protected by the right software. A good, all-purpose anti-malware program should:
- Update with fresh malware signatures every few minutes. (Yes, minutes - you don't want to get caught by this morning's bad code floating around the internet.)
- Protect you from toxic sites while browsing. Sophisticated criminals have made bad websites that can hijack your CPU after you simply click on their site.
- Thwart phishing. Some malicious programs trick your browser into thinking it's landing on a real site – such as your bank's – when it's really a dummy site created by criminals, who then steal whatever personal information you send them.
- Offer "whitelisting," a memory-saving feature that puts reliable files on a safe, or "white," list, so it doesn't have to scan them as often.
- Get good marks from AV-Comparatives.org or CheckVir.com, two highly-respected independent anti-malware testing organizations.
Recent winners from AV-Comparatives.org
Frustrated with the slow speed of your PC, you might think it's time to junk it and get a new one. And that might be true. If your computer's more than five years old, most experts think it could be time to move on, especially if you're using a laptop, whose hardware is harder to tinker with. New computers can be incredibly cheap, and you can get one that matches or exceeds your old PC's power for less than $500.
But money's tight these days, and even though in computing terms $500 is a good deal, you could see huge jumps in performance for as little as $10. That's right, upgrading can be extremely affordable, and can add two or three years of life to your machine. If speed's your main concern, here are the two most recommended hardware upgrades:
Memory, or RAM, is the resource your CPU uses to get stuff done. A RAM upgrade is, dollar for the dollar, the most cost-effective upgrade you can go with. A new stick of memory generally runs from around $10 to $50 (check Crucial Memory or CompUSA for deals).
If you use Windows XP, you'll want 1 GB for optimum performance, and if you use Vista, try to get up to 2 (or even higher!) GB. Remember, before you buy any RAM, you should check your PC manual to find out what type of memory your PC uses (such as dual channel) and how to install it. If you don't want to be bothered with all that, Crucial, a RAM manufacturer, provides a free scan to determine memory upgrades at their website: www.crucial.com.
New Hard Drive
While the electronics in your computer can be expected to last up to ten years (provided they don't melt from overheating!), moving parts don't do so well. Consider this: your hard drive can spin at speeds of up to 10,000 rotations per minute. All that spinning takes its toll, which is why hard drives seldom see their fifth birthday, and sometimes don't even see their first. Installing a second hard drive is a great way to add more disk space, but replacing your dying drive with a new one will give you a speed boost.
To check the health of your hard drive, Seagate offers a free hard drive diagnostic tool. If your drive is dead, or on its way out, a replacement will set you back anywhere from $60 to $200. CompUSA usually has good deals, and if you're up to the challenge you can probably install the drive yourself (CNET provides a reliable how-to guide for hard drive installation).
Your internet connection has been crawling for weeks. You've done everything you can think of: you've checked for viruses and malware but your PC is as clean as an operating table. Your computer has the right amount of RAM for the stuff you do, and you've even disabled memory-hogging visual effects. But still, your favorite sites take forever to load, and sometimes the browser crashes.
Well, maybe it's not you – maybe it's your internet provider. To find out, you have to determine what your optimal speed should be, and then rule out that it's not your computer – or even the layout of your house – slowing things down.
Find your optimum performance
A simple way to find out if your connection is as fast as it should be is to use McAfee's free Internet Speedometer or the Internet Speed Test, which tracks how long it takes for your computer to send and receive information. Once you run the Speedometer, it shows on a dial how fast your connection is (in kilobytes) compared with typical speeds from different kinds of connections.
For instance, if you're using a 56K Modem, it should run at 40 KBPS (kilobytes per second). Anything less means you're not running as fast as you could be.
Confirm it's your connection
To rule out that it's your computer causing the problem, have another computer on your network run the Speedomoter. If it's also slow and you're using a wireless router, make sure nothing is in the way of the signal from the router to your computer. Doors and walls can interfere with the connection, so it's best to be in the same room as the access point. Even microwaves, cordless phones and other radiowave-emitting devices have been known to mess up wifi connections, so make sure they're turned off or not kept in the same area as your router.
Check network security
A slow internet connection can also be caused by bandwidth poaching. This usually happens with wireless users whose router isn't secure. If you don't have a password up, stop reading this and set up a password right now. Not only will you keep out poachers who are taking up your bandwidth, but you'll also be protecting your privacy: thieves like using insecure routers to get at people's financial information.
Call your ISP
If none of the above helps, you should call your ISP. Be sure to let them know you've gone through all the above steps and that nothing has worked. They should be able to help you do a traceroute and other diagnostics to see what exactly is happening with your connection. Note for dial-up users: sometimes a slow connection is caused by troubles in the phone line itself. If you've ever noticed excessive fuzz and crackling while making a call, the wires in your house could be old. You'll need to call your ISP or phone company to get the wires repaired or replaced.
Nothing's more frustrating than a slow internet connection. Sadly, there's often not much that can be done about it. A page that's slow to load usually indicates something wrong with its server, not yours, and experts say that at times of heavy virus activity – with malicious programs leaping from one machine to another – the whole internet can feel like it's crashing down.
Nonetheless, while you obviously can't fix the whole internet, there are a few things you can do on your end to keep your connection going as fast as possible:
5 Fixes for a Faster Internet Connection
1. If you're using wireless, make sure your router is password-protected
This is a no-brainer, but any time I turn on my Wi-Fi finder, I'm always stunned by how many people leave their routers unsecured. If your network isn't protected, you're losing precious bandwidth to any wandering wi-fi poacher. So before you do anything else, lock up your network with a password.
2. Break down redundant firewalls
The firewall is one of your best defenses against malicious programs. Yes, it can slow web browsing, but it's essential to have one up. However, you only need one. Often users unknowingly run both Windows firewall and their anti-virus program's firewall (such as Norton's). So, turn off one of those firewalls, and enjoy the speed boost.
3. Delete browsing history and saved cookies
When you surf the web, each page you visit is stored as a temporary file on your computer. Over time, these accumulate and take up disk space. If your computer is running out of disk space, this can cause browsing speed to slow down. So it's a good idea to clear out these files regularly.
If you're using Internet Explorer, simply go to Internet Options, and choose Delete Browsing History. A window will pop up. Check the box asking if you want to delete stored files, and your IE will be good as new.
If you have Firefox, go under Tools, and select Clear Private Data, then check off all the things you want deleted.
4. Remove physical obstacles
Wireless users should try to keep their computer near the access point, with few physical obstacles in the way, such as walls and doors. Devices such as microwaves and cordless phones that emit certain kinds of signals can also interfere with a wireless connection, so make sure they're not in the same room as your router and PC.
5. Switch browsers and remove add-ons
Internet Explorer is the default browser on Windows, so it's the default option of most Windows users. While recent upgrades have made it one of the more secure web-surfing programs, its many features make it also one of the more resource-hungry. If you really need speed you might want to consider switching to Firefox or Google's Chrome, which tend to do better in speed tests. Alternatively, you can remove some of the bells and whistles - the Yahoo Search Bar, among other things - that are such memory hogs.
To remove Internet Explorer add-ons, go to Tools, Internet Options, the Programs tab, and choose Manage add-ons. This opens a tool where you can see – and remove – all the extras that have been added it IE.
How is Vista like an over-budget Hollywood movie? Both have lots of visual effects they really don't need. Sure, it's kind of pretty when you roll your cursor over an item and it glows, or when you close a window and it becomes transparent. But pretty comes at a price. Each of those actions helps slow down your PC and affects its performance.
Since Vista came out, users have found that one of the sure-fire simplest ways to get Vista going faster is just to turn off those darn effects. (Don't worry, they can be turned on again if you really miss them, but I bet you won't.)
Turning Off Visual Effects to Improve Speed
First, open the Control Panel, and then click on the Performance Information and Tools feature. On the left-hand side, you should find the option "Adjust visual effects." Click on it. (A window will probably appear asking permission to go ahead; if it does, click Yes.)
Now, you'll see a new window which will list Vista's visual bells and whistles with check boxes showing which ones are turned on. To uncheck them all, simply select "Adjust for best performance" at the top of the box. If there's some features you really can't live without, you can now go through the list and manually re-select them.
With all that eye candy gone, your eyes might take a few moments to adjust to the Plain Jane appearance – but trust us, the new interface might be homely, but it is fast.
Many PCs are slow for innocent reasons: not having enough RAM or having too many programs installed. But sometimes slowdown is a sign your computer has been hijacked and forced to join an army. A zombie army.
It sounds like the plot of a direct-to-DVD horror movie, but it's actually the latest, and most dangerous, threat to emerge from the internet criminal underworld.
How Your Computer Becomes a Zombie
Zombification, just like in the movies, happens quickly. According to Sophos, a security firm, it only takes as little as five minutes of internet exposure for unprotected computers to catch the infection.
It happens like this: criminals create programs that scan the internet for vulnerable computers. Once they find one, they release 'bots' – programs that infect your computer. These are extremely sophisticated and hard-to-detect nasties that exploit weaknesses in Windows that make them incredibly hard to find. In one study, a top-of-the-line anti-virus program missed a whopping 80% of all infections.
After bots hit your computer, they... kill other bots or infections. That's right, most bots carry their own anti-malware code to eliminate all rivals. Once they're the only ones left, the real damage begins.
Bots make your zombified computer (also known as a drone) join up with other zombie PCs, to create an undead army known as a botnet. These botnets are controlled by a botnet herder - think of him as a zombie master – who often has hundreds or thousands of computers at his command. With this unprecedented computing power at his fingertips, he's ready for some serious criminal mischief.
What's So Bad about Being a Zombie?
Botnets are responsible for almost all of the illegal spam cluttering the world's inboxes, and they do everything from stealing financial information to shutting down websites by overloading their bandwidth in Distributed Denial of Service Attacks.
You won't know this is going on, but since your computer is busy committing crimes, it'll be a lot slower doing all the legitimate stuff you want it to do.
Worse still, the bot is probably spying on you. Most of these programs record keystrokes (it's called keylogging) so they can steal passwords. Keylogging is usually triggered by certain actions – such as when you visit your bank's website.
Prevent or Kill the Zombie Infection
A good, updated commercial anti-virus tool can detect some of the bots and eliminate them. But the best offense is a good defense. According to Shadowserver, a respected, non-profit security watchdog group, the worldwide global menace of botnets could be stopped in its tracks if more computers were properly protected.
Here's what they recommend:
- Turn your firewall on.
- Use a trusted commercial anti-virus tool that routinely updates. If your subscription is cancelled, it's worth renewing it.
- Make sure you regularly get the latest updates for Windows and all your applications – criminals are working 24 hours a day, every day, discovering new exploits to hijack your PC, and you have to be as well-defended as possible.
- Cross your fingers. It's tough out there.
This spring, you'll probably be getting rid of clutter that just gets in the way – and nowhere is this more important than on your PC with Vista. Many users who have switched to Vista, or have bought a machine with Vista pre-installed, find their computer frustratingly slow, especially when booting up. But don't despair: by turning off or getting rid of a few unwanted features, PC experts have shown you can say hasta la Vista to slowdown:
1) Jettison Trash Apps
Vongo? Xaudio? You probably haven't heard of these junk programs, but more likely than not, your computer comes from the manufacturer full of gimmicky software that gets activated when you start up your computer. And each garbage program activated means it takes that much longer for your machine to get going.
To sweep out the clutter, and lower start up times, click on Start, and there type msconfig in the Search bar. Click on the msconfig app, go to the tab called Startup, and then un-check the boxes of all the programs you don't need. You can also use 3rd party program like My Faster PC to remove startup items that slow your PC.(Note: be sure not to deactivate essential Microsoft programs, your firewall or anti-virus software. Before making any changes, it's always good idea to make a system restore point in the System file – found on the Control Panel – in a feature called System protections. Once there, simply select the drive you want to make a restore point for, and hit Create.)
2) Get Out of Hibernation
A huge memory sink is the "hibernate" feature – a kind of sleep function that saves power. It's useful if you have a laptop and you don't have many chances of plugging in your computer throughout the day. But hibernating has a serious drawback: it requires Vista to take a "snapshot" of your computer's state before hibernating, and this eats up massive amounts of memory. If you don't use hibernation – or if you have a desktop – disable it! To do so, click on Start and type cmd in the Search box. Right-click on the cmd application, and select, Run as administrator. In the old-school command prompt that pops up, type powercfg -h off, and press Enter. (To turn hibernate back on, simply type powercfg -h in the same command prompt window.)
3) Stop Searching
Arguably, Vista's most hated new feature is "indexing." Windows indexes, or tags, virtually every file on your machine to make it easier to find during a search, but indexing can really slow down your computer, especially if you don't have a lot of RAM or you like to keep multiple programs open.
But you can still keep your search feature while making Vista run much faster by limiting what files Windows can index. Simply open the Control Panel, and look under Indexing Options. While there, uncheck the boxes of all the programs you seldom run searches on. (If you never use search or are really hankering for a speed boost, you can disable Windows Search altogether; to do so, simply just type Services in the Start Search bar, scroll down to and right-click on Windows Search. Under Properties, go to Startup, and switch it to Disabled.)
4) Lose the Fonts
Like Thoreau said, "Simplfiy, simplify" – the basic rule for speeding up your computer is eliminating or disabling all the stuff you don't use. And surprisingly, one of the biggest memory guzzlers is – fonts! Vista only needs to recognize about 200 or so fonts for optimal performance, but many computers can recognize almost 500. For those who don't feel like erasing all those fonts by hand, computer expert Sue Fisher has designed a free program, The Font Thing, that can help you reduce your fonts to a manageable number.
5) When All Else Fails, Buy More RAM
RAM is your computer's "working memory." It's what your computer uses to keep track of all the active stuff it's doing, like the game you're playing or the document you're editing. Vista has a lot of bells and whistles, but all those little features come at a cost – Vista has a monstrous appetite for memory. Some budget computers come pre-installed with Vista despite only having 512 MB of RAM, well shy of the 1 GB recommended by Microsoft (some experts even think 2 GB is a more accurate minimum requirement). If you've tried all the above tips and still have a slow computer, you might want to consider splurging on a RAM upgrade.
Most computer users have had the experience: right out of the box, your PC is a fast and mean machine. But after a few months or maybe a couple of years, you notice it gets slower and slower. It's not old enough to be obsolete, but it constantly crashes, freezes or hangs, making a task as simple as checking your email a frustrating chore. Luckily, computer experts have identified a few common and easily fixed causes of a sluggish PC:
As you surf the web, open emails and download software, your computer can get exposed to viruses, worms or other programs designed to damage it or even steal personal information. These malicious programs muck up performance and compete for memory with web browsers, games, word processors and other software you're using. So scan your system with a reliable anti-malware program like Ad-Aware and purge it of unwanted intruders. This will improve your performance, and protect your identity.
If you're like me, you might find it convenient to save a lot of stuff to the desktop. But this convenience has a price: each item on the desktop is another thing your computer has to keep track of. After a few months of saving stuff to the desktop, you're looking at significant slowdown. So a little spring cleaning – organizing the desktop and placing items in their proper files – can actually speed up your machine.
Dying hard drive
Nothing can bring your system to a halt faster than a dying hard drive. End-stage hard disks don't map memory sectors correctly, which can cause slowdown, crashes and other annoyances. Hard drives can last up to three years, but as with humans, stress can shorten their lifespan. According to a massive study undertaken by Google in 2007, overworked hard drives can fail within the first year of use. So if you're maxing out your disk's memory, you might want to consider getting a hardware upgrade.
Over time as you save stuff to your computer, files can become fragmented – that is, the computer saves bits of the files to different places on your hard drive. Your computer then has to search in different places for parts of the same program, causing slowdown. As this is a problem Microsoft has known about for years, they've included a free Disk Defragmenter with Vista and most versions of Windows. To use it, simply go to your Computer file and right click on your hard drive. Select Properties, and then look under the Tool tab for the program, and start de-fragging.
Windows operating systems keep track of many changes in a central database called the registry. Over time, the registry begins to fill up with redundant information, configurations from programs you no longer use, and errors deliberately put their by viruses trying to hijack your machine. Cleaning your registry with a reliable program – or if you're advanced enough, going in there and removing unwanted stuff yourself – can do wonders for your slow PC's performance. While some computers will need professional maintenance, following this advice might be all you need to get your computer back to its original, out-of-the-box speed.