We've all been there.
Just when we're trying to get something finished, our computer freezes.
It takes ages for the mouse to move across the screen and the "save" button seems to tempt us, but for some reason, won't function. The document we're working on might have saved, but then again...
Eventually, even starting it up in the morning takes minutes rather than seconds, you can easily make a cup of tea while waiting for it to get past the login screen.
When you can easily make toast before you can start work, you really ought to be trying to fix it!
So what causes this to happen? What makes our computers slow down? And is there anything we can do to speed them up again?
Luckily, we know know the answers, so let’s get to it!
Why computers slow down
When you first get your computer, it's super-fast. They nearly all are these days as operating systems and hardware are powerful and fairly cheap. But, there's also another reason - it's not doing anything.
Although the operating system (Windows 10, for example), is pretty complex, when it's loaded it's done most of its work, and after years of development, it loads pretty quick.
But, after a bit of use, it will begin to drag. Booting up (when you first switch on the PC) will take longer, and loading up your programs like Word and Excel won't be as swift.
What's going on?
One of the biggest problems is that as you install more software, you begin to add files to your hard drive and, in many cases, to the start-up sequence, too.
For example, some programs will want to run as soon as your PC is switched on, so, as it's going through all of its startup routines, it has to load up a bunch of software. The more you add, the longer it takes.
This doesn't only affect start-up, but also the running of the computer itself.
As more and more files are added and deleted from the hard drive, others get moved around. As your drive tries to find files, it'll have to move further around the disk, slowing it down. It may only be by milliseconds, but over time, it adds up.
Another problem is the computer's inbuilt habit of caching everything. For example, when you're surfing the web, loading a program or even editing documents, your computer will save commonly used files as it goes. This has the benefit of speeding certain operations up.
For example, if you visit the same website every day and the graphics are the same throughout, it will tend to save those graphics to the hard drive so they don't have to be downloaded every time you visit.
The thing is, over time, you get a hard drive full of graphics. Eventually, this will begin to slow you down.
There are of course many other reasons why your computer might get slower over time, far too many to go into here, but let's look at the most effective ways to speed it up.
1) Clear out the cache
When a computer saves frequently used files for later use, and to speed things up, it's called the 'cache'. The thing is, over time it can get huge and become counterproductive, slowing the computer down. Time to do something then.
Luckily, there's a great (and free!) program that can sort it all out, and it's called CCleaner.
This snazzy bit of software will scan your computer for files that it no longer needs and delete them.
You can run it as and when needed, and if you want to fork out for the paid version, it will sit in the background optimising as it goes. Yes, it's yet another program to install, but this one actually does a good thing.
I've seen some incredible results from it.
One PC I installed it on was unusable before it ran, after a few minutes work, it was like new.
It's also really easy. You can safely install and run it straight away, and it will make a huge difference without you having to do much at all.
If you want, you can get under the hood and tinker with the settings, but for the technophobes amongst us, it's simple to use.
2) Clean up your desktop
How do you save all the files you're currently working on?
Do you have a neat structure of folders, so you know exactly where everything is, organised by customer, type or date?
Or do you dump everything on the desktop so it's easy to find?
Does your desktop look like this:
A search through Microsoft's help forums finds quotes like this:
"Cleared my desktop computer got faster. The answer is observable in the task manager. The Disk column which represents (in lame man terms) how busy the the computer is with the hard drive. Since the Desktop is always running the Disk column (before I cleaned up my desktop) was nearly always hitting 100% now it down to 1%."
"...then decided to move all files and folders (not shortcuts) stored on the desktop, and put them into their respective Libraries, and OMG - it's running like new :-D"
When someone in my family complains of a slow computer, the first thing I do is clean up the Desktop, moving files to other folders, and the speed improvements can be incredible.
3) Disk Defragging
Sounds harsh, doesn't it? Don’t worry, it's not that bad.
When a hard disk has been used for a long time, the files get spread all over it, so loading up programs takes a bit longer. The more work your hard drive has to do, the slower it will be at doing it.
This is called file fragmentation.
Your computer will have a built-in disk defragmentation tool, usually in control panel->system and security->administrative tools. If you're running Windows 10, just ask Cortana how to defrag your computer.
It can take a time to run, but if you tend you leave your computer on overnight, just start the process before you head home and when you get back in the morning, you'll find it's finished, and you've got an appreciable speed improvement.
But what about SSD drives?
If you've bought a computer recently, especially a high-end laptop or gaming machine, you may have been lucky enough to have got solid state drives rather than traditional hard drives. You may have also been told that they don't need to be defragged. And that's right.
SSD drives, although they are seen as normal drives by your operating system, and may even show that sectors of data are all over the place, should be left well alone. The controller knows what it's up to, and they don't slow down like normal hard drives.
They're essentially memory cards, and although some software vendors do say their software can speed them up, there's scant evidence for this, and in fact, it could cause problems.
SSD uses NAND memore which has a limited lifespan. Constant drive operations such as defragmentation will reduce the lifespan.
So, don't defrag them, leave them well alone, they'll be fine!
4) Uninstall some programs
If you're anything like me, you'll have a ton of programs you've never used.
You see something, think "blimey, that looks useful", download it then never use it again. It's a symptom of being on the Internet, which is essentially an unlimited library of free stuff.
Again, ask Cortana - "How do I uninstall a program" and you'll find an application that lists all your currently installed programs.
Go through them, and be brutal. Find the ones you never use and click "Remove".
You'll probably be amazed at the junk you've accumulated over time, and also how many of them install start-up programs and are therefore really slowing down the booting up of your system.
Which brings us to the last tip...
5) Check your start-up programs
This one is a little bit more complex, so take care.
As your computer starts up, it runs a bunch of software. Some of it is necessary, although a lot isn't. Some of your programs will have installed start-up files that they use so they can send annoying pop-ups to you as you work.
Others state they are there to speed up the applications themselves. I think they're just really annoying.
The first thing to do is to load up the task manager in Windows and then click on the "Startup" tab.
This shows all the programs that run when Windows starts.
Now, some of them will be important, some of them won't.
If you stop the important ones, you could create a problem, or even stop your computer from working altogether, so beware!
One of the best ways to check is to search for the program name in Google, and add the word "startup" after it.
I did that here, and it seems that many people had the same issue:
I read the comments on the page that came up, and it seems it's OK to disable this particular program. It was put there by Adobe and isn't necessary.
Disabling is easy. Just right-click on the program name and choose "disable".
Of course, the changes won't make any difference until you've rebooted, so it's best to do it one program at a time if you're unsure, or even better, get an expert to do it for you.
If you were getting fed up with the speed of your computer and were ready to through it in the bin, consider the above first.
It's incredible the difference some of these things can make, and it could lead to a less frustrating, more efficient working day!