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You might have noticed that your computer has never been as fast as it was when you first got it. But do you know why our devices slow down over time? Many of us have a number of misconceptions about sluggish PCs, so let’s crack these open and find out how to actually speed things up.
There are myths about slow computers that still get rehashed to this day: keeping too many files slows your machine down; you need to buy as much RAM as possible; viruses are designed to make everything run sluggish. In actuality, these statements aren’t true. Although they do have nuggets of truth contained within, it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Let’s run through some common misconceptions about slow computers. First, however, it’s worth pointing out that you shouldn’t feel foolish if you’ve believed or acted upon them. They’re “common” for a reason and in the past I’ve been under the impression that some of these were correct too.
Also bear in mind that the majority of these misconceptions won’t have actually harmed anything, although they might have caused you to misuse your time or money. But don’t worry about that now: let’s dissect them and see what we can learn.
Misconception 1: Malware is the reason for a slow computer
While it’s certainly true that being infected with viruses and spyware can slow things down, more often than not you won’t notice much of a difference if your system has been infiltrated. These programs are designed so that you won’t notice them. The developers don’t want you to realise there’s something untoward going on, else you might attempt to remove it. Malware is mostly designed to steal your information – for as long as possible.
If you do suspect foul play, the best thing to do is to check your machine’s health. In fact, this is something you should be doing regularly; daily is best. We ran a comparison of some free anti-virus tools, checking the performance and interface of products such as AVG and Microsoft Security Essentials. More recently, we also reviewed Avast separately. Be aware, that you should only ever use one anti-virus program; not only do multiple anti-virus programs not make your computer safer, they can also cause software conflicts.
Misconception 2: Clearing personal data from your hard drive will boost performance
Most often, clearing personal data from your hard drive won’t speed up your computer. This could mean your photos, videos or music – no matter how huge these files might be, it doesn’t matter one bit. Unless…
There is one caveat to this. If your drive is dangerously low on space (like only a couple of GB being free), then your computer will drastically slow down. This is because most programs need room to dynamically grow and decrease in size, usually through the creation of temporary files. If there’s no room on the drive to store these, your system will crawl.
To overcome this, you can delete some of your files or invest in a new drive. You don’t even have to ditch your current drive if you don’t want to. Just get an external drive, attach it to your system and offload some of your less-often accessed data on there.
Misconception 3: Replacing and upgrading components is guaranteed speed
While you might think buying a new hard drive or investing in more RAM is going to get silky smooth performance, this isn’t strictly true. It actually depends on your system and the specific component that you’re buying.
Hard disk drives (HDD) are mechanical devices, meaning they have moving components inside. When you ask your computer to load up some data your hard drive has to physically work; it spins a platter and scans it with a magnetic head to find the data. Hard drives are commonly classed by revolutions per minute (RPM). Simply put, the higher this figure, the quicker your data can be accessed. You’ll notice improvement the greater the RPM, but eventually this becomes negligible for common use.
The real upgrade is going to come from moving from a HDD to a solid state drive (SSD). SSDs use flash memory, like a USB stick or SD card, and don’t have any moving parts, thus can access data quicker. SSDs are currently much more expensive than HDDs, so it can make sense to split your system into two drives. The SSD can hold the operating system (the data that powers your system and is constantly accessed), while the HDD can contain all other files.
RAM is another component that is commonly thought of as providing buttery speeds. RAM is essentially where data in use is stored, so that the system can access it quickly. As you might expect, the more RAM you have, the more temporary data can be stored on it.
The idea that RAM offers greater speeds for your computer is true – for the most part. As you’ve probably expected, this comes with some pitfalls. 32-bit versions of Windows are only capable of using up to 4GB of RAM. You can have as much as you want inside your system, but it’ll never use anything over the limit. Handily, Microsoft provides a list of the memory limits for all versions of Windows.
Misconception 4: Cleaning your registry speeds up your system
This is perhaps one of the grandest myths of all. All over the Internet you’ll find programs advertising the fact they can provide massive performance improvements to your computer by cleaning out your registry. This is utter nonsense. Registry cleaners provide no good use.
The registry is a database that Windows and other programs use to store settings. Your registry may have some outdated files in it, perhaps from software you’ve used in the past and have since uninstalled. You might think that you need to get rid of these, but fact is they’re kilobytes in size and you’d never notice a difference even if they got removed.
The problem with registry cleaners is that they can end up removing things that are needed. Messing with the registry is not to be done lightly. You can severely break your system and it isn’t worth the risk.
Misconception 5: A fresh install of the operating system is the ultimate way to gain speed
It’s entirely possible to just wipe everything on your system and do a completely fresh install of your operating system. Some computer manufacturers will have this function built in as a recovery partition, allowing for a few simple button presses and reverting everything back to how it was when it left the factory. You can factory reset your Windows PC in a few different ways.
Naturally, this is going to help speed up your system because it’ll remove everything you’ve ever stored or installed on the computer since you got it. While you might fancy the idea of nuking your system and going back to day one, it’s not entirely advisable for a number of reasons.
First of all, perhaps most obviously, you’ll have to go through the effort of putting data back on and reinstalling programs you need. It goes beyond that, though – think about any tweaks you’ve made to your system in getting it set up just how you like it.
Following on from this, unless you actually change the way you use your computer then it’s eventually just going to slow down again anyway. All those programs will build up once more and you’ll be left in the same position as before the wipe. While a fresh install can be advisable when nothing else speeds up your system, it shouldn’t be the go-to choice.
A more advisable approach to take is to create regular images of your system. Lots of programs will let you do this. Creating an image of your system essentially means making a mirror copy of absolutely everything. Unlike data backup, which usually just copies your personal files, a system image will replicate every single bit of data stored on the drive. You can choose how often you want it to take an image, but every month is a good place to start. That way, if you experience severe system slowdown, you can revert back to a former copy of your system.
The Best Ways To Speed Up Your System
We’ve covered misconceptions on how to provide speed, so let’s now turn to methods that actually will provide enhancement. Handily, we’ve already published lots of content on how to accelerate your Windows machine.
Most of these tips are ones that any user can carry out, regardless of their technology proficiency. For example, you might not be aware that some programs have been given permission to start automatically and constantly run in the background. Some of these you might not even use that often, if at all (in which case uninstall them), so keep your eye on start-up programs.
Additionally, some of the more fancy visual elements of Windows 7 can be disabled to offer greater performance. If you can forgo things like animations and Aero Peek, get turning them off. Besides, there’s no use in something looking good if it doesn’t work as well as it could. You’ll especially notice a benefit if you’re on an older system.
The Task Manager in Windows 8 is great for determining what programs are using up the most of your system’s resources. It’ll break every program down to show how much CPU, memory, disk and network juice they drain. The old processes list is still available for those who prefer it, but the new task manager allows you to see at a glance what might be causing issues.
Another great benefit about Windows 8 is that it includes its own security applications, meaning you don’t have to bog your system down with third-party suites. Not only will it check for viruses and spyware, but it’ll also analyse how trustworthy the programs you download are.
How Do You Ensure Your Computer Runs Smoothly?
We all love having speedy computers, right? Although it can sometimes be difficult to find the root cause of system slowdown, it’s always worth hunting down what the problem is. Life’s too short to be sitting around waiting for Windows to slowly decide its next step.
Just remember not to get caught up with some of the misconceptions discussed. There certainly are ways to make your computer faster, but things like registry cleaning and personal data deletion aren’t usually the way to go.
What are some system slowdown myths you’ve come to realise aren’t true and how do you speed up your system?