One of the time old questions “Why is my computer so slow?”  Why is it when your computer is new it seems like the fastest thing on the planet, only to find 6-12 months later it slows down to a snail’s pace?

Hardware

The old saying works very well here, “You get what you pay for!”  If you purchased a shiny new laptop because it looked nice and was a cracking deal at only £250 there’s your reason.  Laptops in this range are for the budget conscious.  Most have older fashioned spinning SATA Drives, low amounts of RAM and older model processors.  If all you do is surf the web all day and write a few documents and simple spreadsheets these may be ok.  However, as soon as you start performing any intensive work, larger spreadsheets, having multiple things open at one time you need something with more power.  Ebuyer have a great guide on buying laptops.  If you’re after a Desktop Computer, check out their Desktop Buying Guide.

Processor

The processor simply handles commands and instructions from programs.  The more commands and instructions it can handle at one time the faster the processor.  More information of how it all works can be found on Preslav Mihaylov’s article How does the Processor Work.  When looking for new hardware, make sure you’re looking for a minimum i5 Processor from Intel.  At the time of writing the current model from Intel is the 8th Generation Coffee Lake processor.  They are mid-range processors which are powerful enough for the standard user.  If you are into graphic design and video editing, go for the higher end i7 Processor.

Memory (RAM)

RAM (Random Access Memory) is simply like a desk.  The bigger the desk the more files you can spread out and pick things out as and when you need it.  This is exactly the same in a computer.  When you open a Document and then switch to a Web Browser to start browsing the Web, then you Copy a load of Text or Images from the Browser to paste into the Word Document, you add all that to RAM.

Now let’s say you open a spreadsheet while all of this is going on.  The desk is too full (the memory has run out) that document you opened in Word now ends up in what’s known as a Page File, some call it a Swap File.  What happens when your desk gets too full?  You put documents you’re not using in the Filing Cabinet.  When the computer runs out of memory it puts older items that you’re not using in a special area of the hard drive.  The idea being when you go back to that document later the computer swaps the now inactive spreadsheet into the Page File and returns the Document to Memory.  Exactly what you would do when you retrieve things from the Filing Cabinet.  This takes time, especially if you scrimped and bought a cheap computer with a spinning disk.

For a very in-depth article on how RAM Works, check out this great resource on Howstuffworks.com

32bit(x86) or 64bit(x64)

Whether you have a 32bit Operating System or a 64bit Operating system will have a big impact on the performance of your machine.  With 32bit (also known as x86) there is a limit of 4GB of RAM.  Along with this limitation your system will only be able to reference 3.2GB of that.  64bit can handle a lot more RAM so will perform a lot better than a 32bit equivalent.

Hard Disk

The Hard Disk (or, Hard Disk Drive whatever you want to call it) is where all of your programs and files are stored.  The speed of this drive depends on how quickly the system can retrieve data stored on it.  Spinning Disks are slower than Solid State Drives (SSD), fact.  If you see a Hard Disk (HDD) that has an RPM rating (5400rpm, 7200rpm etc.) then you’re looking at a Spinning Disk.  While these tend to store more data than SSD’s they have much slower transfer rates.  Current advances in SSD Technology means that boffins have been able to increase the size of drives to 4TB, but be warned, these drives are extremely expensive.  The most common SSD is 128Gb which I feel is too small for the average user.  256Gb is better but if you can afford it go for the 512Gb models.  Crucial have a great article highlighting the key differences between HDD and SSD.

I hope you found this helpful.  If you have bought the right hardware and you still see the spinning wheel in Windows or the Beachball on a Mac, please read read on.

Software

Over time your computer will likely become slower than it was when it was box fresh.  Software you install over time clogs up the system as it creates temporary files all over the place, has to load things into memory etc. etc.  Removing unwanted software is the first place to look when trying to sort out a slow machine.

In Windows 10 Apps and Features is you friend here.  On a Mac you can see the list of Applications in Finder.

Take a look through the lists of applications on your machine to see if you can spot anything you no longer use.  You may also see things that you don’t recognise.  I recommend you Google the software name if you don’t recognise it just to make sure it’s not something required.  To delete an App on a Mac just Send it to Trash.  In Windows 10 Uninstall it from Apps and Features.

Resource Hungry Apps

Let’s take a look at what applications are using the most resources on your computer right now.  It’s best to do this when you see the spinning wheel in Windows 10.

On a Mac you have Activity Monitor which is a great utility.  For Windows 10 there is Task Manager.  Below we can see 2 screenshots.  The first is Activity Monitor on the Mac.  This shows the current CPU.  The different tabs across the top allow you to see details of Memory, Energy, Disk and Network.  If you see an Application at the top that you don’t recognise it could be a sign of a faulting application or something more sinister.  The same goes in Windows 10’s Task Manager,  After clicking More Details you will see much more information similar to that found in Activity Monitor on the Mac.  If you don’t recognise the program at the top that consuming 99% of your CPU Google the name to see if it is something nasty.  If it is, in Activity Monitor select the application and click the Stop Cross in the top left corner.  In Task Manager Highlight the App and select End Task bottom right.  Do some research into the program, if it is something nasty, check out MalwareBytes.  They offer a free scan to remove any malware running on your machine.

Disk Space

This section is predominantly for Windows users.  MacOS has built-in maintenance tasks to keep your drive clean.  Windows 10 has a utility called Disk Clean-up which I recommend you run every now and then.  Disk Clean-up has been around for a very long time and continues to be included in all of the new versions of Windows 10.  It’s a great way of spring cleaning your boot disk.

From the Start Menu just type “cleanmgr” in the Search Bar and press enter.  It goes through a quick calculation to find out how much space you could free up, then presents you with a list of items it has found.  Tick the boxes on the left next to the large numbers on the right.  All of this stuff you will most likely never need to use again.  Over time Temporary Internet files build up if you use Internet Explorer or Edge.  Other browsers don’t appear here.  There’s all sorts of rubbish here just waiting to be cleared out.  The Description is useful in determining whether you should clear this stuff out.  If you’re running low on space though, especially if you bought a 128Gb SSD then just do it.

Clicking “Clean up system files” shows you this screen where you can clear out things like Windows Update cache.  This is quite useful as lots of updates get downloaded over time, this will help clear them out and release some space.

All of the information above should help to speed up your computer.  If you’re still struggling there’s a great resource for Windows Users from the guys at HowToGeek that show you 10 ways to speed up a slow Windows Computer.  For Mac users check out 15 Steps to Improve Macbook Performance at MacPaw.

Of course, you could always contact CyberBITS.  We offer Managed Services, for a low monthly fee we will take care of all of this for you, so your computer keeps running smoothly for years to come.