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Archive for June, 2009

Improving Performance Without Spending A Lot Of Cash

Improving Performance Without Spending A Lot Of Cash

Improving Performance Without Spending A Lot Of Cash

Under ordinary circumstances, if your computer is slow, you may be tempted to simply upgrade the computer. In today’s economy, shelling out $500-$1,500 for a new computer may not be what the financial advisor orders. So how do you improve the performance of your computer without spending a lot of cash?

Better Performance Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

There are some things you can do to improve the performance of your computer that are neither difficult nor expensive. If you have not already tried these techniques, you could find yourself with a better performing computer with a relatively small effort on your part.

First, run your anti-virus and anti-malware scanners. Make sure nothing is deliberately slowing the performance of your computer. Clean up whatever you find. Keep in mind that viruses usually write something into the computer’s registry. RegCure removes viral leftovers, empty registry keys, and other leftover bits that will slow the performance of your computer.

Defragment your hard drive using the Disk Defragmenter that comes with Windows. You’ll find this under “System Tools.” A badly fragmented hard disk can cause your computer to slow significantly. Getting your data organized in a way that makes finding it easier will improve your computer’s performance noticeably.

Check your Startup Items and limit Startup Items to only those applications that must run all the time. That would include anti-virus and anti-malware protection. Application installers often set apps to start automatically. This is a bad habit to get into because every startup application takes away a bit of memory from your computer. Instead of running all of your applications, run only those you need. Also close applications when you’re finished with them.

Choose your desktop theme carefully. The Aero theme (you know, the one with the transparent windows?) is notorious for slowing the performance of a computer. Choose a classic theme for better performance. Also, get rid of any desktop backgrounds that are saved as bitmaps (.BMP). If you have to use a background picture, choose a JPG file instead.

Shut off services you don’t need. This goes along with paring down your Startup Items. If you don’t need to have remote access to your computer, for example, you can safely turn off the Remote Desktop Protocol. Eliminate language support and other similar services you don’t need.

If you want proof that your changes have been meaningful, look at before-and-after “snapshots” of your system with Performance Monitor, also included with your OS. Making careful decisions about what to run and when to run apps on your computer can make a world of difference in your computer’s performance.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Rock/

Speeding Up Laptop Performance

Speeding Up Laptop Performance

Speeding Up Laptop Performance

If you normally use a laptop computer, you may not think much about its performance, but if you switch between a laptop and a desktop computer, you may find that the laptop seems like a very slow computer, indeed. I’m often asked about the performance of laptops and why they seem so slow in comparison to desktop computers.

Why Laptops Can Seem So Slow

Although laptops perform the same functions and for the most part run the same software that desktop computers do, they’re actually very different machines. The laptop computer probably has a processor that is one or perhaps two revisions behind its beefier desktop cousin. In addition, the processor is “underpowered” in terms of its clock speed.

This is largely due to design compromises that laptops require to maintain a decent battery life. Fast processors take a great deal of power and battery technology – while it has improved tremendously in the last decade – isn’t good enough to allow laptops to use the latest (fastest) processors and huge amounts of memory, two things that directly govern the performance of a computer.

Many modern processors need additional cooling to ensure the performance of the CPU. Laptop case designs are very small and don’t afford the kind of ventilation the latest processors need to operate as designed. In addition, the power requirements for external cooling devices (like processor fans) would eat up the battery life of a laptop in short order.

Computer memory requires power to operate, and the more memory you have, the more power you need. Consequently, laptops don’t carry a large complement of RAM. The limit on RAM for laptops means that information must be paged in and out of disk-based memory, a comparatively slow process. This can make applications and other ordinary operations seem deadly slow.

To improve the performance of your laptop, pare down your operating system and ask it to do as little as absolutely necessary to get your work done. Keep in mind that convenience features like wireless connectivity will slow the performance of the laptop. If you connect primarily to wireless networks, try to upgrade your installed memory as much as possible.

Skip the fancy themes and desktop backgrounds. Turn off any services that you don’t absolutely require, and limit the application on your computer to the bare essentials. Consider your startup items very carefully. Anti-virus and anti-malware protection should be on all the time, but forget about the extras if you don’t expressly need them to get your work done.

Photo Credit: Declan Jewell

Will Windows 7 Provide A Speed Boost For Your Computer?

Will Windows 7 Provide A Speed Boost For Your Computer?

Will Windows 7 Provide A Speed Boost For Your Computer?

With focus now shifting to Windows 7 and its anticipated release in October, users who are considering a switch – there’s no upgrade path – you’ll need to do a complete fresh install – are wondering whether they’re going to get better performance from Windows or a slow, painful transition to a half-baked operating system.

Windows 7 Will Give You A Faster Computer Experience

If you’re a Windows Vista user, the experience of switching from Vista to Windows 7 will probably be a lot less painless than you might imagine. You’ll spend less time installing Windows 7 than you may have spent installing Windows Vista, and your bootup time will be faster too.

Shutdowns have been one area in which Windows Vista and users of earlier versions have complained of slow performance. This is primarily because Windows Vista does a bunch of housekeeping prior to shutdown. This housekeeping isn’t exactly lightweight stuff – it downloads and installs patches, drivers and other important components prior to calling it a day, much to the anguish of Vista users who simply want to know that their computer has shut down.

Windows 7 is also more efficient when moving large files around its own file system and across a network. This is another area in which Vista users experienced noticeable performance lags when compared to similar actions on computers running Windows XP. Compression engines also run faster on Windows 7 than on Windows Vista or Windows XP.

Most applications will get a performance boost under Windows 7, which is good news for users who are considering a switch. In most cases, Windows XP users will come out on the short end of the performance stick by choosing not to upgrade to Windows 7. While Windows 7 is built on Vista, many of the performance issues that XP users rightly used to defend their decision not to switch have been fixed, and Windows 7 is clearly the best performer under most circumstances.

As show time approaches for Windows 7, it will become exceptionally clear to diehard Windows XP users that there is little point in hanging onto an operating system that doesn’t perform as well as the new Windows 7. Windows XP, a rock solid performer by any standard, has met its match. Common problems that plagued Windows Vista have been largely resolved, and it seems unlikely that Windows XP users will find sufficient justification to stand fast on a terminal product when a clear alternative is available.

Photo Credit: Daniel Gebhart, via Flickr

Windows Vista Tips: Troubleshooting With Windows Vista

Windows Vista Tips: Troubleshooting With Windows Vista

Windows Vista Tips: Troubleshooting With Windows Vista

There are few things more frustrating than having a performance problem with your computer and not knowing what to do about it. Sometimes, seemingly major problems crop up and, for the technically non-savvy user, these problems can bring your computer usage to a screeching halt.

If you don’t mind loading up your computer and taking it to the computer repair shop, you can usually get your computer back to working order within a day or two, and at a reasonable cost. With the economy being as tight as it is, however, having a few troubleshooting skills is worth the time it takes to develop them.

Troubleshooting With The Task Manager

In Windows Vista, one good place to look for information about what your computer is doing is the Task Manager. The Task Manager is a one-stop control center that will show you what applications are running at any given moment in time. You do need to be a little careful with the information the Task Manager gives you. You may not recognize some of the executable files that are running on your computer, but that doesn’t mean they’re surreptitiously damaging your machine. If nothing else, the Task Manager can give you a starting place for researching your problem.

To access the Task Manager in Windows Vista, press Ctrl+Alt+Del simultaneously. At one time, this key combination rebooted the computer, but these days, the “three-finger salute” calls up the Task Manager. You can also access the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc, or by right-clicking an empty area in the Windows taskbar. Once the Task Manager is open, choose the Processes tab and Windows will give you a list of all processes that are currently running.

Keep in mind that some processes are being run by the system. You may or may not recognize their names, but the Task Manager can tell you if the process is running or stuck, and how much of the computer’s resources the process is taking up. You can select a process and stop the task using the Task Manager interface. This is handy if you suspect that a process has hung, or that an application is no longer working properly.

Having a list of process names is also a good way to sort out those processes that need to be running from those that don’t. It can also help you spot memory hogs that are configured to run automatically at startup, viruses and spyware that may be slowing your computer down as well.

Photo Credit: TRD JZX100, via Flickr

Speeding Up Your Computer: Your Broadband Connection

Speeding Up Your Computer: Your Broadband Connection

Speeding Up Your Computer: Your Broadband Connection

In my last post, I talked about troubleshooting a computer with a slow network connection. If you’ve verified that the speed problems you’re having aren’t related to your computer’s network configuration or firewall settings, there are other diagnostics you can use to shed some light on why your connection may be slow.

Some Simple Tests Can Measure Your Computer Speed

If your problem shows up while browsing the Web or seems to affect a particular site, try clearing your browser’s cache. This will remove any old information your browser may be using. Try to reload the site. If the site still seems slow, but other sites work fine, the site may be having trouble serving visitor requests. In this case, there’s not much you can do to improve the site’s performance.

If you can’t find any specific trouble with your computer or its configuration, you may want to measure the speed of your broadband service. Most broadband providers will offer services that promise to deliver “up to” a certain bandwidth amount. Rarely do they offer a guaranteed upload and download speed unless you pay extra for a business-class service.

Due to the nature of TCP/IP networks, the performance of the network is determined, in part, by how many other people are using the network at the same time. If many people are using the network, your performance will be degraded. This is another situation that you don’t have much control over, but you can determine how much bandwidth you’re receiving at any given time.

There are several online bandwidth-testing sites that will measure your upload and download speeds. These tests can be a little deceiving because they’re simply measuring how fast you can send and receive data to and from their site. Your results when connected to a different site may be completely different. One site you can use to test your speed is SpeedTest. The site will recommend a test server that’s relatively close to your location, and provide you with upload and download speeds. Don’t be surprised if your download speed is much faster than your upload speed. This is normal, especially for broadband connections.

If you’re like most residential users, you’ll be more interested in the download speeds than the upload speeds. Track your speeds over a period of time. If your download speed is consistently poor, your only recourse is to ask your provider to check the service they’re delivering to your home. If the service meets their internal standards, your provider isn’t likely to do much more testing on your behalf.

Photo Credit: Doc Searls