Archive for March, 2012
Keep In Mind That Things Change
You purchase your computer at a single point in time, but things in your computer environment change. Your applications are upgraded. Your computer skills improve. Your needs change. Your operating system may get patched, but unless you upgrade it, it’s the same old OS.
If you do upgrade your OS, you could find that your perfectly good computer isn’t so good anymore. Minimum hardware requirements may change, and that may stretch your computer to its limits. Whenever you upgrade your OS, verify that your computer can still run the OS and the programs you normally use.
Microsoft does its users a little bit of a disservice by publishing the “minimum recommended hardware” configuration needed to run the OS. If your computer just meets the minimum, you’re not going to have enough processing and memory capacity to run the OS and your programs.
Instead of setting your sights on the “minimum” configuration you need, instead aim to keep your computer at the recommended configuration. The recommended configuration may include a larger hard disk, more memory or a faster processor. Keep in mind that all you get with the “minimum” requirements is what you need to boot the computer.
If you upgrade the hardware in your computer, you’ll need to pay special attention to the minimum requirements for the hardware upgrades you want to add. A new video card may give you all the gaming power you need, but it might also tap out the unused capacity in your power supply, leaving your computer gasping for breath each time you boot it up.
As you add applications, you may find that you also need to add more memory or update other components to get the most out of your new applications. Don’t simply assume that because you have the recommended OS for a particular application that your computer also has all of the hardware capacity it needs to make the application perform well.
Performance tuning on a computer is a constant task. Things really do change over time and those changes can have an impact on the way your computer performs. Managing the changes that occur on your PC will help you preserve and improve the computer’s performance over time.
Photo Credit: cell105, via Flickr
Space: The Final Frontier
I’ve already suggested that you get rid of files on your hard disk, because having files that exceed about 80% of a hard disk’s capacity is asking for performance trouble. Getting rid of files is always good, unless of course you get rid of something you really need!
Keeping your file system trimmed to include only what’s necessary is a good way to ensure that your operating system has enough space to do what it needs (and wants) to do. Having said that, here’s my tip.
If you have a lot of files, or are approaching the magical 80% marker and can’t get rid of any more files, get an external hard disk. You can use it to do one of two things, either of which will get you better performance from your computer.
First, move files off of your hard disk and onto the secondary storage drive. If you can’t do that for some reason, consider instead moving your Virtual Memory file and/or swap files to your secondary drive. Ideally, these files are on the primary hard drive, and the primary hard drive has enough available space to devote to this necessary function. If you simply don’t have room on your primary drive and can’t move enough material off of your primary to make your OS happy, then you should move your Virtual Memory file to the disk that has the greatest amount of available space.
If that happens to be your secondary hard disk, understand that you may lose some performance in doing so, especially if your secondary hard disk is external and is connected through a USB or serial port. Getting to those disks will take a comparatively long period of time, but the Virtual Memory function will work better on the computer.
If neither of those suggestions appeal to you, the real solution would be to get a larger primary hard disk for the computer. Upgrading your primary disk will improve the performance of your computer without requiring you to sacrifice the performance of your OS or your applications.
Photo Credit: blakespot, via Flickr
Viruses and Malware Can Cause Problems
If you keep your anti-virus software up-to-date, a computer virus might not be the first thing to consider. On the other hand, if you’ve done the standard maintenance and made other improvements in your configuration and you’re still experiencing slowness, then it might be time to consider a virus or malware cause.
Step one would be to do a careful malware/virus screening with your anti-virus software. First, update your virus definitions, then do a malware/virus screen. If anything turns up, get rid of it by following the steps provided by your anti-virus/malware software.
Viruses are malicious tools that you don’t go out looking for, but malware (and spyware) can be different. Often, malware is disguised in other software that you might actually want, or agree to load onto your computer. Malware can be disguised in the form of a free game, utility, toolbar or application. You may get the utility you’re looking for, but you may also get other software (malware) that loads onto your computer invisibly.
To combat malware, which your anti-virus software may not recognize, install a program like Malwarebytes. Malwarebytes is available free of charge and can spot malware from a mile away. There are two versions of Malwarebytes – free and Pro. The free version must be run manually each time you want to scan your computer for malware. The professional version runs all the time as a background process and scans your computer continually for new malware intrusions.
Either way you go, you can’t go wrong with Malwarebytes – unless, of course, you download it from someplace other than the developer’s page. Visit http://www.malwarebytes.org to get the latest (and guaranteed clean) version of Malwarebytes. Once it’s installed, make a malware scan a regular part of your computer maintenance routine.
If Malwarebytes finds one or more malware applications, it will inform you of its discovery and clear out any offenders. One note, you’ll need to download new definitions each time you run Malwarebytes. The new definitions take just a minute to download and will help to ensure that you’re protected against the latest malware threats.
Photo Credit: CHUCKage, via Flickr
Help Is Already Available On Your Computer
Your computer comes with a set of very helpful tools that are designed to keep your computer running, identify potential problems and help you avoid problems over the long haul. These tools are part of the Windows operating system, so there’s nothing extra to buy. You simply need to know what these tools are and where to find them.
The first tool you want to familiarize yourself with is Check Disk. Check Disk has been around since the days of DOS and it’s very basic and very handy. Check Disk examines your hard disk for disk errors and damaged files. It corrects what it can and locks out what it can’t fix, so your hard disk doesn’t trip over the “bad spots” and damaged files on your hard disk in the future. Run Check Disk periodically as a maintenance task. You can also get yourself into the helpful habit of running Check Disk after your computer crashes inexplicably.
To find Check Disk, right click on the startup disk icon and select Properties, then Tools. Select “Error Checking” and let Check Disk do its thing. Check Disk can take several minutes to run, so this isn’t a task you want to undertake when you have to get some work done. If Check Disk finds damaged files, you can look at them to see if you can tell what’s been corrupted. It may help you with troubleshooting later on. Otherwise, there’s no reason to keep broken file bits hanging around.
The next tool you want to know about is “Disk Defragmenter.” You’ll also find this under Properties/Tools. Defragmenting your hard disk is another maintenance task you don’t want to skip. As you create and erase files on your hard disk, your drive begins to store files in little bits of available space on the hard disk. Disk Defragmenter puts those pieces back together, or at least close to each other to minimize the amount of time it takes your drive to find, reassemble and read a file.
Disk defragmenting is another potentially long task, so leave plenty of time for this one. If your disk is not seriously fragmented, this task can be completed promptly, If your disk is badly fragmented, however, restructuring your files can take hours (literally). This is a good overnight task, or something you can run when you know you’ll be away from your desk for awhile. As a maintenance task, consider setting this utility to run overnight weekly or monthly.
Next week, I’ll have more tips to help improve your computer performance.
Photo Credit: NightRStar, via Flickr
Applications Take Up Memory
Every application you open takes up a certain amount of your computer’s memory. This memory (RAM) is in limited supply. First, most computers are designed to work within a maximum limit of installed RAM. Each memory location in RAM has a unique address, and the hardware design of the computer determines how much memory a computer can actually use.
RAM, of course, is the “gold standard” of computer memory. Modern computer operating systems can create “virtual memory” to help add working memory. Virtual memory isn’t the same as RAM and the performance of the computer will slow noticeably when the computer is accessing information stored in virtual memory.
The OS gets the first crack at RAM and usually scoops up a significant portion of the RAM installed in your computer. This is ok because you want your operating system to have the fastest, best memory available for important OS operations. As your applications start, they also take a helping of RAM, if any is available.
Here’s the tricky part. Some users configure certain applications to start automatically at boot-up. This means your OS is competing with your applications for memory allocation. This competition is likely to be evident if your computer has only the minimum recommended RAM installed for your computer. The more applications you open the more your computer performance will degrade.
The cure? If you’re really short on RAM, add more. In fact, add as much as you can without breaking your bank account, and within the pre-determined limits of your particular computer. If adding RAM isn’t an option, or if you already have maxed out your complement of RAM, then you’ll need to be more judicious about automatically starting up applications, and closing them down when you’re finished with them.
Use the Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) to determine what’s running on your computer immediately after you boot your computer. Remove (using the Add/Remove Programs tool) any toolbars or other “utilities” that have helpfully volunteered to load themselves onto your computer during the installation of some other application. From a performance perspective, toolbars are rarely (if ever) worth the “utility” they provide.
Close applications that you’re not using, or that you’ve finished using throughout your session. Getting into the habit of closing applications will help make more RAM available for other applications you may need to use during your work session.
Photo Credit: Julio Aguiar, via Flickr
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