Home arrow Speed Up A Slow PC
Speed Up A Slow PC

How to speed up a slow PC

A common question clients (and of course friends and family) ask us is, "Why is my PC running slow?"

So it wouldn't hurt to run through some of the common causes for this. There are occasionally hardware issues, but more commonly software and management options are sub-optimal. On top of this there are network-related issues.

Here are some of the most common reasons.

CAUTION: before carrying out any hardware or software changes discussed here, you MUST backup your data. This means to copy your important files to another location such as a USB external drive. You can copy files and program configs, but you cannot copy programs - you need the original installer disc in order to be able to reinstall them.

1: Hardware issues that can slow down your PC:

1. Not enough memory
2. Hard disk too small and nearly full
3. No hardware firewall - using the ISP's default DSL router (so the PC is bogged down by trojans)
4. New PC disk clutter and dross, aka 'crapware'

2: Software and management issues that will slow down a PC:

1. No regular maintenance
2. Too many processes (programs) running in the background
3. Disk fragmented
4. Page file too small and/or fragmented
5. No disk manager application
6. Registry errors
7. Too many applications are set to auto-upgrade
8. Sub-optimal software firewall choice
9. Virus or spyware infection
10. Sub-optimal antivirus program choice
11. Sub-optimal antispyware program choice
12. Poor choice of applications overall
13. Trash downloads
14. Software not upgraded

3: Network issues that can slow down your PC:

1. Minimum speed broadband but several users
2. Wifi network issues

1: Hardware issues

1. Not enough memory
Today you need a minimum of 1GB of RAM to run efficiently. This refers to the memory chips on your mainboard. Windows XP needs 512MB (half a GB) as a minimum for basic operation; and 1GB-plus for fast operation. Vista will benefit from 2GB as it is even more memory-hungry - the days of 512MB of RAM being sufficient have gone.

There is no point in going over 2GB though, on standard PCs and laptops; to use 3 or 4GB of RAM, for instance, you'll need a 64-bit system and OS (Windows version) as the usual 32-bit systems don't use more than 2GB efficiently. The standard OSs are 32-bit, like XP and W2K, so 2GB is really the upper limit (XP 64-bit is something of a dead-end for various reasons).

Just make sure you've got at least 1GB of memory; if not, see your PC manufacturer's website about upgrading the memory for your model. If you can find the full tech spec for the chips you'll need, you could get them cheaper, in all probability, from your national PC mail-order component suppliers - assuming you are happy to plug them into the board yourself. Don't do this, by the way, if you don't know what's involved; get someone who knows what they are doing to fix it. You need to be earthed-out to avoid zapping the chips with static, and if you're not sure how to do this then it's best to leave it to someone else.

2. Hard disk too small and nearly full
If your hard drive is more than 80% or 90% full it won't work properly. It needs some 'headroom' to work efficiently, and you are too close to the roof. Get a bigger disk - find out if your PC will handle a bigger one and install it. The best way to do this is to clone the PC's contents onto a large USB external hard drive using a program like Acronis, then import that into the new drive. Otherwise, you'll have to start from scratch again.

Alternatively, add a second disk for your data and possibly applications. An additional hard drive will reduce the pressure on your main drive.

Another very sensible approach is to get as much as possible off your PC and on to an external USB disk (see link above). This is an excellent route, as you can then get most of your films, music, and other large files off the PC.

3. No hardware firewall - using the ISP's free USB DSL router
With a broadband connection (= DSL, ADSL, or cable broadband - they are all the same thing), you need a proper hardware firewall. This is a box that all traffic passes through, both up to and down from the Internet. If you are still using the free USB router that came with your DSL connection, courtesy of the ISP who provides your service, the chances are extremely high that you have a raft of trojans or even viruses running on your PC. Often there is no way to tell, except that the PC will slow right down, as it's doing a lot of other things apart from your work. For example, it could be part of a botnet ring - a group of hijacked PCs that are remotely controlled to do someone else's bidding. It's said that 20% of PCs (one in five) are botnet slaves.

With no hardware firewall this becomes increasingly likely, especially if you are running any Instant Messenger program. IM apps are the botnet controller's favourite way in. Running with no proper firewall at all, you will have a crop of viruses and trojans in five or ten minutes - your machine is constantly under attack, and only the firewalls (of which you need two, a hardware and software one) can protect you.

The free USB routers are to be avoided, though the free wifi / LAN routers are OK as they have a firewall. Inevitably, though, a higher-quality router will have a better firewall.

The simplest way to install a hardware firewall is to use a modern router - either a hardwired one or a wifi router. All modern DSL modem / routers  have a hardware firewall built in. It's on by default (check it), so don't turn it off. You need both this hardware one, and a software firewall in addition. Using one or the other alone will not protect you.

If your router is more than 3 years old I recommend you get a new one - the firewall will be better. Linksys and US Robotics are a good choice - but always check the online reviews and benchmarks before you decide, as PC hardware is covered better than any other market area in the world by reviews, comparisons, and benchmark tests.

I used to recommend Belkin but no longer can, as some of their wifi routers have been prone to overheating but the manufacturers denied the problems existed. You could fry an egg on the last one I installed, and I don't appreciate being told - like many others - that there is no problem. In fact the only two items of hardware I installed that have failed in the last couple of years (a router and a powered USB hub) were Belkin items, so that brand is finished for me.

My personal experiences with ISP's USB broadband routers tells me they are utter rubbish. In fact you would be crazy to connect with one at all, as when I tested one, running with no hardware or
software firewall, the PC picked up four trojans within ten minutes without visiting any risky websites at all. It's a useful way of getting material for an AV test though...

4. New PC disk clutter and dross
New PCs commonly come with an appalling stack of rubbish trial programs commonly known as crapware; plus imperfect disk partition set-ups; and no separate, discrete Windows install CD. They may even have half the disk allocated to a manufacturer's backup system. In essence, the way they are set up is grim and the best thing you can possibly do is to wipe the disk, reformat it, and reinstall Windows. Instantly, your PC will gain speed.

There are partial methods to fix these issues, such as using an application like PC Decrapifier :) - but the best way is to simply wipe the disk of all their junk. It won't be the best route for people with no source of tech advice or help, they may be better served by staying with the slow, manufacturer's default arrangements. But if you're reading this you'll know there are other solutions available rather than having to rely on the lowest common denominator.

The problems with the total rebuild route are warranty issues and the (lack of a) Windows disc. You will have to find your own solution here. If you've got a good IT guy to help you out, then undoubtedly the best way is to wipe the disk and start afresh.

PC Decrapifier
This is an excellent choice for those who don't want to wipe the disk and start fresh. It is now a reliable and safe program. For example, on a new PC I cleaned the dross off with it, it removed all the apps except McAfee security / antivirus. As I wanted to remove this, of course, I then did so manually - which was a mistake. The result was that the PC then would not boot, and had effectively been destroyed by the McAfee app and/or its removal. It took some work before the PC would boot again. This shows that PC Decrapifier had correctly determined that the McAfee crapware was too dangerous to remove.

2: Software and management issues

1. Disk fragmented
The most basic thing to do is defragment your hard drive. There are two important things to note here, though:
a) This CANNOT be done properly with the Windows defragger;
b) It CANNOT be done with only online defrags - no defragmentation program works if it runs online defrags only.

You will need a third-party utility, as always, since the built-in Windows tools are only of use for very lightly-used office machines that are mostly empty, mostly idle, and don't do much in the way of complex or multiple tasks.

We use VoptXP and Raxco PerfectDisk (commercial apps), but you can try the freeware ones. A useful one here is the IObit defrag program, which has a background mode - it runs all the time in the background, which is handy for those who don't know how to set up a scheduled defrag pass.

Bear in mind that you must also do an offline defrag as well, otherwise the process is only 50% done. An 'offline' pass means in DOS, as the machine boots up, before Windows is loaded. Once Windows loads, the hard drive cannot be fully defragged, as it is in use and many sections are locked.

If you have only ever defragged online, ie with Windows running - then you have not defragged the disk properly. Get a defrag program that will also perform offline (boot time) defrags.

2. Page file too small and/or fragmented
The RAM memory chips do most of the juggling of data that is being used at any given time. However, the RAM can't handle everything and it overflows onto the disk, to a file called the virtual memory, page file, or paging file. If this file is too small, or fragmented, or badly-placed on the disk, then problems occur. The first sign of this is a general slow-down.

You need to optimise the page file. That means to defragment it (meaning to homogenise it by collecting all the fragments of it into one place); to make it larger; and to place it in the best position on the disk. A 3rd-party utility is needed for this, you cannot do any of this with the Windows built-in tools. Complain to Bill G.

A pagefile now needs to be 1.5GB in size as a minimum, and placed either right at the start of the disk, or centrally - depending on how your 3rd-party disk manager wants to configure it. The pagefile cannot be defragged with Windows running, since like the RAM, the OS can't work without it, and it's locked. It must be defragged offline, before Windows starts up. This is an important reason why an offline defragger has to be used.

3. No disk manager application
You fix these sorts of issues with a Disk Manager program. It will also (probably) run the ScanDisk application for you and fix any disk errors (faulty clusters actually on the disk). I use Ontrack Fix-It Utilities but there are several to choose from. Generally, they will also perform many of the tasks mentioned here.

VoptXP is very good for optimising the pagefile on new builds, but can be a little unstable at times later; I use Raxco and Ontrack for mature installs.

4. Registry errors
These errors - such as dead entries and fragmentation - also contribute to loss of computer speed. If you have never cleaned up your registry, it's possible there will be as many as 2,000 faulty entries that should be repaired or removed. Your disk manager will help you fix these; or you can try a freeware program like Eusing.

The registry is Windows' central file location database. It tells the OS where everything is, and the parameters necessary to find data and run programs. Unfortunately, there is no inbuilt way to clear up old or incorrect entries - with the result that over time this register of where everything is and what it does starts to resemble a dustbin (aka trashcan). Inevitably, that slows the machine down. Why this situation exists is a mystery, but the user has to fix it one way or another.

YOU MUST BACK UP YOUR DATA before using a registry correction utility.

To run a registry cleaner, you back up all important data, then run the app, which will take an extended time on the first-ever run; then run it again; then run it again. It will find new errors each time, in reducing numbers. When it reports less than 5 errors, you can stop. You only need to do this once or twice a year. However, it needs doing on a new machine as the Windows installation process is very dirty, and leaves the disk and registry in a mess.

The same goes for defragging, since a new Windows install will be in a poor state. You can't check this with the Windows defragmentation utility, it gives an incorrect view of the disk state that is far too optimistic. The best tool to view the real state of a disk is VoptXP, and this will clearly show you that a new Windows installation is fragmented to hell. Together with the registry faults on a new Windows install, this points out how you can gain speed by correct management.

5. Too many processes (programs) running in the background
Computers are very good at running a lot of processes simultaneously, but there is a limit. A juggler can keep a lot of balls in the air, but sooner or later, one more is too many. If you open Task Manager and check the number of running processes (Cntrl+Alt+Del), it should be less than 40. Any more and you risk a slowdown. Fast PCs are running less than 35 processes.

So - how do you cut down? The first thing to do is uninstall anything you don't use any more. Go to Control Panel - Add / Remove Programs, and take a look at the list there. If you recognise things you installed but don't use any longer, then get rid of them. The correct way is to uninstall them in this manner - never just find an application's folder and delete it. That will create a bunch of problems and less speed, not more.

Then, see how many icons you have in your System Tray. This is the icon group down at the bottom right of your screen. At most you need 15 or so, and 20 is really pushing it. All these things are programs running in the background.

You'll find you don't need many of them - at least, you don't need them running 24/7. Many you can just start when you need them. To stop them running full-time, open each program and uncheck 'Start with Windows' or any other option that will cause an app to run on auto. Uncheck 'System Tray Icon' as well. Another way to do this is to remove them from the Start - Programs - Startup folder; anything here is automatically started with Windows, but you may not need anything in there at all.

In Task Manager - Running Processes, look down the list and see if you can recognise any programs still running that do not need to run 24/7. Open each program in turn and find any Options / Preferences / Tools setting that will turn it off. Most of these programs - if not all of them - can be started as and when you need them. Just make sure to have the shortcuts handy.

6. Too many applications are set to auto-upgrade
Programs can also be real resource hogs if they are set to auto-upgrade. This means if they are set up by default to query a central server at regular intervals, to see if an upgrade is available. Many apps do, and they pop up every few minutes to see if there is an upgrade out yet - tying up tons of resources while they do it. Turn them off.

There are only two that need to have this enabled: the AV and the AS (antivirus and antispyware). These need to upgrade once daily and should be allowed to do so.

7. Sub-optimal software firewall choice
As well as a hardware firewall, you need a software one as well. Each does a different job, and cannot substitute for the other. One thing that certainly doesn't work here is the Windows XP built-in affair, which I won't even call by the name as that would approximate calling a rowing boat an ocean liner. Turn it off and get a real one. A firewall works in both directions, both in and out. In other words it stops nasty stuff coming in, and it stops unauthorised stuff dialling out. You have to have both or it isn't a firewall; and the XP affair only works in one direction.

There are many choices but you only want to hear one, so I suggest Online Armor. It's pretty good and isn't too complex for the non-technical. The top 5 firewalls all beat each other on different tests, according to who is running them, and there isn't much to choose between them. The top two free ones are Comodo and Online Armor. Comodo doesn't support Windows 2K though, with its latest version, and because I run and support a mix of XP and 2K machines I prefer a single choice that covers both - Online Armor, though you'll need an old version of OA if running W2K. At mid-2008 the strongest firewall is Agnitum Outpost, but it's not free and it definitely isn't user-friendly for the non-technical. It's just too complex for most people, including me. 'Simple'; 'efficient'; 'quality', are watchwords we could apply to many things, and firewalls are no exception.

There are plenty of alternatives but OA is reliable and reasonably simple. There are simpler ones that don't work quite as well, according to expert audits (like Sunbelt Personal Firewall and ZoneAlarm for example); and more complex ones that perhaps work even better - assuming you can set them up right - like Agnitum Outpost, which would suit fully-qualified spaceship pilots.

If you find that Online Armor is too hard for you to deal with due to the security pop-ups, the best 'silent' firewall I know of is Ghostwall. But remember that it doesn't stop nasties phoning home, only one with pop-ups can do that. For the technical, that means a HIPS firewall - it asks you if you wish to allow the traffic, the first time it sees a new process.

8. Virus or spyware infection
It's always possible that you have a virus infection, when your PC unaccountably slows down. Unless you run one of the known efficient and effective antivirus apps (like NOD32, Antivir, Avast, or AVG), then it's more than possible. See the next section for a fix.

9. Sub-optimal antivirus program choice
I suggest a simple and free solution: download the Avast installer (search it), then uninstall the one you are running (unless you know for certain it is one of the top 3 AV apps as measured by at least two separate independent testing outfits). Use of the very common N*rt*n program is not advised if you are looking to speed up your PC; it's famous for slowing them down.

As far as I know, all security programs that come as a 'free trial' with your PC are crapware. That means it has an attractive affiliate payment scheme for the PC manufacturer, and it doesn't work very well. In contrats, virtually all of the best security applications have totally free versions, which can be upgraded if you want gold-plated widgets. The free versions score right at the top of the benchmarks. Crapware scores nowhere and creates problems on the PC, such as slowing it down or being hard to remove safely.

The best antivirus
I used to recommend AVG from Grisoft.cz, but there have been a number of problems there just recently (May '08). Firstly, the new 8.0 version has some PC speed issues. Then there is the fact it only works on two Windows versions, XP and Vista. They advertise that it works on Windows 2K but it doesn't (I installed it on a perfectly sound W2K SP4 PC but the install jammed halfway).

All in all, AVG seem to have decided to concentrate on new Windows OS owners who wish to pay without a trial. Fair enough; my clients will now be using Avast, and having trialled it successfully, will then upgrade. If you want the absolute best protection, without needing to test the application first, then use NOD32. I expect that if it doesn't agree with your own particular set-up, you'll be able to get a refund. Antivir is probably the best with a free version (at mid-08), but for various reasons I recommend Avast.

So - to install Avast, which is currently the best bet for a user-friendly top AV app that can be run for free on your machine or paid tech support etc purchased: download the Avast installer; d
isconnect from the Net - either unplug, or disable your Network capability - uninstall the unwanted old app; then run the Avast installer. Reboot, then reconnect to the Net and update the AV program to today's current antivirus database. Run a full system scan with all the options checked. Avast will probably want to run a first scan offline, eg on a reboot, which is a good idea. Sometimes these boot-time operations can be lengthy, but Avast is very fast here; twenty minutes or so is common, which I would regard as lightning speed.

If infections are reported and you don't know what the results mean, then ask for advice. Generally, where the majority of AV apps are concerned, try to 'Heal' the items found; and if this is not possible then transfer them to the Virus Vault or whatever your application calls its isolation facility. Don't delete files without taking advice.

Remember that you MUST backup all your important files before you install (or uninstall) heavyweight programs of this type. For example, it was found that the removal of McAfee security software crashed a system totally and made it unbootable. The answer is never to install software of this type (not benchmarked as among the top effective / reliable apps), but unfortunately it may come as crapware installed on a new machine.

10. Sub-optimal antispyware program choice
While you are at it check the online reviews for your anti-spyware application. If it doesn't get full marks, then change. A simple fix used to be to download AVG's free spyware app, but this has been discontinued as it's now part of the single main program. Avast has A/S built-in though, although it isn't marvellous. Alternatively you can try a couple of the other A/S apps, though you will need to research the current top models as changes are frequent here. For the latest opinions take a look at Techsupportalert.com .

For spyware and malware defence I recommend the weekly use of a scanner. I used to recommend SuperAntiSpyware, as this performed well. However at 2008-12 it is outperformed by miles by A-Squared in my own tests (a-squared found 31 malware instances, some serious, on a system SuperAntiSpyware reported as clean). Download a-squared free here:

You should also note that the spyware situation right now is far more serious than the virus one. There is more of it; it's far more likely to get on to your system; the effects are the same or worse; and the coders are generally better as spyware has commercial intent. Spyware includes trojans that are among the most cunning examples of malware coding around. They worm their way onto your system, disguised and comouflaged, and then 'phone home' with data from your PC, or surreptitiously use your Net connection for spamming or PPC clicking and so on. You need to worry a lot more about this type of malware than the virus type.

11. Poor choice of applications overall
It is not the case that you can just run any old programs and they'll work fine. There are good and bad applications (a program = software = application = app). Especially, the 'free' or trial ones that come with new PCs are, in general, complete tr*sh. Sometimes they are only provided because they are the best affiliate deals the manufacturer can get. Uninstall all of them and get some real apps to do those jobs - if you need them at all.

You must also choose wisely when it comes to picking tools to work with. There are a lot of lemons out there, and millions of people using them. Fast, lightweight programs are often best; but slow, heavyweight dinosaurs are what you often end up with. For example, you would be better off using eg PDF Exchange Viewer to view PDF files - the usual choice for this is far too slow and has too many drawbacks.

For an antivirus, don't use anything that came free or trial with your PC - use NOD32 or one of the freeware apps currently ranked at the top, such as Avast. Note that some of the a/v apps installed as trialware on new machines are of such low quality that they can wreck your machine during the uninstall process. You must backup before working with critical programs like this.

12. Trash downloads
Another, and unsuspected, cause of slow PCs. Look, trojan writers and botnet controllers have to get into your PC somehow. They try attacking via the Net but get stopped by your two layers of firewall. But what's this? You'll go to any old site and download a screensaver or wallpaper and install it. Small wonder then that these cr*p programs are the Number One choice for malware coders to load up with their goodies. NEVER download wallpapers or screensavers from anyone except Mother Teresa Online. Your nice Fish Aquarium screensaver has a cunning addition from a well-wisher in Pakistan.

13. Software not upgraded
Your programs needed upgrading to the latest version intermittently. General improvements are made, but perhaps more importantly bugs and vulnerabilities are located and fixed. Don't set the apps to auto-upgrade; but once in a while, when you open a program to work with it, just check to see if there is an upgrade.

Note for example that the official Windows XP Service Pack 3 is now available, and you should install this if you're running XP. Normally it is quicker and less hassle to download these types of upgrade from a 3rd party supplier. In this case, an ISO of 554MB is available and you can burn this to disc, apply it, and keep it safe. Use Nero or a similar capable CD burning app to burn the file straight to disc - choose 'Disc Image File' on the Nero Express splash page. The SP will take about 20 minutes to download on 4MB DSL, but it's often better to do this than run an online upgrader as you have the full SP on file then.

I would never go online to get a service pack 'check and install' from the operating system supplier. Download the entire SP and burn it.

14. No regular maintenance
It's necessary to run some housekeeping tasks once in a while. Ideally this would be once a week, but to be more realistic it needs doing once a month.
  • Run a disk cleanup to remove temporary files: from Start - Programs - Accessories - System Tools - Disk Cleanup. Check all the boxes, though if Catalog Index is included as the last box you should leave that unchecked.
  • Flush your browser cache.
  • Run your backup procedures.
  • Run a disk check from your disk manager program.
  • Run an AV scan.
  • Run an AS scan.
  • Defrag online, then offline, then finally online again. Online = with Windows running; offline = on a reboot.
  • Clean up the registry once every six months. The average machine needs no more than this.

Alternatively, you can use an application to auto-run a lot of these cleanup operations. The best is currently reckoned to be CCleaner, at www.ccleaner.com -- but you MUST backup your data before running such an app.

3: Network issues

1. Minimum speed broadband but several users
If you just have the basic DSL at minimum speed, 512kb, aka half-megabyte broadband, then speed problems with several simultaneous users are bound to be an issue. In fact this applies even with the next speed up, 1 MB broadband @ 1024kb speed. If someone is using an X-Box online then there will be nothing left for anyone else. You need 4MB broadband before several users can be accommodated without problem.

2. Wifi network issues
If your WiFi network is open, ie unencrypted, then in a city environment it's likely that others will be using it. This is often involuntary, a PC just looks around for the strongest signal and latches on. You can fix this two ways: set up basic encryption, or just go to the allowed / disallowed PCs table in the router admin and disallow your neighbours' computers if they are found on your network. Encryption is better, but often does not work on all PCs, and especially for visitors with laptops.

You will also find the network slow if you are at a distance from the router. For example, up two floors from the room the router is in will create a very weak and slow connection. You can get a repeater halfway; or use one of the new N-spec WiFi routers; or take a completely different approach and use one of the network-over-powerline routers. These superimpose the network on top of your power cabling (the office or home electricity cabling), and therefore distance is no object if in the same building. However it has been reported that there can be issues if the power sockets are not on the same ringmain (ie not on the same breaker).

Slow PCs: a growing problem
As drives and operating systems
get bigger, and the number of programs loaded increases, the inevitable result is a loss of speed. This is counteracted by more memory, faster machines and better housekeeping. Unfortunately the negative factors often tend to outweigh the positive ones; and it is a fact that many users are finding that PCs are getting slower, not faster.

Many things you do or don't do will slow down your computer; and very few indeed will help to speed it up. To avoid problems you need to appreciate how your PC or laptop works, and the housekeeping tasks that you must carry out regularly. A PC is not a fit-and-forget item like a TV - it's more like a car. It needs servicing or it will grind to a halt.

If you work through this list, you'll have a faster and safer PC. We didn't talk about more complex security or management issues - like sandboxed browsing or proxy servers - as that is beyond the remit for this article. When you are happy with all the procedures here, and how to solve all the issues brought up, you can go further. At that stage you won't need our help. Until you can change out a RAM chip, and create a large pagefile wherever you want it on the disk, it's fair to say that you have a way to go before you can appreciate the issues. You need to learn how to walk before you can run.

If you aren't sure what programs you should be using, then a valid answer is to try one or two before deciding. One route is to use top-quality freeware programs, some of which are actually better than their commercial rivals (such as the Firefox browser for instance). You will often find that the best programs have a free trial so that you can try them first. For a list of the best, and some good advice, go to Gizmo's Freeware, at:

Very slow brand new PCs and laptops

This has been a problem for a few years now (ever since XP came in actually) and it's getting worse. You may actually find that your old machine was faster than its new replacement. Here are some quick tips to fix it; though it has to be admitted that some of these fixes are not for non-techies.

1. Wipe the hard disk absolutely clean and reinstall Windows. This gets rid of the trash software that manufacturers include with their bundles; and also wipes their back-up partition, which you won't need as you are better off creating a disk image on an external USB hard disk. You'll need a discrete Windows installation CD for this, a manufacturer's 'system restore' CD is useless as it will contain all the rubbish you just cleaned out.

2. As at mid-2008, Windows Vista is not a practical proposition for some users as it's bloated, slow, and memory hungry; and some of the most useful software doesn't run on it. It will suit you if you prioritise appearance over performance, and only run simple tasks on the machine. Delete it and revert to XP SP3 (service pack 3).

3. Make sure you've got at least 1GB of RAM memory, and 2GB is better. More than this is not advised unless running a 64-bit operating system. It's a waste of time installing 4GB of RAM unless running a 64-bit operating system.

4. Assuming you have a nice big hard disk, make your pagefile at least 2GB in size, and position it optimally on the disk. Your disk manager application can do this for you. The page file is the memory overflow.

5. Defrag the disk both on- and offline.

6. Clean the registry (only needed one time, usually).

These steps will get you back to square one: a new machine that's actually faster than the old one. This is a rare event nowadays, all new PCs and laptops seem to be slower than the ones they replace.

Windows: getting slower?

It's hard to avoid the fact that Windows is getting worse, not better. Since the introduction of XP, PCs are generally slower and harder to network, and this process continues. Vista has proved even slower than XP. It's difficult to recommend going back to the fastest Windows OS so far, Windows 2000, as it is hard to support now. The last version is called Windows 2000 ServicePack4 Rollup1, known as W2Ksp4-rollup1. This OS is poor for games, but the fastest, easiest to network, and best business-use OS that MS ever produced. The nearest equivalent now is Linux, but unfortunately it is likely that your favourite software won't run on it.

64-bit Windows

Don't buy Vista 64-bit unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing. It will restrict you because not all software runs on it. A 64-bit system is completely unnecessary unless you are running the heaviest applications a lot, such as video editing. Owners who have bought it seem to do nothing but complain about the issues. You have been warned.

Disk images

One of the best ways to backup your data is to use a disk image. You take a 'snapshot' of your hard drive, directly after installing Windows, and add to that as you install more programs and data. This image (or clone or ghost) can be reinstalled at any time, for example if your hard drive packs up and you have to get a new one, or if your data is destroyed by a virus. Using an image like this means you can install Windows plus all your programs plus all your data in 20 minutes. There's no catch. No PC tech or advanced user installs Windows from scratch now, that is long dead - you use a disk image.

You'll need a program to do it such as Acronis True Image or Macrium Reflect, and a USB hard drive to store your disk images on.

Be very careful to back up all your data before you perform any disk management or registry operations. These things work right on the heart of the PC's systems, and a small glitch can leave you with missing data. Easy to re-import it; desperate if that was your only copy.

If data doesn't exist in three places, it doesn't exist.

Web Business Managers