slow_pcRemember how fast your computer was when you first got it? And now, a few years later, it just doesn't seem to be as fast anymore? The good news is that you're not imagining it. But the bad news is that all computers slow down over time for various reasons.

So why does your PC slow down over time, and how do you fix it?

Firstly, over the years we install additional software programs, which clutter the computer's registry. (The registry contains references to settings and values used by the operating system. Basically, much of what goes into or comes out of your computer is noted in the registry.) Also, as your fixed disk fills up, so the system gets slower. Updated versions of programmes can also make a computer appear as if it has slowed down - for example the change from Microsoft Office 2003 to the 2007 version, or XP to Vista.

But before you begin experimenting with any of the suggested fixes in this article, you should back up your computer, since these suggestions could possibly cause underlying problems to surface, and this may result in loss of data. You should also only attempt these fixes if you have a sound understanding of computers, and if not, you should rather get a qualified PC technician to do this for you.

Here are the suggested fixes:

1. Add RAM memory

The first and most effective way to improve performance is to upgrade your computer's random access memory (RAM). A minimum of 1GB is recommended, and if you already have 1GB, you can try increasing your RAM to 2GB although there is a point at which additional memory makes no difference to the performance of your PC. Since memory is inexpensive these days, it is worth considering this fix before you tackle any of our other suggestions, since it will provide the most dramatic improvement. Unfortunately though, memory modules in older computers might no longer be available, and old motherboards might not be able to accommodate additional memory. If this is the case, your computer is probably over eight years old, which would probably suggest that it is high time for you to buy a new computer anyway!

But if your computer was fast when new, and the amount of RAM memory was the same as it is now, why is more memory needed? That's because you may have installed new versions of software, or added new programmes to your system along the way.

2. Remove unwanted software

Apart from upgrading the RAM memory in your computer, you should also ensure that your fixed disk isn't nearing its capacity, because this will also slow down performance. And even if your fixed disk isn't nearly full, you should delete all the old programs which you no longer need, since a cluttered disk can also affect performance. To do this, you should use the ‘Add or Remove Programs' option in the Control Panel rather than to delete files manually, since the latter will not clean up the computer's registry. You should also run the Disk Cleanup utility that comes with Microsoft Windows. To do this, select Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. Generally, you should only remove the options recommended by the Disk Cleanup utility.

3. Defragment your fixed disk drive regularly

From time to time you should also defragment your fixed disk drive. (When you first save a document, it is stored in a single ‘block' on your fixed disk. But each time you add text, or another page, the information you add is stored in a different location - and linked to the other parts of the file. A single file can be scattered over many locations on your disk.) You can access the disk defragmenter by clicking on Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools. As a rule of thumb, you should defragment your disk drive every few months. Defragmentation re-arranges scattered files stored on your disk drive and this increases the speed at which your system accesses your information. Note that the defrag utility can take some time to complete, so it is best to run it at night.

4. Check for viruses and spyware

Viruses and Spyware can also cause your PC to run slowly, so you should ensure that your system is virus free. To do this you can make use of any of the anti virus programmes, for example the free AVG for home and non-commercial use which we mentioned in our November issue.

5. Remove unwanted startup programs

You should also establish which programs are loading at startup, since some of these might not be necessary. Just a word of caution: using this utility is dangerous (for your computer, not for you, although the resultant frustration could give you heart palpitations...), and if you delete files that Windows needs, you may cause your computer to malfunction. Since this section is for advanced users, I have excluded information on how to load it!

6. Disconnect unused network connections

If you've ever had a network with more than one computer, you might have set it up to share files between the computers by mapping a network drive. Mapping network drives allow one computer to read and write files to another computer's hard disk as if it were directly connected. The problem with network drives is that Windows will attempt to connect to the network drives each time Windows starts. If the other computer doesn't respond immediately, Windows will wait for some time before giving up.

7. Registry cleaners

Although there are a number of registry cleaners available for purchase, not everyone believes they are necessary. It's generally better to simply leave the registry alone unless you have some programming background to understand what you are really changing.

8. Last resort: Reformat your fixed disk drive

Lastly, if all else fails, you can reformat your fixed disk drive and re-install Windows. (Remember that this deletes all of your data on the disk.) After reformatting, you'll need to re-install the applications you need, such as anti-virus software, Office software, etc., you'll have to re install all of your printer drivers, and you'll need to restore all of your data files. If that isn't enough to put you off, you'll also need to modify your preferences in each application all over again. So, before you reformat your drive, ensure that you have got original CDs to reload all of your software, as well as the registration keys for Windows, Office, and other applications. And bear in mind that setting up your PC from scratch will take many hours to complete, so don't tackle this project lightly!

Even if you only implement some of these suggestions, your computer should run a lot faster.

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