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127. Fighting computer slowdown

By Andrew D. Wright

Dear Mousepad:

I have a fairly new computer but I find it very slow. Can you offer any suggestions?

Lori Mitchell
Mineville, N.S.

A very cool Chebucto mousepad is in the mail for your question, Lori.

Lots of things can slow down a computer. Not enough RAM, or computer memory is one of the top reasons. Microsoft recommends a minimum 128 MB of RAM for Windows XP. In real life, Windows XP can easily use eight times that: 1 GB of RAM. Power users should double or triple that amount: 2 - 3 GB.

Too little free hard drive space or a badly fragmented hard drive can also slow things down. Windows users should defragment their hard drives every few weeks to keep them speedy. A hard drive should have at least 25 per cent free space available.

Newer personal computers with the Windows Vista operating system require a lot of system resources and run slow without them.

Microsoft's system requirements for Vista Home Basic, the stripped-down barest-bones version, is for a 1 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, and a DirectX 9 compatible video card with 32 MB video memory.

For the other Vista versions, Microsoft recommends 1 GB of RAM, and a video card with at least 128 MB of video memory.

It's better to have at least 2 GB RAM, a 2 GHz CPU, 100 GB hard drive and a new video card with 256 MB or more of video memory.

Unwanted programs running on the computer can slow things down. There are two basic kinds of unwanted program, crapware and malware.

Crapware, also called craplets (crappy applets), can come with legitimate programs or be installed by default on new computers. It loads when the computer starts and may try to speed up a program start up by pre-loading portions of it first.

One sign of crapware is a lot of icons in the system tray, the part of the Windows task bar next to the clock. Usually right-clicking on an icon will offer options to disable it starting up, otherwise go to Start - Run and type in msconfig. Click the startup tab to see a list of programs set to start with the computer. Uncheck the checkbox next to a program to disable it starting, click OK and reboot.

Modern computers are fast enough that there's little to be gained from pre-loading software. It's better just to run a program when you need it.

Another alternative is malware. Your computer may have been taken over by bad guys and is now leading a double life as a spam-sending bot. The majority of spam, or unsolicited junk mail, comes from infected home and office computers with owners having no clue their computer has turned evil.

Cleaning off such an infection can be a job for the professionals since it is in the bad guys' interest to make malware hard to find and delete.

When you turn on the computer without starting up any other programs you should see the hard drive activity light run for a couple of moments until all your startup programs are loaded. It should then stop except for an occasional flicker. If after everything is loaded the hard drive light does not slow down at all it could be a sign the computer has been compromised.

Checking task manager (right click on the task bar to find it) should tell you what is keeping the computer so busy. Process Explorer, a free download from Microsoft can tell you in more detail what is going on and verify the signatures of legitimate programs.

Microsoft offers a number of free programs for determining and controlling what your computer is really doing.


Microsoft Process Explorer (free):


Microsoft Sysinternals Utilities (free):


The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 7 March 2008


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