Why is My Computer So Slow?

Frustration. You know the feeling. The tear-out-your-hair, pound-your-fist-on-the-desk feeling when you’re just trying to get something done and your computer is crawling. Why is your computer running so slow, and what can you do about it? Here are a few of the most common reasons and some advice on how to get your systems up to speed.

1. You haven’t rebooted in ages

Everyone needs a break from work, your computer included. Rebooting your computer is like giving your computer’s brain a rest – it will clear its cache and memory so it’s fresher when you restart it.
Also, when you install or update a program, it often asks you to restart your computer. But you’re busy, so you select the other option: Restart Later. Despite your best intentions, later becomes way later, and multiple updates and patches sit incomplete, potentially slowing your system.

How to Fix It

If your computer is running slow, shutting it down and restarting it is one of the simplest potential fixes. Remember, that this is not the same thing as Sleep, so if you’re on a laptop, don’t just close the lid and assume you rebooted. Go through the steps to properly shut down and restart your machine (Start –> Power –> Shutdown on Windows)

2. Too many programs running in the background

task manager screenshot

Your computer can juggle a lot at once, but each process takes a piece of your computer’s RAM (random access memory). When it runs low on memory, it slows down. If you’re a super multi-tasker, you may be stressing your computer with a ton of programs open at once.
More often, the problem is all the processes you can’t see. Maybe you’ve minimized programs, but they’re still running. Sometimes programs can get stuck or they shut down improperly, hogging a huge amount of resources behind the scenes. Many programs also run immediately on startup, so you never might never realize they’re running.



How to Fix It

Bring up your Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Delete on Windows) to see what programs are running and how resource-hungry they are. Never close something if you don’t know what it is. Ask your IT administrator to prune your startup tasks and identify any programs you don’t need.

3. Your browser is bloated

Browsers can be memory hogs. We make it worse when we add a whole bunch of plugins and extensions. Some of them are practically required, like a pdf reader. But the ones that create an animated cat every time you open a new tab? Probably not so much.
To make matters worse, multiply that by the number of tabs you have open. If you’re a tab junkie, you might have more than a dozen pages open at once. They’re sucking more than their fair share of RAM, guaranteed.

How to Fix It

Uninstall or disable browser extensions you don’t use and limit the number of tabs you have open. Try bookmarking pages and coming back to them later, rather than keeping dozens of tabs open.

4. A Buildup of Temporary Files

Whenever you use a program or browse the Internet, your computer creates temporary files so it can recover lost data if the program or computer crashes. In theory, your computer should delete these files after you close the program, but that doesn’t always happen. Over time, thousands of these temporary files build up and can take up space on your hard drive and slow down your system.

How to Fix It

Windows has a built-in Disk Cleanup tool that can help you clear out your temporary files. If you are not the administrator on your PC, talk to your IT person to help you.

5. Your hard drive is almost full

Imagine a parking lot where all the space are full. You could park your car in the aisle – there’s technically space there – but you wouldn’t want to because it blocks traffic. It’s the same concept with your hard drive.
crowded parking lot
Your hard drive needs enough space to put all of your regular programs (the cars), but it also needs some extra free space to be able to move and swap files, as well as store temporary files. A hard drive that is 90% or more full will slow down, because it’s struggling to keep your file traffic moving.

How to Fix It

Never fill your hard drive 100%. If it’s getting full, start by emptying your Recycle Bin or getting rid of obsolete files. Talk to your IT administrator about archiving old data or uninstalling unused programs.

6. Your hard drive is fragmented

Many hard drives store data on a physical platter. When your computer writes data, it tries to store files in sequential blocks, but over time the data gets separated, or fragmented. Consequently, it takes longer for the hard drive to read the data, because it has to look for files in multiple places.
Let’s go back to the parking log analogy for a minute. Imagine you’re looking for all of the yellow cars in the parking lot. How long would it take you to find them if one was in the first row, and the other one was on the opposite side of the lot, and the others were anywhere in between?
Now, how much easier would it be if they were all parked next to each other in the same row? That’s essentially what defragmenting a hard drive is: it’s reorganizing and moving data back in sequential order.

defragmenting data graphic
All illustration of how defragmenting data on a hard drive works. Source: Lifehacker.com

How to Fix It:

Many newer versions of Windows will do a lot of defragmenting automatically. An IT professional should still monitor this and may need to defragment drives more thoroughly at times.
Alternatively, you can invest in a Solid State Drive (SSD). Unlike a traditional hard disk drive, SSDs do not have a moving platter, so they do not get fragmented in the same way.

7. You have a virus or malware

Viruses and malware are designed to mess with your computer, possibly by modifying your files, stealing your data running malicious software in the background. Sometimes they aren’t directly malicious, but just push advertisements into your web browser. Whatever the case, they’re running additional programs that can slow your computer down.

How to Fix It:

Run a scan with your anti-virus program if you suspect you have a virus. Schedule routine virus scans to maintain a healthy computer. Just make sure to schedule your scans outside of working hours, because they can be very resource-heavy.

8. Windows (or your other operating system) is out of date

Microsoft releases frequent patches and updates to help fix bugs and improve your operating system. These patches often include security updates too, which can help protect you from viruses and malware. In general, try to keep all your software up-to-date so it can run the way it was intended.

How to Fix It

Make sure Windows Updates are turned on and you have all the latest updates installed.

9. Not enough memory

Your computer’s memory, or RAM, plays a huge part in how fast your computer runs. As we mentioned earlier, every program uses a little bit of RAM and the more your computer is doing at once, the more RAM it needs. Some programs are especially memory-intensive like photo or video editing software, so if you plan on using Photoshop all day, make sure you have enough RAM in your computer.

How to Fix It

If you’ve cleaned up your computer and it’s still running slow, consider adding more RAM. The good news is this is usually an easy, cost-efficient upgrade that doesn’t require getting a new computer.

10. Your hardware is dying

Over time, parts of your computer may wear out or simply fail. Physical hard drives are a big culprit here, because they have spinning plates. Moving parts simply means a higher chance of failure. Failing hardware can definitely slow down your system. Also be on the lookout for freezing, random shut downs or blue screens – these are major signs that a piece of hardware is dying.
dying hardware

How to Fix It

Keep your computer well-ventilated and dust free to prevent overheating. If you’re noticing signs of hardware failure, notify your IT provider.

11. Your computer is just old

No one likes to hear this one, but it’s true – your computer might just be old. Unfortunately, with the rapid advances of technology today, computers age very quickly. New programs, apps and operating systems are simply more demanding, so the older a machine gets, the harder it’s going to be for it to keep up.

How to Fix It

If your computer is too slow and it’s over 3 years old, consult with an IT professional about upgrades or purchasing a new one.

You just want it to work

At the end of the day, you just want your computer to work. We get it. When you’re frustrated and just trying to wrap up that report for your upcoming meeting, the last thing you want to worry about is scanning for viruses or defragmenting your hard drive.
We can help! With our Managed IT Services, we become your IT department, and we take care of all 11 of these things (plus a lot more). We don’t want to just fix what’s frustrating you – we want to proactively prevent issues so you don’t have to be frustrated in the first place.
Sound good? Learn more and get started today!