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Why Is My Computer Running Slow?

Computer Running Slow?

The most common complaints I hear is my computer is running slow. The problem is many people expect it to be a simple answer or run a program or two and you are set. The truth is there are many causes that can slow down a computer and it is finding what the cause is for you. There is a good possibility if you want higher performance then you will need to invest in upgrades.

In the course of “speeding up your computer”  I use a program called CCleaner to clean the computer of temp files and also clean registry then slim down what starts up with the computer then I uninstall programs and printers not being used and run a few different malware / adware programs to eliminate that being a cause as well. For Mac users I use Onyx.

Too Many Programs Running at the Same Time 

Does your computer run slow when you open a specific program? The more Programs or “Windows” you have open the more memory you are using. Outlook, your Web Browser and Antivirus programs take up the most memory typically. Also if you have a backup program or Antivirus program running a scan in the background then that is taking a high amount of CPU and possibly hard drive bandwidth.  You can open “Task Manager” and view the amount of Memory and CPU usage to find where your computer power is going. Close programs to see if your computer runs better.  Try uninstalling programs and printers you don’t use anymore and limit what starts up with the computer.

Low Memory AKA Ram / High CPU Usage / Other Hardware Issue

You can check the performance by using “Task Manager”,  Open Task Manager by right-clicking the taskbar, and then clicking Start Task Manager or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc. Random-access memory (RAM) is what your computer uses when you open a program so the more programs you have open the more RAM / Memory is being used.  The options here is to upgrade your RAM, I recommend maxing it out or run fewer programs at the same time.  Shut off your computer and wait about 8 seconds (this clears RAM) and turn it back and see if the computer is working better. Restarting the computer doesn’t clear out the ram completely.

Another option that you can use is Windows Experience, go to control panel and click on Performance Information and Tools or right click on Computer and Choose Properties. Windows Experience rates each component out of a score of a possible max of 7.9. For example, on my desktop , while my 16GB of RAM and decent CPU got good scores of 7.5, but my hard drive was a less impressive at 5.9. This rating page makes it easy to find the weakest link in your hardware chain, since the overall score is simply the lowest of your components, and that score is highlighted. That way, it’s easy to see which component you should upgrade to get the biggest speed improvement.

Computer doesn’t meet software minimum requirements

I’m not going to sugar coat it, if you buy the cheapest computer Acme store sells then you will always get what you pay for. Too many times people want the cheapest computer but then complain about speed or performance and spend more money having a tech come out and upgrade it then it would be to get a good computer from the start.  People want to pay for a GEO Metro but get the performance of a luxury car as I say. The more money you spend the better the computer will be.

One reason a computer can be slow is when programmers make a program they use the current hardware of the time to test it then they give a “minimum system requirements” and often “recommended system requirements” as well. If a person looks at the software requirements at all they often will look at the minimum requirements and think my computer can run this. Yes your computer may run it, but barely, if your computer doesn’t have the “recommended system requirements” then prepare for the program to run slow on your machine.  So your old computer runs Word or Outlook 2003 great but a new version runs slow, the reason is the new program wasn’t made to run on your computer hardware.  After a computer hits 3 years, the latest Web Browser, Antivirus, Office Suite will generally be slower on your machine compared to the latest machine. So technically it may not be your computer but the new software demands more power than your computer can give it so it slows down.

Computer is Old

Tying into minimum requirements that software demands, a computer that has an old operating system almost always will run slow compared to a new computer.  Tech experts generally agree that an average computer will last 3-5 years depending on the quality of parts and what type of usage it gets. Microsoft themselves bases their information on an average four-year lifespan for a business. That four-year lifespan was based on analysts’ and market research. A home computer could last longer or shorter than a corporate-use computer depending on quality of parts and amount of use it gets. A cheap laptop used every day will not last as long as a $1,000+ laptop that gets used every day. I personally consider anything less than $1,000 will be obsolete in 3-5 years. If you are using a 6+ year computer then consider yourself lucky it has lasted this long but speeding it up will be difficult and the cost to upgrade will be high enough to equal a new cheap computer.

As much frustration people have with investing money into their old computer here is a simple way of seeing your investment played out over time. Say your computer is crucial to your business or at least personal pleasure, it just isn’t acting like it once did and you would rather not have to buy a computer. Take the cost of the computer and divide it by the numbers of days and the cost of a computer may not be that bad. For instance a 5 year old computer that you paid $500 for has averaged a cost about 27 cents a day. That is pretty good considering how important it is, so when you get a new computer think long term cost and realize that a good quality computer is worth it.

Fragmented Hard Drive  or Hard Drive is Old

Most common errors I see that in time lead to a hard drive failure is programs show “Not Responding” when switching between programs or internet browser tabs. You may notice a long wait when you click on another Window. This is either high CPU, Memory or a hard drive issue, eliminating the first two causes is relatively easy via the Performance tab in “Task Manager”, in Windows 8 they added Disk Usage to the Performance tab making diagnostic easier. A hard drive that is more than 3 years old tends to be slow, it is a physical device. About half the slow computers I encounter will be because the hard drive itself is failing or at least a contributor to the slowness.

The other trick I use is open task manager and if the CPU / Memory usage is low but the hard drive light is on full blast then that tells me that hard drive can’t keep up with the computer and therefore is the cause of the bottleneck.

I also use Crystal Disk Info to check the health of a hard drive and even when it is says it is good I also check “Task Manager” and look the CPU and Memory usage and compare it to the hard drive light on the computer. If it shows Yellow (Caution) then there is nothing I can do that will speed up your computer, you will have to replace the hard drive, it may pass a general hardware diagnostic but it is on its way out. You want to see Blue but even then if it is past 3 years old the computer could benefit from a new faster hard drive.

A low CPU and Memory usage but high disk usage shows the hard drive may not qualify as bad but it could be the bottleneck and replacing it with a higher performance drive could solve the problem.   Replacing a older and slower 5400 RPM drive with a 7200 RPM or a hybrid drive or even SSD are the best options. Hard drives are like car engines and when used a lot they may not be defective per say but they don’t run as efficient as a brand new or higher end model would.  Just FYI I tend to replace my hard drives every year to keep the performance high. You can also try defragging your hard drive as an option as well but defragging is more for older computer, many newer computers defrag regularly for you.

Internet Package is Slow

Many times people will say their computer is slow but really it is the internet that is slow. DSL internet such as AT&T and Charter will run much slower than cable such as Comcast. If your internet package is slow then every program that uses that internet will appear slow as well, it is not always your computer although browsers and email programs like Outlook do take a sizeable amount of memory to run. If you have a wireless connection then you can try upgrading your router to a higher end model, replacing the Wi-Fi card on your computer to match the new router. If many people in your household are streaming media like Netflix, online music and YouTube videos then that will slow the overall bandwidth left and will cause some internet connections to come to a crawl. Like computers, you get what you pay for, if you have the cheapest internet package they have, you may want to consider boosting that if speed is an issue.

Malware / Virus Infection

After RAM / Memory or Hard Drive the next most common cause of a slow computer is it is infected with malware/adware/virus, hijack or a rootkit. I run these programs  Malwarebytes, TDSSKiller, Rkill, Adwscleaner, Hitman Pro, Hijack This and CCleaner and more when needed. Once a computer is infected then your system performance can tank quick. Removing malware can sometimes be just running a few programs but it is good to run many different programs to make sure your computer is clean.

I often get people with a slow computer complaining it has a virus just because it is the most common reason given but as I’ve shown there are many reasons why your computer may be running slow.


Recommended Computer Specs – updated 11/2014

After reading all the reasons why your computer may be slow you probably wonder what you should look for in a new computer. Notice I’m not doing a minimum, I recommend no one goes below 4GB for a PC, that doesn’t mean I recommend 4GB.

A desktop generally lasts longer and has increased performance than a laptop even if the computer stats are the same. Because desktops are immobile, they aren’t as likely to be damaged by being dropped, banged, scratched, or harmed in transit. Desktops also usually have more memory, making them able to keep up with newer apps, programs, and games that require more memory. So if performance over a long term is a big deal then stay with a desktop. Laptops tend to have shorter lifespans and greater costs at upgrading as well as limitations. If you go with a laptop then get a business grade laptop that is made for daily use. Desktops are my preferred option due to upgrade abilities.

For an average user who does word processing, Email and internet browsing these are the specs I recommend for you.

Component PC Macintosh

CPU Intel 4th gen core i5-4200M (2.5GHz, 3M cache) or faster Intel i5 2.5 GHz or faster
System RAM 8 GB or more, prefer 12GB 4 GB or more
Hard Drive 500 GB Hard Drive at 7200 RPMs or a SSD/Hybrid 320 GB Hard Drive at 720000 RPMs or a SSD/Hybrid
Removable Storage 8X (DVD+/-RW) Drive Apple USB SuperDrive
Monitor 1366×768 Min. Resolution 1280×800 Min. Resolution
Video Card Intel, AMD, or NVIDIA Graphics 256MB RAM Intel Iris Graphics or better
Operating System Windows 7/8/8.1 64-bit Mac OS X.9x or latest version
Network Card 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet
Wireless Network Card 802.11agn or 802.11ac 802.11n or 802.11ac

For those that do Video & Photo editing and Gaming then you will need memory, CPU and a fast hard drive like a semi-truck needs gas. This is where a store bought computer most likely will not cut it, you really need to get a custom computer for this kind of work. You will pay 2-4 times more than a store bought computer but the difference in performance and lifespan will speak for itself. If you are serious about performance then plan on $1,500 -2,500 for a custom computer or know that you will be stuck with a slow computer for these types of workloads.

The processor is the first to go out of date, the processor will take the force of editing, so don’t compromise for a cheap processor if performance is a must. Second to the Processor RAM is the next important thing, get the best RAM you can get, cheap RAM that often comes in a store bought computer runs poorly, I recommend Crucial brand. Third is the speed of the hard drive, store bought computers often have the slowest and cheapest hard drives in them, solid state drives (SSD’s) are as expensive but the speed is wild. With a solid state my laptop boots up in about 3-5 seconds to the desktop. Simply put the faster the hard drive, the faster the computer.

Video work needs a high end graphics card, again a good video card can run the cost of a cheap computer down at Acme store, I paid $350 for my graphics card and my photography editing performance jumped a ton. In the world of computers the higher the number the better but more costly it will be.

You will also want USB 3.0 ports as well, external drives will run slower than an internal drive so photos, video or any big files should be placed on an internal drive for the best speed otherwise the USB interface will be the bottleneck. For instance some people prefer to put their audio or documents on a cloud hard drive or external drive, that will cause things to be much slower than on another internal hard drive. Also a case that can keep the computer cool, an overworked hot computer will degrade performance and lifespan of the computer.

Here are the recommended specs for those that do Video, Photo editing and Gaming.

Component PC Macintosh

CPU Intel 4th gen Core i7-4770S or 3.4GHz or any Intel Core i7 Quad-Core Processor Intel i7 2.5 GHz or faster
System RAM 16 GB 1600Mhz DDR3 or more 8 GB or more
Hard Drive 1-3 TB Hard Drive at 7200 RPMs or a SSD/Hybrid 500 GB Hard Drive at 5400 RPMs or a SSD/Hybrid
Removable Storage 8X (DVD+/-RW) or higher Drive Apple USB SuperDrive
Monitor 1366×768 Min. Resolution or higher 1280×800 Min. Resolution or higher
Video Card NVIDIA Graphics 1GB GDDR5 RAM or higher Intel Iris Graphics or better
Operating System Windows 7/8/8.1 64-bit Mac OS X.9x or latest version
Network Card 1000 Mbps /  Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet
Wireless Network Card  802.11n or ac 802.11n or 802.11ac

Hard drives types have changed over the years

SSD’s have a mean time between failure rate of 2 million hours compared to the shorter lived regular hard drive which has a mean time between failure  rate of 1.5 million hours.

File copying / Write speed which is the chunk of your computer hard disk work the SSD’s are superior averaging 200 MB/s and up to 550 MB/s for cutting edge drives compared to a regular hard drive range of 50-120 MB/s so a solid state drive may cost a lot more but it is worth it if performance is demanded.

SATA I (revision 1.x) interface, released 2003, formally known as SATA 1.5Gb/s, is the first generation SATA interface running at 1.5 Gb/s. The bandwidth throughput, which is supported by the interface, is up to 150MB/s.

SATA II (revision 2.x) interface, formally known as SATA 3Gb/s, is a second generation SATA interface running at 3.0 Gb/s. The bandwidth throughput, which is supported by the interface, is up to 300MB/s.

SATA III (revision 3.x) interface, released 2009,  formally known as SATA 6Gb/s, is a third generation SATA interface running at 6.0Gb/s. The bandwidth throughput, which is supported by the interface, is up to 600MB/s. This interface is backwards compatible with SATA 3 Gb/s interface.

SATA revision 3.2 – 16 Gbit/s – 1969 MB/s , created in 2013 but most computers can’t support this feature unless your motherboard was bought in 2014.

It takes 115 microseconds to read 16KB (one page) from IMFT’s 20nm 128Gbit NAND (a Solid State Drive). That works out to be roughly 140MB/s of throughput per die. In a 256GB SSD you would have sixteen of these, which works out to over 2.2GB/s. That’s about four times the maximum bandwidth of SATA 6Gbps. This is all theoretical of course but overall a SSD is best for performance.


Some reasons a computer is slow is psychological where some people simply need to breathe and calm down and not expect a device to run as fast as they do especially if the computer is past 3 years old. I get calls over a program or Windows that seemingly takes 1-2 more seconds then it use too.  Realize that computers are like people and as they age they get slower, your options are to have a tech find out what reason is causing it to slow down and make the upgrades needed or the best option is to consider a new computer about every 3 years if performance is a major demand for you.

As a tech myself I implore you to understand I can’t always be a miracle worker, as much as I wish for your sake I could run a program or tweak this or that and you will have a machine that runs like new I can’t promise that to everyone. Sometimes computers just need to be replaced. I can promise I will find the reasons (software or hardware) why your computer is slow but it is in your hands afterwards to follow my recommendations. If my recommendations are not heeded then I can’t be held responsible for a computer that doesn’t work to your expectations. In an analogy, if your doctor says to stop smoking and you don’t, you can’t be mad at the doctor when your breathing issues don’t improve.

I hope I was able to shed some light on what is often a frustrating problem for both the user and tech and feel free to contact me if you have questions. I don’t sell computers due to no profit in them but I can help guide you through the process of finding something to fit your needs and budget and transfer your data from your computer to the new computer.

–  Tabitha Hawk with Nashville Computer Guru   (  615-332-2844