You click Internet Explorer. After a full three minutes of grinding sounds coming from your hard drive, your computer crashes from a sheer lack of resources. It’s time to do something.
But don’t hand over your computer, or your hard-earned cash, to a technician for what amounts to a simple tune up – this is something you can handle yourself, even if you’re not a computer person. Let’s look at some of the ways to enhance your computer’s speed without ever having to open it up.
Any good computer technician will try the easy fixes to a problem before breaking out the screwdrivers (“is it plugged in?”). And if your PC is performing poorly, is it because you’re simply using too many programs at once? Try running only what’s immediately useful; closing Word after you’ve saved your documents will free up system resources for other programs.
If applications aren’t the problem, sometimes nothing more than a reboot is necessary. When you reboot, it clears everything in RAM – bad news if you forgot to save that spreadsheet you worked on all morning, but great if you want to get rid of “garbage” that can collect in memory. It can even resolve strange errors your system might be experiencing, but that’s another column.
If your computer is connected to the Internet, and you regularly download new programs, your computer may have spyware or adware on it. These programs vary greatly in their effects; some adware is more of an annoyance than a performance impediment, but spyware can seriously impact speed and even pose a risk to your privacy.
Tools like Ad-Aware by Lavasoft scan your hard drive and wipe out malicious software, often improving the system’s speed and security. Best of all, many anti-spyware programs are free for personal use.
But no matter how much you scan for spyware or reboot, you’re still not getting the performance you want. Have you defragmented your hard drive?
A fragmented hard disk is a lot like a shredded newspaper; you can still piece together the articles and read them, but it would be a lot easier if they were intact. When your hard drive tries to get a piece of information, it will have a harder time finding the information if it’s scattered across the hard drive, or fragmented.
The Disk Defragmenter, found under System Tools, should be run at least once a month, though once a week is even better.
One of the more complex ways to boost your computer’s performance is to adjust its virtual memory, or “swap file.” But just because it’s complex doesn’t mean it’s difficult!
Virtual memory is a part of the hard drive that is used to store running programs that aren’t used very much. It helps to think of the swap file as closet space. You keep useful things on your desk or countertop; everything else goes in the closet. When you need something that’s in the closet, you root around, find it, use it and store it away again.
To change your virtual memory size in Windows XP, right-click on My Computer, then click Properties. Make a note of how much RAM you have, go to the Advanced tab and select Performance Settings. There will be a setting under yet another Advanced tab that allows you to change the virtual memory size.
So just how big should your swap file be? Microsoft recommends a minimum of one and a half times your RAM, but two or three times is better. So if you have 512 MB of RAM, make the minimum virtual memory 1,024 or 1,536 MB. Double your result for the maximum swap file size.
It probably took you longer to find the virtual memory settings than it did to change them, but increasing your swap file is a more powerful improvement than its ease may suggest.
Most systems will run substantially better than they did before these simple tweaks, and it didn’t even take opening up the computer. So skip the Geek Squad (and their $60 charge for diagnostics alone) and improve performance yourself.