Let's face it: computers, like people, slow down as they age. However, if you notice your computer is much slower than expected, you need to ask yourself first: is it hardware, my internet, or software? My article assumes that you want to troubleshoot before taking it to an expert.
First, you need to test the hardware. If any components are starting to fail, you have difficult decisions ahead. The most likely point of failure is the hard drive where your documents, pictures, and even Windows (or Mac or Linux) live. We used to recommend the manufacturers' tests, and some manufacturers still include a separate diagnostics partition that you reach using a keyboard shortcut while starting. To enter the diagnostic tool, your best option is to hold down the shift key while restarting the machine from within the desktop, not by using the power button.
Select Troubleshoot, select Advanced, then click on UEFI settings. I usually find the Windows startup test unsuccessful, but hey, you can try that too. For a Mac, you press D, although its test is an unhelpfully short 4 minutes. Run a full system test. Run a full drive test as well.
If the system shuts down after several minutes, it may be overheating. Dust "blankets" inside will make the computer run slower or shut down as heat builds up. It can corrupt Windows, cause startup failures, etc. Use a can of air to spray out the vents safely. If it is a desktop tower rather than a laptop, open up the case and spray out the fans after touching the metal inside to prevent static electricity from shocking the system. Doing this is recommended yearly for maintenance and may help the system run faster.
Second, it could be old or malicious software, and that can get hairy. You might be tempted to run Disk Cleanup or Defragmenter, which were both recommended ten years ago. However, Windows 10 automatically performs optimizations that are better adapted to your internal hardware every Wednesday around 2 a.m., or Thursday morning if you turn off the computer at night. Don't bother. Your time is better spent elsewhere.
Right-click on the Windows taskbar and run Task Manager. Similarly, on a Mac, run Activity Monitor and see if any program is using up all the CPU or Memory by clicking on each option. If something is highlighted in red, it might need an update, or it might have a malicious component (here's looking at you, Chrome!). After googling any red processes, remove or reinstall the programs.
You can also check Reliability History and Event Viewer for any sudden restarts or programs causing errors. If, for example, you see red x's for Adobe Reader, try installing a new version after removing the old version.
With Windows 10 offering new renditions of itself every six months, you might see significant improvements by merely updating drivers and Windows. For drivers, you can use the built-in driver update tool in the manufacturer's folder in the start menu (for example, Dell update, Lenovo Vantage) Apple includes them in regular updates. You can also visit https://dell.com/support, https://support.hp.com, or https://lenovo.com/support to check for the newest drivers. Make sure to update old chipset, Realtek, or wireless drivers.
For Windows updates, check the System setting and see which version you are on. 1909 means 2019, August. Then check for updates in the Settings panel. If you see a notice that your system is going to be no longer supported, or that you are running an older version of Windows, you need to get the newer software. Sometimes it is offered as a cumulative update under the Check for Updates notifications.
For Apple, click on the apple icon in the upper left, then select About this Mac. If it does not show the current operating system, Catalina, check the App Store and see if you can upgrade to it. If you cannot, your computer is considered deprecated. That means vintage with the wrong hardware to support new operating systems. While forums like to blame Apple, Windows manufacturers do the same thing, since offering tech support for older computer equipment can add up over time.
Next, look at the browser extensions and remove or look up any that seem suspicious. Is SpeedMyWeb malicious? Malware? Bad? If you did not install it, remove it.
If using task manager or seeing any new extensions might indicate malware, then scan for viruses. Unlike ten years ago, infections are no longer the main reason for a slow computer. I don't automatically run a day of scanning for malware if that is unlikely. If you have QuickWatch, it is doubtful.
If you have two or more anti-viruses running, keep only the paid version or the least aggravating version. I use two independent testing sites to check for certifications, but not all anti-viruses pay to play. I would also google your antivirus. Recently, Avast and AVG have been tagged as stealing user data, and for a while, several antivirus programs were blue-screening when Windows updated.
Some antivirus programs slow the computer down more than others. And remember, additional optimization does not protect you, but it can slow you down. That antivirus is selling what Windows automatically does on Wednesday evenings. I check all settings and turn off any non-important features.
Next, check the Startup tab in Settings to see the programs that load and run in the background, although it may not be comprehensive. Turn off any processes that you don't need.
Is the drive full? Open up File Explorer and click on This PC on the left. If your C: drive has less than 25% free space, Windows will have to slow down to move files around in the background. If it is full, then you need to determine where all the storage is taken up. Most of the time, it is photos or videos. Right-click on those folders and select properties to see the folder size. You can also download a program for this. On my Mac, I found DaisyDisk to be the easiest, but on Windows, you might like SpaceSniffer or WinDirStat. Consider adding an SD card if you have an empty slot, and moving files there. SDCards might not get backed up, though. In my opinion, finding duplicates is time-consuming. I would instead move all files to an external drive and copy working files as needed. Storage is cheap. However, you can try CCleaner portable to remove duplicates.
Third, ask yourself if the slowness only happens while going online, checking email, using Dropbox or Google Drive, iCloud, etc. On Windows, if you check all the icons running next to the time and date on the taskbar, you might have a network problem if you see multiple online services.
Run a speed test at fast.com. Then call Comcast or Centurylink to see what you are paying for. If your speeds are not close to what you are paying for, have them run diagnostic tests. If you are, ask for an upgrade and a discount. Note, also, that Netflix and other streaming providers require 25 Mbps for decent videos, gaming, or music. Quality suffers at lower speeds.
If you still have slowdowns, then you have a choice to make: do I buy a new computer, or do I bring it to someone experienced? Experience does matter. Most of the knowledge gained repairing computers, or local networking setups are not found in textbooks, on-demand youtube instruction, or from your teenage neighbor. They can be helpful but may not have training in troubleshooting or recognizing the cause of an error.
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