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PC tune-up

  1. Mar 15, 2013 #1
    Just recently my laptop (6 years old now) is starting to deteriorate in performance quite a bit. Applications are running slow, shockwave applications embedded in browsers are crashing from time to time. There's quite a bit of rubbish that has been installed on the machine over the years that I have never really gotten rid of.

    So yesterday I started un-installing all the rubbish. I did a disk cleanup, defragmented etc. all the usual but still it's not much better.

    Rather than just accept the laptop is old and probably needs replacing I'm trying to find a root cause and am putting it down to a combination of 2 things:

    1. Background processes/services are hogging the CPU.

    2. The RAM & HDD are wearing out and probably not operating at full capacity.

    Is there any software that can identify background processes and remove them?

    Also, how can I test the speed/performance of my RAM and hard drive?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2013 #2


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    RAM and hard drives don't "wear out". They either work or they don't work. The HD may get a few bad sectors but the system marks them and it has no effect on the performance. Your problem is entirely in the software.
  4. Mar 15, 2013 #3


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    In my experience Windows (I am assuming it is a Windows machine?) slowly rot, and after few years they have to be reinstalled.
  5. Mar 16, 2013 #4


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    Slow rot is less the case with the most recent Windows versions 7 and 8, but was very true for XP and earlier versions, which is likely on a 6 year old machine.
    The easy fix for the OP would be to download his machine contents to a backup drive, which cost maybe $100 for a 2 gig drive and then do a clean install of Windows.
    Of course, this is not possible unless the OP still has his original install disks and keys.

    Note that the problem could also be a clogged hard drive. If the drive is over 70% full, after defragging, you are probably hurting the perceived computer performance. A second hard drive, even a USB plug in drive for storing media files, can really help in such cases.
  6. Mar 21, 2013 #5


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    This post applies if you are using Windows.

    In order to help you clean out the background processes, it would help us to know exactly what OS you have. If XP or Windows 7, type the following in a command window or in the Run box: "msconfig.exe". In the popup window that results, click on StartUp. At this point, you can see many, or even most, processes that automatically start when your operating system boots, and you can disable individual ones so they won't start at the next reboot. Be careful, however, not to disable things that are required for the OS (Google to find out for anything you don't recognize).

    Also, look carefully at your system tray at what is running there. Right-click on things, go into their settings, and see if they can be instructed there not to start automatically. Over time, a lot of software jumps into your system tray, and these little programs are sucking off a little processor time to be there. Turn them off if you don't need them. This is essentially the same thing as using msconfig.exe.

    You'll find a lot of things you CAN safely disable, including things like this:

    1) Microsoft Office quickstart
    2) software "updaters" for Adobe, Flash, Java, etc. (but, if you kill these, do check manually for updates yourself every so often)
    3) adware

    Once you've disabled a ton of these and rebooted, you WILL see a significant regaining of processor time for yourself, and things should start looking up.

    Another thing you can do, in Windows 7, is delete all but the latest Restore points (to regain disk space), then defrag again. You may get a significantly better defrag that way.

    Another thing to try is to change the swap file setting from "variable" to some maximum size (usually, a power of two such as 4096 MB). Do this only AFTER you have well-defragged the disk. It will blow the swap file up to the max, instead of allowing the OS to shrink and then grow it dynamically, and this will help prevent the swap file itself from becoming fragmented.

    Also, in the Advanced part of the System applet, you can tune the processor for GUI or for server operation, and turn of visual effects (such as fading or animations or folder backgrounds) that you don't really need.

    These are just some of the things I do to "tune up" an old system. If the crashes you've experienced are related to slowness or lack of memory, these things will help. If they are hardware of DLL-hell related (i.e., one install of software has corrupted another program), they won't be enough.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  7. Mar 21, 2013 #6


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    Someone stated that having a drive more than 70% full is bad. This won't be the case IF you can maximize the swap file as I described in the previous reply. The shrinking and growing of the swap file can cause a system to crash if there is not a lot of free space on the drive, but if you maximize the swap file so it never changes size, you can use the entire drive and the system won't crash unless you try to write even more stuff to the drive than you have space for.

    The "swap file" is a part of the disk that the operating system uses to stash your running code and data, temporarily, when there is not enough RAM to hold it all. The use of a swap file is completely hidden from end users under normal circumstances, but thankfully, Microsoft provided ways to control its size (via the Control Panel).
  8. Mar 21, 2013 #7


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    Oh, yes--another big one is to prevent Microsoft from automatically downloading and installing updates. Instead, tell Windows to notify you of the availability of updates, but let you decide when (or even if) to download and install them. If really slow, disable automatic update notifications (but in this case, always go once a month at least and manually get all the updates on your own schedule--it is important to keep Windows updated for security reasons).

    Any software that tries up update itself automatically without your permission will be a bad offender in terms of your system performance. I am diligent about getting updates, but I insist that this occur on my own schedule.
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