Image shows a young man angry with his computer slow because he didn't get disaster recovery

Why is my computer slow?

You just clicked the button and nothing happened. There is a spinning wheel, hourglass, or some indicator that the computer is struggling to do what you need it to. You know the last time here, you never had the computer slow – or you’ve noticed it getting worse.

Is your hard drive failing? Do you have a virus? Is your processor insufficient for what you’re asking of it? Are you out of memory?

This post is going to help you figure that out.

Computer Slow?

Invariably, every computer starts to show signs of slowness. Windows, Macs, even Linux-based computers can get slow over time. So what gives? There are several causes, and we want to start with the most simple so you can save some time and money to get to the root of the problem.

Poor Software

This is probably the most common. Computer programs have to use memory to operate. That means loading data into memory and removing data from memory. Poorly written software doesn’t always manage that memory well.

Programs also manage the hard drive, putting data on the disk and reading it back off. Bad management of the disk can lead to files scattered across the hard drive and even damaged files.

Typically, rebooting your computer can eliminate the slowness caused by poor software. If that is the case, consider finding another software package, or just plan on frequent reboots.

Full Hard Drive

Your computer performs many background tasks that keep your computer secure, manage the file system, update software, and make sure that programs operate safely.

Many of these tasks require a fair amount of available hard drive space to perform their operations. When the hard drive starts to run out of space, these tasks may become queued up so they can run with what little space there is. These queues can extend the time it takes these tasks to run and result in slowness.

Always try and keep 30% of your hard drive available for these operations. When it gets down to about 10%, then see what you can clean up and get back to that 30% mark again.

Updates

This section has more to do with Windows computers than any other. Microsoft is the most targeted software manufacturer by hackers. To manage this, Microsoft has to constantly issue updates for their many software products.

Frequent updates provide many opportunities for glitches in the update systems and that can cause slowness. Incomplete updates, improperly applied ones, and updates that have to be applied in stages can slow your computer down tremendously.

Usually a reboot will initiate an update process and you’ll see the familiar update notifications. If the computer runs slowly after and update, another reboot (or even two!) may relieve these issues.

Heat

Computers today have several sensors and compensating mechanisms to adjust to dynamic environments. The processor can be slowed if the temperature rises because of several programs running at the same time.

Heat can also be generated by a dirty computer. If you place your computer on carpeted flooring, it can pull in a great deal of dust. If your work environment is humid, you can add sticky moisture which mixes with the dust and prevents heat transfer by the fans.

Check the temperature of your computer by placing your hand on the case in various places, especially the back. If the temperature feels warmer than the back of your monitor, you may have a heat issue.

If you choose to clean the computer yourself, be careful about using canned air or vacuums.  Canned air can dislodge larger pieces of debris and damage other components. Vacuums can generate a lot of static electricity (even the plastic pieces), so take care to avoid touching sensitive components like the motherboard or memory.

Malware

The objective of malware often includes using your computer to distribute malware to other computers. It also causes a lot of slowness while it scans your computer for personal information, passwords, and computer usage history.

Indications of malware-induced slowness are sometimes difficult to diagnose without obvious signs. Those signs include popups, problems with search results, and other in-your-face evidence. Generally, we eliminate other causes like those above before addressing a hidden malware issue.

A malware scan can be a helpful action to indicate a malware-caused slowdown. If one is found, we always recommend a second scan to make sure they’re gone, and even a scan by another anti-malware product to confirm a clean system.

Hard Drive Failure

Generally, a hard drive failure is quite clear. The computer stops working completely, and you are heading to the shop for a data recovery. In our experience, that’s not always the case.

Hard drives can exhibit some odd behaviors as they are starting to fail. We recently had a drive that passed tests by three different scans, yet the computer ran very slowly. We swapped the hard drive for a new one and everything returned to normal.

Your IT support people have the luxury of having some quick drive cloning tools so making this diagnosis and repair is a pretty effortless operation for us. Much harder, as you can imagine, for the average computer user.

Others

There are many other issues that could be at play. From damaged drivers to bad network cables, there can be many issues in-between that can be more challenging to diagnose.

You might check out our troubleshooting guide for some more tips.

Consider taking the computer to your favorite IT service provider to give you the answers you need so you don’t have to keep getting frustrated!

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