Version 2 (modified by Daniel Kahn Gillmor, 10 years ago) (diff)


Dealing with Sluggish Windows™ machines

A friend recently asked dkg:

So I can't remember if I asked you this last time I saw you, but my laptop (pc) is super slow and the Geek Squad at Best Buy (where I bought it) wants to charge me about $200 and change to fix it. It's only 2 years old.

I get a fair number of questions like this, so i thought i'd write up my notes for the sake of folks who'd find them useful:

I don't really work with Microsoft Windows these days, so i'm probably not the best bet if the machine is running some flavor of Windows. (the last version that i did any serious admin work on at all was Windows XP, and my skills are rusty there).

I think you're right to be wary of outfits like Geek Squad -- i've heard some real horror stories, and it's not clear that you can be sure you'll get anything from them.

My usual strategy for debugging sluggish Windows machines is to start with a standard virus/adware/spyware check (e.g. something like SpyBot search-and-destroy), accepting the results of a full-system scan from that tool, then restarting the machine and running the scan again to make sure it's clean the second time.

If it's still sluggish, i'll look at the various resources on the machine, and figure out which one is being exhausted (and is therefore under contention -- the "bottleneck", if you will). On a reasonable operating system, you can get a lot of good info with some basic tools. On Windows, you probably want to use something like System Monitor. Once i see which resource is being hit hardest, i try to figure out what's using up that particular resource, and see if it's something that is actually useful and intended by the operator of the machine.

Anything that's not useful and intended by the operator gets removed. How removed? on Windows, i'd start with getting rid of stuff via the "Add/Remove Programs" control panel. Look also at turning off programs or services that you don't need. "msconfig" used to be a decent tool for doing this on Windows. I dunno if it's still relevant with newer versions.

Also useful at this stage for older machines running newer operating systems is to just ask the OS to limit the amount of flashy eye-candy effects. semi-transparent windows, weird window "wobbling", distortion, fade in/fade out, etc, all of these things cost computer resources to do. if you can do without them, you'll probably speed up the rest of your system. On Windows, that stuff used to be in the "Appearance" control panel, i think. It might be somewhere else now.

If the remaining things that are exhausting the resources are legitimately desired (e.g. if you're constantly at the limits of yer RAM, because you're running a more recent web browser which unfortunately just requires more RAM) then i'd recommend physically upgrading that subsystem on the machine (e.g. buying more RAM, replacing the CPU, getting a faster disk, etc, depending on which resource was the bottleneck), which itself might be expensive (or might not -- hardware gets mind-bogglingly cheaper every year).

Hope this helps someone!