My windows PC has slowed down

As I know about PCs, I regularly get asked by friends and family for advice. I used to do a lot more for people including building new systems for them when my work life was not so hectic but these days I can only give general advice.

I had another query today:

Your clever about computers. My pc is getting slower and slower. I’ve done all the housekeeping on it, ie cleaned and defraged discs, its checked for virus and spyware all that stuff. I think it may be a hardware problem (it is an old pc now). Thats where my knowledge lets me down, do you think it will more likely be a harddrive problem or a motherboard problem. I added some new memory a while ago and it made a difference for a while but its started slowing down again. Its doesn’t crash or anything like that.

And if its a hardware problem, how easy is it for me to replace those things? DO you think it would be easier for me to take it to a shop to do it or is it easy enough for me to do it.

Thanks for any help.

I replied as follows:

No amount of housekeeping, defragging, etc. will ever properly clean up a Windows PC. I have always worked on the basis that I must reinstall Windows from scratch on my own home PC every 6 months. You can clearly survive longer but then you do not do what I do.

So, backup the data you want to keep and reinstall Windows (not over the top of the existing installation but as a new installation). You will have to install all of your applications again. Your current installation is probably in c:\Windows so if you tell the installation routine to create the new install in, say, c:\winxp you will be creating a completely clean build. You will get a choice on boot up of which installation of Windows to use.

You will be surprised by the considerably improvement in performance.

Hard disks are really cheap these days, so you could install Windows on a new disk and put the old disk back in (but not BOOT from it) when you have the new system up and running.

Yes, you will find it easy to fit a disk drive. You just need to check the connection type: EIDE, a wide cable, or SATA, a small plug and thin wire. EIDE cables allow two devices to be plugged in and SATA cables only one. Most older motherboards have two EIDE sockets. Newer boards have two EIDE and two or more SATA sockets. Newest boards have dropped the EIDE sockets and have lots of SATA sockets. It is not a good idea to have a slow device like a CD/DVD drive and and fast device like a hard disk on the same EIDE cable. You will need to provide power to the extra drive and there should be be a spare plug inside your computer already but if not you can buy a simple splitter that plugs into the end of a current plug and provides two plugs in its place. When you have two disks, only one can be master – the other is the secondary. You used to have to set which was which using a little “jumper” than links pins together in a block of pins located at the end of the drive near the data socket. These days all the settings are done in the bios but on some older systems you may still need to use the pins to set the drives to “let the computer decide selection” mode. Usually there is a sticker on the drive telling you pins to link for what setting but if not you can always look it up online on the web site for the manufacturer concerned. (Your computer may still need you to set things the old fashioned way.)

Alternatively, if you do not really really need Windows, install Linux (download the version from http://www.ubuntu.com/ where you can get an image you can burn to CD and boot from that). Most installations with split up your existing hard disk, leaving Windows intact and install Linux in its own area along with many common applications. You will get the choice on boot up of whether to use Linux or Windows.

It is unlikely that there is anything you do on Windows that isn’t done faster, cheaper and often better on Linux. http://www.openoffice.org/ gives you a complete and free alternative to Microsoft office, Mozilla Firefox is much better than Internet Explorer and there are plenty of messaging clients available that will allow to talk (from one client) to MSN, Google Talk, AOL, etc users.  Generally, Linux on old PCs is faster than Windows on the latest hardware.

If you can build with lego, you can build a PC. Gradual upgrades are worth doing BUT complete replacements can not be done cheaper than those building systems in bulk. A modern decent PC from a computer fair will cost around £350 to £400 (keeping your existing keyboard, mouse, monitor). Alternatively, keep an eye on the Today only offers from scan (http://www.scan.co.uk) – I buy most of my bits from them and http://www.overclockers.co.uk – where you can often pick up a complete kit for excellent prices, you just need to put it together. Best performance these days comes from Intel® Core™2 Duo processors options rather than AMD.  Would probably be a good experience for your son.

If you really want to have some technical fun, you can create a clone of your existing install using vmware and run this using virtualisation technology as a window on either the Linux installation or the new Windows installation (so anything you can not easily replace or reinstall, you can still use).

You need to tell me more about the current specification of your PC for me to give you any more advice.

2 thoughts on “My windows PC has slowed down

  1. I suggest you create a virtual image of your current PC and install that in the new installation so that you can still get at all your old applications (in case it takes you a while getting around to installing them all again).

    ( use http://www.vmware.com/products/converter/ to create the virtual machine image and use http://www.vmware.com/products/player/ to run the virtual machine image – if you do go for a new PC later, you can take the image with you )

  2. I had some feedback and my friend still felt that it was a hardware issue.

    It is unlikely to be a hardware issue (other than perception).

    Motherboards when they go tend to cause intermitant faults or complete failure rather than a general slow down. Hard disk start having read problems and you hit sporadic significant slow downs and read/write warnings. Slow-down over time is a well known problem with Windows – avoided in large corporates by very tight lock-down and profile management.

    If you want to play the latest games, use a lot of heavy weight applications, or do processor intensive activities (such as photo and video editing) then, yes, you probably need a new PC.

    PCs have continued to advance rapidly ove the last couple of years. You will see a huge difference in the performance of the latest hardware compared to your old hardware.

    If you do go for a new PC, split the hard disk between OS & Apps, and data. Take a full image of the OS & Apps partition BEFORE you install anything and another after you have installed all of the base applications you want to use. When your machine gets slow again (and it will), you can restore the images you made rather than trying to clean up what you are using.

    It does sound to me like you just feel ready for a new PC. It would be worth doing the reinstallation I mentioned and then seeing that whilst performance is much better, the machine is still too slow for the latest applications. (Obviously, it makes little difference for most Internet activities as there you are constrained by the speed of your connection.)

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