Theres a sure cure for a slow computer. Just fork over hundreds of dollars to the guy with a nice smile at the store, and you can carry home a faster machine.
Truth is, there are times when thats the best solution. If your machine is several years old and you have the money, why not? And even if you cant afford a new computer, there are times it makes no sense to throw dollars at an outdated one.
But if you live on a budget who doesnt these days? and have a PC thats three or four years old, there are affordable ways to speed it up enough to extend its life for a year or two.
Lets start by setting some ground rules. First, because satisfactory new computers can be had for $500 to $800, it doesnt make sense to spend more than $150 or so on an old computer. Second, well assume you arent an electrical engineer and stick with tips that should be comfortable for any home user.
The leading cause of a slow computer is malware, the term for an infestation of adware and spyware. It can attack a new speed demon as easily as your old machine.
Malware includes tiny programs that constantly run and periodically monitor your browsing. At best, marketers use that information to target you with e-mailed ads. At worst, with spyware, your personal information can be exposed to a crook.
Even if this stuff didnt slow down your machine, it is a good idea to guard against it. And getting rid of these constantly running programs can do a lot to speed up your computer.
Commercial anti-virus, anti-malware programs such as Norton 360 do a good job of blocking and removing malware. The free version of Malwarebytes (www.malwarebytes.org/mbam.php) also does a fine job. Or you may choose to pay $25 for the full version of Malwarebytes. Other programs do a good job, too, including Microsofts Security Essentials and Ad-Aware (http://tinyurl.com/2updk5t).
A little housekeeping also can speed up any computer.
Defragmenting a hard disk at regular intervals fixes an inherent problem in the way computers store information. To get the most from available space, data and programs are stored in little chunks scattered all over the hard disk. When you need that program or data, the computer has to find all those bits and bytes and put them together again.
Windows comes with an adequate defragmenting program. Simply enter the word defragment in the search box with the Help menu. I use a commercial defragmenting program called PerfectDisk 11 that does an even better job. The version I use costs $30. Its worth it if you can spare the money; if not, the Windows version works fine.
You also can free up hard disk space by deleting unneeded programs and data. When you use 80 percent or more of your hard disk space, theres a possibility your PC will slow down.
Then take a look at programs that automatically start each time you turn on your computer. Removing some may let your computer run faster. To check, enter the words startup programs in the search box for Windows Help. You also can use that search term with Google to find out more.
So far, weve focused on ways to speed up your computer without spending money. If you try these fixes and are satisfied, stop right there. It would be better to save your money toward a new computer next year.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.