Other than things not working for any number of reasons, the most common computer issue is speed, or lack thereof. Contrary to popular belief the speed of the computer itself, the hardware, hasn’t changed. It’s still running the same as when it was brand new.
Sure, there are rare instances where a hardware failure can cause a computer to run slower than normal. A software malfunction can also make the computer’s CPU to run at 100% forever, slowing the computer to a crawl. However, the focus of this article is what causes normal, gradual, slowdowns and what to do about it.
It’s The Software!
First, lets get a few facts out of the way:
- Upgrading your CPU, if you can find one that is compatible, will not make your computer noticeably faster.
- Adding memory, especially if you already have 6-8 GB of RAM, will not make your computer noticeably faster unless you are running demanding design or gaming programs.
- Installing a larger capacity hard drive, say 500 GB to 1 Terabyte, will not make your computer faster, at all. Chances are you are not using anywhere close to your current drive capacity. Drive capacity has no bearing on performance.
- Moving your pictures, documents, downloads, etc off you computer onto an external device will NOT make your computer run faster. Those are files just sitting on the drive doing nothing. They are not active. Moving the files is also dangerous because if done improperly, those files have a habit of disappearing.
The slowdown issue is due to the normal day to day upgrades and updates to the software you have on your computer, in addition to any new software programs that are installed. Many of those programs run in the background and constantly occupy the time of the hardware. The more programs installed, the slower the computer will run. Nails in a coffin.
When you start and run the programs you want to use, the computer says “One moment please, I have these three other programs to deal with right now”. Contrary to popular belief, computers cannot run programs at the same time unless the software is designed to do just that. What is actually happening is the computer is switching between programs, bouncing from one to the other. The more programs running, the more switching, the slower each program will run.
It’s about all those bytes flying around. The more bits and bytes, the more the computer is occupied, trying to juggle it all. The underlying hardware has not changed, just all the work it’s being told to do.
Avoid life sucking updates and upgrades?
It used to be so easy to avoid trouble.
Back in the stone age, the 90’s, the only way to upgrade your software was to buy it or purposely download and install it. Frankly, it was a bit of pain so it didn’t happen often. Today, nearly all computers are connected to the Internet and they grab their updates automatically, often times without your knowledge.
There is something called “Patch Tuesday”, which is an unofficial term but it describes when Microsoft makes Windows updates available for your computer. A few points regarding this:
- In our time zone, it’s more like Wednesday morning.
- They are installed around 3AM if the computer is running overnight.
- If not, they are downloaded when the computer is running and internet connected.
- None of the above is true anymore.
Why is what we just said not true, you ask? Because, especially lately, updates and upgrades are seemingly being pushed out 24x7x365 by Microsoft and all software companies. It’s officially reached ludicrous speeds. Phones, tablets, computers, laptops – it doesn’t matter. Everything is constantly being updated and it’s impossible to stop.
Change is the number one enemy of computing. If you change nothing, nothing changes. The computers will run the same as always. However, for weeks and months now we anxiously await mornings where we find out what changed and how many phone calls will we get that day. If the phones and email light up like a Christmas tree with everyone having the same problem, we know a bad update was issued by someone.
A typical response might be to block the updates and upgrades. It used to be easier in the past, but today the updates are oftentimes forced upon you. You can battle the overlords but eventually they will wear you down and force you to accept their “medicine”.
When asked if updates or upgrades should be installed, we reluctantly say “yes” because often times those updates are security related and should be installed. If any issues arise after the update or upgrade, we tackle them as needed.
So, what can I do about a slow device?
The Free Fix Option
The free way to improve performance is to remove programs you don’t need. If the program does not exist, not only does it not run in the background, it’s not updated or upgraded either. It seems like every program that gets installed, be it games, business software, junk software, etc. runs in the background in some way. Because of that, removing can be somewhat effective at speeding up the computer.
How that’s done can vary depending on the device. For Windows based computers and laptops, the ‘Uninstall a program’ utility is the way to go. Be careful though, there are a lot of entries there that you won’t recognize such as ‘Microsoft Visual C++ blah blah’. Those sorts of things you want to keep.
Tablets and phones are not nearly as confusing. If you see an app you do not need, typically pressing and holding the app icon will start the removal process. You don’t typically have to worry about removing something you shouldn’t. Sometimes the particular app you selected to remove is built into your phone or tablet and cannot be uninstalled.
There are times when it’s hopeless and the overall performance improvement is minimal at best. In those cases starting over from scratch is the ultimate do-over. However, this is a very big deal because chances are you have data stored in the phone, tablet, computer or laptop that must be backed up BEFORE wiping everything out.
Then, after you perform a ‘from scratch’ install, you must re-install various drivers, programs, or apps. Our claim to fame is that on all of our new computers we take a minimalist approach, meaning we absolutely will not install trial, demo, unwanted, or unneeded software just to ‘pad the sale’. Nothing is installed that isn’t needed. It greatly extends the long term operating performance of the computer and lessens problems.
To re-install various programs, you often need account name or numbers, passwords, keys, etc. That’s where good documentation is a lifesaver.
Hardware Upgrade Option
Let’s get the question of hardware upgrades out of the way also.
The only upgrade that is worthwhile is changing the hard drive to an SSD (Solid State Drive). The performance increase is phenomenal. You may have seen it elsewhere on this site where we talk about 2x, 3x, 4x performance increases or more, depending on what we are upgrading from .
Manufacturers will advertise cheap, supposedly fast computers by installing a 1 Terabyte, slow, cheap, mechanical hard drive. They are depending on this false idea that says the larger the hard drive capacity, the faster the computer. This is categorically false. A thousand times so.
If you store a lot of pictures, documents, music, video etc, then yes, you need a higher capacity drive. It won’t make the computer faster, it will simply allow you to store your stuff. Even then, with some exceptions of course, most people use 75-125GB of space. Using a 1 Terabyte drive, that’s roughly 10% of the total space available.
We see with our own eyes brand new computers, from all companies, that are tragically slow due to the hard drive capacity scam. It’s an extremely dishonest thing to see. We do our best to improve the overall performance, but often times little can be done except upgrading that new computer with the slow hard drive to an SSD.
More SSD Chatter
Every function a computer performs utilizes every part of the computer, be it the processor, memory, hard drive, video, etc, to some degree or another.
So, where is the bottleneck?
In today’s world, it’s the hard drive. Hands down. No contest. Take it to the bank. Insert your preferred idiom here.
When evaluating a computer for an upgrade, we check if your computer has the following specifications:
- Minimum 4 GB of RAM
- Intel Pentium, an ‘I’ family of processor or AMD ‘A’ processor.
- Moderately decent motherboard.
- No infection or junk software running.
- No unnecessary programs installed.
If so, your computer satisfies the basic requirements for a successful upgrade to an SSD. Instead of the standard issue, mechanical, spinning platter hard drive, we use an all electronic device similar to the ubiquitous flash drive, but much more enhanced.
Your first question might be, how do I know my computer satisfies these minimum requirements? For that, we offer something called an evaluation. Your issue is slow overall performance. We take the computer in and check for other sources of the slow performance. If things check out, we might recommend the SSD upgrade with a cost estimate.
We do this because your performance problems might not be due to the computer itself. One issue we see is confusion between slow Internet and a slow computer. We can test the computer’s Internet performance in shop. We know what it should be.
If your Internet is slow, the computer will be waiting for websites to appear, making it seem like the computer is slow when, in fact, it’s waiting for the Internet to do it’s thing. In that case, the computer is not at fault, but your Internet connection is. A call to your Internet provider is in order. We often work with customers trying to determine if the issue is in the computer or the Internet connection to the home or business.
This article is focused on computer performance, so we’ll assume for now your Internet is good. However, you can test your Internet using testing sites such as Speedsmart or Speedtest. Your download speed should be what you are paying for. We want to see 2.5 or greater. 5 can be good enough for basic web browsing, Facebook, or email. We like to see 20 or more.
If we find that the computer, after meeting the minimum system requirements, is at fault, we’ll recommend an SSD upgrade. The SSD is more expensive per gigabyte of storage. For example, a typical 500GB conventional drive may be half the cost of a 500GB SSD drive. However, since very few people actually use all of that space, you can radically reduce the cost of the upgrade by choosing to go with a 250GB SSD to replace your underutilized 500GB, 1T or 2T drive.
That’s the key. Upgrade your existing, high capacity drive with a lower capacity SSD. I admit, some are still hung up on the false belief that higher capacity equals higher performance and that is simply not true. A smaller capacity SSD is several times faster than a larger capacity conventional drive.
More discussion about SSD can be found here.
Okay, fine. What do I buy?
As with all computer hardware, there are different brands and model drives to choose from. The model we went with has been 100% successful. No failures. No compatibility issues. Nothing. We had the option of offering a higher, server grade level drive but we specifically tested performance between the two and found minimal differences. Those drives are focused on constant activity which does not apply to a personal computer.
What about less expensive SSD’s? Yes, we considered those, of course. The issue we found was not so much with performance but compatibility and stability. Our testing showed that they didn’t work so well upgrading older computers so we don’t use them. Simple as that.
How much faster do SSD’s work?
Again, 2-4 times faster overall performance, if not more after a full service which is included in all SSD upgrades. 15-20 second boot time? Of course, overall performance will vary depending on operating system, programs installed, etc. But, we can guarantee at least 2-3 times faster boot and program operation, even more if the original installed drive is one of the slower units we find.
Interestingly enough, you can also expect faster Internet performance. Wait one minute, you say. Internet speed and computer speed are two different animals. The computer waits for the Internet, remember?
Well, there is a term called ‘render’. Render means that once the computer downloads the website, it will perform it’s magic and present the data in view-able form. In the case of the Internet, the program used can be one of several commonly used programs called ‘browsers’. They allow you to view or browse (surf) the Internet:
- Internet Explorer
- And more…
The browser requests the web page you want to see and that web page is sent to your computer (downloaded). The browser then ‘renders’ the code in the website (makes it view-able).
You may have noticed that web pages are getting extremely graphical. Many are filled with advertising and “things” secretly running in the background. Once your browser receives the web-page, it must sort through all the code and display it in a readable form.
That “rendering” process involves all of your computer, including the hard drive. A faster drive means faster Internet page viewing. Again, how quickly the web page is downloaded depends on your Internet service. How quickly the page is made view-able depends on the computer.
There is another benefit to SSD drives. When people click on icons, there is always a delay before something happens. Windows must typically go to the hard drive and retrieve the files in order to start the program you just clicked on.
That’s a delay. And sometimes that delay is long enough, or patience is short enough, that another click is done. This will often times start the program twice, cause an error, freeze the program, or some such bad thing.
Queue the expletives and sometimes a reboot.
With an SSD, the response time after clicking on an icon is radically improved, to the point that something happens fast enough where another click is not needed because the program is already shows signs of starting.
SSD drives are the greatest innovation to computing in years, more so than processors and memory. All other improvements have been gradual, with the hard drive remaining static the whole time. It got to the point where processor, memory, and drive capacity exceeded people’s ability to use it all, excluding gamers and designers. Meanwhile, the software had overwhelmed the hard drives ability to read and write all the files in a decent amount of time.
Along came SSD and computers now offer the complete package. No more bottlenecks.
It’s a great thing. A 5 year old computer running Windows 10 and an SSD will outrun a new computer with a 1T conventional drive, running the same software in typical day to day use. It makes for a radically less expensive way to upgrade your computer instead of buying new.
Sure, some programs may require a fancy video card or fast processor, but for the rest of us, your current computer is strong enough for your needs, except for the old style hard drive.
Another advantage to choosing an SSD upgrade versus a replacement computer is that all your existing software, your entire setup, gets moved to an SSD intact. No reloading, no missing passwords or key numbers, nothing. If it’s done by us, we also perform a normal service along with the SSD upgrade.