After a while your computer can gradually slow down, start crashing more often and freezing up. Many things can cause sluggish performance, but there are some common causes:
A large registry – Any time software is installed on your computer, it stores settings and options for that program in the Windows registry. Over time you end up with errors and other leftover items like broken shortcuts clogging up the registry, slowing it down.
Unnecessary startup programs – These programs don’t need to run every time the computer is turned on, but they are set to automatically run at startup, which slows your boot time.
Wasted memory – Temporary files, cookies, and file remanants left from sudden shutdowns and program errors take up drive space and waste your computer’s processing time on useless items.
Fragmented memory – Not defragmenting your hard drive regularly results in scattered data, making it take longer to open files and start programs.
Of course it’s possible to take care of these issues individually. Windows XP and Vista have built in tools to keep your computer fine tuned, including defragmenting and checking the hard drive. There are also many third party optimization tools available that promise to improve your computer’s performance. Unfortunately there are some “PC clean up” programs out there that will mess up your installed software in the process, deleting stuff that you really do need after all. If you do go this route, make sure you choose solution from a reputable company like Optimzer from PC Pitstop or System Mechanic from iolo.
I ran System Mechanic on my four year old laptop and it found 1.3 GB of system clutter, 2 registry problems and my internet configuration was not optimized for maximum speed. After fixing these items and defragmenting the hard drive the computer was definitely faster, especially when starting up programs and opening files.
I think sometimes people are hesitant to poke around and do anything that might permanently change or mess up their PCs (obviously smart). It’s less scary to leave everything alone and just deal with the gradual decline in performance. But a good optimization tool is user-friendly and tells you what each “fix” will do before you give the go-ahead.
System Mechanic will also check security settings and lets you automate future monitoring and fixing of performance issues, so you can take a more hands-off approach if you like.
Laura Leites, Assistant Editor, Smallbiztechnology.com