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Living with Technology / Speed up your computer for free

Published 12:30 pm, Wednesday, September 4, 2013
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After about six months of using a computer, I find it seems to be a lot slower than when it was new.

It starts up slower, the applications run slower, the Internet displays things slower.

It's not that computers get slower. Processors don't run any slower, hard drives don't spin any slower, computer memory doesn't become any slower.

So why does a computer run slower over time, and how can that be fixed?

In my case -- and I'm typical in this respect -- over time, I am asked to install new pieces of software on my computer. Typically they're pieces of software to enable a feature, such as video conferencing, backups, or something else.

Most typically, there are lots of add-ins for Web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or similar.

But there are often pieces of software that the manufacturer wants to start whenever you turn on your computer.

Each one of these items by itself typically doesn't cause a noticeable performance decrease. A piece of software that starts when you turn on your computer may only add 10 seconds to the start time of your computer. But when you have a dozen or more of those, the time to start up your computer becomes noticeable longer.

The problem with these little software "nuggets" is that I tend to use them only once or twice, typically for a specific person with whom I'm dealing or a project. Once that need to use them ends, unfortunately, the software stays on my computer.

The fix I use is that every year or two, I will backup my computer, restore my computer's hard drive to its factory state (what it was like when I took it out of the box), then add back only the items that I really need.

Most recently, I took my personal laptop computer that typically took more than 20 minutes to start up and after doing the above, it now starts up and is ready to use in under two minutes. The computer is much faster in everything it does, from searching to starting programs like Word, Excel and Internet Explorer, to saving files, printing and more.

It's like having a new computer all over again. For free.

Note that this system restore is not something that takes only a few minutes. I find with my computers that it typically takes an entire weekend to back up my files, restore the system to its factory specs, reload the software (such as Microsoft Office), apply all of the patches and updates, re-install software to let me print to my various printers, restore all of my email accounts and documents.

I'd have to do a similar amount of work if I bought a new computer. However, by using my current computer, I save anywhere from $300 to $2,000, depending on what type of computer I would have purchased.

Eventually, there are reasons to buy a new computer. Because its become slower over the past few years is not one of them for me.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my much faster computer, and speeding it up cost me nothing.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org