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Tackling Lag: What’s Slowing Your Computer’s Performance?

Computer lag isn’t just a problem for high-end power users — it affects everyone. The questions pop up at IT desks everywhere: Why does my laptop run so slowly? Why do my computers get slower over time? What are some ways I can speed up my machine and restore it to its glory days?

There are quite a few reasons why an otherwise good machine might not perform up to par. Here are some common culprits of system slowdowns.

Startup Apps

For one, many computer manufacturers include a lot of utilities, games, “assistants,” and other programs that are set up to run as soon as you either boot your computer or log into it. The idea is that once your startup process is complete, all of this software is available to you immediately, but it can make reboots and cold startups extremely painful to endure. By cleaning out these programs using Windows utilities, you will be able to improve your startup times and have fewer programs in memory and eating up CPU cycles, making your system feel faster and more responsive.

Some apps or utilities that you should try turning off:

  • Startup assistants
  • Instant messaging programs (you can always launch these when you need them)
  • Toolbars or small add-in programs that lurk in the background
  • File sync programs

Crowded, Outdated Web Browsers

Web browsers have become more than ways to view websites, and are now capable of running all sorts of extensions and add-ons. As a result, they have also become another potential source of bad quality software and system slowdowns. Out-of-date extensions, ad blockers that don’t work and even junky add-ons like “search enhancers” or “free money surveys” are often poorly programmed and steal precious system resources while they’re running. Think about cleaning out your browser, updating it to the latest version, clearing out cookies and only running a skeleton set of trusted extensions and add-ons.

The Speed of Your Internet Connection and Wi-Fi

Although it might not be the chief reason why your system seems slow, if you have a very slow connection to the internet, it can make your computer appear to be slower, laggy or less responsive than it really is — often because browsers get tied up waiting for responses from websites that may have gotten lost due to poor connections or extreme latency on your connection. DSL connections these days are most likely to have a lot of noise and static on their lines, while cable modem connections or fiber optic-based services tend to be cleaner and better.

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Another place to look for slowdowns is your router/Wi-Fi access point. When too many devices are connected to a single wireless access point, your throughput will slow, and performance will deteriorate. If you’re hugely into smart home technology and have a dozen or more devices connected to your router, then performance will certainly be impacted. Many routers offer ways for users to prioritize the connections of certain devices or others.

Processor Speed and Memory

Many lower-end, consumer-oriented systems currently in the market feature low-power processors. While these aim at saving battery life, making for a longer charge, the tradeoff is low computing power, making systems seem slower.

Also make sure to check the amount of system memory you have. These days, if you have 4GB or less of RAM, you will have a suboptimal experience, regardless of your PC’s operating system. Unfortunately, in less expensive systems, neither of these components can be upgraded, so you may be stuck with what you have until you purchase a new system.

Hard Disk Capacity

As a disk fills up and approaches its maximum capacity, it can tend to slow down, as it takes longer for the disk to find free space to write; this is true of all types of disks. Keeping your hard drive less than half full can help with system responsiveness and “perkiness.”

How a Solid State Drive Can Help

Of course, looking at the individual hardware components of your system and their distinct performance characteristics is important. And the fact of the matter is, for most systems, the hard disk drive (HDD) is by far the slowest component — and this is especially true for laptops, where sometimes traditional hard disk drives spin at even lower speeds than desktop drives in order to save on power and noise. You could upgrade every other individual component of the system to the fastest hardware possible, but if you don’t upgrade the drive, the system would feel as unresponsive as it did before. Hard drives are bottlenecks.

Buying a solid state drive (SSD) to replace a slow, old, spinning hard drive can breathe new life into machines that are three, four, five years old or older. SSDs use flash memory instead of spinning magnetic platters to store data, and can transmit and receive data between your system and the disk anywhere from 50 to 100 times as fast as a regular drive. By replacing a hard drive with an SSD, you eliminate what is by far the slowest individual component in your system.

One such SSD to consider is the Samsung 860 QVO, a terabyte-sized SSD built with the latest flash technology and solid performance at an affordable price. With read and write speeds in excess of 500 megabytes per second, your computer will boot faster, shut down faster, and respond with crispness and without lag.

Avoid computer lag and poorly responding machines by using a state of the art SSD. Need help choosing the right SSD for your system? Start here for some guidance.

Jonathan Hassell

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Jonathan Hassell

Jonathan Hassell is an award-winning writer specializing in enterprise information technology, including administration, security, and mobile. His work has appeared in Computerworld, CIO.com, Network World, and dozens of other publications.

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