I’ll have to say this up front: Most of this article talks about Windows computers. There won’t be much application to Mac computers. I may need to have David write a companion article for our Mac users.
We’ve all been there. We finally take the plunge and buy a new computer. It has the latest Operating System. It has plenty of RAM. It has a large Hard Drive. When you push the power button it’s booted up and waiting on your password before you realize what’s happened. When you launch your Web Browser you begin to see your Home Page within mere seconds. Ah, those were the days.
Now everything is different. You press the power button on your computer and go make a pot of coffee. You come back, sit down, type your password, and go start a load of laundry. You walk back by and without even sitting down you launch the web browser and go get a cup of that coffee you made earlier. What happened to your wonderful computer???
There are a few things that wear down your computer’s speed. Time marches on. I still play kickball. My wife and I play in a city kickball league. It’s a lot of fun and helps keep us active. I played kickball a lot as a kid. When I was a kid I could kick the ball harder. I could run around the bases faster. I thought nothing of sliding in to home plate even if I was wearing shorts!
Now, I play a bit slower. I kick the ball more carefully so I don’t dislocate my hip. I can sprint to first, but hopefully by then someone has the ball in hand ready to throw at me so I can stop there and catch my breath. I’m older. In a lot of ways, kickball has passed me by. Through the years, parts have worn down. The things I have eaten have left behind extra fat for me to carry around. I may have a few health issues I didn’t have as a kid. Your computer has some of the same issues.
Before I offer some solutions, let me define some of the words I just threw at you.
Operating System (OS): Windows is an Operating System. Basically, the Operating System is the big program that opens when your computer first turns on. It helps you manage your stuff and run other programs. Your Operating System makes the rules.
RAM: This stands for Random Access Memory. RAM is the working memory. It’s fast. When you open a program it copies most of that program to RAM where you can use it. When you work on a file it stays in RAM until you save it. The scary thing about RAM is that it’s temporary. When the electricity goes away so does everything in RAM. That’s why you lose your work when the computer crashes if you forget to save.
Hard Drive: The hard drive is a device that contains several multi-layered disks. These disks spin at a high speed. There’s a little arm with a magnetic head on it that can read and write information to the disks. The Hard Drive is semi-permanent memory storage. It’s where all of your stuff stays until you remove it.
Web Browser: This is a program that helps you view and interact with information on the Internet. Your computer probably came with Internet Explorer as its default Web Browser. Some others are FireFox, Safari, and Chrome.
Home Page: When you first open your Web Browser it opens one certain web page every time. This web page is your Home Page. Many people don’t realize this, but you can chose what your Home Page is.
Now, is your brain numb? That was a lot of tech terminology all at once. We were talking about computer speed. What happened to it?
Parts have worn down. Computers don’t stay young forever. You do experience some (not much) slow-down in hardware as a computer ages. Little glitches show up because of the age & wear of the stuff inside the computer. The Hard Drive develops bad spots. Your computer is smart enough to recognize these bad spots and block them out so they don’t get used, but that just means it has to do more skipping around to avoid them. All of this stuff eats away at your speed. There isn’t much that can be done about this issue. You can take your computer in to a computer shop or technology store and have them upgrade the RAM and/or Hard Drive. These upgrades may give you a little more speed and help your computer last a little longer.
Extra fat to carry around. Your computer comes from the store ready to take care of itself. It goes out on the internet while you’re not watching and connects to Microsoft’s servers. It downloads little bits of programming to patch itself up. These patches are called Updates. It downloads them, installs them, and then reboots the computer so that the updates can start running as a part of your Operating System. All of these little updates make your Operating System bigger. A bigger Operating System requires more Hard Drive space and more computer speed. There’s not much that can be done about this. This is a part of the “time marches on” aspect of technology. You can delay the inevitable by upgrading the RAM and/or Hard Drive as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Another place your computer gains a lot of fat is in all the little bitty files that your Web Browser saves to the Hard Drive as you browse web pages. The Web Browser saves these files in what we call a Cache. A Cache is a locally stored collection of files that help speed up your web browsing. It’s a great idea. When you go to a web site, it downloads the information to your computer where you can see it. There are pictures, videos, sound files, and a lot of text. Your Web Browser saves all of that on your Hard Drive because loading stuff from the hard drive is quicker than loading stuff from the internet. When you go back to that web page, your Web Browser loads the stuff from the Cache on the Hard Drive instead of downloading it again. Pretty Smart!
The problem is that the Cache gets too big. It’s like government. It’s a great idea that was set up to help you, but when it gets too big it tends to slow things down and gum up the works. These files need to be cleaned out once in a while. You can go in to the preferences in your Web Browser to delete your cache, but that isn’t always easy to find and it doesn’t delete everything that needs deleting. The best thing I’ve found for this is a free program called CCleaner (the first C stands for Crap – Crap Cleaner). You can easily find, download, and install CCleaner. Just go to your favorite internet search site and type Download CCleaner.
Once you’ve installed CCleaner it does a neat little trick. It gives you a shortcut in your recycle bin. If you right-click on your recycle bin you will see “Open CCleaner” and “Run CCleaner”. Select the “Open CCleaner”. The program opens and gives you a choice. You can Analyze or Run CCleaner. Click on the Run CCleaner button. It is going to go through your computer and find all of the unnecessary files and delete them. Don’t worry. It is smart enough to know what needs deleted and what is important to keep. It is just going to delete cache & other temporary files like that. It is also going to empty your recycle bin. If you’ve never done this before, it could take a while. Be patient. It’s worth it.
Once it’s done, close the program and restart your computer. I bet you didn’t have time to go make a pot of coffee that time did you? Log in and open your Web Browser. Was it faster? Usually, CCleaner will make a huge difference in your computer speed. Some of you may be so excited that you stop reading this article and play with your computer just for the fun of the good old days when it was new and fast. That’s OK. Come back and finish reading later. I’ve got some more ideas for you.
When you open your Web Browser do you have several bars across the top of the window? Do you have any idea where those came from? Those are Toolbars. They’re sneaky little dudes. You’ll be downloading something that some website told you it needs in order to play that video of the cat sleeping with the dog on the couch, and there it went! You didn’t notice it, but it asked you if you wanted to install the Google Toolbar or the Ask Toolbar or the Yahoo Toolbar. You didn’t say yes, but you didn’t say no. It had clicked the checkbox for you. You were supposed to read every window that flashed by and uncheck that box. Since you didn’t, you got a new Toolbar. I once helped a person who had so many Toolbars that he had less than half of his browser window available for web pages.
Here’s how you get rid of them: Start with your “Start Menu”. You want your Control Panel. It may be under Settings. If you have the Windows 7 Operating System you need the “Programs and Features” icon. If you have an earlier Operating System you are looking for “Add or Remove Programs”. Launch that control panel and wait. It will take a few minutes to go through your computer and find all of the programs.
When it is done populating the list of programs you can start scrolling through. Look for anything that says “Toolbar”. When you find one click on it. When it is highlighted you’ll see a “Remove” or a “Change/Remove” button over to the right. Click it. It will probably ask you if you’re sure you want to remove it…you are. It may ask you if you want to take a survey about why you’re removing it…you don’t. It may ask you if you are interested in some free gizmo if you change your mind about the uninstall…you aren’t. Patiently read the windows it shows you and carefully click through until it finally finishes the uninstall and takes you back to the control panel. Now you can continue your search for Toolbars.
Once you’ve uninstalled all of the Toolbars you can find, reboot your computer. Now when you launch your Web Browser you should only see the Toolbars that came with your Web Browser. You should have more room to look at your web sites, and your Web Browser should run a bit quicker.