Not too long ago a blogger friend asked me for help in diagnosing what the heck is wrong with her Surface 3. A couple of weeks ago she had problems with the Wi-Fi not working. It mysteriously started working again after a Windows Update. Now she reports that Microsoft Word took 25 minutes to open. And her email is not working and reports a strange Windows Phone error, even though she has no Windows Phone. I told her that it sounds like she may have a virus or malware on her computer. I decided this was a great time to write a post that has been on my mind anyway. Forgive me because this is a long one! Troubleshooting a Windows PC can be a task if you don’t know what to look for, but I’m here to help.
We all know that technology does not always work. There are number of factors that can go into whether or not your PC starts behaving badly. If you’re a heavy user you are probably constantly downloading and installing new apps, installing new software, or just browsing the web. You may even run into unexpected trouble on the Internet when doing something as innocent as watching a video. No I don’t mean that type of video! No matter the cause it’s important to know what to do to get your PC running smoothly again. And yes, Macs can start behaving badly too. But that’s a different post.
In my tips I suggest that you download a couple of tools to scan your computer. Depending on the state of your computer you may or may not be able to download directly to it. If your computer browser is acting funny you may have trouble downloading. If that’s the case have another PC nearby where you can download the software and copy it to a USB key.
Check Your Hard Drive Space
Most computers purchased these days come with hard drives ranging from 256GB to 1TB in size. I recommend anything above 500GB. Some low-end laptops sold now have only 32 or 64GB of eMMC Flash Storage. This means there is zero space to save anything. These machines are for web based computing only.
Depending on how heavy a user you are, you may be using up space faster than you think. Photos and videos take up a lot of space. And some programs, like Photoshop, can use more than 1GB of space when installed. Your OS, system files, and recovery files all take up space. Open up My Computer or File Explorer and check the space on your C: drive. Hopefully you have GBs left, and not just MBs. If you are low on hard drive space, it can make your computer run slow as it works hard to open and move around files. Consider moving some photos and videos off to an external hard drive.
Uninstall Unused Programs
Doing this step now will make the rest of the process easier and faster because there will be less items for the scanners mentioned in the steps below to check.
You may download and install programs on a regular basis to try them out on your computer, or perform a task. And I’m sure a fair share of you install games from the Internet. The bad thing about some of these programs is that they sometimes install extra stuff that you do not want. It’s called bloatware. This can cause additional programs like browser toolbars, ad pop-ups, or even additional programs to take up space on your computer. And unfortunately, sometimes you may end up with malware. More on that in a bit.
On Windows 7 go to Start–>Computer. On Windows 10 go to Windows Key–>File Explorer. Click the down arrow in the navigation bar and click on Control Panel–>Uninstall a Program. In this list you will see all of the programs installed on your computer. You may be surprised at the number of programs installed. You can click the header of the Size column to see which programs are taking up the most space.
Look for programs that you may have personally installed, but don’t use anymore. And look for games that may have been on the computer when you purchased it. Uninstalling these things will clear up resources and give you back valuable hard drive space. But be careful, some of these programs do belong there! Uninstalling the wrong thing may break things on your computer. If you are unsure about what something is, Google it, or feel free to ask me.
Scan for Viruses
Viruses are one of the most common causes for a PC to suddenly became a pain in the butt. They wreck havoc on files and inhibit them doing what they are supposed to do, sometimes rendering your PC almost unusable. A computer virus can corrupt data, or even delete important files on your computer. Depending on the nastiness of the virus, it can even use your computer to spread itself further. And the worst? Well they can delete absolutely everything. Trust me… you do not want to deal with any of this. Computer viruses are often spread by attachments in email or instant messages. NEVER open attachments from those that you do not know via email, Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger, or anywhere else. And beware of strange links sent to you that may be appearing to come from friends.
If you think that you might have a virus, start by installing a reputable virus scanner and protector. Yes, there are many paid options out there, but you can get reliable FREE virus software. My favorite is Free AVG. However, if you use AT&T for your home Internet you can download the full McAfee suite for free. If you use Comcast Xfinity you can get the full Norton suite for free. No matter which option you choose, once installed be sure to run a full system scan. This will also keep your computer protected from day to day.
Scan for Malware
Malware stands for “malicious software.” This is nasty stuff. And unfortunately, it is more common to come across it when browsing the Internet these days. Malware gains access to your computer through a variety of ways including spyware, keyloggers, or worms. The reason? Well because the programmers need to get a life! It is usually to gain access to sensitive data, or entice you to click on ads which may trick you into providing your financial info. This can go on without you even knowing. However, you may eventually notice that your computer starts to slow down.
I have 2 favorite free programs that I use when checking a computer for malware. The first is Spybot. The second is Ad-Adware. In some cases, if I feel that the computer is in really bad shape I will run both. After you run a scan, you may get a long list of problems found on your computer. These can include harmless things like tracking cookies which are saved to your computer when you log into websites or shop online, or malicious things like malware programs. Once you have looked over the list, click the Fix button to get rid of all of the bad things.
Remove Items From Startup
Are you familiar with your SysTray (System Tray)? It’s the area in the lower right-hand corner that displays the time. Next to your time are several icons and possibly an up arrow that displays an icon of all of the programs running in the background. Many of these may run when Windows boots up. While some may be useful, it is not necessary for all of them to constantly run in the background. It can slow down your computer usage.
Common programs seen here are cloud syncing services, virus software, instant messaging programs, and a few others. Some programs are here because it is useful to have them running in the background. Other programs are here because the programmers think that we need an easy way to find the icon. You can right click on each icon to find out what it is, and click Exit to end it immediately. However, you may also be able to click on Settings or Preferences and turn off the “Run at System Startup” option. For example, if you don’t use Skype absolutely every time you run your computer, turn off the auto start option. You can always start it up manually.
Run Disk Cleanup
When you browse the Internet from day to day, save and delete files, and download new programs you leave a trail. A trail of temp files, setup files, and temporary Internet files. And you may forget to empty your Recycle Bin once it is filled with files. To run Disk Cleanup click on the Windows Key–>File Explorer (Windows 10), or Start–>Computer (Windows 10). Right click on your C: drive and click on Properties. Click on Tools–>Check. Once you click on Disk Cleanup you can pick and choose which things you want to delete.
It will give you a running tally of the amount of space that you are saving. It’s safe to check all of the boxes and get rid of everything in this list. You will recover some valuable hard drive space.
Optimize Your Hard Drive
Every time you delete a file from your computer, you leave a space on your hard drive. So, if you followed my advice above and uninstalled programs, checked for malware, and deleted files, you have left your hard drive fragmented with empty space spread all over. This means that programs and data files still on your computer may be spread around. This can cause programs to open slowly, and degrades computer performance. Optimizing and defragmenting your hard drive will put all of the empty space together, and also put data files together that may be fragmented.
To optimize your computer click on the Windows Key–>File Explorer (Windows 10), or Start–>Computer (Windows 7). Right click on your C: drive and click on Properties. Click on Tools–>Defragment Now (Windows 7) or Optimize (Windows 10). If you are lucky your system will be set up to optimize automatically. I believe this is the default in Windows 10. If that is the case, then you will likely see that your drive is 0% fragmented. You can opt to analyze it again now if you followed the other steps above. Or you can wait until the next time that it runs automatically. I suggest running it now. Click on your C: drive and click Analyze. I scanned my daughter’s Windows 7 laptop and it came up only 3% fragmented. Not bad.
Your’s may show a much higher number. To initiate the scan click on Defragment Disk (or Optimize). Depending on the size of your hard drive this could take hours. I recommend starting it right before you head to bed.
Once done you will probably notice quite a difference in the performance of your PC.
Check Your PC for System Errors
File system errors can keep your computer from booting up correctly, or cause things to go haywire during day to day use. On the same screen where you defragmented your drive you will also see a section for Error Checking. Click the Check button to scan your hard drive for errors. If you are lucky you will see the below.
However on an older machine you will likely see the following message that Windows can’t check the disk while the system is in use. Click on “Schedule System Check” and it will scan your system upon the next reboot, which you should probably do now. 🙂
Run Windows Update
We have a love/hate relationship with Windows Update. However, it is necessary. Your computer should be periodically running Windows Update automatically. However, it never hurts to check it manually.
On Windows 7 click on Start and type “Windows Update” into the search bar. On Windows 10 click on the Windows Key and type “Windows Update” into Cortana. Click on it when it pops up. If your system was not checked today, click on Check for updates. If any are found, click to install them.
Upgrade Your RAM
Once your computer is cleaned up of all the madness, you may be able to make it even faster by adding more RAM (Random Access Memory). RAM is the place in a computer where your OS, programs, and data in use are kept so that they can be accessed quickly. The more RAM that you have, the more programs, Chrome tabs, etc. you can have open at one time. Having a nice amount of RAM is what allows you to watch a movie, write a blog post, and edit photos all at the same time without your system missing a beat.
Unless you configure your laptop or desktop yourself when you buy it, it is unlikely that your computer came with the maximum amount of memory available. Your computer may have come with 4GB of RAM, but it might be able to hold a maximum of 8GB or even 16GB of RAM. While my desktop is older and has only 6GB, the main laptops that I work on from day to day, my MacBook Pro, My Lenovo Yoga 900, and my Dell XPS 13, all have 16GB of RAM. I need this since I am a monster multitasker.
My favorite place to order memory is Crucial.com. Right from the home page you can run a scan on your computer. It will tell you the maximum amount of RAM that your computer can hold. Now keep in mind that once you order it, you will have to install it.
Depending on your machine it can be a fairly simple process. Installing laptop memory is a piece of cake, and much easier than installing desktop memory. However, don’t sweat, YouTube is a great place to check for installation videos.
If you’re not comfortable doing these things, you have questions, trouble, or you tried it and it still didn’t work, it is probably time to get professional help (for the computer, not yourself). That’s when you seek out someone like me, or trusted tech geek friend. Feel free to send me a message!
I hope that this post was helpful to some. Let me know if you have any success!
PIN the Infographic below so that you can get your computer back in tip top shape!