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Speed Up That Computer

Adele, from Cleveland UK writes:

My computer is running really slow, it takes about 5 minutes or more to open a program. What could be the cause of this? I am running Windows XP SP2,Version 2002,With AMD Sempron2800,2.01GHz,448mb RAM.

The first thing that jumps out at me, Adele, is that you’re running less than 1/2GB of RAM. Your RAM dictates the amount of information that you’re able to have running on your system at one time. Personally, on my old laptop, I’m running Windows XP with SP 3 and 2GB of RAM, and I STILL occasionally suffer system slowdown.

Probably the simplest fix for this is to increase your system’s RAM to it’s maximum. If you go to www.crucial.com [1], they have a tool there for determining the maximum RAM for your system. DDR2 RAM is fairly inexpensive, especially if you go to a big box electronics store. Installing your own RAM isn’t terribly difficult, but if you would rather have someone else do it, many stores will install your RAM for free if you buy it from them.

One thing that slows your system down terribly when you’re running that little RAM is what’s called “hard drive caching”. Once your system has effectively eaten up your available RAM, it starts snacking on your hard drive (or caching), and creating what’s called “virtual RAM” from your hard drive space. Since your hard drive is much, much slower than RAM, this creates a drag on your system. Also, if your hard drive is nearing full, this will slow your system down even more. I’ll talk more about a full hard drive in a bit.

In the meantime, there is something that you can do that may help you regain some speed. Windows XP allows itself to run a little more efficiently by doing something called “prefetching”. When it does this, it retains a bit of a program in C:\WINDOWS\Prefetch. Probably the easiest way to get to this, is to click your Start button, then My Computer.

In My Computer, click on your C: drive, then your Windows Directory, then the Prefetch Directory. The screen that you get should look something like this:

You can also access the Prefetch Directory by either typing or copying and pasting the following, C:\WINDOWS\Prefetch into the address bar as shown below.

One you have that, click on any file and hold the Ctrl key and press the A key (Crtl+A) to select all the files, and then press the Delete key. Poof, they’re gone. In my case, it cleared out 130 items. It would be a good idea to restart your system at this point. Not only will that allow this change to take full effect, it will also close any background programs that you have running.

Although this will be only a nominal speed increase compared to increasing your RAM, it is possible that your hard drive is full or nearly full. When your hard drive approaches the full point, not only is it difficult for Windows to locate and execute necessary files, it also will not be possible to defragment the computer. The simplest way to free up space is to run a Disk Cleanup. The surest way to get to Disk Cleanup is to click Start, then Run. Type cleanmgr in the Run box and click OK.

You can learn more about Disk Cleanup and find some other regular PC maintenance tips here [2].

This should free up some space for you, and may speed your system up a little. Next, I would suggest running a defrag. To do this, click on start, then on My Computer. Right-click on your C: drive and click Properties.

Next, click on the Tools tab, and then Defragment Now.

All of these tips may help somewhat, but nothing will help as much as increasing your RAM or possibly replacing your system. You may find that, if your RAM is outdated and your hard drive is nearing capacity, it may simply be less expensive in the long run to simply replace your computer.

Hope this helps.

~ Randal Schaffer