How to Protect Your Data From Computer Viruses?

Computer viruses are a concern of each and every single computer user. These tiny little programs can do a lot of damage! They are designed to go from one system to the next system, with disregard for safety. As a matter of fact, they are actually designed to cause damage to the computers that they infect.

Computer viruses can do all sorts of things to a computer system. They can do something as mild as deleting certain pieces of data off of the computer, or can be as serious as to wipe the contents from a hard drive. These small, malicious programs can also attach themselves to an email program so that the damage is spread over many different computers.

Email is the most common method in which computer viruses are spread from one computer to another. These viruses are often disguised as an attachment of something that may be of interest to someone. For example, it may be disguised as a video clip, a joke, a picture or similar attachment. Nine times out of ten, it is attached as an “.exe” file.

There are many viruses embedded in downloads that can be retrieved from the internet. This is also a very popular mode of infection. This is particularly true when individuals download specific files from peer to peer file sharing programs, and open source programs. It has been estimated that nearly 90% of all downloads on these types of websites are infected with a computer virus.

There are many different signs and symptoms that may be associated with a computer virus infection. The following details these. Please keep in mind, however, that these are POTENTIAL signs and symptoms of an infection:

1. If you find that your computer system seems to be experiencing some sluggishness, or running a bit slower than it normally operates, the potential for being infected with a computer virus is quite high. If you do not have a computer virus, you may be experiencing issues with spyware on the system.

2. If your computer has already been attacked by a virus, it is quite likely that you may start to see various types of error messages that you are unfamiliar with.

3. Many individuals who experience an infection with a computer virus may start to notice that the computer system will often lock up and stop responding. This may or may not be accompanied by error messages.

4. Applications and programs on a computer that is infected with a virus may start to fail to initialize and/or run properly. If this issue is not corrected by uninstalling and reinstalling the application or program, you may be experiencing complications with a serious computer virus that is corrupting the data on your hard drive.

5. Many computer viruses pose a serious threat to the various disk drives that are on the computer system. When an infection is occurring, it may become evident that the various disk drives on the computer system are not made accessible. This is definitely a sign of a very serious computer virus infection.

6. Many individuals who experience complications with computer viruses may find that they experience issues in printing and other types of tasks. This is often a result of corruption to the files in the drivers of the printer, and other hardware products.

If you find that you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms, or symptoms that are similar in nature, you should consider placing an anti-virus program on your computer and running a thorough scan. You will likely find that, once the scan is complete; there is at least one virus on the computer that is causing your complications.

You can remove most viruses in this manner, or with the malicious software removal tool that is offered by Microsoft. Viruses cannot be removed in the “add/remove” programs option in your computer. In order to remove them completely, they must be controlled by a good anti-virus software suite or a malicious software removal tool.

And, to help you learn to use computers and the internet safely and effectively, I invite you to take a look at my computer training website. You would get lot of useful tips when you visit

From Rajagopalan, A computer professional helping people in the usage of computers with safety and security.

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Computer Viruses and the Harm They Cause

What is a Computer Virus?

Computer viruses are unwanted computer programs that can invade your hard drive and cause many different types of damage. Usually viruses are created when someone writes a computer program and embeds harmful software within that program. As soon as other people begin downloading that infected program onto their computers, the virus finds it’s way in and negatively alters information stored in the computers. Not one computer virus is alike, there are millions of diverse programs that cause varying amounts of damage to a computer.

Just like human viruses, computer viruses spread rapidly as soon they are created and computers are exposed to the ‘infection’. Although instead of traveling through the air, computer viruses disperse themselves all over the internet, sometimes you can get a virus just by clicking on a certain webpage. Many of times computer users will have a virus in their computer for a long period of time before it is detected or before it starts causing greater damage. Even when you have anti-virus software in your computer, it will not always find every virus because the anti-virus software can only find threats already known through that program’s database.

You may ask, Why would someone create such counterproductive programs?

Well, there may not be an exact answer as to why humans knowingly create computer viruses other than to get some sort of revenge or to challenge their skills. No one will be able to prevent those people from creating viruses and exposing other computers to infection, the best thing for computer users to do to prevent such invasion is to use current anti-virus software and be cautious as to what sites they visit and what files they download.

When a virus finds it’s way into your computer, it will hide in your hard drive and rapidly duplicate itself just like virus cells do in humans. You may not be able to tell, but every time you save your data, you are also saving the virus. Soon enough the virus has multiplied to such a great extent that it damages your data and causes major problems.

Although the computer’s ROM (Read Only Memory) will not be affected by a virus, the RAM (Random Access Memory) and your computer’s disks will surely be damaged. So if the virus is only in the RAM data in your computer, when you shut the computer down the virus will be lost as well as any other memory that had been held in the random access memory (RAM).

Unfortunately if the computer virus is on your hard drive or computer disk it will remain in the computer after you restart it and it will be there whenever you use the program again. If you switch from the infected program to another program without shutting down your computer, the virus will then attach to the other program. With that happening, that virus will slowly go through infecting all of your computer’s programs before you have a clue that you computer is infected.

Currently, millions and millions of dollars are spent on efforts to protect computers from viruses and eliminate destructive virus programs.

Anti-virus programs offered by commercial and shareware sources were made solely to detect and fix programs that may be virus infected. These programs should be used to scan for viruses every time you put a disk into your computer and every time you start up your computer.

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How to Make Your Computers Last For a Lifetime

No one can ever resist development. It is an essential factor for humans. Improvement in terms of lifestyle and livelihood become one of the obvious manifestations of development. Computer is one of the best products of technology. It has improved the life of those who believe and use it. It started from a simple organizer for humans and later on became their machine partner. It has the ability to compute any data in just a matter of seconds. It can store tons of confidential files in just a single memory card which is smaller and thinner than a match box.

Its proficiency and performance is truly remarkable. Although developers and creators of computers gained much popularity and money from their invention, they are still looking forward to improve their inventions. They are still seeking for the best computer that will suit and answer all the needs of their customers. They often base the designs of their computers to the latest trend of the society. As a result, it makes it more appealing to the public.

Computers nowadays are more affordable than when it was first exposed to the public. It surprisingly becomes a necessity for most of the people. Even though computers and laptops are now affordable, you must not take it for granted. You must provide it with the care it duly deserves.

The parts inside your computer are very sensitive to heat and shaking. Prolonged heating without ventilation can damage the mother board or the main center of your computer. Persistent shaking can also damage either the tiny pieces of your laptops or desktops. If you are a concerned user towards your gadgets, you must also consider its capacity and maintenance.

It is much better to use a table which is designed for computers than use an ordinary table. A computer desk is made to secure the physical condition of your computer. It is equipped with the basic components that will help you and your computer. You must also consider some of the important reasons why you need to have a computer desk at home.

A computer desk comes with a computer chair. You must calculate or at least estimate the amount of time you are going to sit and use your computer every day. The size and the model of your computer is also part of the considerations. There are some computer desks that offer proper ventilation for your computer. If you have more than one set of computer at home, you must select a wider and a longer type of computer desk.

It is also wise to match the material of your computer desk to the existing furniture at your home. Most computer desks are made from wood. It is safer to use wood because it has the ability to absorb heat. Metal is also used in modern forms of desks; however its property as conductor of heat can put your computer into danger. In order for you to save some space of your home you must take note of the area where you are going to place your desk.

Are you worried about the condition of your computer? Be more objective on how you can stretch up budget, in order for you to have the computer desks [] that will surely make your computer safe. Learn more on how you can give your computer the care it truly deserve. Sneak in [] for more details.

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Computer Maintenance – Computer Repair in Hawaii

Computer Repair Hawaii

Computer Repair Services in Hawaii is not so much different than the mainland, particularly on the island of Oahu, but there are a few challenges. Having lived on Oahu over 45 years ago in Ewa Beach, and returning just over 7 years ago, the scene has changed drastically. Things were more rural back then, and of course there was no internet.

In Oahu, people seem to work on one side of the island and work on the other. Since there are only 1 or 2 ways to get around, traffic can be extremely congested, and parking can be a challenge. So whether you are looking for a Computer Repair Shop to drop off your computer, or waiting for a Mobile Technician to drive out to you, timing can be a challenge. For some reason, even in Paradise, things can get pretty busy. With that said, I just wanted to put out my two-cents that affect both the customer and the service provider about computer repair in Oahu.

Traffic Challenges

If you live in Waianae, Waialua, Haliewa, or the North Shore, Windward and around Waimanalo, you will have to rely on Mobile Technicians willing to come out to your location, or to drive the distance yourself. The problem with dropping off a sick computer yourself is that most shops open about 9-10am and close at 6pm. You either have to take time off from work, hope traffic is light after getting off work, or just wait until a day off.

For some reason, there are no shops I am aware of in Waianae, Haliewa and all throughout the North Shore. Shops on the Windward side are scarce as well, but I vaguely heard that there may be a shop out in Kaneohe, but they must not do much advertising. If you have a Macintosh, there is definitely a shop in Kailua, just be aware that not all shops repair both PCs and Macs, and neither do mobile technicians.

My Rant About Windward Computer Repair

Concerning computer repair for our valued Windward customers, I have to rant a little bit. Windward customers in Kaneohe and Kailua are fiercely loyal to their local businesses, which is a good thing. But when it comes to computer repair and they are looking for a mobile technician, they always want someone who seems closer to where they are, which at first, seems to make sense.

If they call you and you actually have a physical location and provide both in-shop and mobile services, they get hung-up on your shop’s physical location even though they are calling for mobile service. The truth is, that they have no idea where the technician is coming from. The technician might already be scheduled to be out in that area for another customer and can easily set an appointment for you as well. They aren’t necessarily just sitting around at home all day waiting for you to call, so you just can’t assume where they will be dispatched from. That may sound harsh, but it always surprises me when we spend some valuable time over the phone with a prospective customer, trying to understand their computer problems and comfort them with our solution to their problem, and as soon as we mention that our shop is over the hill on the other side of H3, they start backing out of the conversation almost as if they thought they were doing “us” a favor and say thanks but no-thanks, we’ll just call someone a little closer. I don’t get it, and even when I can truthfully say that I have a tech in the area already, they don’t care. I know other shop owners who get this same response about mobile repair on the Windward side. The fact is that we are happy to serve customers on the Windward side, and we appreciate their loyalty once they finally hire us to repair their computer. But it is a hurdle starting that relationship. I might add that it is a beautiful drive to the Windward side, especially if you get to drive back through the Northshore if you have the time. I always look forward to a good Shrimp Plate lunch from one of my favorite shrimp trucks along the way.

Parking for Mobile Computer Repair Technicians

If your business or home is located in a relatively populated area away from the areas I just mentioned, you’ll have plenty of options for both in-shop and onsite computer repair in Oahu. But if you need service in the congested business areas of downtown or Waikiki, parking is a problem. My suggestion is that if you want prompt service, that you provide information to the technician about the most convenient place to park as well as any parking fees (which may be added to your bill). You might even be able to pre-arrange parking in a reserved area for vendors. And lastly, it even helps to know details such as any vehicle height restrictions for parking garages, or detours due to emergency or special events.

Giving Directions

When setting an appointment for mobile service, it is vital that you provide an accurate address and phone number. Many local Hawaii residents prefer to give directions and landmarks than actual addresses, but Mobile Technicians end up learning the island pretty well and even use GPS devices these days. Some even print out directions with Yahoo or Google before coming out. We would prefer that you just give us your complete address and then maybe a landmark if you live in an obscure hard to find location. We need the address for our invoice anyway. We appreciate the directions, but customers somehow assume we will be driving to their location the same way they do everyday, but the fact is that we might be coming from the other way, and then left become right, and right becomes left and it gets confusing while driving.

Be Sure to Give and Get Correct Phone Numbers

As for your phone number, things happen and we may need to call you. We also like to call before we come out to ensure you’ll be home. Fortunately, we aren’t like the cable companies that tell you they will arrive between 9-5. Mobile Technicians can usually provide you with a 30-60 minute window. But if you have something come up, we would appreciate if you could call us as soon as possible to postpone.

Also, be sure that you know which Computer Repair company you made the appointment with and have their correct number. Many customers call quite a few shops before they choose who they will make their appointment with and get phone numbers mixed up. Some even call us more than once because we have more than one phone number. It gets quite funny hearing the same person calling again, now using a better description of their problem because of talking to us earlier. The problem is that it might get confusing to remember who you chose in the end. Now and then I’ll get a person calling us by mistake to cancel an appointment that we never made. Imagine the frustration of the technician when he drove out to your home or business just to find out that you said you called and cancelled already, why are you here?

In-Shop vs Onsite Computer Maintenance

This basically boils down to price, turn-around time and convenience. In-shop repair fees are usually flat rate fee based, and takes days to get back, but you will get more thorough service this way. Shops are also more prepared for the extremely difficult problems. With shops, you can just walk-in during normal business hours, although you should call first to get guidance on what to bring. For laptops, you should always bring the AC Adapter (battery charger). For desktops, we usually only need the computer itself (no cables or peripherals, although it wouldn’t hurt if you brought your CDs).

Onsite service is usually hourly fee based, and may even have a trip charge. Onsite service by nature is by appointment only, but many problems can be diagnosed and repaired within an hour or two. With onsite service, it is crucial that you describe your computer problem as well as possible, because if it sounds obvious that it might be a hardware problem, your computer may be a better candidate for in-shop repair. It’s already difficult enough to get certain types of parts on island such as motherboards and CPUs at a Computer Store, so you can expect that a Mobile Technician will not have every part needed to fix every computer in their vehicle. Some parts even have to be ordered online and can take a week or so to arrive. Hopefully you can see the complications this may cause with setting another appointment as well as how the technician will bill you for the first and second appointments. It would just be better to bring these problem computers to a shop.

Major Limitations for Mobile Only Technicians

I certainly do not want to knock mobile only technicians, because I got my start that way. But you have to know that these ones can only service a small finite number of customers in any given day. Many people get attached to their computer guy once trust is established, but it can get frustrating when your trusty Mobile PC Tech cannot make it out fast enough. They might even need to take a vacation and when you get a hold of them on their cell phone, you find out they are on the mainland for a week or two. If you can’t wait, you have to find someone else.

Mobile repair is limited as well for reasons spelled out in the “In-Shop vs Onsite Computer Maintenance” section above. There are also certain types of maintenance that will never get done onsite due to how long it will take. If I think I have to perform a surface scan on a hard drive just for starters (which can take 2 hours or more in some cases), I almost immediately recommend I take the computer back to the shop to complete at the flat rate. Some computers develop multiple problems and can take 4-5 hours to repair. For one, it will save you on further hourly charges, but it will also help the technician to be on time for other appointments after you, since he probably only allotted 2 hours for your appointment. The complicated part is that a mobile technician may not have a shop to take your computer to, and may only be able to take it to their home. If you are okay with that, then fine, no problem.

I would add that a technician that has both in-shop and onsite experience are the best technicians. For mobile only technicians, it can be hard to get this experience because they will rarely get a customer that is willing to pay a technician to spend 4-5 hours onsite, not to mention having to dedicate their own personal time as well to be there. But if the technician doesn’t ever get the chance to spend time on the real hard problems, it is unlikely that they will ever progress to become a master technician. If you were choosing a doctor for a complicated surgery, how concerned would you be about his or her experience? The answer is obvious.

Anyway, while our computers and online lives might not be life and death situations, we seem dependent on them nevertheless. So I hope this insight into both sides of Computer Maintenance and Repair in Hawaii help you make the right decisions when that inevitable computer problem occurs. That way, you can be armed with the insight to make the best choice available for your computer needs.

Dale Powell Jr invites everyday internet surfers to get more pro-actively involved in your online internet security and computer health. You can begin by reading my Free Report which you can sign-up for at:

Dale Powell


Copyright © 2010, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

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Computer Optimization


Many people are under the impression that a computer’s performance deteriorates with age. I’d like to dispel that myth: computers are mostly solid-state technology that is largely unaffected by age. I’m not saying that older computers don’t run more slowly, but once we correct the notion that the slow-down is caused by its unalterable age, the problem becomes one that can usually be remedied without buying a newer computer.

First, let’s understand what doesn’t cause a computer to slow down:

  • Computer processors are digital electronic transistor-like switches, sealed in a hard plastic package; these are solid-state devices that either work or don’t. They may get fried if exposed to a power surge, but otherwise, they don’t slow down.
  • Computer memory is comprised of similar components and works or doesn’t work, just the same.
  • A computer motherboard is nothing more than wire traces on a piece of plastic, usually with more solid-state devices plugged into it or soldered to it. Motherboards don’t slow down, either.
  • Computer power supplies are exposed to some of the most extreme conditions a computer experiences. That’s why they burn out more frequently than most other parts, but even they don’t cause performance reductions; they either work or they don’t.

So what does cause a computer to slow down with age?The biggest culprit is data storage. Imagine trying to look for something in a file cabinet if it was the only item in the drawer; it would be pretty easy to find, right? If there were even just a few items in the drawer, it would still be simple to thumb through them to find the one you wanted. What if the drawer was completely filled? It might take a little longer, right? That’s what happens on a hard drive when you install an operating system, applications, and data on it. Every time you download more.mp3 songs, import more.jpg photos from your camera, or type up new word processing documents, you’re stuffing more things in the file cabinet which is your hard drive.

Unlike the processor or memory, the hard drive is usually not a solid-state device; it has moving parts. Consequently, the time it takes to read or write hard drive data is on the order of 1,000 times slower than solid-state devices like RAM or a USB thumb drive. Couple that with the fact that you keep adding more and more stuff to it, and you can begin to understand the problem.

In reality, it’s even worse than you imagine. When you save a document to the hard drive, it gets stored in a specific space on the drive. The computer tries to allocate hard drive space as efficiently as possible, so if more stuff gets written to the drive after that, it’s stored in the next-available sequential space. (For the hard-core techies reading this, yes, I know that this explanation severely oversimplifies the process.) Unfortunately, that means that when you next edit that initial document, there isn’t any contiguous space on the drive for the new data to be stored, so it ends up getting stored elsewhere, separated from the first part of the document. Later, when you try to read this document back into memory, it takes a little longer than it would for a contiguously-stored document because the computer must make a jump in the middle of reading it to find the rest of it. This is known as fragmentation. Another cause of fragmentation is when files are deleted, as that creates holes the computer tries to fill with subsequently-saved data, but the holes are almost never the right size for the new files being saved, so the newly-saved files also get broken up into noncontiguous pieces.

Don’t think your use is the only force causing fragmentation on your drive, either. Virtual memory, pointers to recent files, various cache files, and updates/patches use and release hard drive space all the time, causing fragmentation, even if you never intentionally save another file to your computer. Fortunately, fragmentation is relatively easy to cure. Microsoft Windows comes with a tool that does it for us – all we have to do is use this tool from time to time, and it rearranges the files on the disk to do its best to store them all contiguously. Lucky for us, a lot of the stuff we store on our hard drives doesn’t change all that frequently. Operating system files, installed applications, and even our music and photos rarely change in content or size, so once they get defragmented into less-dynamic areas of the hard drive, they should be fine.


After fragmentation, the next issue to discuss about how hard drives slow down our computers is the increasing volume of data being stored on them. If you’ve seen a phonograph turntable, you have a rough notion of how a hard drive operates, but imagine it spinning much faster. Instead of 33 or 45 revolutions per minute, hard drives operate at 5,400, 7,200, 10,000, or even 15,000 revolutions per minute. For even the slowest hard drive to spin around to the complete opposite side of the disk may take under 1/100th of a second, but like a phonograph turntable, rotation isn’t the only motion the drive makes; the head also moves in and out, radially, and that motion is significantly slower. When a hard drive has little data on it, that data is generally stored close to the center, so the head only needs to traverse a tiny fraction of the radius of the disk, but as more and more data get stored, more of the radius of the disk is used, so the portion of the radius that the head must travel gets longer, making data reads and writes slower.

Fortunately, this type of performance degradation can frequently be mitigated, too. People tend to be terrible pack-rats about what they store on their computers. Hard drives become like black holes, collecting years of data that may never be used, needed, or even seen again. If the computer was faster when it was new, before it had all this data on it, you may well be able to restore it to that level of performance if you could clean out some of this data. There are countless ways to identify and remove unneeded data from a hard drive. Windows comes with a few tools that may help:

  • Disk Cleanup searches for several categories of junk left on your drive and enables you to remove them.
  • Add/Remove Programs helps you find and remove old applications and Windows Components that you no longer use or need.

Even your own old documents, music, movies, and photos can be parsed and either deleted or moved to offline storage (such as burned to CDs/DVDs or uploaded to network or even Internet storage facilities).In extreme situations, you can also reduce some of the cache sizes, such as the System Restore cache size or even the Recycle Bin. By default, these take up 12% and 10% of your hard drive, respectively, and unless you’re prone to deleting things you shouldn’t have, cutting these in half frees up 1/9 of your hard drive, immediately and without undue risk.

Professionals may also be able to help you identify more ways of freeing up space, such as disabling Offline Files if the feature isn’t needed, deleting old user profiles, removing old printers, reducing Internet cache settings, etc. Frequently, programs leave remnants of themselves behind on your hard drive, even after being uninstalled; these may also be deleted. Misconfigured virtual memory settings may also hog up more of your hard drive than is actually needed.


Besides hard drive data storage, there is another area in which computer performance may become degraded, appearing to be due to age: increasing demands on the processor and memory. We must divide this issue into two categories, though. One may be resolvable without upgrading your computer, whereas the other likely would not be.

The resolvable category is what I refer to as “Application creep.” Your computer probably came with a bunch of free and free-trial programs installed that you’ve never used. Most of these lie dormant on your hard drive until invoked, but some, like printer drivers, malware detectors, and hardware and software updaters load into memory every time you boot your machine. On top of these, you’ve probably installed more, whether you realized it or not. If you installed Adobe Reader, there’s a little piece of code that probably loads up on every restart of your PC – it makes it quicker for you to open.pdf files because part of the Reader is already in memory, but what about the 99% of the time that you’re not using it? Well, it still sits there, taking up resources, making other operations slower. Lots of other common applications have such components that automatically run when you boot your PC (aka “AutoRuns”), such as iTunes, Safari, QuickTime, Java, and more. Besides these AutoRuns, other unwanted programs sneak in, piggy-backed alongside programs you use. Those extra toolbars in your Internet Explorer window were the carefully-concealed payloads of lots of other programs you installed, and guess what – they use up resources unnecessarily every time IE is running. It’s not a big reach to realize that when unneeded things are using up resources, desirable operations work less efficiently.

The category that’s more difficult to resolve is the result of technological advancement. You bought your computer eight years ago, before Netflix ever started streaming movies, and now you expect it to do things it wasn’t intended to do. You finished the games you were playing and bought newer games, even though they demand more RAM, more hard drive space, and faster processors. You had a film camera before, but now you’re importing your digital cell phone photos from all of your trips, and you’ve started taking short videos, too!…and even if you don’t actively update any of your software or increase your utilization of it, updates may be happening behind the scenes. Microsoft Windows can update itself automatically, and in fact, many Microsoft software titles can be configured to do so. Adobe, Java, Real Player, iTunes, and Quicken prompt you for updates, and you just click “OK” without even thinking about it. Bug fixes come out, updated drivers are released, and you don’t want to be left vulnerable or outdated, so you accept them. Each of these updates places additional demands on your computer’s resources.

Look, we don’t all still carry around our first, brick-sized, analog-only, battery-guzzling cellular phones – we want the latest features, so we upgrade. At some point you have to make the decision to do that with your computer, too. Ultimately, you may find that even after thinning out your data, deleting your unwanted applications, and cleaning up your AutoRun programs as far as you reasonably can that your computer is still too slow for your taste. At that point, either upgrade or replace it. Hopefully, following the advice above will at least increase the amount of time between computer upgrades, saving you money.


So you’ve tried all the optimizing you could, and you’re still unsatisfied with the performance of your computer. Now what? Maybe it’s time to upgrade, but what should you upgrade? The whole system? Just some components? If time and money was no object, you’d just go buy the latest greatest system out there and hire someone else to reinstall and reconfigure all of your applications and transfer all of your data. Unfortunately, for many of us, that’s not the case. When faced with limited resources, we have to make decisions about the best ways to employ them. You’d hate to spend four-digits on a whole new computer system if all the old one needed was a memory upgrade. However, you’d also hate to waste money on RAM only to find that you’re still unsatisfied and still faced with the need to buy a whole new system. How can you tell what to do?

Windows comes with several tools to help us identify bottlenecks. Armed with that information, we can make better decisions about what to do to resolve them. Here’s a list of several of the more common bottlenecks:

  • Network Connection – a low-speed network connection will make Internet access and any other network resource utilization slower.
  • Main Memory – having insufficient RAM forces the PC to use a swap file on the hard drive instead, slowing down processing, task switching, and read/write operations.
  • Processor – having too slow a processor or too few processors will impact the performance of virtually all operations. Less-expensive processors also lack L1 cache, which reduces their performance further.
  • Hard Drive – slower hard drives affect the speed of all read/write operations, including cache files and virtual memory. Space utilization is also a consideration; the guideline is to utilize less than 50% of any hard drive’s capacity.

To diagnose these issues, first try to notice patterns. If your performance complaints predominantly pertain to the speed at which Web pages load, they’re more likely indicative of a problem with the speed of your Internet connection. If performance gets sluggish when you have more applications running, you may have insufficient memory or a slow processor. If the hard drive activity indicator light stays lit frequently, it may indicate insufficient memory or too slow or too full a hard drive. Once you have your guess as a starting point, you’ll want to find evidence for or against your thesis. A good place to start is the Windows Task Manager. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del, and you should see the task manager or a link to it, depending on which version of Windows you’re running. The Performance tab shows processor and memory utilization and the Networking tab shows network connection utilization.Let’s start with the Performance tab; it provides lots of good information. First, the number of panes of CPU Usage History shows you how many CPU cores your system has. Utilization should normally be low unless you have a ton of stuff actively running. If any of the graphs are pegging the needle at the top of the chart, there is more demand being placed on your processor than it can handle. The PF Usage charts show how much RAM is being used. Ideally you want this to be low, too. The more applications you have running, the more RAM is required. As we mentioned, once the computer runs out of actual memory, it makes more room by moving less-frequently-used data into “virtual memory,” which is actually stored on the hard drive. When it needs it back, it swaps the next-least-frequently-used data to the hard drive to make room to swap the needed data back in. All of these operations take time, so if the PF Usage is up at or near the top of your graph, you have insufficient RAM to meet your demands.

Another helpful tool to see the processor and RAM that are installed in your PC is the System Properties in the Control Panel. Press Windows-Break as a shortcut to bring that up. The Pentium-4 processor is today’s standard, and if you have an older one, I wouldn’t bother trying to upgrade – just replace the PC. Different operating systems have different memory requirements, but having at least 1 GB of RAM is pretty common nowadays.

Back to the Task Manager, on the Networking tab, don’t be surprised if your network utilization is frequently at or below one percent. A typical desktop computer has a network interface card (NIC) capable of communicating at 100 or even 1,000 million bits per second – even older NICs could communicate at 10 Mbps. A typical broadband Internet connection (such as a cable modem, high-speed DSL, or fiber optic connection), however, operates in the vicinity of 1 Mbps, and that’s only when downloading large files under perfect conditions. If you’re connected to other local network resources, such as servers or network printers, you may be able to use more of your available bandwidth, but if your sole network utilization is your Internet access, the bottleneck will always be the Internet connection rather than the computer’s network connection. Now that we’ve cleared that up, if you find the graph showing utilization at or near 100%, your network card may be too slow for your requirements, but if you’re unhappy with the speed of Web pages loading despite low network connection utilization, you need to upgrade your Internet connection instead of your PC.


Now that you’ve identified the problem, you need to decide how to deal with it. Some issues can be overcome by minor upgrades, but others aren’t worth the cost or trouble, and are an ideal opportunity to replace the PC.

If you’ve decided that you don’t have enough RAM, that’s usually the cheapest and easiest upgrade you can make to your PC. Depending on how much you have and how many slots your motherboard has, you may be able to install additional DIMMs or you may need to replace existing lower-capacity DIMMs with larger-capacity ones. There are dozens of incompatible varieties of memory, so if you’re not sure what you need, the best thing to do is to check the owner’s manual that came with your PC when you bought it. You still have it, right? If not, either take a DIMM out and bring it with you to the store or if you’re buying online, search by the make and model of your PC, rather than for the type of memory.

If you’ve decided that your network card is too slow, you can probably install a faster one into a card slot or even a USB port – this, too, is a relatively inexpensive and easy upgrade to perform. Most PCs built in the last 10 years have PCI slots, so you can probably look for a PCI-technology network interface card (NIC) at your local computer store or online. They come in wired or wireless varieties, depending on how you’ll be connecting your PC to your network. If you’d rather not open your PC, both wired and wireless NICs come in USB varieties nowadays, too. If your Internet connection is too slow, you won’t have to do a thing to your computer – just contact your ISP and discuss your options for upgrading your service to a higher bandwidth – or shop around to see what the other ISPs are charging.

If you decide that your processor is insufficient, it’s usually best to just replace your PC. Motherboards are designed to work with a small range of different model processors, and even if yours was the low-end model, the cost and trouble to upgrade to the high-end processor wouldn’t produce a noticeably-worthwhile improvement; trade up for a PC with more processor cores, instead. The only exception to this rule might be if your motherboard allowed you to upgrade from a processor without L1 cache (such as a Celeron) to a processor with L1 cache – that could produce a noticeable-enough improvement to warrant the cost and difficulty. If so, check your owner’s manual (or specs online) to see which processors your motherboard will accommodate, and if you decide to do it, once you factor in the cost of your time and effort, it’s probably best to just upgrade to the best and fastest one available – you don’t want to have to do this again in a year when you outgrow a tiny incremental improvement.

Historically, when a computer’s hard drive became the bottleneck, it was usually a point at which we recommended replacing the entire system. In some cases, however, the rules have changed today. Replacing a hard drive involves reinstalling the operating system and all the applications, as well as transferring all the personal files and data, so it’s usually such a labor-intensive process as to make it the ideal time to upgrade the rest of the PC along with it. Today, however, with the popularity of digital photography,.mp3 music files, videos, and other space-hogging multimedia data, it’s frequently possible to optimize an existing hard drive by offloaded all such personal files and data to external storage. USB flash drives are now available in 64 GB or more, and external USB hard drives exceed 1 TB (which is 1,024 GB). It’s a pain in the butt to have to change the installed location of most applications and Windows components, but to move data files is significantly less trouble. In fact, to further improve performance, you could even offload your PC’s virtual memory file to a second (internal) hard drive without too much trouble. As we discussed earlier in this treatise, the more stuff you have on your hard drive, the less efficiently it operates, so by moving all this type of non-system-critical data off of the hard drive that contains the operating system and the applications, you may be able to restore most of the PC’s youthful performance without too much trouble.

Ultimately, all of these optimizations and upgrades are only stop-gap measures. Software patches and updates will continue to require increasingly-more space on your main hard drive, and you’ll probably add more features and applications over time. Even if you’re terribly miserly with space on your main hard drive, there are still increasing demands. It’s also one of the few mechanical components in your PC, so its lifespan can already be expected to be shorter than any of the solid state components. At some point you’re going to need a new main hard drive, and at that point, I’d still stick with my position that it’s a good opportunity to replace the whole PC.

Many people are comfortable enough with defragmenting their own hard drives and installing their own RAM DIMMs, but if you’d prefer to leave it to a professional, Maverick Solutions would be happy to help. In fact, for our loyal readers (at least our local ones), we’re even offering a Free PC Tune-Up or we can assist with other types of upgrades. If you’ve tried all the optimizing you can and still aren’t getting satisfactory performance out of your old PC, we’d recommend one of our reliable refurbished computers to give you the most value for your technology investment.

About the Author:

Brian Blum is the founder, president, and chief consultant at Maverick Solutions IT, Inc. Maverick Solutions provides affordable IT consulting and technology support services, primarily to schools, NFPs, and SO/HOs in the New York Metro Area. Maverick Solutions is the alternative to keeping your own in-house IT staff, and we’d be happy to help you get more value from your existing technology investment. Visit our Website to learn about the services we offer, or read our blog, Maverick Ramblings, for assorted tips, tricks, and information of technology interest.

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