You probably don’t need a new computer…

This article was originally printed in my ‘Ask a Geek’ column in our local Mount Vernon Register-News. Please feel free to email me at askageek [at] register-news [dot] com if you have suggestions, criticism, thanks, hate mail, or whatever. Thanks for your time.

Every few weeks I hear the same thing from a different person: “My computer is slow, I guess I need a new one. Any advice?”

More often than not, your computer is just as capable and fast as it was the day you bought it. The problem with slowdown usually arises from ‘clutter’ in your PC. Everything from the mysterious Registry in Windows to files that remain after a program is un-installed will add to your computer taking longer to perform tasks that used to be no major issue.

Just as I find myself having a harder time finding things thanks to my children’s clutter, your PC has similar issues digging through the mess on your hard drive. There are several ways to help clean up this muck, but I will only cover a few that are pretty safe and easy for everyone.

My first suggestion is to use the free program Ccleaner ( to remove some of the gum from the internal workings of your system. It will remove garbage from your temporary files (which aren’t really temporary) and clean out your registry. I will say use this at your own risk, as there are always chances, but there have been no issues with this program in my experience or reading.

Up next is defragmenting your hard drive. As you use your computer, the drive (like a record player) has a ‘head’ (needle) that floats across the tracks reading and writing information. To save time and increase speed, it just writes information wherever it happens to be over the tracks. This helps speed, but leaves information scattered everywhere.

By using Windows’ built-in defragmenting tool, it will re-organize your files into neat tracks. With all of your information together and in order, your hard drive can access files faster and more easily. This means less slowdown as the head jumps across tracks reading all the pieces of files scattered around.

Finally, you might need to add more RAM to your system to help it operate more smoothly. RAM is the place to hold information that the processor needs immediately. Your hard drive is like a filing cabinet, and RAM is like Radar from MASH having those files in-hand waiting on you to ask for them.

I recommend 1GB (gigabyte) of RAM minimum for Windows XP systems, and double that if you have been forced to use Windows Vista. This way, your PC can have a lot of files in RAM and not have to slow down while it reads more information from your hard drive. Your local computer shop or even the maker of your computer can help you find the type and amount of RAM that your PC can use. I have never seen more RAM hurt a machine.

These are just three simple solutions for helping to speed up a PC instead of buying a new one. This way you can stop some electronic waste going to landfills and keep some dollars in your pocket in this tough economy. Both sound like good reasons to try these ideas before buying a new computer with your hard-earned money.