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Are You Asking Too Much of Your Computer?

With each computer I buy, I end up doing more with it over time.

For example, I now regularly run virtual machines, record and edit video, and run applications such as Adobe Photoshop. Each of these things have two important characteristics:

  • They’re not things I did a few years ago.
  • They place an additional load on the computer.

I’ve been asking my computer to do more and more — and I suspect you have, too.

Is it any wonder it seems slower?

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Upgrading a machine can only get you so much. Before replacing a machine with a newer, more powerful one, it’s worth examining our usage, and seeing if our expectations have exceeded the machine’s capabilities. Perhaps changing what we do or how we do it can lengthen its usable lifespan.

Upgrades only go so far

What we ask of our computers. Most of my machines have been upgraded — repeatedly, and in various ways — and yet over time, they still slowed down.

The slowdown wasn’t due to anything inherently wrong with the machines or the software. I simply  continued to push each to its limits by virtue of the things I asked it to do.

And there are limits. If I asked one to do too much, such as running too many virtual machines at a time, the machine bogged down. One of the most common symptoms is increased virtual memory use. Since disks are slower than RAM, my computer slowed down.

So I stopped doing that. Once a machine is maxed out in terms of hardware, I choose not to do some things I would otherwise.

Of course, if that goes on long enough, I replace the machine with something more powerful. That, too, is a choice.

It’s easy to ask too much

When you’ve had a computer for a length of time, it’s not uncommon to be in a similar situation, often without realizing it.

You don’t really have to be running new applications to be “doing too much”. It can be as simple as your own habits slowly changing over time. For example, how many tabs do you typically have open in your browser at the same time? I wager it’s more than you usually had open five years ago.

One of the things that has changed dramatically over time is the amount of time we spend online and the number of different online services we use. As a result, we are multi-tasking more than ever, and we’re doing it all within our browser. Each open tab takes more of your computer’s resources.

Thus your own change in behavior — keeping more tabs open in your browser, in this example — has the side effect of demanding more from your computer than you may have in the past.

I use browser tabs simply as an example. It’s very possible that, like me, you’re now running more (and/or more powerful) applications, or using existing applications in ways that use more resources.

What to do

So, what do you do about it all?

  • Review how you use your computer. Are you asking it to do too much? Are you trying to do too many things at once?
  • Rather than leaving programs running or tabs open, consider closing them when you’re done to free up resources for what you’re actually doing.
  • Consider doing things — and thus running the applicable programs — in sequence, rather than simultaneously.

Eventually, as I did, you’ll probably end up getting a newer, faster, and more capable machine. But by being aware of and managing your own use of your system, you can delay that necessity as long as is pragmatically possible.

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Leo

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20 comments on “Are You Asking Too Much of Your Computer?”

  1. You mentioned word processors. Word processors can suck up a lot of resources but most people doing research need to be able to copy and paste what they find on the web as they find it. One solution would be to open Notepad or Wordpad to paste into and later open that file in the word processor to do the editing and layout. I usually do this,not so much to save resources as that’s not currently a problem but it’s a habit I formed when MS Word took a long time to open. Now it opens in about one and a half seconds but for those whose computers are slowing down, this might help.

    Reply
  2. i hope this is pertinent to the article. on my optiplex 360 the D drive doesn`t load
    at start up anymore. i have to eject the disk then close it again to get it to work. i
    have a lot of pictures in my downloads, a disk in drive D, i have a thumb drive in
    removable drive E, and i have an external disk player in drive F. could this be too
    much for my 2005 model desktop?

    Reply
    • Yes, this is off topic, but ….
      I presume by D-drive you mean your optical drive (DVD/CD). And since this is a 2005 computer you’re not running Windows 10 (a good thing, otherwise I’d blame it on the last update). Some things to try:
      (1) Go to the device manager, find the optical drive, uninstall it (right-click for menu), reboot your computer. (2) Your DVD/CD disk may be bad. Copy your files to a new DVD/CD and use that instead. (3) Open up D-drive tray and spray around the cavity with compressed “air” to remove dust. (4) Are there any error messages or codes popping up? Search online for what they may indicate. (5) When the drive isn’t recognized, try opening it using a different application, such as the application you use to write to the CD disk. See what error messages are produced. (6) Get into your BIOS and make sure that the boot device is not set to the optical drive. The answer to you final question is No.

      Reply
      • Thanks aa1234aa,
        yeah its the disk tray built into the front of the computer.
        i just blew out the whole thing a couple of days ago. no,
        no error messages. i didn`t have to use an application for the
        external drive, its plug and play. i will definitely try the other
        things you mentioned. Thanks again

        Reply
  3. Most people spend most of their “computing” time in a browser and browsers are notorious for being both CPU and memory hogs – consequence of bad and lazy programming. If that weren’t bad, when you get on a website the equally bad programmers and advertisers will load your page with many dozens of scripts, sucking up your resources. This is the natural trend in computing which has persisted since the early 70s: the more powerful the hardware gets the more bloated and sloppy the software gets.
    Side note: I’ve experimented with browsers to see if closing tabs will reduce memory use. It does not in any significant way. Not for any browser. Once a browser gets a chunk of memory, it keeps it.

    Reply
    • So the argument there would be don’t open multiple tabs to begin with? Keep your usage as low as possible from the start? I know the big three browsers (Edge, Chrome, Firefox) all have memory usage issues at times — I wonder if there’s a lighter weight one out there that deserves a little publicity.

      Reply
      • I’ve gone into the Task Manager to close browsers and after closing the browsers, there were several instances of the browser showing up. I then close the dozen or so browser processes and that clears it all up. A tedious solution but it’s sometimes necessary. Google Chrome seems to be the worst offender.

        Reply
      • I’ve looked for a lightweight browser and tried many of them, but couldn’t find one that is noticeably quicker or uses less resources. The problem is that most browsers are based on Chrome/Chromium or Firefox, so the guts are the same. I’m now using MyPal, an offshoot of Palemoon/Firefox, and it’s a bit faster than Firefox, but still not good in memory usage. I find Opera to be quicker than Chrome. An interesting observation is that when I go to Google sites then Chrome behaves the fastest and Firefox the slowest. I’ve also tried Yandex, the Russian browser and it’s not much better.

        In response to Mark’s comment about Chrome background processes. I found someplace deep in Chrome configurations where you tell it not to run processes after you exit. Sorry, I forget the details and I’m too lazy to look it up now. Also, I run my browsers via a batch file that has a kill process after I exit the browser GUI. This doesn’t always work because the GUI component can lock up and your batch file never gets to the kill statement. But if it does, it kills any background processes.

        It seems like there is a market opening for someone to build a new browser from scratch.

        Reply
        • I’m not sure if a lightweight browser is possible. HTML and JavaScript do so much that going lighter would probably involve crippling some features. I think that what Microsoft attempted to do with the origin Edge browser and that didn’t tun out well. They eventually went with Chromium.
          What might work would be a complete redesign of HTML and JavaScript.

          Reply
      • Leo, assuming you weren’t asking rhetorical questions with “don’t open multiple tabs?” and “Keep your usage as low as possible?” Yes and yes. My browser usage is one site at a time, then I close the browser and open again. The only time I get into multiple tabs is when searching and I want to compare information. But, to avoid that getting out of hand, I take notes (copy and paste) and then get back to the sites using my notes.

        Reply
  4. I also am using my computer more and more, with more windows open, increasingly multitasking. My computer works fine. (I love my SSD drive!).

    My BIG problem: my BRAIN gets overloaded. I lose my place/train of thought. This is especially true in certain computer forum articles (NOT ASK LEO) where a particular lengthy article has useful links to related articles which have useful links, etc. (telescoping articles). I USED to be able to do it…but not any more!

    Mel

    Reply
      • Yes, good suggestion.
        If you just need to keep track of them while you are at your computer, you can open up Notepad.exe or Wordpad.exe file and use it as a notebook. Keep it open as you work and either save or delete it as you see fit. Another option if you have Windows 10 is to save them to the Clipboard by selecting the text and copying it. Pressing the Windows Key + V will open up a list of everything you’ve saved to the clipboard for that Windows session. Alternatively, you can use a free clipboard manager like Ditto.

        Reply
  5. I often tell my father the reason he doesn’t understand certain tech concepts is because he doesn’t use his computer enough. Now from your article it seems I expect too much of mine.

    He switches off his laptop every time he’s done with it. Mine stays on forever.
    He closes one application before going on to another. I do browser (with multiple tabs), Office stuff in Excel and Word, Dropbox, Zoom, photos, Outlook email, Team Viewer, calculator, all at once.
    He bought a second monitor because I have one, but don’t have much use for it. Working on two monitors at once is now my normal, as I’m always doing multiple things at the same time.
    If he calls me with an issue and I ask to look at it through Team Viewer, he shuts down everything else, then opens Team Viewer, so of course I see nothing of the initial complaint until he repeats the action.

    Not sure when I got to this stage but my first computer had 1GB of RAM, and 80GB storage space. We shared that computer with 4 people in one house. Now we each have separate devices with 2GB, 4GB, 4GB, and 16GB of RAM, and 1TB storage space each.

    Reply
  6. I use the computer I have built 10 years ago. At some point, I thought Windows was seriously thrashed, because it had become unbareably slow. Upgrading RAM from 4 GB to 16 GB made (almost) all problems disappear. (8 GB would probably have been enough.)

    I have not been asking more from my computer. In fact, I discoverd that it was others which had abused it. Browsers had begun to use huge amounts of memory, and websites has also increased tremendously their resource usage.

    I don’t open more tabs today than 10 years ago. I don’t use more programs at the same time, nor more powerful programs.

    Except for the browsers and the websites which are squatting my computer. That has been the major change, and I have no control over it.

    Reply

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