My machine is slower than molasses in the winter time. I suspect that one or more programs are simply using up all of the available CPU time. How do I tell which ones they might be so that I can turn them off, or whatever?
Yep, that sounds slow.
It happens to me from time to time as well. A program decides it has something very, very important to do and uses all the computer’s processing power to do it.
The good news is, it’s pretty easy to find out which program that might be.
Slow machines represent one of the largest sources of questions to Ask Leo!
Perhaps when you purchased it, your computer ran like a champ and quickly did everything you needed. Now … well, not so much. Perhaps it takes forever to boot. Or starting applications is slower than molasses. Or maybe the machine just acts sluggish when you try to use it for just about anything.
Regardless of the specifics, the underlying theme is simple: it’s slow.
There are many, many reasons that a machine could slow down.
I’ll list a few of the most common reasons here, along with some advice on what steps to take.
Our disk drive is split into a C: and a D: drive. We only ever save on the D: drive, but the C: drive has only about 540MB left available! Apart from about 5GB of photos, I can’t understand what is taking up all the memory. The memory seems to continually go down and is now getting to a critical level. I have run malware checks and deleted all critical errors, but still not been able to free up any memory. I can’t even defrag as I need 20% free to run this option.
Disappearing disk space is a very common scenario.
Somehow, no matter how much we have, disk space never seems enough. As we collect pictures and programs (and the programs themselves collect data), more and more disk space is consumed. With so much happening on our computers these days, it’s difficult to understand what’s taking up space.
Fortunately, I can recommend a free tool that can give us some very helpful data.
I have a number of knotty problems with error messages at present and there are several programs on the net which “guarantee” to fix them. When the offered free scan is invited, they always come up with lots of faults which they will only fix if you subscribe. My usual reaction is that it’s all a con to get subscribers, but is this true in all cases or are there some programs which really are the cure-alls they claim to be?
To quote the old aphorism: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
I’m sure there are good programs out there, but like you, I’m very skeptical. Beyond skeptical. Downright suspicious, even.
As a result, I’ve never purchased such a program. Instead, I’ve tackled my problems head-on, lived with them, or, if things are bad enough and unsolvable, reformatted and re-installed.
But there are some ways to at least stack the deck in your favor if you want to try one or more of these types of tools.
Sleep (also called “standby”) and hibernate modes are alternatives to shutting down your computer completely. The idea is that when they’re used, your computer will either shut down faster, start up faster, or both.
The primary difference between the two is what happens to the contents of your computer’s RAM, but there are more subtle differences as well.
It’s not uncommon to complain about start-up time, or the speed of your computer while booting. As it turns out, the amount of time it takes to shut down is another source of occasional frustration. I mean, how long should it take to turn something off? Why can’t it just shut down now without pulling the plug?
As always, there are many possible reasons. I’ll review the most common.
I understand, Leo, that in your article What is the System Idle Process and Why Is It Using Most of the CPU? you are saying the System Idle Process (or SIP) is actually doing nothing. But I, like several others, do find that, while we are using the computer (so it is not idle), all processing slows down and becomes sporadic. When that happens, Task Manager shows only SIP using the CPU. If SIP is not causing the slowdown, what is?
I get a lot of pushback on that older article from people who are absolutely convinced the System Idle Process is somehow evil and must be eradicated simply because their computer is slow and “System Idle Process” is at the top of the CPU usage list.
They are wrong.
System idle is benign. The CPU has to do something 100% of the time. When it has nothing to do for you or the system, it’s assigned the idle task to while away the time. It’s the CPU equivalent of twiddling your thumbs, waiting for something to do.
So why is your system slow as molasses?
Well, I’ll give you one hint: the CPU is not the only thing in your computer that affects its speed.
The other day, I was at a friend’s home to diagnose a problem he was having with his Windows 10 computer.
It had become almost unbearably slow.
He’d called earlier, indicating the problem had begun after some kind of pop-up message to “call this number” that could not be dismissed, followed by mis-click of some sort on Microsoft Edge, at which point the disk light began flickering continuously and the system came to a crawl.
Fearing the worst, I advised him to turn off the machine until I could get there and see it in person.
I have a Windows machine to which I just added a second hard drive. The new, larger, drive is now the primary. What do you recommend for a swap file? The “3X RAM” rule of thumb doesn’t make much sense to me. It should be bigger with less RAM, not more. It’s currently set to the same as my RAM size as its minimum and twice as much as a maximum size on the C: drive. What size should I set it to, should it be on a different partition, and should I give it its own partition? I will be doing a lot of scanning and Photoshop, if that affects the answer. It’s my understanding that a fixed size reduces fragmentation (or at least makes defragmentation easier). I’ve also seen suggestions for making the swap file an entire partition. (I have Partition Magic.) Would putting it onto the second drive improve read/write speeds? The second drive will be for backing up data files and not in constant use.
You’re asking a lot of good questions and providing a lot of the right kind of data from which to make some recommendations.
I’ve written about Virtual Memory a time or two already, and it does seem like so much voodoo to many people. The same is true for figuring out what to do with it.
But if you’re trying to eke out a little more performance from your machine, then it’s possible that a couple of settings might help.
Is there a way to find out if someone has copied your files? I sent my computer in for repair and became very suspicious about the people doing the work. Is there a way to find out if my files have been copied in any way?
Seriously, that’s the complete answer.
I’ll explain a little why that is, but the bottom line is that, no, it is impossible to determine if someone has copied your files.
Glary Utilities has a section called “Remove Duplicates”. I tried it and it does get stuck when one chooses “delete all checked files”. The question is: How come there are duplicate files on the computer? If one is working on a file and then saves it, it should go to the original file and not create a new one. An explanation would be very welcome.
First let me say this: I strongly advise against blindly deleting duplicate files. Done incorrectly, you can quickly render your computer unbootable.
Duplicate files happen for a number of reasons, and surprisingly, what you and I do isn’t at the top of the list of the most common causes.
Is it true that the more memory your computer has, the more memory some programs use? I’ve read several forums where people mention that they have multiple gigabytes of memory and that Firefox, or Quicken, or some other program is using over half of it. They call those programs memory hogs and say their computers slow down. I never see that myself; for example I run FireFox and it never uses that much memory.
No, programs don’t typically expand to fill all available memory. They use however much they need, almost regardless of how much you actually have, and therein lies the source of most memory-related slowdowns.
There are lots of reasons one might want multiple gigabytes of memory, but it shouldn’t really be for something as simple as FireFox. I’d have to agree that someone’s a memory hog in that situation, but it might not be FireFox itself.
Your situation – everything just working with relatively low memory usage – is actually much more common.
I read that you regularly install your system completely from scratch, if I understood correctly. Why is that? Is that against potential malware that didn’t get detected? Do you do this monthly, or twice a year? Regularly reinstalling all the software anew should take you some hours, even if you’re fast. Or did I misunderstand something.
You understood me correctly.
While I don’t do it as often as I once did, it’s absolutely something that I need to do from time to time.
Why do I do it? In part it’s the nature of software, and in part it’s the nature of what I do.
The good news is that it has nothing to do with malware.
I have a Lenovo Thinkpad with Win7. In looking at Services (through Computer Management) there are services that are ‘Automatic’ start, and others that are ‘Automatic (Delayed Start)’. What is the difference? Can I speed up Start Up, or regular operation, by changing seldom used services from Automatic to Automatic (Delayed start)?
Or, rather, I wouldn’t; not without knowing one whole heck of a lot more about the specific services we’re talking about and how they’re used by Windows.
You see, services – autostart or not, delayed or not – kinda sorta are Windows. And by tweaking what does and doesn’t start and when, you’re pretty much saying you know what’s good for Windows better than Windows does itself.
Let’s look at just what these things are and why we need them.
Leo, I’ve got a constant frustration that when I wake my computer after a sleep period, sometimes it comes up fine, other times it cannot reestablish internet connections or just doesn’t come back up and I end up having to reboot. I’ve learned to shut down the internet before I sleep. That relieves some of the problems but I can’t figure out why at times it just doesn’t come up – a dark screen and no blinking light activity
You would think after all this time that standby would be a lot more reliable. Sadly, in many cases, it just isn’t. I’ll explain why that is, what I do, and what steps you might take.
I’m running Windows 8.1. Lately, when I’m in File Explorer, I right-click, the menu takes a very long time to appear. For example, if I wanted to delete a file, I can use the delete key and get the normal immediate response but the right-click takes seconds to appear. For Delete, the keyboard is an easy and fast work around even for multiple files. But Rename? Or Open with? And yes, I back up, I really do. I’ve now restored back about as far as I want to go with no improvement. I’d be willing to go further back if there’s a specific program I could look for. Any ideas?
You know, Windows often gets the blame for this kind of thing but it turns out it’s rarely Windows’ fault. If anything it’s Windows fault for being so accommodating with the various programs that you can install.
Leo, I’ve had several people tell me that I have too much stuff on my desktop and that is why my computer is so slow. I think my computer is slow because it’s old. It’s six years old. What should I tell them?
If you’re looking at the number of icons, that doesn’t actually affect things in any appreciable way. However, in a backhanded kind of way, it could.
Recently, an entry keeps appearing on my taskbar. It appears for less than a second before disappearing again. I once managed to click it, but no window popped up. The icon is a blank rectangular box and there is no description. It’s driving me nuts trying to work out what it is! How can I identify this process?
Programs do seem to come and go at times. When you’re diagnosing performance or security issues, understanding what’s coming and going can be important. Sometimes, it can just explain a flashing item in the task bar.
Fortunately, there is a fairly simple way to trace what’s happening.
I have Windows 7, 64-bit, on an Asus motherboard with 8 GB of RAM. This issue is about my onboard sound. The sound degrades the longer the desktop is left on. By the fourth day, I’m getting static, audio dropouts, and even a sluggish wired mouse. As soon as I reboot, these issues disappear until two or three days later. I added a Diamond sound card which made matters worse, especially the static. Now, I’m back to my onboard sound. I’m at my wits’ end. I’ve been getting advice like “move the sound card” but there is no separate sound card and why would rebooting eliminate the problem?
This sounds like a software problem, possibly one that’s not related to your sound hardware at all.
Before I discuss how to deal with that, let’s check something.
I have a very specific problem. I have a router which connects to both my desktop PC (which is wired) and several wireless devices: a tablet, a laptop, and so forth. Whenever I turn on the desktop, my laptops, and my tablets, the internet almost stops working. It takes three to four refreshes to open up a page ( which is irritating) and the internet, if it’s working at all, is very slow. Usually, when the laptop and the tablet are on, the internet runs fine. How do I fix this?
This sounds like your desktop computer is simply hogging all of your internet bandwidth.
There are several reasons why this could be happening.
I found four files and twelve folders in my Temp folder that I can’t delete because they say “Access denied” with no programs open. Most are random numbered IDs, but two of the files have weird names: My Babylon TB and Bundle Suite IM setup. Each of these are around 1 Kilobyte. Both are noted as .exe applications. Two other files are basically just temp files. I’ve tried everything, but they persist. It may not be a big threat, but I hate to clutter the Temp folder on a permanent basis. How can I remove them? I use Windows XP.
Deleting files from your Temp folder is a good thing to do periodically. An “Access denied” error usually means that the file that you’re trying to delete is currently open and in use by some other program.
Sometimes, it happens, but based on the information that you’ve given me, I’m a little concerned that something else might be going on here.
I recently did a CHKDSK scan on two hard drives with video files. The first scanned with no options checked. It did not show any details of progress except the progress bar. It got to the end and then froze (although the computer did not freeze) and the only way to exit it was to shut down the computer or reset. Do you think any of my video files got corrupted or changed in any way? With the other hard drive, I scanned four times without errors. On the fifth time, I scanned it on another computer and it said that it had a file system error. Needless to say, I did not fix that. I don’t know if one of the four times before I checked any options, but I’m thinking I had nothing clicked. Is it possible that my video files on the hard drive got corrupted or changed in any way, even if I had clicked one or both of the options?
You may have problems with your video files, but I don’t think it’s because of CHKDSK. Without any options selected, the CHKDSK utility simply reports the current status of your hard drive.
But there are a couple of interesting things about CHKDSK that I think are worth reviewing here.
Disk defragging, or more correctly “defragmenting,” is the source of many questions, more than a few misconceptions, and many articles here on Ask Leo!
The good news is that for reasons we’ll explore, defragging in Windows 7 is actually something you rarely need think about any more.
While we’re exploring, we’ll also look at a brief refresher on what fragmentation is, why defragmenting is needed, and how to do it yourself, if you want to. I’ll also address some of the most common myths of defragmenting.
My machine has a constant red LED, constant disk activity, no response from mouse, Task Manager, not able to gain control of any processes or programs. Problem is, I have had Process Explorer (boot) running and it shows +-98% inactive!!! I am unable to see what is causing me the problem (using Admin. Tools Events etc. when I look at various categories).
Obviously, something appears to be running outside of Windows XP Pro SP.3. Unfortunately, I am unable to find and DESTROY it.
One thing I can tell you is, it’s not outside of Windows. Your assumption that CPU usage is telling you something is incorrect.
In the past, I’ve recommended a tool called FileMon to determine what’s been writing to your disk. FileMon has been replaced by a significantly more powerful utility, Process Monitor.
We’ll look at using Process Monitor to see if we can determine just exactly who’s doing what to your machine.
I’m currently using Windows 7 Pro, but my question applies to all versions of Windows. I have 4 GB of RAM on my office laptop and after a clean reboot with my basic always-on apps running (Outlook, Communicator, anti-virus, etc.). I have 2 GB free. After running normal apps (Word, Excel, Sequel Server Management Studio, etc.) throughout the workday and closing them, I will only have 1.5 GB of RAM free at the end of the day. Then, less each day after, forcing me to reboot every couple of days if I don’t want to be strapped for memory. This has been happening ever since I can remember. Now I can understand poorly managed apps not freeing up memory after use, but this will happen after using nothing other than Microsoft apps which one would think would have memory management under control? What gives? Any insight would be appreciated.
Memory management in any operating system is unimaginably complex. It’s either the stuff of nightmares or pure magic, depending on who’s talking about it.
From what you describe here, I actually don’t see a problem. That may sound weird, but I’ll talk through why I feel that way.
My computer fan kicks in for no reason. It never did this before, but it does now. I know that a dirty computer fan could cause overheating, but I checked and blew out the fan with compressed air. Nothing came out. What could be the problem?
The problem is still heat related. The question then becomes: where’s that heat coming from?
I have a PC that does… well, weird things. My Adobe Flash suddenly doesn’t work on some major sites, yet it’s OK on others like YouTube. Adobe Flash is suddenly not displayed on Add/Remove listings. I also lose parts of some other PC components so that their features don’t work properly. Now, this usually starts after I carefully uninstall some “accidentally” downloaded toolbar or some other program I have “added/removed” in my Windows. Now, technicians say there is no problem with the computer. Can there be a flaw in the motherboard or something making this happen? It’s like the uninstall that I do appears to gut some of my other programs, especially Adobe Flash.
Motherboard and other hardware issues are typically more consistent. You would see the same issue over and over again. Or the issue would be more severe, like your computer would just stop working or crash completely on a regular basis.
While it’s still possible, I don’t believe there’s a problem with your motherboard. What you’re describing sounds more like software rot.
It seems like every time I call the tech support line for my software, operating system, or even my broadband connection, the first thing out of the technicians mouth is “reboot”. Or worse yet, “Turn the power off for a while.” What does that have to do anything? And why does it work?
It does seem like a bit of magic, doesn’t it? The computer’s acting up, you reboot it, and – poof – things are better again. At least for a while.
It gets even weirder when you achieve the same effect just by shutting it all down and pulling the power cord for a while.
A friend of mine provided a nice explanation for the power scenario, and I can speak a little bit to the magical mess that is software.
What does “unallocated space” on a hard drive mean? Is it just sitting there, waiting to be used when needed or what? My hard drive is now divided into two halves of 250GB each. I would like to have the whole hard drive clean and free. I searched your archives but there is nothing on deleting a stuck partition.
Well, in a sense, it is just sitting there, waiting to be used. The problem is that it’s waiting for you to tell it how it should be used.
Basically, you have an empty, unused partition and you need to decide how you would like that space to be used. Then, you need to tell Windows to use it.
Fortunately, this is pretty simple in Windows 7 and doesn’t require any additional tools; basic partition management and rearrangement is built right in.
There’s a large hidden file on my disk that’s taking up a bunch of space called pagefile.sys. What is pagefile.sys? Assuming it’s something I need, can I move it to another drive?
Pagefile.sys is your Windows virtual memory swap file. When the applications you’re running on your computer end up needing more RAM than you actually have, Windows will start shuffling things around and use your hard disk as “virtual” memory. At the sometimes high cost of speed (your hard disk, and thus virtual memory, is much slower than actual RAM) you avoid getting an out of memory error.
Pagefile.sys is the area that Windows sets aside for that.
And yes, you can move it. In fact, if you have more than one drive installed on your machine and your system uses virtual memory often, moving it can result in a performance boost.
After I log in, my system slows to a crawl. Looking at task manager I see that my computer is experiencing high CPU usage. Looking more closely I see that something called “svchost” is taking 100% of my CPU time. If I kill the process suddenly other things stop working. Is svchost a virus? How do I fix this svchost problem?
That’s actually a composite question based on several reports I’ve been getting recently.
Svchost, or more correctly “Service Host”, is a program that is designed to run other programs and “hosts” many of the system services in Windows XP. Several copies of Svchost run more than one service, which is why when you kill an instance of svchost several things on your machine might stop working.
So why is one of the Svchosts taking all your CPU?
I am using windows XP PRO, and I am having difficulty when I am browsing or using a program. After a few minutes the computer freezes and I get a message in parenthesis saying (not responding). Sometimes I have to log off and log-on again to fix this problem. But after a few minutes it happens again. How can I fix this?
“Not Responding” appears in the title bar of a running program when Windows detects that the program isn’t behaving properly. Exactly why depends on the specific program and what you were doing at the time.
Let’s look at some of the possibilities which range from actual software or hardware problems, to user impatience.
My computer locks up and won’t boot. What do I do?
Your computer locks up, crashes, stalls or otherwise fails to completely boot up into Windows. That’s particularly painful, since most all of our diagnostic tools require that Windows be running. Diagnosing the problem with a computer that won’t boot can be difficult.
In this article we’ll look at some of the resources that you do have available, and try to gather a little information about the type of problem you might be experiencing.
I’ll start at a successfully booting Windows, and work backwards to a completely dead machine.