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  1. #1
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    Common myths about troubleshooting a slow PC




    BEST PRACTICES


    Common myths about troubleshooting a slow PC


    By Ken Blake

    Hang around in Windows forums or newsgroups long enough, and you'll see a question asked again and again — something along the lines of: "My computer is so much slower than it used to be. How can I fix it?" You'll also see many of the same answers repeated over and over. Unfortunately many of those answers are wrong.

    The full text of this column is posted at windowssecrets.com/best-practices/common-myths-about-troubleshooting-a-slow-PC/ (paid content, opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.

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    Like Ken, the only time I have ever done a Windows re-install was after deliberately crashing a computer in an attempt to solve a problem. Before I start fiddling with any computer, mine or anyone else's, I always do an image backup.
    What programs are booting up when you start your computer? A great program for finding out is Winpatrol ( www.winpatrol.com ). It will show which programs are in the boot sequence, and allows you to disable the ones you don't really need. Apart from the necessary Windows services, the only things that start up on my computer are anti-virus, firewall, sound control, date/time and Snagit. All other programs are accessed by shortcuts on the task bar when needed.
    My windows font folder only has 10 fonts in it. All other fonts are in a seperate folder for use when needed. My tests on defragging and optimising the HDD showed no difference in boot time or performance. Likewise registry cleaning and defragging showed no speed increase.
    Temporary internet file cleaning on a friends computer removed over 5Gbs of temp files and did improve her internet experience.

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    Wow. If I had written this article the result would have been exactly the same. Every hint and recommendation is what I've telling my customers for years, and doing myself. I especially like with the comments on chain stores (Oh the horror!), CCleaner, and tech skills. HERE HERE!

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    It's great to see that Ken Blake has made the jump from the Microsoft newsgroups to Windows Secrets. Ken's logical and down-to-earth advice will be a great benefit to Windows Secrets readers (and a valuable alternative to Fred Langa's antiquated and frequently hazardous fiddling.)

    "Common myths about troubleshooting a slow PC" summarizes the important information Ken provided in the newsgroups. Unfortunately, the article ends with some old links - possibly inserted by the editors? - that repeat the very myths that Ken so skillfully argues against.

    Nobody thinks that Windows is perfect, but Microsoft has pretty much nailed the housekeeping by now. The bigger problem, in my view, is when companies like Microsoft (and Apple and Google, etc.) fiddle with their software to benefit their own corporate interests, leaving us scrambling to find work-arounds that make their products work for us.

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    Never reinstalling Windows: maybe for you but not so fast with that concept

    You are speaking for yourself as a computer guru and you probably don't know anything about what a PC repair tech does for a living.

    I have a computer repair business now for 18 years and not part of a chain store. So I have dealt with a great many windows PC problems. I don't agree with the concept in this article about it "usually being a mistake" to reinstall windows. (I also do on-site work for networking, variety of on-site repairs, troubleshooting, etc).

    It is the fastest and best way to get a computer running when the typical non-tech owner brings in a non-booting up PC with a bad hard drive or malware/spyware, virus infected OS. When Windows is so corrupted in these situations your idea for the typical customer would be so time consuming to be impractical.

    There are many situations in which I have got windows working by running my own scans to get rid of malware and do the usual fixes you mention but if windows still won't run properly, it is still better to do a clean install and NOT have an unhappy customer to complain about something still not right when they get it back that I didn't observe while in my hands.

    Also, if the PC vendor put in a factory image restore, I can get the PC back to new in 60 minutes or less. Then it is matter of allowing windows to install the updates AND I restore their data: result one happy customer.
    Last edited by Stiffler; 2014-05-08 at 12:16.

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    Super Moderator jwitalka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stiffler View Post
    You are speaking for yourself as a computer guru and you probably don't know anything about what a PC repair tech does for a living.

    I have a computer repair business now for 18 years and not part of a chain store. So I have dealt with a great many windows PC problems. I don't agree with the concept in this article about it "usually being a mistake" to reinstall windows. (I also do on-site work for networking, variety of on-site repairs, troubleshooting, etc).

    It is the fastest and best way to get a computer running when the typical non-tech owner brings in a non-booting up PC with a bad hard drive or malware/spyware, virus infected OS. When Windows is so corrupted in these situations your idea for the typical customer would be so time consuming to be impractical.

    There are many situations in which I have got windows working by running my own scans to get rid of malware and do the usual fixes you mention but if windows still won't run properly, it is still better to do a clean install and NOT have an unhappy customer to complain about something still not right when they get it back that I didn't observe while in my hands.

    Also, if the PC vendor put in a factory image restore, I can get the PC back to new in 60 minutes or less. Then it is matter of allowing windows to install the updates AND I restore their data: result one happy customer.
    Fastest- yes but you may not have a happy customer that then has to reinstall all his programs if he even still has the install disks. Not to mention all the OS and program updates that have occurred from the factory install. I agree with the author that a factory reinstall is a last resort that a good technician has to rarely invoke. I can count the number of cases on one hand that I had to perform a clean or factory install on the PCs I get for repair.

    Jerry

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    One of the persisting myths, that the author does try to reinforce, is that registry cleaning can help. I thought Fred Langa himself had proven this to be wrong, but what do I know. In all my Windows years, from Windows 1.0 to 8.1.1, I never had to use registry cleaning. I have seen people who have nuked their Windows installs due to their systematic resort to registry cleaning and I frankly think I have seen much more problems due to registry cleaning than registry issues causing Windows problems.
    Rui
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    I agree with Rui. The only time I attempt to "clean" the registry is if I run into an infected machine that I can't cleanup any other way. I never do any regular registry cleaning. IMO, that is just smoke and mirrors that has more potential for harm than good.

    Joe

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    That makes three of us.....

    Jerry

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stiffler View Post
    You are speaking for yourself as a computer guru and you probably don't know anything about what a PC repair tech does for a living.
    That's two assumptions.

    Ken is referring to a practice - reinstalling Windows every 6 months or year - that was not uncommon among knowledgeable computer users in the early days of Windows, roughly until Windows 95 or 98SE. Users who liked to experiment with their computers in those days, by installing and uninstalling lots of software or playing with their PC's configuration settings, frequently found their operating systems messed up. Today Windows is substantially more mature and robust, so virtually everyone has no need to frequently reinstall their operating system. But the old advice still persists.

    Then, as now, reinstalling an OS doesn't fix anything. It doesn't identify any problem or try to address any problem. It's simply starting from scratch. It means I have to reinstall everything and reconfigure all my software. Plus ... if my original problem wasn't caused by Windows in the first place, reinstalling Windows won't accomplish a thing!

    That's not to say that reinstalling the OS should never be done. But reinstalling to solve a specific problem is a way of saying "I give up."

  12. #11
    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Not regularly using driver updates or Registry Cleaners is good advice.

    But as noted in the article, a sudden decrease in PC perfomance can sometimes be traced to driver-level conflicts, antivirus definitions blocking drivers or necessary Windows components from loading and running, or Registry Keys which actually conflict or block proper installations of a new version or update to a program. Most of these occurrances will be documented widely in the tech press as they occur, and appropriate steps can be taken on a case by case basis.

    Most antivirus suites when uninstalled do require Registry cleanup afterwards. So can Backup Utilities like Acronis products. Just to name a few.

    One recent example of performance issues resulting from anitvirus problems was the April 15th MSE update which on many Windows XP machines caused slow booting, slow performance or inability to fully load desktop applications. It was fixed the next week, but it sure caused a lot of activity in The Lounge and at AskWoody!

    And as noted in the article (and Susan Bradley's Patch Watch) when MS Updates serves up a Kernel Driver patch, some systems will slow or have serious performance issues until offending older drivers are updated. Whenever updating a driver for any reason, make an Image Backup and a Driver Backup of the original configuration in case something goes wrong. Driver Backups can be accomplished with Double Driver, referenced in Fred Langa's column this week.
    Last edited by bobprimak; 2014-05-15 at 12:15.
    -- Bob Primak --

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    Agreed- sudden slowdowns are usually caused by malware. When I come to a home where someone is running Vista/7/8, the first thing I check is Control Panel, Programs and Features, and then sort the list by date. That usually tells all- I would say the average PC I see has at least 10 malware (not officially virus- but should be) programs running, and I am not surprised to see upwards of 20-30 installed. So I uninstall anything that has some kinds of savings, toolbar, and a few others that have become familiar, plus others that installed at the same time (in consultation with the owner, of course). Then I reboot, clean out from the AppData and ProgramData folders any relics of these programs, reset whatever browsers are installed, update the running antivirus, and run Malwarebytes to clean up whatever relics of the programs are still there.

    The article is fairly accurate as it stands- for sudden slowdowns, with one glaring omission. Though I have usually been with the others who said these are overwhelming software problems, I have found, probably because people are using their PCs longer, that hard drive failures cause many of the slowdowns. You can often see this in the Event Viewer. But if not, the drive manufacturer diagnostic will show this. I have probably replaced at least 30 hard drives in the past year with SMART failures, a couple because of outright failures, but most often because the person called me about "slowness."

    There is merit in almost all of the other answers covered in the article, at least in some instances:

    RAM can be a reason, at least for Windows XP. With the growing of the Windows kernel, growth of .Net applications, and larger antivirus programs- there was a time when upgrading a XP computer with 128M to 256M made it into a speed demon, and then it was 256M to 512M, and in the last couple of years you could hardly do anything with a 512M system unless you uninstalled the antivirus. So for those still on XP, you need 768M-1G to be able to run as well as you could in the past. So RAM, combined with updates and perhaps some programs they really want, has at times been an issue.

    Though not for slowdowns themselves, reformat/reinstalls are often necessary for consumer PCs that have become badly infected (usually the antivirus is long expired) because even after rooting out the virus(es), the firewall/security center/antivirus/windows update services are usually toast; sometimes the Windows fix-its work; more successful is merging in the registry service entries from a healthy Windows machine; occasionally none of that works. Sometimes it is clear from the task manager that something viral is happening which no malware tool is able to identify. And sometimes even after cleaning up a mess, especially on an XP machine, it is clear that the system is running nowhere near what a cleanly-installed machine of its type should do. In that instance, if a hard disk diagnostic and the event viewer give no clues, a registry cleaner can help. I had one instance of a registry cleaner (I think it was jv16 power tools) cleaning and compacting the registry to less than a third of its original size and a tremendous improvement in speed. That avoided a reformat in that instance, but others have not been so fortunate. But the average PC user does very little customization and installs few commercial programs on their machine, so the backup/reformat/reinstall process is almost always quicker than the process I had used to come to that point.

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    Rather surprised you forgot something obvious to both desktop and laptop machines: a slow PC can be caused by a thermal issue, i.e. folks forget to clean out the computer every six months! Also not mentioned, a failing PSU. This problem will almost certainly cause a computer to slow down and I've handled more than a few units whose 5VSB (Stand-by voltage) is low enough to cause a situation.

    And last, but not least, here's an item that never gets mentioned when a computer suddenly slows down for no apparent reason: Electrolytic capacitors. All computer motherboards are made up of electronic components; IC's, resistors, transistors, diodes, capacitors, oscillators, semiconductors, rectifiers, crystals, filters, relays etc... and eventually these pieces will reach MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure). MTBF is usually measured in the hundreds of thousands of hours the component will be subjected to while it's turned on. Most of the time, if an electronic component is suffering a failure on a computer's main board, typically it will be the electrolytic capacitors. All Motherboards have these devices and there are anywhere from 6 to 15 that one will find on a board. When one or more fail, the remaining caps have to pick up the slack which will cause them to have to work harder and hotter. Sometimes the computer won't work significantly enough to even boot-up but if it does, it's going to run much much slower because of these failing components.
    In fact, when someone tells me their computer is acting slowly, I ask how long they've had the machine and then search the main board to see if any components, (especially capacitors) may be failing. I can spot the telltale signs when it comes to capacitors.

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    Super Moderator bbearren's Avatar
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    The only thing that can be learned by doing a reformat/reinstall is how to do a reformat/reinstall. I don't. In my years I've encouraged one customer to RMA a laptop that was less than 30 days out of the box and had multiple issues. Everything else I've fixed, after a thorough cleaning.

    I've had strange occurrences such as a failing PSU (that passed all tests using a high-end tester) causing motherboard failure symptoms. After the second motherboard (refunded by the supplier), I replaced the PSU. That was four years ago, and that Vista system is still running.
    Create a fresh drive image before making system changes, in case you need to start over!

    "The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Savvy?"—Captain Jack Sparrow "When you're troubleshooting, start with the simple and proceed to the complex."—M.O. Johns "Experience is what you get when you're looking for something else."—Sir Thomas Robert Deware.
    Unleash Windows

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