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It happens very suddenly - you shake your mouse awake one day only to discover that it's not quite as...fast as it once was. You click on your favorite weblink only to find that the page loads at a snail's speed. That's when you realize that your computer has slowed down and the world is passing you by.
Ok, so maybe that's being overdramatic, but nothing makes a person's blood boil more than a new computer (or suddenly finding your current one) running a lot slower than it ever did before. Ever wonder what causes this to happen?
The answer is a multi-part one. The computer is a sophisticated piece of machinery (or electron-ery, I suppose) - as such, there usually isn't one particular "gremlin" at fault for the overall slowing down of your day-to-day activities. We'll look at three possible solutions to a bad computer slowdown, which revolve around a slower than normal processing speed due to a fragmented HDD, a possible spyware/malware infestation, or even a virus.
First, let's start with the fragmented HDD. Your hard drive essentially runs off of layers of information - your computer uses a very advanced method to bring these layers of information to the top of the hard drive based on priority. What typically happens though, is that the top layer can become clogged with files that you don't ordinarily use (or use infrequently) - as such, there's a task that prioritizes your files and gets you back to the speed you know and love. We call this task defragmentation. What most people do is that when their computer slows down, they take it to a local repair shop (GeekSquad, etc.), when in reality, the solution is as simple as leaving the computer on overnight with a disk defragmenter running. I personally enjoy using DiskTrix's Ultimate Defrag - it'll set you back a few bucks, but it's well worth the price. The system works off of advanced algorithms that bring your most used data to the top of the hard drive much better than the normal Windows defrag program. Either way, all these defrag programs work the same. Open the program (if you want to use the free Windows one, just go ahead and click on Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools), click on the correct Hard Drive, and hit the "Defrag" button.
Suppose however, that even after a successful defrag, your computer is still at odds with its velocity. You might be the target of a malware or spyware attack. As we surf the internet, the links we click and the files we download have to be carefully selected to avoid trojan downloaders and cookies that can cripple a computer's speed, as well as send sensitive personal information back to companies who then flood you with ads. The easiest way to remove these malicious software is to install a program called "Spybot - Search and Destroy" - (Lavasoft also makes a great version of theirs - "Ad-aware"). Even if you have a virus scanner with adware/spyware support installed, it's still prudent to have Spybot running from time to time to make sure your virus scanner is picking up everything. Just make sure to update Spybot before running and then click "Search for Problems".
Ok - so you've defrag-ed, and you've run Spybot, and still, nothing is speeding up. At this point, you may want to consider the worst-case-scenario - your computer may have a virus on it. Before panicking, there's a very easy way to check out whether or not this is the case. Run the F-Secure Web Scanner, or any number of free web scanners that are available, to see if you have a virus. If it turns out that you do, the first step is to successfully clean it out using a free software like AVAST! or AVG. Once you've done that, go ahead and invest $50 in F-Secure - a very successful virus scanner that runs on the Kaspersky engine.
So there you have it - running one of these three steps (or all three) should definitely see some improvement in your speed. If no improvement occurs, it may be a technical problem that goes beyond conventional software - in which case, it usually boils down to doing a complete back up of the important files and formatting the hard drive.