Debunking common myths of PC slowdowns

Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:59 p.m.
The most frequent complaint I hear from computer users is "my PC is running so slow". In many respects, a computer is much like a car in needing a regular tune-up.
In a perhaps odd twist, today's computer controlled cars need those tune-ups far less often than PC's. However, the need to get out and have the "oil fresh" and "filters checked" is there for both.
There are a number of commonly held myths about what slows a system down. The first is likely to please all the music downloading teens out there, and take an arrow out of the parental quiver.
It really makes little or no difference how much data is stored on your computer's hard drive, except if the drive is nearly full.
One of the most common complaints I hear is from parents who are convinced their "system slowed down after my kid downloaded a bunch of music, I need to take that music off of there, right, and then my system will be as good as new?"
Unfortunately, that isn't the case. The reality is that the only thing related to data storage is that the more fragmented the data on your drive becomes, the slower it can run, but the amount of data doesn't affect it, unless the hard drive is so full the system's main temporary swap file is being affected.
What's key here is to run Windows Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter on a regular basis, at least once a month, preferably once a week. Doing so will clean out a lot of unneeded files and keep the data stored on the hard drive properly optimized.
Both programs can be found in the System Tools folder under Accessories. It's always a good idea to run Disk Cleanup before Disk Defragmenter. If you haven't run Defragmenter in awhile, it can take hours to complete, so it's a good idea to start the program before heading off to bed.
Another common myth is that adding more memory to a PC will cure all slowness. While it can help, especially in Windows XP systems, it's by no means a cure-all.
That being said, adding more memory to a Windows XP system is usually helpful. The majority of systems sold share system memory for video functions, often as much as 128MB. Doing so limits the amount of system memory for programs to only 384MB, and Windows XP begins to slow down.
My own experience is such that I have now been upgrading systems, especially any used much for burning CD's or multimedia playback over the Web from 512MB to 1024MB of system RAM. While the difference isn't as pronounced as when going from 256MB to 512MB, it can be helpful on most newer PC's.
Gamers still need a high-end separate video card, there are no systems with integrated graphics capable of handling most current PC games. Video card memory above 256MB at present seems to make little difference in overall performance; the processor speed and type of processor on the card are of considerably more importance.
It is now not uncommon for a high-end video card to make up close to half the cost of a gaming PC - be prepared to spend a minimum of $200 for average performance, and $300 or more for the best video cards.
What remains most important is limiting the number of programs running at system start-up, and keeping your PC free of adware and spyware. Doing so can keep most systems running happily for years.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on computer and Web issues. Reach Tom at ADayInCyberville@, or via

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