Over time any computer regardless of how new or old it is will begin to decrease in its performance. Many factors contribute to this degradation including how much software you have installed, how much disk space is being used, and the types of programs running. There are also factors such as a potential virus or spyware infection which can decrease performance considerably.
As part of regular maintenance, it is a good idea to ensure your computer is regularly checked for performance issues and the following suggestions can provide you with a good starting point to help improve your computer’s performance.
Let’s go through the basic steps I take when I want to improve the performance of a computer running Windows 10.
Specific Program Performance
If you are finding there are specific programs you use which have shown considerable performance changes, whilst others have remained unaffected, you need to look at the program specifics. A good example of this is email and the use of a locally installed email client. Microsoft Outlook is a popular choice but is also a program which should be maintained to ensure that your email files do not begin zapping performance from your overall computer’s performance.
Microsoft Outlook works on the basis of storing all your email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and other associated information in a file called a .PST file. The PST file is often referred to as your Outlook Data File. If this file begins to grow considerably in size it can affect the performance of Microsoft Outlook when accessing any aspect of your email.
If you find other programs are causing you an issue, you can google for specific information on how to increase the performance of the particular program you are working with.
Below are a few tips to clean up your Outlook Data File:
- Open Microsoft Outlook
- Sort through your email and delete any emails which you no longer need to keep
- Any email messages you need to keep should be sorted and stored in a folder within Outlook, not all left in your Inbox
- Go through your existing folders and delete any content which is no longer needed, we often store things we need in the short term and in the long term the content is no longer required and is just taking up space
- Look for any emails which include attachments, these can be the cause of your Outlook Data File becoming large in a short period of time. If you no longer need the email which includes an attachment, delete the email. If you wish to keep the actual email message you can save the attachment to your computer’s hard drive and delete just the attachment, leaving the email messages behind for future reference
- Clean up any email in the Junk E-mail folder
- Sort through your Sent Items, if you still have content from 5 or even 10 years ago, I think you can probably safely delete them if no longer needed
- If you have a large amount of old data, you may find it easier to Archive content to a separate PST/Data File. This will move the content from your current Outlook Data File into a new archive file which you can open and access at any stage in the future should you need to, but will free up space in your active file. To archive go to the File tab and click the Tools button from the Info screen. Select Clean Up Old Items from the menu and follow the prompts to archive old content.
- Empty the Deleted Items folder! Just because you have deleted an email doesn’t mean it’s gone. It is sitting in your Deleted Items folder still taking up space.
- Compact your PST file, depending on your version of Outlook you can do this through File > Account Settings. Select the Data Files tab and select your PST file then click Settings. Click the Compact Now button.
- The Data Files screen, as outlined above, will display the location on your computer where your Outlook Data File is stored, this allows you to navigate to this location through File Explorer and view the file size of your Outlook Data File. If your file is over 5GB in size, then your file is large and you should attempt to reduce the size to assist with performance.
Generally speaking most computer users have a specific set of software programs which are used on a regular basis, and for the most part, users stick to these programs. If though you are a user who likes to experiment and dabble in new software programs then it is quite likely you have a large array of various programs installed on your computer which you probably haven’t used in some time. When it comes to computer performance this is the time to uninstall the programs which you no longer need.
For those new to uninstalling programs, do not be too alarmed if you suddenly find programs listed that you have no idea what they are or what they do. There are many programs which have been installed by your computer during an update or even as a program that runs in the background of your computer to allow you to watch the latest videos online. Either way, if you see a program listed and you have no idea what it is for, google the name. Google should steer you in the right direction and allow you to identify what the program is. If you aren’t sure then feel free to drop me a message and I can assist with software identification.
To uninstall software, follow these steps:
- Click the Start button and select the Settings icon from the side menu
- The Windows Settings window will be displayed
- Select the Apps option
- The Apps & features window will now be displayed along with a list of currently installed programs
- Locate the program you wish to remove and click to select
- You will now see an Uninstall button appear, click this to remove the program from your computer
Before you uninstall any program I always suggest you write the name and any version number down. If you realise you need the program again, the name and version will give you a head start to find where you can download and potentially reinstall from again.
Some programs you may see listed but don’t recall installing could be:
- Adobe Flash Player (used to view video files online, do not uninstall)
- Adobe Reader (used to open and read PDF files, do not uninstall)
- Bing Bar (the built-in search bar in Internet Explorer, do not uninstall)
- Microsoft .NET Framework (do not uninstall)
- MSXML (do not uninstall)
- QuickTime (another program to view video files online, do not uninstall)
If you are concerned and having trouble identifying a program, feel free to contact me for assistance.
Hard disk space
This goes without saying but always check how much disk space you have available on your computer. Lack of hard disk space is a common cause of performance issues.
To check your hard disk space, follow these steps:
- Double-click the This PC icon from the desktop or press the Windows key + E on the keyboard to display the File Explorer window
- From the list of hard drives displayed in the This PC section, locate the Local Disk (C:\), your c:\ may be labelled differently, right mouse click the c:\ and select Properties
- You will see a pie chart which shows you the hard disk capacity, free space and available space
- If you have less than 5GB of free space available then you most certainly need to clear some space on your computer to improve performance
If you need to clear some disk space you may need to look at alternative storage options. You may have a large amount of data being stored on the computer including documents and pictures which you cannot delete but at the same time, your computer is running low on disk space which it needs in order to function.
Now it’s time to perform a disk cleanup. Disk Cleanup is a utility available within Microsoft Windows and will perform a check on your computer to see the types of files it can delete safely and give you the option to pick and choose which files to remove.
Disk Cleanup will allow you to choose to delete temporary internet files, downloaded program files, empty the recycle bin (if you haven’t already), remove temporary windows files, remove optional windows components, and remove installed programs you no longer use (again this is if you have not already performed this function separately).
To perform a disk cleanup, follow these steps:
- Right mouse click on your c:\ again and select Properties
- From the General tab, you will see the Disk Cleanup button, click this to begin
- Disk Cleanup will scan your computer to identify areas you may be able to free up disk space
- Once Disk Cleanup has looked at the drive it will provide a list of files it can delete
- Place a tick in the box for the ones you are happy to delete, e.g. Temporary Internet Files
- Click OK
- Allow the Disk Cleanup to complete in its own time
Last, but not least, I suggest you finish off by performing a defragment of your computer’s hard drive. When files are installed or saved on your computer, the computer saves them to any available space on the computer and files can often become fragmented with bits and pieces placed randomly within the hard drive. Think of your hard drive like a storage cabinet, with files being placed in any draw and any location within the draw, this makes the process of retrieving these files take longer and longer over time. The process of defragmenting your computer will move these files into a more complete pattern and reconnect fragmented files meaning your computer will run faster and more efficiently.
To perform a defragment, follow these steps:
- Go back to the C:\ Properties window and select the Tools tab
- Under the Optimize and defragment drive section click Optimize
- The Optimize Drives window will appear
- Click Analyze and allow the scan to complete
- Allow the process to complete in its own time
- The scan will advise if your hard disk is fragmented and needs defragmenting or will show current status as OK which means no further action is needed at this stage
Antivirus and Antispyware software
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have antivirus software installed on your computer. A major cause of sudden performance loss for a computer is the presence of a virus or spyware program which can cause havoc within your system and reduce the performance of your entire computer.
You can get separate programs to guard against viruses and spyware however I generally recommend going with a solution that looks after both aspects. I personally use Symantec Internet Security but I also have experience with Avast and have found both to be very reliable and catch any unwanted infections.
If your computer is performing slowly, ensure your antivirus/antispyware program is enabled, has up to date file definitions and then run a full system scan to ensure you do not have any infections. I have seen instances where antivirus protection has been disabled by a user, for one reason or another, and during that time a virus has snuck into the system and run wild and free.
You should now find an improvement in your computer’s performance. If you are still experiencing issues then you should seek the assistance of a computer technician for further analysis of your computer.