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By Paul Vaccarelli

As personal computers age they appear to slow down. Sometimes even newer computers will seem to take a long time to boot and then operate in slow motion. This can be frustrating and baffling to the person using the computer.

In reality, computers always operate as fast as they are designed to.  What slows them down are programs monopolizing their resources. When RAM memory runs low, the computer uses disk memory to compensate. Disk memory is hundreds of times slower than RAM memory, thus the slow performance. There can also be programs running in the background that take up CPU usage. These programs can be anything from malware, to over-zealous anti-virus programs.

To get to the bottom of what is slowing down your computer, do the following while the computer is slow:

•    Press the CTRL, ALT, and DELete keys simultaneously. This will bring up the Task Manager. On Vista you will see a menu, then click on Task Manager.
•    Click on the Performance tab. You will see a graphical representation of CPU and Memory usage. The CPU usage should be at 10% or lower when the computer is idle.  The memory usage number, (the graph will say PF usage,) multiplied by 1000, should be less than physical memory total shown at the bottom. If it is not, you may need to add more RAM or find the program that is using it up.
•    To find programs using an over abundance of resources, while in task manager, click the Processes tab. It will show you a real time list of all programs running in real time.
•    Click on the memory column to sort by memory usage, or the CPU column to sort by CPU usage. You can then see what is using the most of these resources. In XP, the System Idle Process should be showing 90% or above in CPU usage.

Once you find the culprit, you can deal with it yourself, or call a computer service professional for advice.  Other issues can slow a computer like a failing hard drive, or a poorly fragmented hard drive, but most of the time it is an errant program that can easily be dealt with.

Paul Vaccarelli is general manager of PC-911, LLC. He can be reached at 303 807 2911. Phone consultations are free.