Anyone who uses a computer has probably experienced this one time or another, a PC or Mac that seems to bog down over time. Your programs open sluggishly, web browsing seems pokey, apps are lagging and your computer startup time is worse than you remember.
When this happens, it can be a bit frustrating trying to figure out what’s going on – especially with a relatively new operating system. But before you throw your computer out the door and to the nearest recycle bin, try these tricks first. They might save you some cash and your sanity.
Check your Startup/Login items
Mac: Cleanup startup menu
If you have had your Mac for a while, chances are certain things on the computer have been building up over time. Checking things like the login items on your computer is a great way to see if there are any unused apps hogging your application memory.
To do so, simply go to “System Preferences,” choose “Users and Groups,” and then select your User. From there, choose the “Login Items” option to display the applications that open during startup.
Then select the apps you do not want opening automatically and click the “Minus” sign down below.
PC: Trim your startup items
Before we get going, we should explain why computers take forever to start, and why they get worse over time. When your computer starts, it’s moving information from your slow hard drive, or “storage,” to the much faster RAM, also called “memory.”
The more information that your computer has to move, the longer your computer takes to start. And as your computer ages, more information builds up. So, unless you want to upgrade to faster hardware (more on that later), the trick is to reduce the amount of information it has to move.
The best way to do this is to stop programs from loading automatically at startup. Many programs on your computer are set to automatically run right away, but most don’t have to.
On Windows 10 (or 8.1), there’s a quick way to check and manage your startup items. They’re conveniently listed on a Task Manager tab.
To check your startup items:
- Open Task Manager. Do this by right-clicking on an empty space on the taskbar then selecting “Task Manager.” You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + Esc.
- On the Task Manager window, go to the Startup tab.
- The Startup tab will list all your startup items with their name, publisher, status and startup impact.
- Review each item carefully and right-click and select Disable on programs that you don’t want to auto-start.
That isn’t the only place startup programs are found. You can use a program like Autoruns to find another list of startup items and disable the ones that aren’t important. Autoruns tells you exactly what each program does, and it knows enough not to disable essential startup programs like your security software. Trust us; security software is well worth the time it takes to load.
Stop running processes
Mac: View open processes with Activity Monitor
Sometimes, an application or process may be eating too much of your computer resources, slowing down your machine to a crawl.
To view open processes and computer resources usage, use the Activity Monitor.
To quickest way to access the Activity Monitor is by using Spotlight Search. Click the magnifying glass on the right side of the menu bar at the top of your screen, or press Command + Spacebar to open a Spotlight window and start typing the first few letters to auto-complete “Activity Monitor.” Just press enter to access the tool.
Another way of accessing the Activity Monitor is through the Launchpad. The Activity Monitor is in the “Other” folder. Optionally, you could then drag its icon to the dock for easy access in the future.
Similar to Window’s Task Manager, Mac’s Activity Monitor displays a list of all your open processes with tabs for CPU, Threads, Idle Wake Ups and Network usage.
Force quitting open programs
To close any errant applications or applications that are not responding, you will have to Force Quit them.
To force quit open applications, click on the Apple logo on the top left side of the menu bar, then click on “Force Quit.” This will show a window of all the open applications currently running on your Mac. Highlight one from the list then click the Force Quit button to close that particular application.
Alternatively, you could use the keyboard shortcut Command + Option + Escape to open the “Force Quit” window.
PC: Task Manager
There are a few ways to see what processes your computer is running. The easiest is to bring up Windows’ built-in Task Manager. Just use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC and go to the Processes tab.
Note: Windows 10 and 8 present process information in a much friendlier way than Windows 7 or Vista. If you’re on Windows 7 or Vista, you’ll probably want to pick up the program Process Explorer.
You’ll see the process name, how much of your computer’s processing power it’s using, how much memory it’s hogging and – sometimes – which programs use it.
So where do processes come in handy? Well, your computer might be feeling sluggish on a regular basis. Open up Task Manager and check the CPU and memory columns for each process.
You might find one process is using 100 percent – or close to it – of your CPU for a long period of time. Open up the program associated with the process and see what it’s doing.
If it doesn’t appear to be doing anything, restart it and keep an eye on it for a while to see if it starts hogging your processor again.
For essential programs performing important tasks, like security software, see if you can schedule the task for a time when you aren’t using the computer.
For programs that don’t appear to be doing anything but are using up resources, try updating the program to see if that helps. In the worst case, you might need to find a replacement that works better on your system.
Sometimes, programs that are acting up won’t respond if you close them, so you have to stop the process directly. In Windows 10 or 8, select the process and click the End Task button.
Clean out unused files
PC: Check your hard drive space and your temporary files
As you accumulate files and programs, your storage eventually fills up. This could potentially slow down your system as it takes longer to search for the data it needs. It is recommended that you have at least 15 percent free space on your operating system drive for optimal performance.
In Windows 10, the easiest way to check for free space is to open Settings >> System >> Storage. This will display all the drives that you currently have with a graphical representation of the remaining free space.
Selecting a drive will show you a breakdown of what kind of system data is occupying it. A category you might want to check first is Temporary Files. In here, Windows 10 could automatically clear all the temp files that the system doesn’t require to run, like temporary internet and program files and caches.
(Note: You might have a section here called “Previous version of Windows.” It’s quite large, about 30GB, but don’t delete previous versions if you plan on going back to Windows 7 or 8.1 .)
PC: Uninstall programs that you don’t use
Most of the time, we have applications we have installed, used once and have totally forgotten about. These programs still occupy hard drive space and may even have temporary files and folders installed. They could even be running in the background, sucking out memory and resources so it is in your best interest to track them down and uninstall them.
To do this in Windows 10, go to Settings >> System >> Apps and Features. This will list all the programs and apps you have currently installed with their corresponding size. To remove, just click on the program or app then choose “Uninstall.”
Other Mac and PC tools
A better way to clean up your Mac or PC is via third-party applications like CCleaner. Not only will CCleaner clear out your system’s temporary files, cache, and unwanted applications, it also does automatic clean-ups of your browser cookies, trackers, internet history, download history, cache and even individual session activity.
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