I have a slow-running PC that’s about five years old. It has been protected by AVG internet Security throughout its life and, after a recent full system scan, AVG declares it to be in good health with all threats under control. On the other hand, I am told that slow running is what happens when a PC is full of viruses, and I should consider reinstalling Windows. Which of these is right? And if my PC is clogged up, what is the point of AVG’s Security? It would be nice to be able to make an accurate diagnosis.
A PC running Microsoft Windows XP should continue to run at the speed it did when you bought it. They never (or very rarely) do in real life, for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that both the operating system and the applications change as security holes are patched and new features are added. Today’s updated XP SP3 needs more resources than the original version, launched in 2001. To run Windows XP SP3, a browser and one main program nowadays you should have at least 1GB of memory and at least 1GB of free hard drive space.
Also, new PCs “feel” fast because they usually are much faster than whatever you had before. As the months go by, the new speed feels normal and you start to notice delays when things are not as fast as you’d like. Unless you are the sort of person who actually benchmarks new PCs, then you won’t really know how much it has slowed down, if at all. (Windows 7 and Vista have reliability and performance monitors that help.)
It is certainly true that malware can make a PC run slowly, and you should double-check Norton’s opinion by running an alternative as a one-off test. I’d suggest Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware: see my recent post on Removing spyware from Windows for further help. But your PC may also have slowed down because it’s running lots of background programs installed by apparently reputable companies such as Adobe, Apple, Google and many others, including Microsoft. Anti-virus software generally cannot protect you from software that you install deliberately.
At this point, you can try to solve the problem either by debugging your current Windows PC or by reinstalling the Windows XP operating system. (You can also not solve the problem by taking a different route, such as buying a new PC or installing Linux. These will replace your current problems with a different set of problems. However, I’m a stickler for answering the question you actually asked.)
Both debugging your current PC and reinstalling Windows XP will take time and effort. Usually, debugging is quicker, while reinstallation produces better results. (The reinstallation is quick: downloading Windows updates, reinstalling all your applications and restoring your data can take a long time.) I’d suggest you follow this clean-up routine and see if it speeds up your PC, because at least you will have some tools to help you monitor and control your PC.
1. Check that you have all the latest Windows updates then back up your whole PC, or at least any data that you have not already backed up. Create a Restore Point so you can go back to it.
2. Go to Add/Remove programs and uninstall any software you no longer use. Ideally, uninstall all copies of Java and then install the latest version.
3. Download and run CCleaner (free) to delete temporary files and clean up your PC, including the Windows Registry.
4. Run Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, as mentioned above. (You can also run it in Safe Mode.)
5. Restart your PC and check your hard drive for errors. The quickest way is to click Start and type chkdsk /r in the Run box.
6. Download and install AnVir Task Manager Free. This will enable you to go through your PC’s startup programs and services and block any that you no longer want to load. It will also stop programs from inserting things into your startup routine without your permission. You may need to identify some startup programs using Pacs-Portal or Bleeping Computer. See the Services Guide for Windows XP at The Elder Geek for other information. Hover your mouse over Task Manager Free’s SysTray icons to see if you are short of memory or if something is using a lot of resources.
7. Download and run Sysinternals’ Process Explorer 12.04. This is like Windows Task Manager but much more powerful. Look through all the applications and processes that are running on your PC and see if any are consuming unusual amounts of the CPU and other resources. If one application is stealing 90-100% of the processor, everything else will run very slowly. Note that svchost is not in itself a problem: it simply hosts other services that are run from dll files (dynamic-link libraries).
8. Based on your findings from 6 and 7, you may want to turn off some Windows services (set them to run on demand), and update or change some applications. Historically, Norton has been seen as a bit of a resource hog, but I’m told that Norton Internet Security 2010 has been much improved. You could consider replacing Norton with the free Microsoft Security Essentials to see if it makes a difference. Google’s Chrome is a more lightweight and more secure browser than Firefox or IE. Apple’s iTunes for Windows is bloated and slow, and lumbers you with QuickTime, Bonjour, and attempts to install the Safari browser. Check the website AlternativeTo for ideas and comments on various options. (It also covers Linux, Mac, iOS, Android and other operating systems.) If you can’t find a better alternative, uninstall then reinstall the program that’s creating a problem.
9. Defragment your hard drive. Windows has a built-in defragger, but Auslogics Disk Defrag 3.1.8 is an excellent alternative.
10. (Optional) Old PCs can accumulate vast amounts of dust, carpet fibres and other detritus that can clog fans and so on. Turn off your PC and unplug it from the mains, take the lid off, then gently blow the dust out. Make sure that the fans spin freely, and that all the cables are pushed firmly home. Static electricity kills chips, so you should wear an ESD (electrostatic discharge) strap. If not, make sure you ground yourself to make sure you are not carrying a static charge. Either way, keep your fingers well away from the motherboard.