How do I get my computer back up to speed?
June 5, 2005 6:23 AM   Subscribe

I bought a new computer in January this year that lately has slowed up considerably. How do I get it back up to something resembling its original speed?

It's a Compaq Presario laptop (this model). I've defragged it, spybotted, adawared and norton antivirused it and while that helped, it's still sometimes taking its dear sweet time with such rudimentary things as displaying the "all programs" list in the start menu. That isn't much of a problem, but when it jerks up a bit when I'm playing some game or other, it's enervating. Also, it takes forever to load up Firefox, iTunes and other such programs which rankles as well. I suspect that the "commit charge" (to use Windows jargon) is clogged up, but I don't know what more I can to do about it. Any advice would be much appreciated.
posted by Kattullus to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Did you look through the startup tab in msconfig?

Additionally, if you have Norton installed, you can turn off a lot of "real-time" scanning and just run a scan every once in a while. Norton will bring your system to it's knees, as it's sometimes set up to scan every single file that every program accesses. And That Sucks.

The best thing you can do is stop any unnecessary shit from booting with your computer (using msconfig) and then add RAM. I run 2gb of ram in my laptop, and it fucking smokes! You may not need anywhere near that much, but if you have 512mb or under, I'd recommend more.
posted by fake at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2005

I've always thought this article called "Fixing Mom's Computer" was worth following.
posted by fionab at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2005

someone asked something very similar a while back - you might try searching. i don't remember what the conclusion was, but it seemed to be something to do with too many files in a directory that was beig used to generate a menu(!).

i don't know what "commit charge" is, except that it seems to be related to memory. how much do you have installed? and how much virtual memory do you have configured?
posted by andrew cooke at 8:48 AM on June 5, 2005

In my experience, the most likely contributing factor is real-time scanning done by things like Norton Antivirus. It doesn't make any sense to say your commit charge can't be "clogged up"—that's a bit like saying your thermometer is "clogged up" when it's warm. But yes, you are probably running out of RAM. If your peak commit charge is at or above your level of physical memory, it's going to slow down your system a lot.

The programs you have mentioned (Firefox and iTunes) are memory hogs. Right now my iTunes processes have committed more than 100 Mb of memory and Firefox is almost 500 Mb!

Get Sysinternals Process Explorer, go down the list of processes in order of decreasing virtual size, figure out what these things are (Google is your friend) and try to get rid of what you can.
posted by grouse at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2005

if your Firefox is 500 mb, you have a problem. With 15+ windows open mine is 24 physical, 19 virtual (although I have a gig of physical ram, so I'm kind of pissed at Windows' caching).

I've found that Windows needs about 500 megs of HD space on its install partition (regardless of the pagefile size), so look at that if that's an issue. Also, keep a buffer of about 100 megs between physical RAM and commit charge, as mentioned above.

Turning off servies (in XP, Start->Settings->CP->Admin Tools->Services) you don't need (this can be a bit dangerous if you're not familiar with them, so only turn off the ones that you know you don't need, and check to make sure they don't have dependencies) can help a lot. I get a barebones XP installation down to running with a under-100M commit charge fairly quickly (any time you see svchost.exe in your task manager, that's probably services).

Other than that, just make sure you don't have stuff running in the background sucking up cycles & RAM. I have Steam running, for instance, taking up 35 mb of ram and a few cycles here & there.

And if all else fails... reinstall.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:13 AM on June 5, 2005

Some other general stuff you can do includes cleaning up some unused files. CCleaner ( is a great program to clean up unused files on the file system and has a handy section that cleans up some basic registry problems.

Once you do that, you can also optimize your registry.

It won't alter information in your registry, but it will reduce the size it takes and the memory that it takes to load it.

I also turn on the ability to view hidden files and folders and delete the first directories that show up in the Windows folder starting with a $ sign. Those are uninstall programs for windows updates and service packs. If your system has been running fine with the current setup, I've found that it's pretty safe to delete those to clear up a lot of space.

The less files you have on your hard drive, the more files the drive can move closer to the spindle of the HD platter itself. The closer to the spindle of the platter, the faster the computer can access them.
posted by lockle at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2005

As an aside, all of the official versions of firefox have a known memory leak that can occur in some situations. This is fixed in the forthcoming 1.1 release. Workaround: Restart the browser on occasion.
posted by reishus at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all of you for your advice, it's been very helpful. After doing all you recommended the computer is noticeably faster.

One thing that slightly worries me. CCleaner tells me that I only have 384 mb of RAM. My Computer properties concur. I know I have 512 mb. Is this a hexadecimal to decimal conversion thing or is there something wrong?

(Incidentally, I do plan on getting some more RAM, just not quite yet)
posted by Kattullus at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2005

A "hexadecimal to decimal conversion thing???" Do you mean a binary/SI prefix confusion? No it's not, and you do not have 512 MB of RAM that is accessible to your operating system, despite what you "know." How do you "know" that you have 512 MB?
posted by grouse at 11:44 AM on June 5, 2005

if computer says 384 but you know you have 512 (based on what you bought) then you have bad RAM - your machine may be/is probably under warranty, call Compaq and explain suchly. or use the opportunity to upgrade to 1GB (but replace all the RAM in the system - this won't help if your machine has some built-in, nonremovable RAM though).
posted by mrg at 12:05 PM on June 5, 2005

On the 384 vs 512 MB

1. It might be explained by the fact that some laptops use main memory for the graphics memory, but according to the spec sheet, that model has a Radeon 9000, which by reading doesn't use main memory.

2. 1. The specs on that model say it ships with 512MB, so 384 seems unlikely, but its still worthwhile seeing what is installed in the memory compartment.
posted by Good Brain at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2005

It might be worth following some of the steps on this page. The previous version by the same author has been very helpful to me.

And I second what mrg says about the RAM. Bad or incompatible RAM sometimes shows up as half its regular size, which would probably mean one of your 256MB modules is bad. Assuming of course you have two 256 modules to arrive at this 512MB total.
posted by britain at 12:28 PM on June 5, 2005

Response by poster: (oh, the hexadecimal to decimal thing was meant as a joke, in retrospect I recognize it wasn't very good :) )

I thought I knew that I had 512MB because I ran a diagnostics program called System Analyser which told me that I have it. I downloaded another program for a second opinion, AIDA32, and that program told me I only have 382MB. I ran System Analyzer again just to be sure but there it was again, 512MB. SA is a dos program while AIDA is a windows program, so that might be something.

Well, if one of the RAM modules is bad then that explains why the computer has been slower recently. It's still under warranty. I'm currently out of the US so I'll have to wait until I'm back for calling the good people of HP and have them fix my computer and install more RAM to boot (no pun intended).

Thanks for the help everyone. And thanks britain for the link to the XP optimization page, that'll come in mighty handy.
posted by Kattullus at 3:01 PM on June 5, 2005

Truly bizarre. If you want to test your RAM I recommend MemTest86 and the Microsoft Windows Memory Diagnostic.
posted by grouse at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2005

you can probably just unscrew some little plate on the back of your computer (or pop the keyboard out) and read what the memory is off the hardware itself.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:01 PM on June 5, 2005

In Services (see above), definitely turn off Indexing. It runs in the background constantly and slows everything down -- and as you add things to your computer, it runs slower and slower.
posted by words1 at 7:39 PM on June 5, 2005

Response by poster: BIOS tells me I only have 384MB of RAM. I've been unable to create boot up disk for MemTest or Memory Diagnostic
posted by Kattullus at 3:04 AM on June 6, 2005

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