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Windows PC Performance Troubleshooting and Optimisation

Times are Uncertain - do you really need that upgrade or new PC?

Our customers and prospective customers at frequently come to us and ask that we suggest either upgrades or whole new PC's that will solve their current non-performance nightmare with an aging PC. It's quite amazing how sometimes as the conversation and understanding of requirements and problems experienced proceeds we discover that actually the PC they already have may just still have a few laps around the circuit left in its tired chassis. In this article we will explain how you can diagnose your performance woes, streamline and tune them up. You'd be surprised just how much more you can get out of what you have.

Tip! Before making any serious system changes such as some of these are its wise to take a backup or restore point of your system before each change. Then should you subsequently find something is "broken" you can restore back to a previous working configuration.

Analyse the problem before implementing the solution...

Use monitoring tools regularly - get in the habit of watching Task Manager and lookout for tasks and processes that are hogging your system memory or CPU. Task manager displays both in the process view as you can see below, you can also sort by clicking on the column headings. Even if you only use the Internet and eMail both these applications are renowned for memory leaks and processor bound loops (see an explanation of these problems in the next section).

Monitor Free Disk Space - ensure you have at least 20 percent disk space, preferably 30 percent or more should be free. If you don't the file system struggles to operate as it needs some space in order to allocate and deallocate files the operating system and applications require while in use. Imagine walking into a hall full of boxes and you need to order them all by colour, in a room 70% full you've got 30 percent free space to temporarily put things in while you move other stuff around, in a room 99 percent full you may have no room at all to use as a temporary store. Use our earlier tip for reducing disk space consumption by eliminating unused installed programs or disk space is cheap these days with 1TB at under 100 ( about $156.00), upgrade your disk.

New Software invariably uses more Memory - finally, if you need an upgrade the one that makes the biggest difference in 80 percent of cases is simply adding more memory. RAM is now fairly cheap and you should consider 2GB to be the minimum of practical RAM to have installed. Every time you upgrade it try to double it or you're unlikely to really notice the difference. On 32-bit systems there is little advantage to having more than 3GB of memory but usually it makes sense to upgrade to 4GB due to the size of memory kits available. If you need more than 4GB you will also need to upgrade to a 64-bit operating system. You can see your memory utilisation by consulting the Task Manager, ctrl-alt-del presents you an option to start the task manager.

In a typical example 2GB of physical memory is installed, of which roughly 1GB is available, although windows is misleading us a bit here as it will always make sure some memory remains available or it will simply cease to function. So don't look for 0 available free memory as an indicator that you need more, it never will be allowed to reach 0 as windows will swap a process out into the page file to free more memory up.

The page file is actually virtual memory on disk as tasks become active and inactive they may be swapped into and out of memory into the page file, hence that pause sometimes when you switch to another task as the disk is accessed to bring it back out of the page file. Activity in the page file and virtual memory is complex and I won't go into any more of that here as it doesn't help you with performance issues. The key point to remember is if Windows is swapping memory out to the page file on disk then your system will be going a lot slower as you can be sure however fast your disk is it's an awful lot slower than physical memory.

What we care most about is activity in real physical memory and the point at which we might run out of it and the page file becomes more active hence slowing down the system. Crucially the Commit Charge Peak should balance the physical memory available otherwise it means an awful lot of page file swapping is going on (known as "Page Faults"). If it was the yellow line in Page File Usage history would be bouncing around, or worse just steadily increasing.

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