However fast your PC when you first buy it, over time its performance will only deteriorate. We look at how to undo the damage done by everyday computing use and claw back valuable disk space and processor cycles.
Diagnostic tools: tracking down the junk
You'll need some tools to help you unearth the excess files and other detritus clogging up your system. Here are a few.
Benchmarks help you determine your system performance. It's worth running a systemwide benchmark, such as PC WorldBench (which we use to measure the real-world performance of PCs and laptops that enter our Test Centre) or PCMark Vantage, when you first build or buy your system. Save the results, then run the benchmarks again every few months. If the results decrease by more than about 10 percent, you may want to clean out your PC.
Windows comes with tiny applets known as gadgets that you can keep on your desktop. However, if you have too many gadgets running, they may slow down the system. One useful gadget is the CPU meter – not so much for its CPU-activity reports, but for its memory meter. If the percentage of memory used over time seems to increase substantially, you may have background tasks loading that you don't need.
You might also want to grab some third-party system-monitoring gadgets from Microsoft's site.
Windows Resource Monitor
Gadgets are fun, but you'll probably find the Windows Resource monitor more practical for diagnosing potential issues. It's a substantial step up from the CPU-meter gadget and superior to the more commonly used Task Manager. You run Resource Monitor by clicking Start, Run, typing resmon, and then pressing the Enter key.
Check your PC memory usage
For monitoring system slowdown issues, there's always the actual system-performance monitor. Perhaps more useful than consulting this is the memory monitor.
This tracks memory usage. It even shows you, in a more granular fashion than Task Manager, how a particular program or service is consuming memory.
Windows Reliability Monitor
All those memory-hogging and performance-sapping modules can make your system less stable, so check the Windows Reliability Monitor, too. You may think your system is less stable than it once was, but the Reliability Monitor will give you the data to confirm that suspicion.
Do a reliability check
You can use the Action Center to check your PC's reliability history. Launch the Reliability Monitor from the Windows Control Panel. Click on the System and Security link, then select Action Center. You'll see a heading labelled Maintenance. Click on that and you'll see the link for View Reliability History.
To navigate the Reliability Monitor click on the columns representing dates. You can also see the trendline, which may be flat or downward-sloping. (On our PC the sharp drop around 9/16 in the screenshot shown here represents when we installed the Internet Explorer 9 beta. Pre-release apps often have reliability problems - no surprise there.)
This is a graph of a system's reliability history.
A sudden, sharp drop is worth checking out. If multiple programs are shown to be unstable, perhaps something you installed (or uninstalled) just before stability problems occurred is the culprit.
System boot diagnostics
It's amazing how many applications, tools and utilities attempt to preload something or another during the boot-up process. We used to have a high-performance Windows XP desktop system that would take 15 minutes before the mouse would become responsive.
Windows 7 has fixed many slow-boot problems, but we've still seen supposedly high-end systems take nearly five minutes to fully boot up.
One third-party program that's useful for assessing boot problems is Soluto. This is both a diagnostic program and a utility that can fix slow-boot issues.
NEXT PAGE: More cleanup options