Max Dufour

Boost Your PC in 7 Moves

A guide to saving precious minutes each day

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If you have been in Zoom meetings like everybody else, you probably noticed a few things: for starters, attendees routinely complain about technology. Sometimes it does not work and other times it is slow.

When people share their screen, it shows many different ways of working and getting organized. Once in a while, you might see counterexamples: I am thinking, for example, of the presenter who had at least 25 tabs opened in his browser or another who had superposed virtual piles of random personal and professional files on his desktop.

There are many ways you can reduce the number of technology issues you experience, improve your performance (and your computer’s), and overall deal better with working remotely. Here are the top 7 which come to mind:

You can typically see some of the programs running at the bottom right of your screen, next to the clock. You can see more in the Task Manager (by pressing Control + Alternate + Delete and selecting “Task Manager”). For example, I close Skype and my Printer manager when I do not use them.

In most cases, a bunch of programs running in the background can be closed. You might notice that some are using resources without providing any services. If you are done using a program that drains resources, make sure to close it.

If you are not sure how some of the programs ended up running in the background, check the startup folders and remove any shortcuts to the programs you do not want to be launched each time you restart your computer. The default one is located under C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartup

Screenshot courtesy of the author

If you use multiple profiles on your machine, there could also be an additional folder for the current user under C:Users[Your User Name]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartup

Within some programs, such as Microsoft Office, add-ons can negatively impact performance, especially if the add-on has been discontinued and is not maintained by the developers or if it transacts lots of data. Office deactivates some if they slow down launching the program but others could still slow down the application.

In the worst-case scenario, an add-on keeps crashing and in turn crashes a program or the computer. You can usually see those trouble makers in incident reports and pop up errors. Click on “more details” if the cause is not clear.

If you are not using an add-on anymore, make sure to delete it as each of them contributes to slowing things down a little bit.

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Once a week, for example on Friday, when you know you are not going to use your computer for a while in the evening, it is useful to terminate most processes and organize your files.

I typically close all my tabs and browsers, followed by all programs. I then move any files on my desktop to the correct folders, which are hosted on the cloud to avoid clutter and save space. I try to get rid of anything which could fill up the hard drive or slow down the computer.

If my computer is slower than usual, I’ll run a scan for errors. On a PC, I go to “File Explorer”, right-click on my main hard drive under “My PC” and select “Tools”. I then click on “Check” under “Error Checking”.

If that does not solve it, I try “optimize” underneath although the disk should be already optimized (Windows defragments the disk regularly and automatically).

Next, I’d check security by right-clicking on the Windows Security shield in the taskbar next to the clock to make sure every item has a green mark next to it and has been updated.

If there is one thing that could really slow you down, that would be a security issue and your computer being used as a node by a hacker or by malware. When in doubt I would run a complete scan.

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Some programs can negatively impact or even interrupt your work. I am thinking of the antivirus program, which downloads updates in the middle of the day and then scans the entire computer, slowing down everything else.

I am also thinking of those dreaded system updates which notify you to restart your computer every 5 minutes or force you to do so… first thing in the morning when you are trying to join a meeting.

It is possible to avoid those issues by scheduling those tasks. Antivirus scans, defragmentation, restarts, and any maintenance or background tasks should run overnight.

You can use the Task Scheduler to automatically restart the computer regularly, should it be daily or weekly. That will allow updates to be installed and not disrupt your morning routine. You can find that tool in the start menu by typing “Task Scheduler” in the search box.

You will see all the already scheduled tasks. Many are usually system-created but you can edit them if needed. You want to make sure they do not conflict with your schedule and run when you are asleep, for example.

It is also a good opportunity to check for duplicated and conflicting programs or tasks. For example, some users find out that they have multiple encryption or antivirus programs running on one machine or that they have multiple scans going through their drives simultaneously. That is counterproductive. If you have a scan running at the same time as an update is being installed, it is going to slow down both and impact your productivity as well.

Once a year, at least, I would run a hardware diagnostic scan. It is a tool usually provided by the manufacturer and it helps you find any issues with your components, letting you know if any are compromised and should be repaired or replaced.

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A few years ago, I thought my internet was not great so I called the provider to check and confirm I was getting the advertised speed.

The technician came and mentioned that he had run a speed test from his parking spot, confirming I was within the expected speed range and that I should focus on my setup. I asked him what he would do if it was his house to get better connectivity. His answer? Get a better router, that will have the most impact. Most of the entry-level and cheaper routers do not allocate the bandwidth well across multiple devices.

I invested in a Netgear Nighthawk line router and saw an immediate difference. The Cisco-Linksys line is great as well.

If you can, connect directly to your router using a LAN cable. It can be a fairly long cable that goes across a room or behind a sofa if needed. A very long or damaged cable could create latency due to packet losses so if you are not sure if your cable is working well, try a small cable first and run a speed test. That will provide you with a benchmark to work from as you experiment with longer cables and WiFi options. Make sure that it is a CAT8 cable that meets your data transmitting speed needs.

If you prefer to use WiFi to not deal with cables, make sure you have a fast multi-band router with the latest technology (AX is more recent than AC, G, or N). It will let you connect multiple devices or stream without interruptions, if you have sufficient bandwidth.

Additionally, the closer you are to the router, the better the performance usually is. WiFi also works better throughout a home when the antennas from the router are pointed in different directions, ideally perpendicularly. If the signal does not reach all of your rooms, you might need to use WiFi repeaters.

Sometimes your internet provider will offer speed boosts and upgraded packages to get more speed. If you decide to get one of those, make sure you perform several speed tests before and after to confirm that you are gaining additional download and upload speed.

In some cases, the providers will be referring to peak speeds and are not committing to increasing your speed throughout the day. That means the top speed will only be possible when there is available bandwidth, which can be when local usage is low and therefore off-hours.

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If you keep lots of tabs open at once in your browser, use a lot of programs at once, or run any heavy-duty software, such as video editing or data processing, then you might be maxing out your RAM.

On a PC, you can open the Task Manager (by pressing Control + Alternate + Delete and selecting “Task Manager”) to see how much of your memory you are using across all applications. You can minimize it to monitor it and you can also click on the memory column to sort it. That will show you which applications are using most of the memory.

When your computer maxes out the RAM, it starts dedicating part of your hard drive to be used as virtual RAM, if you are using the default setting in Windows 10. It can be problematic if the disk fills up because hard drives are already slower than RAM and get even slower when they compete for resources.

You can see and configure the virtual RAM in the control panel on a PC, under “System & Security” and then under “System Info” and “Advanced Settings”.

Another quick obvious fix is to purchase additional memory. You will want to first check for available slots. You can see in the “Task Manager”, under “Performance” and “Memory” how many slots are used. You can also see the empty slots inside the computer, directly on the board.

If you run out of slots, you can replace your existing RAM with new RAM, for example by swapping two 8GB with two 16GB memory modules.

If you mix older RAM and newer RAM, you will get the speed of the slower RAM for all memory so it is sometimes better to replace all the modules, especially if technology has changed.

It is fairly easy to swap or add memory modules. Once your computer is off, you can remove any modules, add the new ones by pressing them gently in their slots and turn it back on. You just want to avoid any static.

The process is similar for a laptop but it requires smaller and more expensive RAM modules. You just have to make sure it can be upgraded, which means that the memory is not soldered to the motherboard and that the compartment is not sealed. It is also slightly harder to install since space is tighter and the process is less standard than on a desktop. It is recommended to remove the batteries in addition to turning the power off.

If you are not sure if it is a good Do-It-Yourself project, watch a tutorial video specific to your computer make and model. Some manufacturers and computer shops can install it for you as well, with labor prices going from $0 (if it takes a few minutes, the place is selling you the modules and they are friendly) to $250 (if it is complicated and done by a leading manufacturer).

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Many users do not realize that if they use a cloud storage solution (OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, or any others) it does not mean that all the files are in the cloud. Some of them could be downloaded to the computer and in some cases all of them. If sync is enabled, the content of personal and shared folders may constantly download to the computer. It can be problematic, especially if alerts are not set up and capacity becomes scarce.

You can set up alerts and quotas by right-clicking on your main hard drive and setting up limits and alerts. If for any reason your drive ends up being 90% to 100% full you will experience significant performance degradation.

You will also experience similar performance issues if your drive is constantly being accessed, for example, if files are synching in the background or if you use an application that keeps accessing your drive. You can see on the task manager what is accessing your drive the most and tasks which could be ended.

If you find that your cloud storage solution ends up taking a lot of space on your drive, you should first check the synchronization settings and find the option to move the files to the cloud. If you have decent internet bandwidth and regular size files, it should not be an issue.

To move files to the cloud with One Drive, for example, you simply right-click on the One Drive icon and select “Free Up Space”. That process can be very time-consuming and unpredictable the first time so you would want to launch it at night, ideally on a weekend. You can also test it on a few folders first to see how it will change the access to the files.

If you need more space, you can right-click on the main hard drive and select the cleanup option to delete the temporary files. Each time you visit a website, install an update or download a file to read, it is saved on your computer so it makes sense to chase those unused files and delete them once in a while.

If the software products you use have a cloud version, try to use that one first to free up your drive. If you need any applications, try to install them on a separate device such as a tablet, as they seem better at managing and organizing multiple small applications.

The same is true for communications tools. For example, you could use Zoom from a tablet attached to an extended arm so that it does use resources from the computer. If it is connected to the cloud you can still access and share files.

If your disk is still full and slow, consider acquiring an SSD drive. Storage is much cheaper than it used to. If you need a lot of storage or need to archive large files, you could use multiple external drives or acquire additional cloud space.

If you have space inside your PC you can connect additional hard drives. When comparing hard drives, the key is the read/write performance, which is calculated in megabytes per second. Your operating system should be running on your fastest drive.

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If you do not want to fumble with your computer settings nor run diagnostic tools, or if you are still finding your computer to still be slower than it used to be… you always have the option to start fresh. In the control panel, under “Update & Security” and “Recovery”, you have the “Reset this PC” button.

Of course, that option is usually blocked on company computers, on any computer where you are not the admin, and on any computers managed centrally.

It will save you time and issues if you have all of your files in the cloud. It is also helpful to have an inventory of the software you will want to reinstall.

Some application store data which needs to be backed up if it is not synched or already backed up automatically. For example, depending on your set up, tasks, contacts, and local emails might need to be exported and saved.

As you rebuild your computer, make sure you keep it as lean as possible and avoid installing anything which can be run virtually, in the cloud, or on a server.

If you have tried gadgets, such as animated background, customizations, or animations, try to not reinstall them as they tend to impact performance.

As you reset your computer, it is a good time to check your manufacturer’s website and see what tools they offer. It might allow you to find updates that are not provided with Windows Update for example and manual firmware updates for your Bios. You can usually find additional diagnostic tools to check your hardware. If your computer is a few years old, some of the tools might be new and therefore not installed on your computer when you acquired it.

Lastly, if none of this fixed your issues nor gave you the performance you needed… I am afraid it is time to shop for a new computer. Instead of looking only for deals and 5 stars ratings, look at performance measurements as well. Technology changes fast and you will end up getting more for your money than the last time you bought one.

Over time, having a fast and reliable computer will generate a huge return on investment and will give hours of additional productivity.

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  • Hunt down and kill programs draining your resources
  • Test your internet speed and stay close to your router
  • Check your RAM and add some if needed
  • Establish routines and automate them using the Task Scheduler
  • Make sure your hard drive is never full
  • Reset your PC if nothing helps… or buy a new one!

Max Dufour is a Partner at Harmeda. He leads strategic engagements for Financial Services, Technology, and Strategy Consulting clients. Connect at [email protected], on LinkedIn, or visit Harmeda. Any links to external sites can be affiliate links and therefore generate compensation as part of the Amazon Associates Program and other similar programs.

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