Is there a way to ensure my computer always runs at peak performance? This must be one of the most common questions heard by support staff.
CompassAir provides tools that enable our users to work more efficiently, to improve their workflows. However, in order to ensure that they get the very best out of these tools – and it’s the same for all business applications – it’s not only the software that needs to be taken into account.
Clearly, what play an important part are the specifications of the systems and hardware required to make the software work, including the internet connection speed when using web-based software – the higher these specifications the better. However, there are some basic steps that can be taken that will also contribute to overall optimisation, steps that might be described as “good housekeeping”.
This will resonate with all Support Departments who will periodically receive calls about what could be classified as “local” problems, occurring “outside” of their own software but affecting its performance. Such problems can often easily be solved with a little basic knowledge, this combined with some simple tasks performed on a regular basis. Not only will this save time, but simultaneously, and maybe more importantly, it will contribute to reducing stress levels. All this is especially relevant nowadays with so many of us still working remotely, not having an IT expert close by, ready to help.
Hence this article, split into two sections, the first covers the “housekeeping”, or more accurately preventative maintenance, and then how to troubleshoot some simple problems (the most common ones, in our experience). Whilst the latter should be within the scope of most of us, if you have any concerns about trying any of them, just stick with the housekeeping and seek more experienced assistance for the remainder. If you have access to your own IT support then make good use of what is a valuable resource.
Simple PC Housekeeping
1 Start-up programs
Disable start-up programs that do not need to run in the background. You’ll probably find that there are some programs you use throughout the day, every day. Then there are the rest, many which are not run consistently and can therefore be stopped from launching automatically when you turn on your computer. This can make a significant difference when it comes to making your computer run faster. When new apps are first downloaded, often the developer sets these to run at start-up by default – if you don’t use them on a regular basis they should be disabled at start-up. Only launch them when you need them.
Go to Settings/Apps & Features/Startup where you will be able to see a list of all apps, toggling those on and off that you want to launch when you start your computer.
2 Antivirus software
Run antivirus software on a regular basis. This is one program that must be launched at start-up and, whilst having an antivirus program installed will protect you from ongoing threats, it’s still advisable to run a full scan at least on a monthly basis. There are plenty of such programs, including those available for free such as Avast Free Antivirus, applications that continually update themselves as new threats are discovered.
3 Windows updates
Make sure you always have the latest version of Windows installed. Windows updates relate not only to performance, but also to security.
Check out Settings/Update & Security/Windows Update to see whether you have the latest update, and from there you can configure how and when Windows checks for future updates.
For example, under Advanced Options if you are in the immediate future working on a metered connection you may want to delay automatic updates for up to 35 days.
4 Check storage and free up space
Clean up your hard drive by first going to Settings/Update & Security/Windows Update/Check Storage and see how your hard drive is being used. Turn Storage Sense on – it then constantly monitors your hard disk and deletes old junk files – and you have a choice as to how it is configured, both in terms of frequency and action taken to delete temporary files automatically.
5 Make sure your computer is free from dust
If it’s not a laptop you are using, try to keep the tower off the floor, away from a carpet. Also, use a can of compressed air to regularly clean the fan. Occasionally it’s a good idea to do the same inside the case – if you don’t feel confident in doing this yourself, ask for help from someone with experience.
6 Use Windows Security
A built-in feature of Windows 10, it helps manage the security and health of your computer. By going to Settings/Update & Security/Windows Security you will be able to see how your computer is being protected.
If there are any weaknesses detected, items that you should take a look at, they will be marked with a yellow warning triangle. More details about each one will be displayed by clicking on the description. For example, there may be features available to offer more protection than you are currently using.
Inspecting Virus & Threat Detection will reveal what antivirus program you have installed and whether or not it is turned on. In addition to this you, can set Microsoft Defender Antivirus to also periodically check for threats, done by clicking on “Microsoft Defender Antivirus Options” at the bottom of the settings window and toggling the switch to “On”.
7 Windows Health
Similar to security above, Settings/Update & Security/Windows Security displays a report on the health of your computer. Click on “Device performance & health” – doing this will then show any current issues that exist. If there are any, the drop down menu next to each category will reveal more detailed information.
8 Windows Transparency
Although you may not have realised, the Windows menu is partially transparent by default – if you hadn’t noticed you may want to turn this feature off and by so doing increase performance, albeit only slightly, but every little helps. Go to Settings/Personalisation/Colours and set Transparency effects to “Off“.
9 Defrag the hard drive
Your hard drive should be defragmented on a regular basis, at least once a month. The more it’s used the more fragmented it becomes, essential related pieces of data end up scattered around, making it more difficult for Windows to access files. Optimising the disks, restoring some order to the way related data is stored, will lead to faster disk access and improved performance. This is achieved using the Defrag app, found by searching on the task bar for “defrag”. The frequency of the automatic optimisation can then be set via “Change Settings” as required.
10 Shut down/Restart
Useful if you feel your computer is becoming a little sluggish during the day, a shut down then restart will clear out the RAM and end any processes still running but no longer needed.
11 Turn off “Tips, tricks & suggestions”
You can automatically see “tips, tricks and suggestions” as you use Windows. Whilst helpful, the downside is that this can slow down your computer. Check to see if the feature is activated: go to Settings/System/Notifications & Actions and, if you feel you don’t make good use of it, untick the last box in the list.
12 Automatic maintenance settings
Windows has an automatic maintenance feature that makes sure everything is running correctly and fixes most things that are not. Make sure it runs at a time convenient for you via Control Panel/System & Security/Security & Maintenance then click on the drop down menu Maintenance. You then have a choice to run it straightaway or to change the regular settings, leaving it to run at a time when you will not be using your computer.
Basic PC Troubleshooting
As mentioned above, as it only relates to basic troubleshooting, the following should be within the scope of most of us. If you have any concerns, just try the housekeeping suggestions above and seek more experienced help when it comes to troubleshooting. Make good use of your own organisation’s IT support, if and when available. One of the worst cases is where a hard drive has to be replaced – to reduce the impact this will have, remember to always take regular backups so as to minimise the disruption such an eventuality will cause.
1 Windows freezes or stops responding
When this happens it could be for one of a number of reasons:
(a) By pressing the Num Lock key you can tell whether or not it’s the computer or a program that is frozen. If the light goes off (or on) then it’s the program that is frozen, in which case use the Task Manager (Ctrl +Alt +Del) to close the offending program.
(b) If this happens whilst regularly using a particular program, check that you have the latest updates for that program – contact the provider or refer to the program’s help or FAQs to find out how to do this. Make sure your operating system is also up to date – check out Settings/Update & Security/Windows Update (see 3 in the housekeeping section above).
(c) Windows freezing can also happen when there is insufficient memory to handle a number of programs at once – to solve try closing the ones not being used. If you actually need to have so many programs running at once it may be time for a hardware upgrade.
(d) Overheating can also cause programs to freeze – on how to address this, checkout the tips below.
(e) If none of the above solve the problem it could be that you have a more serious issue, either hardware or software related, and will need to seek some expert advice.
2 PC fan not working
This could simply be down to dirt inside the PC. Try using a can of compressed air to blast dust away. If this doesn’t work, the back may need to come off in which case it’s advisable to consult someone with experience in doing this, such as your own IT support if available.
3 Blue Screen errors
Commonly know as Blue Screens of Death (BSoD), these can be the result of both hardware and software problems. Unfortunately, unless it’s able to fix itself, this is a sign of a problem that will need the assistance of someone suitably qualified to first identify and then solve the problem. A BSoD can be caused by any number of factors, from a faulty hard disk through to too much pressure on the RAM. Possible solutions can range from an upgrade through to the replacement of the hard drive.
4 Monitor goes blank/black
If the monitor is completely blank then the graphics card could be faulty. It’s also possible that the monitor itself is faulty, something that can be checked by connecting it to another PC to see if it then works.
If however the monitor goes black after a short while, then it could simply be that the screen itself needs adjusting.
5 Keys on the keyboard don’t work
First try disconnecting the keyboard from the computer and then reconnect it to same USB port, making sure it’s plugged in securely. Try a different port if this doesn’t work, which may be an indicatation of a faulty port.
If it’s a wireless keyboard, make sure it’s switched on, or try changing the battery.
If you are using a USB hub, try connecting the keyboard directly to the computer – it may be there is a lose connection with the hub, common with constant use, and it may be the hub itself that needs to be replaced.
Check that the drivers are up to date – to do this without a keyboard first right click on the Windows logo, then on Device Manager. After that, click on Keyboards, choosing the keyboard from the list, and then right click Update Driver.
If non of these work it’s possibly time to replace the keyboard.
6 Computer won’t turn off
Holding down the power button for 5 to 10 seconds should turn off the computer if it’s frozen. Leave it for a short while before restarting.
With a laptop and the above fails to work, first unplug the mains adapter and then remove the battery temporarily.
7 Computer won’t turn on
On the other hand, if your computer won’t turn on, with a desktop first check the power cord is connected, and if it is, disconnect both ends then reconnect firmly.
If you are using a surge protector or plug adaptor, check the connections of these together with the computer power cord.
It could be that the power cord is damaged or, in some cases, the fuse in the plug needs replacing.
On the back of the tower case there is sometimes a power switch, double check that this is set to on.
If none of the above work, then it could be that the power supply unit has failed, in which case the computer should be taken to a repair specialist for further investigation.
If you are using a laptop and it fails to turn on, first check it’s not just a flat battery by connecting the power cord. If this works and the laptop comes back to life then the battery could either dead or defective. For the former it should just need charging. If the latter, it will probably need to be replaced.
Next try removing and then reconnecting the battery having made sure the laptop is not connected to the mains supply.
Sometimes a “residual electrical charge” may be to blame. To overcome this, first disconnect the mains adapter then remove the battery. Hold down the power button for around 30 seconds and then, without replacing the battery, plug the adapter back in. Press the power button and see whether it boots correctly, if it does, shut it down, put the battery back in and then restart.
If none of the above work then it could be a hardware problem in which case the services of a repair specialist will be required.
8 Computer crashes before loading the Operating System
If when you start your computer it gets only as far as showing the manufacturer’s logo and then crashes, this indicates a problem with RAM or the hard disk. With this being the case one or the other may need replacing and so it’s advisable to consult an expert at that stage..
9 Computer is noisy
Similar to when the fan is not working, it’s probably time to give it a blast of compressed air to clean away the dirt, or take it to a specialist to be thoroughly cleaned (if the tower sits on the floor you will be surprised how much dirt collects inside).
Alternatively, if you hear the hard drive clicking or making similar noises, now might be time to seek look for a replacement drive, an SSD (solid state drive) being the preferred choice with no moving parts. This is especially valuable when you use a laptop that gets moved around frequently.
10 Computer is slow to start
Going back to the housekeeping tasks, disable start-up programs that don’t need to run in the background. Preventing them from loading should decrease the boot time. Go to Settings/Apps & Features/Startup where you will be able to see a list of all apps, toggling these on and off depending on what you want to launch when you start your computer. From Task Manager under the Start-up tab you can also see which apps are loading at start-up along with the impact they have – low, medium or high.
Again with the housekeeping tasks, Defrag is a utility that will optimise your drives. As described above, open the app by typing “defrag” in the search bar. It will both check for errors and organise data in such a way to speed up access. Have this run automatically, the frequency of which can be chosen via the “Change Settings” button.