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Rekindle the Flame: Return Your Fourth-Year PC to Its First-Year Level

It's the great scourge of modern computing: The Slowdown.

Your beloved PC — once a high-flying speed machine — has gradually lost its charm. Tasks that used to take milliseconds now take minutes; just clicking through your file folders can feel like a chore.

Let's face it: The magic is gone. Can you possibly save this relationship?

Yes, you can. The most common reasons for declining PC performance are generally fixable. And, with just a few well-timed surgical strikes, you could find yourself falling in love all over again with the dashing adrenaline junkie you remember from the store.

When Apps Attack

The primary culprit in most slowdowns is unused applications, or programs running in the background. As we download software over time, many of these installations throw in little utilities, widgets and other programs that hog the computer's resources and slow everything to a crawl.

Tip: Try hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete for a quick review of what's running, and close anything that looks clearly unnecessary. For a more permanent solution, head over to the Control Panel, choose Add or Remove Programs and uninstall any unused software for good.

Browser Bottlenecks

Has surfing the Web become more tedious than watching a full day of Olympic curling? The problem could be extensions. Most modern Web browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari) allow users to add special functionality on an à la carte basis by installing small add-ons, or extensions.

Tip: Try disabling or removing these one by one, restarting the browser each time. If your speed picks up, you've found the problem.

Enemies Within

A harder issue to isolate is the dreaded computer virus, a form of malware. Many computer viruses perform repetitive activities without your knowledge, such as making copies of themselves or sending your personal information to bad guys. This kind of constant activity can quickly jam the wheels of your PC and kill its productivity.

Tip: Download and install a good antivirus program, then run a comprehensive scan. You may be amazed to discover how many malicious bugs are gumming up the works.

Defrag Time

One last way to speed the plow is to use your PC's natural self-cleaning mechanism: the defragmentation program, or defrag.

Tip: Typically available under All Programs > Accessories > System Tools, the Disk Defragmenter moves everything around and consolidates all the data on your drive, making your documents easier to find, retrieve, load and run. Little changes like this can add up to a significant speed savings on older PCs.

As Good as New

The secret truth about the dreaded slowdown is that it isn't a fatal condition. Your computer's chip is still running at the exact same speed it always was. What has changed is the number of things being thrown at it on a daily basis. With a bit of maintenance and some seasonal TLC, you can cut down on those distractions significantly — leaving you free to focus on rekindling that relationship and making every new day feel just like your very first "data."

Call it The Speedup.

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