Slow Computer? Here is what happening with it

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You have 10 tabs open in Google Chrome and wonder why your computer lags. 
Well, there are a few reasons this is happening.

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First, every desktop or laptop computer has a processor. Modern processors must be cooled properly. There is a heat sink that sits on the processor and needs to make good contact with the top of the processor to extract the heat.

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Laptop without bottom lid
Laptop rpcessor

A thermal paste is used for the heat sink to make better contact with the processor. In the early days, this was a white paste, and now we are using silver or even gold color paste. I am not sure how much gold is in there, but it’s really good in making better contact between the heat sink and the processor.

Now as time passes that paste dries up, this doesn’t happen over a short amount of time, i.e., 3 years or more, the paste is actually really good fighting the temperature, but eventually, every paste will dry up.

So, when the paste dries up, it acts as an insulator. This is a huge problem as the processor will work at a higher temperature, and power-hungry tasks would heat it even more.

Today, every processor is equipped with thermal protection. Usually what it does is it slows down the inner speed. Let’s say its reached 70 degree Celsius, and now it has no other choice but to cut the speed down by a half. If the processor does not do this, it risks literally cook itself or cook something inside the laptop a capacitor for example.

Cleaning laptop processor from heatsink paste

This is what actually happens when we have a laptop or desktop computer with a dried-up thermal paste, and we try to open an internet browser with 10 tabs or watch high definition movie.

I have an example here of dry paste from Dell laptop. Desktop processors look almost the same, they are just bigger, and they also have some thermal paste applied to them.

To fix this, you will need these tools: a Philips screwdriver, thermal paste (silver or gold, I do not recommend the white one) and a plastic card, i.e. old debit card.

You must unscrew a few screws underneath the laptop. There will be a processor and on top of it will sit a heat sink.

Putting the heatsink back

Unscrew those four screws and take the heat sink out. Disconnect the fan. For dried up thermal paste removal a plastic card and earbuds are perfect.

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Laptop processor heatsink

After cleaning the surface make sure there are no bits left that would prevent the heat sink contacting processor’s top surface.

Apply the paste on the processor; clean the fan if there is some dust and place the heat sink in its place. Screw in the four screws and connect the fan. Please do not forget to connect the fan as this is important.

Cleaning the processor
The processor is clean
Applying  silver thermal paste

Now we are good to go.

Not Enough Memory

Do you know how much memory your laptop has? If not, it’s easy to figure out. In Windows 10 click Start and type “memory.” Click View RAM info. Now it will show how much-installed memory (RAM) there is. If the number is 2GB, then it is not enough memory. If the number is 4GB, this should be enough unless you are doing something like media editing.

Windows 10 system description

If you’re using Windows 7 click Start, right click on computer and choose Properties. You will see a number next to Installed memory. If the amount shows is 2GB, it should be enough for Windows 7. However, it is better to upgrade it to 4GB. If this number is 1GB, you need urgently to upgrade the memory.

Windows 7 system

Damaged Hard Drive Disk

Yes, the hard drive disk can be damaged. Usually, those are micro damages that prevent the hard drive reading information from these areas. The computer then would behave strangely, i.e. it will run just fine for a day and the next day it  freezes for around 30 seconds. Usually, this is indicated by a hard disk light on older laptops that stays on for a long period of times.

I use GSmartControl to diagnose such faults because it is free and can be downloaded from here.

Here is an example from a laptop I suspect has damage on the disk.

GSmartControl report

As you see it has a few red lines. Everything in this program showing red lines must be viewed as warnings.

The red lines are usually shown in the Attributes tab, and most are in the Reallocation Sector Count or Reallocations Pending.

So, I probably will replace this hard drive with an SSD.

Corrupted Memory

Most of the time it is the faulty memory modules, which freeze the computer up or give a blue screen. But you never know what can happen so better to be safe than sorry. For memory checks I use MemTest. This program is probably the best memory test program and works on all old, present and will work on future computers. Basically, it’s a disk image you need to burn firs into a CD disk and boot the laptop from it. Just leave it to test for about 2 hours. Older processors will take 2 or more hours and newer processors like i5 will complete this test in one hour or so.

Memtest report

The probability you will encounter a faulty memory is very slim. Though, there is something I need to mention.

In your laptop or desktop computer, you need to have two identical memory modules (in case you have two modules). This is important, and I do not know for real why some laptop can fail if you use two almost identical modules. This is probably something to do with blazing fast memory speeds nowadays.

These memory modules should be identical as shown in an image below. They should have the same memory amount, be of the same speed and manufactured by the same manufacturer. They should be identical to where the printed circuit boards should be the same.

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Laptop memory

Memory modules usually come with a lifetime warranty, so if you have one faulty, you should contact the manufacturer.

I recommend using Samsung memory modules as it is affordable and of good quality.

Those troubleshooting mentioned above steps can be performed on any laptops.

Other hidden from us diagnostic tools to use

There are also laptops and desktop computers with inbuilt test programs. For example, the Dell E6420 will have an inbuilt diagnostic which you can access by restarting the laptop and pressing F12. It will bring up a boot menu, and we need to choose the Diagnostics option.

Dell inbuilt diagnostic utility

Usually, these hidden diagnostic facilities can be accessed through the boot menu by pressing the F12 key or with other keyboard combinations are different for each manufacturer. For the exact key, please search on the manufacturer’s web site.

When we choose ‘Diagnostics,’ it will bring up a basic test. Initially, it will perform a short test, and a thorough test can be selected for memory test and hard drive test.

When it finishes short test select Thorough Test Mode in the left bottom corner and double click Memory, it should run a longer memory test.

Thorough test

When it finishes testing memory, you need to double click the hard drive icon. This test will take much longer.

Now depending on what is wrong, it will tell you in a short report. If you not sure about all this, you can click Tell Your Problems link on the top of this web site and publish your question.

Is it water damage?

Water or other substances, such as a coffee usually only causes damage just to the keyboard. I once had a laptop which would shut down randomly because it had a faulty keyboard.

Water damage is hard to see, and most of the damage will be inside in the form of rust. After some time, the rust will eat some of the tracks on the printed circuit board (motherboard), and the laptop would be slow or even unstable, crashing randomly.

Operating system re-installation as the last resort

If nothing mentioned above works, it is time for us to reinstall the operating system. This would get rid of all the viruses and other stuff that Windows tend to accumulate and clog itself.

I recommend using Windows 10 on laptops that already do not have a DVD drive I am not sure if I should be recommending the installation of Windows 7 on older laptops because I had some issues when programs refused to run on Windows 10 because of incompatibility.

So if you can install Windows 10 on your laptop and there are all drivers for it, great. If not, then Windows 8 or 7 is an option.

You can get a Windows to restore disks online, i.e. eBay. If you have a Dell laptop search for Dell Windows restore disk.

Other diagnostic programs

I rarely use inbuilt tools in the Windows operating system because they are hard to understand and sometimes confusing. Here are a few that I use: Performance Monitor, Windows Memory Diagnostic, Reliability Monitor.

I use third party programs, which are easy to use and provide understandable results.

The best one is probably CPUZ HWMonitor. This tool provides temperature information of computer components. For example, you can check the processor temperature. If this temperature is above 70 degree Celsius, you found the cause of a lagging computer.

CPUID Hardware Monitor

It also shows the temperature of a hard drive. Now if the temperature is above 60 degree Celsius, then there is most likely to be a problem with hard drive electronics, and it should be further checked with GSmartControl.

I am not a fan of PassMark BurnIn Test, but I have seen this program used in computer recycling company so it should be of some value. You should download it and try. It allows testing processor, 2D graphics, optical disk, 3D graphics, hard disk, sound, printer, memory, network, video playback, Bluetooth.

PassMark BurnIn Test

The disadvantage of PassMark BurIn Test is that the test will take a very long time, and a complete test will take 1 hour or so. On the other hand, it will test almost everything on the computer.

OCCT is another program that would help. Although, it is more orientated to stress test the processor and the graphics card. It will also show temperatures when testing so it would be handy when something is overheating in the computer.

Laptop Troubleshooting Check List

Download this list as a pdf document

•    Processor thermal paste replaced with a fresh one,

•    The processor is not overheating,

•    The cooling fan is clean and working properly,

•    Windows 10 Transparency Effect disabled,

•    There is enough memory (for Windows 10 4GB is a minimum amount of memory),

•    GSmartControl shows no red lines in Attributes and Error Log tabs,

•    Laptop passes MemTest test with no red lines,

•    The laptop is checked with antivirus; there are no viruses.

•    Temperatures are checked with CPUZ HWMonitor, and there are none above 70 degree Celsius,

•    Laptop passes PassMark BurnIn Test with no errors,

•    Laptop passes 10 min OCCT both the processor and graphics card tests,

•    The hardware is not too old to run Windows10. Some old graphics cards will struggle with Windows 10,

•    The motherboard is clean from dust; there is no damage to it,

•    The media card slot is working,

•    The computer has DDR2 memory or newer (DDR1 memory is too old to run Windows 10 efficiently),

•    If Windows 10 is too slow, consider installing Windows 7,

•    No drivers are missing in the Devices section. Download drivers from the manufacturer’s web site or use Driver Easy to get missing drivers.

•    If it is still slow set Power Plan to Balanced or High Performance,

•    Video card drivers installed,

•    A fresh copy of Windows installed,

•    USB ports are not damaged and working,

•    BIOS is set to defaults,

•    Memory modules are identical: of the same memory amount, speed and from the same manufacturer,

•    If working with big media files consider upgrading to SSD drive,

•    The power adapter is powerful enough (4.5A is enough for most laptops),

•    The power adapter is new. If it is used one consider replacing it with a new one,

Desktop Computer Troubleshooting Check List

Download this list as a pdf document

•    Processor thermal paste replaced with a fresh one,

•    The processor is not overheating,

•    The cooling fan is clean and working properly,

•    Windows 10 Transparency Effect disabled,

•    There is enough memory (for Windows 10 4GB is a minimum amount of memory),

•    GSmartControl shows no red lines in Attributes and Error Log tabs,

•    The computer passes the MemTest test with no red lines,

•    There are no visible puffy capacitors on the motherboard,

•    The computer is checked with antivirus; there are no viruses.

•    Temperatures are checked with CPUZ HWMonitor, and there are none above 70 degree Celsius,

•    The computer passes the PassMark BurnIn Test with no errors,

•     The computer passes 10 min OCCT both the processor and graphics card tests,

•    The hardware is not too old to run Windows10. Some old graphics cards will struggle with Windows 10,

•    The chassis fan is clean and working,

•    The motherboard is clean from dust; there is no damage to it,

•    The power supply is clean; a fan inside is clean and working,

•    The power supply is tested with PSU tester,

•    The media card slot is working,

•    All cables inside are connected properly,

•    The power supply has enough power, (gaming graphics cards need more power),

•    The computer has DDR2 memory or newer (DDR1 memory is too old to run Windows 10 efficiently),

•    If Windows 10 is too slow, consider installing Windows 7,

•    No drivers are missing in the Devices section. Download drivers from the manufacturer’s web site or use Driver Easy to get missing drivers.

•    If it is still slow set Power Plan to Balanced or High Performance,

•    Video card drivers installed,

•    A fresh copy of Windows installed,

•    A network card is taken out (if there is one), some faulty network cards slow down the PC,

•    Graphics card is properly seated,

•    USB ports are not damaged and working,

•    BIOS is set to defaults,

•    Memory modules are identical: of the same memory amount, speed and from the same manufacturer,

•    The computer is not connected to any network,

•    If working with big media files consider upgrading to SSD drive,

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