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Troubleshooting a sluggish Windows computer


A proliferation of programs or services (including stuff that is not wanted like malware, spyware, trojans etc) can make a Windows machine very sluggish.  This article is a starting point for tracking down what is causing this sluggishness.

Intended Audience

You will need to be familiar with the programs and services that normally run on the Windows system in order to determine what should be running and what should not.  Additionally some of the suggestions may warrant more expert knowledge of the system.

The Purpose

To regain usefulness of a sluggish system.


Knowledge of Windows.

Start with Programs in Startup

Many programs think that they need to be running automatically when the computer starts up.  They will place shortcuts in the Startup Menu item either under the user that is logged in or under the All Users.   When the system starts up, any items in the StartUp Menu item of both All Users and the logged in user are run.  These startup items can be deleted.  This only eliminates the starting by default for these items.  They can always be chosen from any other shortcut or the Start Menu.

Remember that deleting these items from the startup does not stop them from running. 

See what is running in Services

There are a number of programs that startup automatically because they are installed as services.  In order the change these you need to log in with a user that has the rights to start/stop and modify services (usually Administrator).

You need to know what programs are needed for the system to work properly before starting this process.  There are a number of services that are set to start automatically but may not really need to do so.  These services can be modified so that they start as needed rather than automatically.  To do this,  change the properties from Automatic to Manual.   

Remember changing the default does not start or stop the service if it is currently running.  Choosing Stop will (hopefully) stop the service at this point.   

Frequent Resource Hogs To Look For

Indexing Processes

Windows XP includes an automatic file indexing service which constantly builds a list of every searchable file on your system. This is optional - it makes for faster searches if used, but at the cost of slowing down the computer to some extent.

Google Desktop, Windows Live Search and Nero Scout use a similar indexing process to build a search database, but are actually more likely to slow your computer down because they catalog the contents of files such as archives, Word files, and even Outlook email so you can search by words found within a document. 

Networking Applications

Instant Messenger programs such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger, Google Talk, and others may also slow down your computer if they are active in the background, keeping track of the status of your contact lists.  Also programs such as The Weather Channel, stock ticker programs, or any other programs that constantly run in the background can cause computer slowing.

Anti-virus or Anti-malware Programs

Antivirus software may slow down your computer by scanning programs prior to or during launch. However, few desktop system administrators would advise disabling anti-virus software because opening a Windows XP system to infection is not an acceptable alternative.

Summarize the Entire Process


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