Improving PC Performance

Dear Thor,
My computer seems to continually slow down. What can I do about this?
–Cheryl W., Riverside, Calif.

There are several ways to improve the performance of your computer. Your friends might tell you to add more RAM (Random Access Memory), but there are easier ways that don’t cost anything. A good way to start is to not run unnecessary programs in resident memory. Certain programs are pre-scheduled to start running when your computer boots. Not only do they waste memory, but also loading extra programs when booting slows the process down.

You can see what is running in your computer by hitting Ctrl, Alt and Delete. (Hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys and then tap your Delete key once. Twice could initiate a computer reboot.) This will open a panel where you can click Task Manager. This is a useful utility where you can see what programs are actively running with the Applications tab. However, we are interested in Processes. Click this tab and you will see a list of functions along with the amount of memory each is using. You can also click on Performance and see the percentage of your CPU Usage. This number represents how hard your computer is currently working. When it hits 100 percent, and the RAM is used up, your computer creates and uses virtual memory on the hard drive. A task that used to take nanoseconds now takes mille-seconds, and slows down the computer.

Here is how you can control what automatically loads when you boot your computer. Click Start, Run and type msconfig. This will display the Windows System Configuration panel. Next, click on the Startup tab and you will see a list of the programs that are loaded during booting. If you scroll through the list, you might see several programs that you do not need to have constantly running. Un-checking them does not mean they are no longer available. It just means that if you run the program, it might take a few seconds longer to initialize, but this is OK if you don’t use it continually. The tricky part is recognizing what all the items are. It is not a bad idea to take a screen shot of the panel before you start de-selecting items. That way, you can keep track of what you are changing. If your computer seems to be losing an essential function, you can always reselect the item.


Dear Thor,
How can I set up wireless Internet access?
–Frank S., Pittsburgh, Pa.

WiFi is easy and inexpensive. Assuming you already have high-speed Internet access via cable, you can add a wireless router. All you have to do is plug one of the cables from your hub into the WiFi router. If you are already using all your ports, you can purchase a splitter for another $20. Access range varies from about 100 feet, to hundreds of yards, depending on the signal strength. LinkSys sells an access range for about $30 that is adequate for a home or small office.

The routers come with software that lets you name your WiFi signal. You can also create security so that a password is required to log on. Then, when your computer searches for wireless access points, you simply click on your named signal and the computer connects to it. Of course, to receive the wireless signal, you need a wireless modem, but most new laptops come with them as standard equipment. You can add one using a USB port for about $20.


Dear Thor,
Can I only use my own WiFi signal to get onto the Internet?
–Matt H., Raleigh, N.C.

No, there are several ways to pick up a WiFi signal when you are out of the office. One is to go to a place that provides them for a fee. Starbucks is famous for this. Most hotels provide WiFi access for about $10 a night. If you do a Google search for WiFi Hot Spots, you will see listings for access points available by location. is a good example.

There are also free hotspots all over the planet. lists them by area. Another way to a find a free hotspot is to simply drive around with your laptop on and wireless modem screen open. When you catch a signal, you can stop, log on and check your e-mail. Another way is to get a WiFi detector. These are tiny handheld devices (nicknamed sniffers) that find WiFi hotspots and display the signal strength.

By Thor Skonnord