Control Your Destiny: DIY Computer Fixes for Windows PCs and Laptops

Many of us are fortunate enough to work for organizations where a skilled help desk can remotely access our personal computers and fix most problems.

But for those who don’t, there are a few low-risk remedies that may get you back on your feet.

Its 3:30 PM and the TPS report is due by COB, your computer is running so slow that it will never finish in time—what to do?

Here are few common areas of heartburn we see with our personal computers and how to fix or at least diagnose these problems.

Related Article: How to Stay on Top of Your IT Game

Slower than Molasses

There are many possibilities for bad performance, but we’ll just look at a few where you might have a prayer of intervening.

Runaway or too many applications can steal computing power from the work you need to get done. We have all found ourselves in this situation where we have been working for six hours and haven’t shut down applications we aren’t using.

Now, that TPS report is running “dog” slow—what can I do without rebooting the computer? First close any programs you don’t need—you might find an application will be running away and cannot be closed. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del and select task manager, sort by the CPU column

Task Manager

If you see any big hitters on the CPU front (not the TPS report), select the “image” name and end the process (lower right hand corner—make sure you save any work in the app that you are killing, if possible). The same goes for memory usage—sort by the memory column and if you see an application that looks out of whack from that view take the same action.

CPU and memory hogs are usually the culprits of slow computer response, so keep you desktop clean of running programs that you don’t need.


Automatic application startup is another problem we experience, especially over time as we install multiple applications. Many times installations put apps in the “startup” folder which tells Windows to execute them as you login or start the computer.

Removing these is simple; navigate to the startup folder (varies on versions of Windows) and right-click the unwanted application and select delete—this does not remove the application but keeps it from starting. Sometimes installations start applications from “services,” which is a little more tricky; (Windows 7 example) navigate to the Control Panel and select Administrative Tools, and then select Services: 

Startup Type

Review the services and see if you can identify anything that looks like an offender in the task manager or an application you know you don’t want to run all the time. You can now use “Startup type” to disable or require a manual restart for that service. Make sure you know what you are doing as disabling a needed service can cause some unwanted side effects.

If you know you don’t want an application any longer, look in its menu folder to see if there is an uninstall option, if not, you can also remove programs by navigating to the Control Panel’s Program and features option (Control Panel->Programs and features). Here you can select the application and remove it from the system.

Related Article: Top Ten Ways To Piss Off Your Developers

Space Invaders

Another common performance problem is how disk space is utilized. Of course, you may be filling things up over time, and you need to clear off a lot of unwanted files. It is easy to save these off-system with fairly inexpensive external disk systems such as the Western Digital Passport—easy to use and cost efficient.

Sometimes there is plenty of space but we have slow disk access. Over time, even if we keep our computer clean of unneeded applications and data, the files aren’t stored efficiently.Disk Properties

This is called disk fragmentation. Mostly, the operating system writes a file to wherever there is free space available, which isn’t always contiguous.

When this happens, accessing that file becomes slow. The more fragmented, the slower the access. This can be remedied through the file explorer by right-clicking the offending disk and selecting properties; navigate to the Tools tab and select “Defragment now”.

Change is not Always Good

Many times we’ll make some seemingly innocuous change and end up with a giant mess where you can’t see the video display, WiFi won’t work or an application you just installed is wreaking havoc on the system.

The answer is Safe Mode.

Typically, this done by holding down the F8 key on computer restart,  but does not always work these days with PCs and Windows 7 and 8. If F8 works for you, select the appropriate option. Safe mode brings Windows up in its default mode and clears the way for any cleanup you need to do. It also lets you get back to a previous configuration before you “messed it up”—Last Known Good Configuration.

 Safe Mode

Here is an alternate method:

  1. Hold down Shift while selecting the Restart option on the Shutdown menu. This works with the Settings charm and—in Windows 8.1—right-clicking the Start button.
  2. On the resulting “Choose an option” screen, select Troubleshoot>Advanced options>Startup Settings>Restart.
  3. When the Startup Settings menu appears, type 4 for Safe Mode or 5 for Safe Mode with Networking

Catching a Cold and the KGB

The most obvious source of problems, Spyware, Malware and Viruses can make our computers virtually useless. How could this happen, I got anti-virus protection pre-installed when I bought my computer?

Did you continue the subscription? Doubt it.

Most canned computers come with virus protection installed, but have trial subscriptions. Even if you keep these up to date, this writer has found that many of the big players in virus protection deliver software that is a virus unto itself, slow, dodgy and sucks down computer resources.

If your computer has a virus or malware, you need to clean it up. If your anti-virus software is not active, don’t fret. First delete the OEM anti-virus software from your computer via the methods mentioned above. There are several free anti-virus applications that work just fine.

While opinions abound on which is best, AVG Free has been tried and true and has been around a long, long time. They make their money by enticing home users to purchase the licensed version for their business use. (Of course there is premium software available for home).

There are many easy fixes to common computer problems that are actionable by even the most novice user. The internet provides excellent sources, and if carefully researched, you can fix almost anything short of a hardware failure. However, use caution when attempting a fix, backup important data, and always change one thing at a time so you know how to get back to where you were in case your repair attempt goes awry.



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