computer RAM chipLast time at Computer Repair Vancouver we took a look at drivers, those small programs used to translate information between your operating system (some variant of Microsoft Windows) and your hardware (the physical stuff inside your computer). We noted that corrupt or out-of-date drivers can potentially lead to a slow computer, and we then proceeded to discuss how to repair corrupt computer drivers.

Today we are going to look at yet another common cause of a slow computer – bad hardware.

Overview of your Computers Hardware

Many computer users these days are familiar with the basic hardware components of their PC. However, we realize that some people have virtually no knowledge whatsoever. If you are in the latter category, having little hardware knowledge, then head over to one of our previous articles and read the section entitled Computer Hardware Overview.

Bad Computer Hardware: What does that mean?

What do we mean when we say that a piece of hardware has gone bad? Generally, we mean that this piece of hardware is malfunctioning in some manner or another. It works to some extent; however, there are problems with it.

Let’s take a look at an example. Let’s say that your hard drive, for the most part, is in good working order. Normally when it attempts to access your computing data everything is fine. However, assume that there are several bad sectors on it (a sector is a term referring to a portion of your hard drive). Whenever your computer wishes to read or write data from those bad sectors, it will likely slow down dramatically. Why? Simply because your PC will continually try to access a part of the hard drive which isn’t doing its job. Consequently, your computer will continually try to perform an operation which will fail.

Similar issues can arise if you have bad random access memory (RAM). Random access memory, which Computer Repair Vancouver likens to a persons short term memory, is responsible for helping the CPU (brains of your computer) perform operations. Frequently, the CPU will attempt to access data from RAM or store data in RAM (a give and take relationship). Now, as long as the memory is working correctly there will be few problems. However, if a section of the RAM is malfunctioning then the CPU will suddenly be retrieving or storing values which it did not expect. Here is a simple example. Say we wish to store the phrase “computer repair knowledge is useful” in RAM. Unfortunately, we decide to store this phrase in a bad section of RAM, hence what we end up storing is the phrase “repair is useful”. Say, later on down the line, we wish to retrieve this information. We ask the RAM for our data back and receive the phrase “repair is useful”. Well, what exactly does that mean? What type of repair? Consequently, we have to slow down as we attempt to interpret our misremembered phrase.

It is important to note that when critical pieces of hardware completely die, you generally will not experience a slow computer; rather, you will experience a computer which simply won’t start. A PC with bad sectors of RAM, or a bad section of a hard drive can end up being slow. A PC with completely dead RAM, or a dead hard drive will not even start.

Repair Bad Computer Hardware

By now you are likely aware that your computer is a very complicated device made up of a large number of physical components. Consequently, it can be rather difficult to tell which parts, if any, are causing your computer to slow down. This type of discussion could take up pages and pages. Consequently we are going to focus on two components which are the most common causes of a slow computer: your hard drive and your RAM. Please realize that problems with your CPU, motherboard, graphics card, audio card, and network card can all create problems; however, it is memory and hard disk problems which appear most common (at least to the computer repair professionals here).

Repair Random Access Memory

There are a few great memory testing applications available on the Internet (with Memtest86+ being the most widely recognized). The simplest way to test your RAM is through Windows 7’s built in memory tester.

Here is how to test your RAM:

  1. Click on the Windows start menu (circle in the bottom left corner)
  2. Type the word memory into the search field then hit Enter.
  3. Assuming you have quit all the programs you were using, click on Restart now and check for problem.
  4. Your computer will automatically restart and begin its testing procedure
  5. Look under the heading Status. If no errors are found then your RAM is likely fine. If problems are found, then continue reading below.

If problems are found then there is a reasonable chance that memory problems are causing (or exacerbating) your computer’s slowness. Consequently, you will likely need to purchase new memory. Don’t worry though, as memory is fairly cheap these days and a computer technician can usually change your RAM in short order. If you are a little adventurous, Computer Repair Vancouver recommends that you actually change your RAM yourself. It may seem daunting at first, but it really isn’t. Usually, you pop out your old sticks and pop in your new sticks. The only thing you really have to worry about is getting a type of memory which fits into your motherboard (talk to a computer technician about this – make sure to bring your computer’s specifications or manual with you).

Repair a Hard Drive

Much like RAM, there are numerous free hard drive testing tools available on the Internet. However, we are going to go with the simplest method possible: testing your hard drive using Windows 7’s built in error checking tool.

Here is how to test your hard drive:

  1. Click on the Windows start menu (circle in the bottom left corner)
  2. Click on Computer.
  3. Right click on your main hard drive (probably C: drive) then click Properties.
  4. Click on the Tools tab then select Check now
  5. Select both Automatically fix file system errors and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.
  6. Click on Start.
  7. Click on Schedule disk check
  8. Restart your computer. This will allow your hard drive to be checked.

If problems are found with your hard drive, Windows will attempt to fix them. If a problem is minor then it will attempt to actually fix the problem. If a problem is more severe it will often tell your computer not to use that particular area of the hard drive anymore. If your hard drive is filled with errors (which are unfixable) then you may need to get a new one, as your old drive may be causing a slow computer as well as an erratic one. Generally, we recommend that you take your machine into a local computer repair shop as changing your hard drive can be somewhat dangerous. Furthermore, we recommend that you back up your data as soon as possible. You don’t want to potentially lose important and sensitive data.

What’s next?

If you like, you can also look into testing other hardware components – everything from your video card, to your network card, to your CPU’s stability. However, we believe this is probably overkill. If, after testing and fixing your RAM and hard drive, you still have a slow computer; it is time to move onto the next step – determining if your computer is overheating.

Come and visit Computer Repair Vancouver again as we will be continuing our focus on how to repair a slow computer. We are getting near the end of our analysis; however, there are still a few things to check before you give up and throw your hands in the air.