computer terminalLast time, in our continuing series on causes of a slow computer, we talked a bit about how disorganized computer data (generally referred to as fragmentation) could lead to a slow computer. We mentioned that computers do not store files, folders, and programs in sequential order on your hard drive; rather, they store fragments of these things in different places. Why? All in the name of efficiency and speed of use. Unfortunately, over time, fragmentation can actually reduced your computer’s speed. As a result, we discussed how to repair disorganized computer data; namely through the process of defragmentation. Defragmentation involves taking all the pieces of a particular file, folder, or program and putting it back in sequential order.

Today we are going to be taking a look at how background programs and background processes can cause a slow computer. Furthermore, after our discussion we will look at how to repair (or more appropriately, remove) them in order to, potentially, speed things up.


You are likely already aware of what a program (sometimes referred to as a software application or application) is. After all, the concept is ubiquitous within our society as a whole. Just as a brief refresher, a program is a bunch of computer code which performs a specific task on your machine. That definition is fairly vague; however, it is difficult to narrow it down as the range of tasks performed these days is gargantuan. Surveying the members of Computer Repair Vancouver we found applications that:

  • Open, modify, and save word documents (MS Word)
  • Open, modify, and save spreadsheet documents (MS Excel)
  • Open, modify, and save slideshows (MS PowerPoint)
  • Open, modify, and save raster graphics (Photoshop)
  • Open, modify, and save vector graphics (Illustrator)
  • Access the Internet (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome)
  • Communicate with friends (MSN Messenger)
  • Kill viruses and malware (Malwarebytes, SUPERAntiSpyware, avast!)
  • Act as a calculator (Built in Windows calculator program)
  • etc.

The list is virtually endless. In fact, we could surely list around 100 different programs on our PCs. We are not special either, as many individuals also have many, many programs for a wide variety of tasks.

Background Programs

So we understand what a program is, what about a background program. What exactly is a background program? A background program is any program (application) which runs constantly in the background. See most programs, like MS Word only run when you tell them to (when you double click them to run). Once you quit out of the program, it shuts down and is no longer running; it is no longer active. A background program generally starts at startup and doesn’t end until you shut your computer down.

How about an example? One of the best examples, Computer Repair Vancouver can think of, revolves around the antivirus and anti-malware industry. Many such programs have the ability to run in the background, monitoring everything you do. Consequently, as soon as you download a virus-laden file, the anti-virus application will tell you to delete it immediately. If the anti-virus program had not been running in the background it would not have been able to tell you of the potential problem (unless you manually scanned the files before downloading it).

Another example arises with MSN Messenger (for those who don’t know – MSN Messenger is a video chat application very similar to Skype). MSN Messenger typically starts automatically, as soon as you turn on your computer. This way, you automatically get messages from people whenever they send them. If MSN Messenger didn’t automatically run in the background then you would have to manually run it before receiving any messages.

Background Processes

We have covered background programs. What about background processes? A background process is fairly similar to a background program. It is a bunch of code which runs constantly with or without your knowledge.

However, the term process tends to imply a bunch of code with no user interface. How about an example? The best example Computer Repair Vancouver can think of has to do with the Internet browser. A program like Firefox generally has a separate little process which checks to see if Firefox needs to be updated. You can’t see this process, it has no user interface; however, it is there in the background running a variety of important tasks.

Background Programs and Processes

So background programs and processes seem, for the most part, to be very useful. They allow you to have features running even without your knowledge. This is a good thing right? Well, yes and no. For a computer with unlimited resources and speed, this is a great thing. Why require the user to remember to turn things on and off; just let the computer handle it. Unfortunately, PCs don’t have unlimited resources, and the more background programs and processes running, the more CPU (brain of your machine) cycles used up (and made unavailable to you). This is why a computer with a huge influx of background tasks can become exceedingly slow.

If you ever want to mess with your computer give this a try. Download an anti-virus program and an anti-malware program. Perform a full scan with each and then go to your search bar and search for several different files. If your computer doesn’t bog down with all of this stuff happening in the background, then you must have a fairly powerful PC. If your computer is like ours, however, get ready for a slow computer scenario :]

Repair Background Programs and Processes

We have kept the titling of our articles consistent; however, this section may be more accurately named: remove background programs and processes. This is because one of the better ways to fix a slow computer is to prevent background programs and processes from starting up (as Windows loads).

Here is how members of Computer Repair Vancouver do it (for Windows 7):

  1. Click on the start menu (circle in the bottom left corner)
  2. Type msconfig into the search bar then hit the enter key
  3. Click on the Startup tab
  4. Disable any of the entries that you do not wish to run in the background. We know this is a little vague and it will take some effort on your part. You will have to analyze the different items and try to determine what each process is doing. Here is what we usually do. Take a look at the startup item name and then look in your programs folder. There is generally a correspondence between the two. Let’s say we have avast! (an anti-virus program) installed on our computer and located in the programs folder. If we see a startup item with the name avast! then it is likely linked to this program. If we don’t care about our anti-virus constantly running in the background then disable it.

Here is another thing you can do

  1. Click on the start menu (circle in the bottom left corner)
  2. Click on All Programs
  3. Click on the Startup folder (the programs in here start up automatically)
  4. Delete the programs within this folder which you don’t want starting up automatically (don’t worry – you aren’t actually deleting the programs, only aliases).

After performing these operations Computer Repair Vancouver advises you to take a look at your CPU usage (how much of your CPU is being used). Do the following:

  1. Quit any programs you have open
  2. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete (3 buttons all together at the same time)
  3. Click on Start Task Manager
  4. Click on the Performance tab
  5. Take a look at the CPU Usage tab. The lower the better. If your CPU usage is 10% or lower then there should be no problems at all with respect to speed. If, however, your CPU Usage is up around 40 or 50 percent with no open programs then you still have way to much running in the background.

What’s next?

Assuming you have removed as many background processes and programs as possible (and you have restarted your machine) and your computer is still slow, it is time to move onto our next step – updating your Windows operating system.

Come and visit Computer Repair Vancouver as we will be continuing our discussion on how to repair a slow computer.