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If your Windows computer is running extremely slow, a task that might normally require 30 minutes could take several hours. You may notice the following:

  • When the computer is turned on, it takes a long time to get fully logged in.
  • Clicking on a program icon can result in a long wait time for the program to load.
  • Once the program is running, it may take a long time for tasks to complete.

Trying to cleanup a computer in this state is a very time consuming task, so performing the right steps in the right order can help reduce the time required to fix the situation. This document offers some guidance for the cleanup process.

Whatever eventually is determined to be the cause of the slowness, a common reaction that people have, after such as lengthy process is, “Oh, you should have checked that first!” This is similar to looking for something and always finding it in the last place you look. Whatever the cause of the slowness, it’s likely something simple. Finding it is typically a lengthy process. A person can only do their best to go through the process in a logical efficient way.


It is important to be patient and have a lot of time for the tasks recommended in this document.

Because your computer is responding slowly, avoid the temptation to click on links, buttons, and icons multiple times. This will only make things worse because the computer will already be working on the last request you gave it. Additional requests will slow it down even more and cause problems.

There will be times when you think the computer is frozen and nothing is happening. With an extremely slow computer, the “please wait … processing” spinning circle icon may not even show up right away. There may be times when a program or task will say “Not Responding” but then later it may recover and start responding again after a period of time. Be careful not to arbitrarily force the computer to power off. This could corrupt Windows and make the computer unusable.

Someone with tech experience will have a better sense of the delays that one can expect. Someone who doesn’t do this kind of work regularly may have a feeling of uncertainty each step of the way, not knowing if they are doing the right thing or if the computer is actually doing what it should be doing.

The key is to be patient.

TASK #1 — Prepare for Screenshots

Before getting started you will want to prepare to take screenshots so you can document the work you do, and retrace your steps if needed for diagnosing issues. Rather than saving screenshots on your computer, use an external USB flash drive. This will ensure you have and other reporting files needed.

For screenshots, use the Snip & Sketch utility that is included in Windows. Older versions of Windows may have the Snipping Tool. Once you upgrade to the latest version of Windows, you will notice the Snip & Sketch utility is available and you can use that instead.

When using a screenshot program you will click on the button for a new image, and then choose to draw a box to identify the area to be captured in the image, or you can choose to take a picture of an entire program window, or the entire screen. Once the image is captured, you will want to save it. The Snip & Sketch software has a diskette icon to symbolize the save option.

If you run a virus scan, you will want a screenshot of the results. If you are installing Windows updates, you will want a screenshot of the updates that are installed. All of these details can help diagnose problems and document for researching issues.

Have a computer, tablet, or smartphone available for searching the web on any error messages or questions that arise during the process.

TASK #2 — Backup and Overview of Overall Condition

Whenever trying to fix a slow computer there is always the chance a failing hard drive will stop working during the process, or that a Windows update could cause the computer to no longer startup at all.

If possible, try to get a backup of your files, at least the most critical ones, and have a plan in mind for reinstalling your important software. Do you have the discs or downloads needed to reinstall programs if needed? Be prepared for a lengthy process if you use and rely on a lot of software, especially if you don’t have it all organized in one place.

In most cases, your computer may be running too slow to get backups of your files. You could remove the drive from the computer, and try copying the data to a reliable solid state drive before continuing. Some laptop computers and all-in-one desktop computers are very difficult to open. If your hard drive is failing, a copy of files may not even work. So, this is a judgement call you must make.

If a Windows update causes your computer to no longer startup properly, you may be able to recover your files by removing your hard drive and using a drive enclosure or dock to access the files.

A slow computer may make extra noise from fans spinning if it is overheating. This is to be expected. However, you will want to listen for any loud clicking noises, scratching noises, or other mechanical noises that might indicate the drive has a problem. If the drive is failing mechanically, then there is not much you can do to speed up the computer. The drive may need to be sent to a data recovery center.

Another issue that can cause erratic behavior would be dust accumulation in the computer preventing proper airflow and cooling. This can overheat a computer. When most computers get hot, their processors slow way down to reduce heat generated, and the fans run very fast. The computer may even shut down when temperatures inside get too high. This is to prevent overheating that can damage internal components.

All of these factors need to be considered as you begin the process described on this page.

TASK #3 — Hardware Assessment

Find out what the system specifications are for your computer. If you have an older computer, or a new computer that is poorly equipped, you may find it has a very slow processor, limited memory, and a slow mechanical hard drive. These factors alone can result in a slow running computer. Follow these steps to determine your basic system configuration.

  1. SETTINGS. Go to Settings by selecting the gear icon visible in the lower left area of the Windows Start Menu.
  2. ABOUT. Scroll down to select the About option at the bottom of the left column. This will reveal specifications for your computer.
  3. PROCESSOR. Make a note of the processor.
  4. MEMORY. Make a note of the installed RAM.

One will need to have some knowledge of computers to determine if the processor is expected to be fast or slow, but in general if your computer has a Celeron or modernized mobile Pentium processor, the performance is likely limited.

If the memory is 2GB or 4GB this could result in a slow computer.

The hard drive type is discoverable elsewhere. Depending on how slowly the computer is running you may want to check the drive design and specifications using these steps:

  1. HARD DRIVE. Go to “This PC” or the Windows explorer to find the Local Disk (C:) listed.
  2. PROPERTIES. Right click on Local Disk (C:) and choose Properties.
  3. SPACE. Take note of how much space is being used on the hard drive. If the drive is close to being full, this could begin to cause issues. If you decide to upgrade to a solid state hard drive you would want to select a capacity that exceeds your current needs.
  4. HARDWARE. From the Hardware tab, make a note of the drive information.
  5. TOOLS. Under the tools tab, you may want to perform an error checking on the drive. This can help identify and repair corrupted files. If there are mechanical problems with the drive, such as surface area damage on older mechanical drives, these can be identified. More about this is described in TASK #7 later on in this document.

Older slower mechanical hard drives generally were available in two speeds: 5400 RPM (slow) and 7200 RPM (faster). The slow drive, even when working properly, can be a problem.

Faster solid state hard drives can run slow if files get corrupted, or if the drive is wearing out from overuse, but that is less common.

If you have a slow processor, limited memory, and an older mechanical hard drive, the suggestions on this page may help a little bit, but the main problem slowing you down is the computer itself.

If you have 8GB RAM and a Core i3 processor or higher, then the suggestions on this page are more likely to help speed up your computer.

TASK #4 — Secondary User Account

If you only have your own user account on the computer, you will want to create a new additional user account in the event that your own account has become corrupted or is infected with malware. If the problem is isolated just to your user account, and not a system-wide problem, you may see a speed improvement immediately upon login to the new account. Follow these steps to setup the new account.

  1. SETTINGS. Go to Settings by selecting the gear icon visible in the lower left area of the Windows Start Menu.
  2. ACCOUNTS. Select the Accounts option.
  3. USERS. In the left column choose Family & other users.
  4. ADD. Choose the option to add another user to the computer.
    1. Select the option: “I don’t have this person’s sign-in information.”
    2. Select the option: “Add a user without a Microsoft account.”
    3. Provide a username such as Maintenance to designate the purpose of the account.
    4. Create a memorable password such as your first name or mobile number. The reason to keep it simple initially is so you don’t forget it. Perhaps use the same password as your existing user account. Consider writing this down and having it easily available.
    5. After providing a password and entering it a second time you will be asked to provide answers to three security questions. For a permanent long-term use user account, a person would normally fill out these security questions accurately. However, since this is a short-term user account not for a specific person, you can choose any available questions and let the answer for all of the questions be the password you created above. This will help save time.
  5. ACCOUNT TYPE. The new account will now be listed under the “Other users” heading. Click or tap on the account name and choose “Change account type.” Tap on the drop-down menu to change the account type from Standard User to Administrator and then click the OK button.
  6. RESTART. You can restart the computer at this point. A clean restart is helpful in case your own account had loaded malware or problematic software.
  7. LOGIN. Login using the new account.
  8. WAIT. Because the new account has not been used previously, there will be some wait time while Windows gets the account setup. You will see a message on screen explaining this process. With a slow computer, it may take a long time for the initial login, perhaps 10 to 30 minutes.

Once you are logged in, you may notice the computer running a little faster, but maybe not. It just depends on the nature of the problem. Continue to the next tasks.

TASK #5 — Malware and Virus Cleaning

You will want to download and install an efficient, simple, but effective antivirus program to remove any bad software or viruses. If downloading is too slow, then consider using another computer to download the antivirus software and put it on a USB flash drive. Then use the flash drive to put it on the slow computer.

A good program to consider using is Malwarebytes. As of Sep 2021, it is one of the best available programs for cleaning computers. It is available on the website.

On a slow computer, the installation process will likely take a while. Once installed, perform a scan and cleaning. Make a screenshot of the scan results and also save the report to a text file on your USB flash drive.

It’s possible that your existing antivirus software is slowing down your computer, and/or allowed a virus to infect the computer.

If malware or viruses have been the cause of slow operation, then the antivirus software will likely find several or many viruses and give you the option to Quarantine them. The quarantine process will effectively ‘remove’ them from the system and put them in a secure isolated area on the drive.

Viruses and malware fall into two general categories: (1) bad programs that have been downloaded on your computer somewhere but were never installed, or (2) bad programs that are installed and running on your computer.

The antivirus software should address both of these. The ones in the first category are less of a concern. If a couple of bad programs were downloaded but never allowed to infect your computer, they will be removed, but they are probably not the culprit of slow operation. If bad programs are installed and running, those will get remove and hopefully on a restart your computer will be running a bit faster.

You will probably want to continue with the rest of the tasks on this page regardless of the virus cleaning results.

If your existing antivirus is a free product, or expired short-term trial version, you can consider removing it to see if it is slowing down the computer. Or, if you have a paid product, you should have the license and receipt that allows you to download and install it again from the website where you purchased it. Consider removing it to see if the computer speeds up. Use Malwarebytes for protection while you conduct this test.

TASK #6 — Intermission and Assessment

At this point, we’ve determined the following:

  • HARDWARE. The computer hardware isn’t making any odd noises, and the computer is adequately equipped with a fast processor and sufficient memory.
  • USER ACCOUNT. We’ve determined that the slowness is not a user account corruption issue, or at least isn’t isolated to a specific user account.
  • VIRUSES. At this point any viruses have been removed.

These three tasks are of highest priority because they are prerequisites for additional tasks.

We should see an improvement in speed by now, but if we don’t, the slow operation could be due to the system needing Windows updates. Some computers that are not running properly, or are running slowly, may be running an outdated version of Windows 10.

TASK #7 — Check Drive Integrity

Before continuing further, we should check the drive integrity. This was mentioned as a suggestion earlier. If you did not perform the check earlier, then do it now.

  1. HARD DRIVE. Go to “This PC” or the Windows explorer to find the Local Disk (C:) listed.
  2. PROPERTIES. Right click on Local Disk (C:) and choose Properties.
  3. TOOLS. Under the tools tab, you may want to perform an error checking on the drive. This can help identify and repair corrupted files. If there are mechanical problems with the drive, such as surface area damage on older mechanical drives, these can be identified.
  4. SPEED. The error check process may take a few minutes. If the process takes 10 to 20 minutes, it could be an indication that the drive is failing or that the drive is just slow. The results of the scan will help determine this. If the error checking takes hours to complete, then something is likely wrong with the hard drive. If the estimated time gets longer instead of shorter, this is also a sign of a problem on the drive.
  5. DELAYS. Excessive delays in scanning usually happen when the scan encounters bad sectors on a drive. Here are some considerations:
    • If the sectors are not currently in use, they are marked as bad and the scan continues.
    • If the sectors are in use, the scan process attempts to move the data to a known good surface area on the drive, then the process continues.
    • Sometimes extensive problems are found on a drive, but the computer is still working. This is because the effective areas of the drive are used very little or not at all.
    • The estimate for time remaining may grow to be several hours, then it may speed up and a new estimate may be much less time. This is because the estimates reflect the current speed of progress relative to the amount of drive space remaining. During the scan of bad sectors, the process is slow. During the scan of healthy drive surface areas, the process is much faster and the estimated time remaining decreases quickly.
  6. RESULTS. To view the details of the scan, do not click the “Close” button when the scan is done. Instead, click the “Details” link provided when the scan is complete.
    • Note that the scan results will show up in a Windows log utility program. So you will click on the date and time of your scan and then in the window below read the results.
    • Messages about files being fixed could indicate that files were corrupted.
    • Messages about bad sectors could suggest the drive surface has damage.

Take screenshots and make note of the scan results. This can help going forward. If you know the drive is failing.

If your drive is damaged, and the damage was due to an impact, such as dropping or bumping the computer while in use, then it may be isolated and not become worse. If the damage is due to a deteriorating surface of a defective product, then it could become worse. In any event, it’s a good idea to replace any drive that has these types of problems.

The reason we wait until TASK #7 to perform the drive integrity check is because if the other issues described above are slowing down the computer, then the drive check may take a very long time to complete. Also, if malware or ransomware is about to crash your computer, you don’t want to waste time on a lengthy drive scan. There’s always a bit of a gamble when trying to decide which of these tasks to perform first. The tasks in this document are presented in the order they are most likely to be the solution to a problem.

TASK #8 — Windows Updates

Go to Settings (the gear icon in the lower left area of the Start menu) and select Update & Security. Check for updates and install them, restarting the computer when prompted. Repeat this process until after checking for new updates, it is reported that none are remaining. Note that you may see a message that says the computer is up to date when it really isn’t. So, perform the check until none are available.

You may spend many hours to reach this point, and discover that the problem with your slow computer is simply that it needed the latest Windows updates. However, it’s important to perform the other prerequisite tasks listed in this document for the reasons listed.

TASK #9 — Additional Tasks

Probably 90% of computers are made faster by following the tasks described in this document. If your computer is still running slow at this point, it is experiencing an uncommon problem.

Here are some additional tasks to consider as options at this point. They are listed in alphabetical order, not in priority or prerequisite order.

  • ANTIVIRUS. As was mentioned previously in this document, elaborate and extensive security software can slow down a computer. If it applies in your case, consider removing the bloated security software and replacing it with something simpler. The removal of these extensive security suites can take a while because such programs have tentacles throughout your entire system. The fact that removal takes such a long time is an indicator of how demanding and intensive these programs are.
  • CCLEANER. Some utility programs are designed to remove excess log files and other temporary files that can slow down a computer. A popular free program for this purpose is CCleaner. Whatever program you use, remove it after you are done so it doesn’t slow down your computer by its ongoing presence.
  • FIRMWARE. A firmware update installs the latest updates for your computer hardware. It is installed before Windows loads and determines how well the hardware operates. These can help with performance, stability, and security. The support page on your manufacturer’s website will likely have information about the latest firmware BIOS updates.
  • MANUFACTURER. You could try calling the manufacturer. They would know of common problems for your model of computer. Sometimes a Windows update or software conflict can arise that causes issues. Manufactures are aware of this and might tell you, “Yes, that’s a known issue with your model of computer. It’s a recent problem.” They may have a solution, or may promise to have a solution soon.
  • REPAIR. Computers typically include a recovery and repair process. One recovery option reinstalls Windows while leaving your user folder alone. So, in theory, that process would repair any Windows issues. However, that process removes any third party software so you would need to reinstall any programs not already included with Windows. Sometimes the repair functions don’t work, or they run but problems remain.
  • RESTORE. The system restore function will erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall all the original system files to make the computer like new. If your files are backed up, you could use this option. However, if your computer’s problems are related to failing hardware, this will not fix anything and the process may fail.
  • SYSTEM UTILITIES. Some computers come with system utility software. Dell computers have SupportAssist and HP computers have Support Assistant. These programs may be able to identify and resolve problems known compatibility issues specific to hardware or software in certain models of their computers. Manufacturers are better informed about issues impacting their unique hardware. So, these utilities are better equipped to solve problems. It’s possible none of the issues you are having will be resolved by these utilities, but it’s worth trying.
  • WARRANTY. If your computer is under warranty, the manufacturer may be willing to further diagnose the problem. A manufacturer’s warranty typically won’t cover software issues, so the manufacturer would normally want you to try all of the suggestions on this page before they would agree to examine possible in-warranty hardware repair.

Use Caution

There are stories of people having tried many approaches to fixing a problem, and then eventually finding some simple suggestion on the internet that works. The suggestions on this page are the ones most likely to provide a solution. They are the most logical tasks to try first. But there may be some other simple solution out there. It just requires time to try additional possible fixes. It’s less likely that one of those simple fixes would solve the problem, but there is still a chance that something will. Some random suggestions found on the internet can cause more harm than good. Some sites offering help can be infected or intentionally malicious. So one should be careful when pursuing such solutions.


If none of the tasks presented in this document resolve your issue, it is likely you will need a new computer. If you are paying someone to do this work for you, then the cost would be excessive. It would be cheaper to buy a new computer.

If you have access to free tech support or have the technical skills needed to continue trouble shooting beyond the suggestions offered above, then you could continue trying other options to resolve the issue.


  • “Over the past ten years, in real-world situations where the above suggestions were followed, most computers were able to have speed improvements. I’ve seen some situations where all tasks above were performed with little impact, and then finally it was the replacing of bloated excessive antivirus software that had the biggest impact and fixed the problems of slow operation.” ~ Greg Johnson [30 Sep 2021]