By Marjorie Kimball , Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
I've had my computer for about two years and I've noticed its performance has gotten...clunky. Programs take longer to open than they used to, drop-down menus aren't fluid, finding files seems to take forever, and even though I've got a broadband Internet connection, "surfing" the Web feels more like wading in tide pools. I've seen a number of ads hawking software designed to miraculously speed up my PC, but what's the real scoop? Can such software make a difference, or are these just empty promises?
As most shrewd consumers know in this economy of tightly fastened belts, throwing hard-earned dollars at useless products is akin to stapling one's tongue to the roof of one's mouth and being rushed to the emergency room on a holiday: a tasteless waste of time and money.
And the red flag is always raised when a product promises to deliver a perfect world of solutions to problems that have made people desperate enough to lend an ear to anything that might possibly ease the pain of their suffering. If something seems too good to be true...
The sad fact of the matter is that there are more scams and shams in this genre of "we can help you -- for a small fee!" snake-oil marketing than almost any other. Most products that offer to lash the pace of your lumbering turtle of a computer into a leaping cheetah are only worth their weight in hot air.
This isn't to say that all such products are useless, but do your homework; Google can be your biggest friend in this department. Search for the product in question and see what people -- real people in forums, user groups, etc. and not just the advertising fluffmongers -- have to say about it.
Scorned consumers are generally not afraid to offer their unfavorable opinions, and you'll find evidence of their dissatisfaction across the Internet if they've been burned by the product you're researching. At the same time, if there's such software that really does deliver on its promises, its advocates will sing its praises just as loudly.
Short of completely reformatting your hard drive and reinstalling your operating system from scratch, there are a number of things you can do to keep your computer functioning at a reasonable speed:
1. You can keep media files (mp3s, movies, pictures) on a separate -- external or networked -- hard drive.
2. Don't install unnecessary browser plug-ins. Keep an eye on the programs that start up when you reboot your computer -- if you don't need 'em running at all times, remove 'em from the startup menu.
3. Don't use file-sharing programs that invite files potentially befouled with viruses, spyware, and other malware into your system.
4. Of course, nothing beats a physical upgrade of fresh memory. Maxing out your computer's capacity for RAM will demonstrate a dramatic difference if you've been making do with whatever the manufacturer felt like sending you in exchange for your bargain price tag.
As far as keeping your system running at top speed forever and ever, you might just have to make that dreaded annual reformatting and reinstallation of the operating system. Not all solutions are as easy to sell as a snappy marketing pitch, though, so do what you think is right!
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