RAM, hard drive, and processor: the primary elements of any machine that we investigate first when our clients report issues such as computer lag, slow response times, and random/unexplained behavior.
These problems are intermittent and often remedied with a simple shut down/reboot of the computer. A spot-check assessment of the computer is sometimes done as well, at which time we look for chronic or underlying conditions which may be causing these issues -- issues that often only compound and get worse over time.
When the computer remains switched on for too long between complete shut down or restart events, processes that are consuming the RAM don’t self-purge like they should. When the computer's RAM remains in a state of being 100% absorbed, the computer begins to use a portion of the hard drive to store information temporarily in lieu of no available RAM. The files and data on the hard drive begin to accumulate and grow in volume, thus forcing the computer to work harder to constantly scan and process and maintain a record of the increased volume and references to those files.
The RAM usage ("Physical Memory") is around 43% in this example, just at idle, with no additional programs running except background processes like Dropbox and antivirus scanning.
Recommendations: reboot computers at least once per week, and more often if possible. We would also investigate for opportunities to upgrade the RAM based on the machine’s specs and client’s needs. Most Windows PCs are easily upgradeable and RAM is more affordable than ever.
The computer in this example is equipped with a lower-cost, mid-grade Intel i5 processor that can run most tasks adequately, however, it is more prone to causing lag and performance degradation. A mid-grade processor's efficiency is often challenged when it is required to keep all open programs and activities that the user is engaging while simultaneously maintaining the background processes and services that Windows requires for basic functioning. In this example, 61% of the processor (“CPU Usage”) is utilized at idle, just to run those background processes and services.
If your workflows involve Excel spreadsheets that are densely packed with complex formulas and calculations, using a higher-grade processor is critical for maintaining continuity and integrity of data while at the same time minimizing crashes.
CPU "cores" is another factor to consider with regard to CPU usage. Having additional CPU cores is like having additional individual processors that are available for the computer to use, but all reside on a single processor chip. Many i7 processors are available in a "quad-core" configuration, with 4 cores residing on that processor chip -- so the computer sees this as having 4 individual processors available to use, versus just 1 processor.
Recommendations: if replacing the computer is an option, select a more robust higher-grade processor, such as the Intel i7 processor, and go with a quad-core configuration if possible. Resale value of the computer increases significantly if it is configured with an i7.
Most machines manufactured since 2014 include solid state drives (SSD), by default. These are significantly faster at reading/writing information than the older, traditional "spinning platter" (HDD). Some desktops still use traditional HDD's. If a machine purchase is being considered, always opt for the SSD option.
- Determine if there are programs or processes you employ that are using too much of your computer’s resources at idle. If running the Dropbox app consumes too much of the computer’s resources, remove it from your computer and only access your Dropbox contents through the web. Making this sort of adjustment can reduce the strain on your computer by freeing up more of the computer’s resources, and in turn, you and the computer work together more efficiently.
- Simple and affordable upgrades to your computer can significantly improve the machine's performance and make it much more usable for you -- or at least get you through the period of time until the machine can be replaced altogether.
- Compare the costs associated with RAM and SSD hard drive upgrades versus the cost of a new computer that could include similar RAM and SSD specs. Replacing the lower-spec’d computer may be more cost-effective, while at the same time providing the opportunity to increase the processor grade, clockspeed, and number of cores.