Slowness manifests itself in many ways and one of the most obvious is the eternalization of starting and shutting down the computer. We can also notice that starting applications are more time-consuming. Or see the typical hourglass (or other waiting symbols) constantly turning while we wait for the system to “do something.” If you find that your hard drive is getting slower and that’s the low performance of your computer, then follow this guide.
The hard drive is one of the components that most affects the performance and experience of using a computer. More than the processor even. We give you the guidelines to make it go smoothly. This lack of process agility on the PC can be due to multiple causes. Let’s see the most common:
- Installation of a demanding application that implies a radical change in the behavior of the computer, such as an antivirus. In contrast, it is also possible that it is a malware infection.
- The gradual process of system degradation due to services running in the background at system boot time.
- Hard drive degradation, either due to loss of free space, fragmentation, and even physical damage.
- Application update. New versions of applications tend to be optimized for more modern technologies and will perform worse on “veteran” hardware. For example, programs for PC or Mac are beginning to be designed for systems with SSD storage units. This is the case of operating systems such as Mac OS X or Windows 10, they can work with magnetic disks, but tasks such as startup or shutdown are going to be slowed down.
How to speed up computer startup
To find the source of slow computer performance, we can start by seeing what is running at the beginning, when we start the system. It is a useful task whether we have an SSD or a magnetic disk and, incidentally, allows us to identify programs that we no longer use, but are still a drag on the processor or memory.
Although there are tools at Apple that perform similar audits, this time we will stick to Windows computers.
MSConfig: System Configuration
This tool has been part of the Windows toolkit for years. It is not very well known, but it is extremely useful. To run it, the easiest thing to do is invoke it from the Windows search menu, which we access from the magnifying glass next to the Windows icon. We write msconfig to bring up the System Configuration option.
We will go to the ‘Services‘ tab to see all those that are running on the system. If we check the box to hide Microsoft services, we are left with those that depend on the installed applications.
We can see if they are active or stopped, as well as to detect services that we do not identify at first glance. If we “Google” them, we even have the possibility to identify possible sources of malware.
The next tab is the Windows Startup, which in the latest version of the system takes us to the Task Manager. Opening it, we find the programs that are launched at the beginning. If the list is too long, we have a potential slowdown problem.
Bootracer, to measure the boot time of the computer
This application has a free trial version. It is in English, but it is easy to get hold of the basic options to measure the start time. Using a Windows 10 computer (with a SATA-type boot SSD and an AMD APU-type processor from 2015) without optimizing, we obtain a boot time of 65.6 seconds.
From the Task Manager, in the Home tab, we are going to clean. We right-click on the applications that we want to disable and activate the corresponding option.
Then we measure time again. Be careful with disabling applications that are necessary, such as drivers or network devices or sound. In case of doubt, it is necessary to deactivate one by one and check that functionalities are not lost.
As you can see, we have saved about 16 seconds of boot time by simply disabling applications that start automatically. If we need them later, we can run them manually, of course. We are not uninstalling them.
Another interesting practice to keep the computer in shape is to uninstall applications that we do not use. Besides being a potential source of services that run in the background, they take up space. In the Windows Settings menu, in the Applications section, we can manage the uninstallation.
When is the hard drive needs maintenance?
As we have seen, simply by reviewing the services and applications that run at startup, we can save time in processes such as startup. The shutdown also benefits from this cleaning, by not having to “shut down” so many processes, which in turn require the cleaning of caches or temporary data. However, the slowness is not only a matter of starting or shutting down the computer.
When we say “hard drive” we mean both magnetic and SSD. SSDs are faster than magnetic ones, but they also require attention.
CrystalDiskMark, how to measure the speed of a disk
To measure the speed of our disk (s), we can use the CrystalDiskMark 7.0 tool. It allows evaluating the transfer speed of our storage unit.
For reference, we share three different measurements with three types of drives: Magnetic SATA, SATA SSD, and NVMe SSD. Magnetic drives are slower, especially for random read and write operations. SATA SSDs get better, although it is NVMe that offers the best performance for storage, with speeds between 5 and 10 times faster than SATA. At random read and write, NVMe drives are up to 1,600 times faster than magnetic drives.
If the figures we measure are low, we may be facing a problem with the units. Of course, NVMe depends a lot on the technological generation. In this case, we have used the last generation laptop.
Optimize parameters of an SSD disk
It is really little we can do on an SSD to optimize its performance. Both Windows 10 and Mac OS X automatically adjust settings for the SSD to take advantage of. If you have Windows 8 or Windows 7, however, it helps to tweak a few settings. For example, activate TRIM from the console.
We run cmd to open the console and type fsutil behavior query disabledeletenotify. If the result is 0 we will not have to do anything. Otherwise, we write fsutil behavior set disabledeletenotify 0.
We can disable some services like SuperFetch or Windows indexing. To do this, we run Services and look for Disk Defragmentation and SuperFetch and disable them if they are active. We can also disable Prefetch. We open the Registry Editor and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\Prefetch\Parameters
If EnablePrefetcher is not zero, we modify it to have that value.
Another recommendation for SSD drives is not to overfill them and leave at least 20% of the total space free.
It is also useful to know if the manufacturer of the unit has diagnostic tools that allow, for example, to update the firmware of the unit.
Be it Intel, Samsung, Kingston, SanDisk, or any other manufacturer, if we have a tool available, it will be helpful to install it. To find out what disk model we have, we can use the CrystalDiskInfo 8 application.
The famous defragmentation: only for magnetic disks
If we still have magnetic disks in the computer, defragmentation is a technique that sooner or later will be useful to put into practice. Especially if we fill the drive a lot, magnetic disks suffer a lot from the effect of fragmentation.
In other words, large files are “chopped up” and divided into non-contiguous areas of the unit, so the reading is not sequential, but rather “skipped” or random.
Very large applications, such as Photoshop, for example, as well as Windows startup, can greatly slow down their startup due to fragmentation.
To access the defragmentation tool, we just have to click the right mouse button on the unit we want to verify. In the Tools tab, we will find the options to Optimize and defragment the drive and Error checking.
Nothing will be left over if we do an error check before defragmenting. In this way, we ensure that the unit is in order before we begin to move fragments of files from one place to another.
In our case, the unit is not very busy and a little fragmented. The Analysis option allows you to evaluate the convenience of proceeding with defragmentation. It is a process that can take a lot of time, so it is advisable to use the scheduling option so that it runs when we are not in front of the team.
By default, the frequency is weekly, but we can change it. Of course, the power is not interrupted in the middle of the process or we may have problems when restarting the computer.
SSD, the solution to almost all problems
In practice, using an SSD simplifies the optimization and maintenance of storage drives. And it achieves that startup or application loading times are minimized. At least on the boot disk, having an SSD drive is recommended; with 256 GB it will be enough for most of the usual uses, although 512 GB is better if we work with editing or authoring programs.
If the SSD is NVMe, better than SATA. In boot tests with an NVMe drive under Windows 10, we got total boot times of under 30 seconds versus 50 for the SATA drive, for example.
In the case that we are gamers, some games even occupy hundreds of gigs, filling the available space quickly. Of course, we can have a second HDD unit where we install the titles.
The second drive, with more storage capacity, can be HDD. Prices per gigabyte are lower with this technology. In both HDD and SSD units, it is convenient to leave free space (20%) so that read, write, and erase operations can be carried out correctly.