Extreme PC MakeOver #3

I ran into Mark Tobias here in Rio de Janeiro. We were both attending a party to commemorate the third anniversary of the passing of a dear friend of ours, Doug Matheson. I soon found out that Mark is known as the tax man. No, he doesn’t work for the IRS, so don’t fly an airplane into his building. He is the software tax man. As our sales tax code gets continually more complex, Mark is the expert that writes the software to make sure that all the sales tax codes are being followed when we make an online transaction.

In the beginning, TaxMan’s Dell laptop was unbelievable slow.

Let’s just say that Mark’s career is going great, but his computer – not so much. He mentioned to me that his computer was slow, but I had no idea. To be honest, Mark’s computer is perhaps one of the slowest computers I have ever experienced. I used my handy test to check the speed. I hit the Windows button to see how long it takes for the menu appear. Believe it or not, it took about 30 seconds for the menu to pop. From there it got worse, to dig deeper into the menu, each level took between 1-2 minutes. It was painful.

I opened Internet Explorer to download PC Matic, and that took about 5 minutes. I was shocked beyond belief. In all my years, I had not seen a computer so slow.

Me: This is unbelievable. How can you put up with this?
Taxman: I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I open up Internet Explorer, and then I take a shower. Then I come back, and pick a web site, and go have a cup of coffee.

I looked into his eyes and he didn’t blink. He was dead serious. Serious as a tax man. And so it went, until we finally had PC Matic on his computer. Then, when we ran PC Matic, that was excruciating slow as well. PC Matic is designed to do its scan in 5 minutes. I would estimate that Taxman’s computer took about 30. It was truly painful.

At this point, my mind was messing with me. I was fascinated, what could make a PC so slow?

Me: I can’t imagine what would make it so slow. Maybe it’s a virus.
Taxman: Can’t be. I have Norton running all the time.
Me: Maybe, it’s Norton then.
Taxman: Don’t touch my Norton.

Finally, at long last, PC Matic finished its scan. Taxman’s computer was lit up like a Christmas tree.

But first the basics. Taxman’s computer is a 1.8 Ghz Pentium Dell laptop that is a little over 4 years old. Taxman uses and has always used the computer every day. At the time, Taxman spent around $1500 for his Dell laptop. His scan results were perhaps one of the worst I have ever seen. Every imaginable problem, Mark’s computer had including a few viruses. First, I looked at the viruses. They were not particularly harmful, and they certainly were not enough to slow down his computer. But still I was curious.

Me: You know you got some viruses on here.
Taxman: No way. I have Norton running all the time.

I looked down on the task bar and Norton was active. And maybe it’s because Mark is a tax guy, but I could tell that he wasn’t taking any chances and running unprotected. There is a lesson here. Even if you are running the industry’s most popular anti malware, you are still susceptible. Nothing, I repeat, nothing replaces good surfing habits and being extra cautious of things you download.

Off the soap box, and on to Taxman’s problem. Taxman also had a bunch of registry problems and out of date drivers. I can imagine that and it should be cleaned up, but that certainly is not the cause of his performance issues. I was scouring through his PC Matic results and the solution jumped off the page.

Taxman’s PC failed every test but the root performance problems were low hard drive space, low memory and high fragmentation.

Taxman’s PC had a trifecta. Three problems each building on each other to create a horrific mess. Taxman had low free disk space, low memory and high fragmentation. PC Matic is a great tool for freeing up disk space. I looked at the hard drive composition and told him that he had over 4GB of pictures and he showed me a folder I could delete about 1/2 of the pictures. The largest file report didn’t show anything revealing. His two largest files were the Windows journal file and the page file. However, PC Matic has added in the last month two new features custom made for this type of problem.

First, PC Matic now removes the uninstaller files for Windows Updates. What are these? Quite often behind the scenes, Windows will update itself, mainly to keep it secure but also to add updates to remove bugs. Each time this happens, Windows also leaves behind a fairly large uninstall file in case you want to roll back a Windows update. I can tell you that in over 20 years of Windows computing, this is something I have never done. Plus, over the space of years, it really adds up. In Mark’s case, PC Matic found 1.3 GB of these files.

Next, PC Matic has a very exciting new feature related to Windows Restore Points. Each and every day, Windows is archiving the settings and configuration of your PC. This allows Windows in the event of a catastrophe to revert to a prior time and remove whatever is causing the catastrophe. This is a great feature, but it has one huge flaw. Restore Points were introduced with Windows XP in November 2001. Back then, the average hard drive was about 5GB. Windows Restore allocates a fixed percentage of the hard drive. For windows XP it is 12% and Vista and Windows 7, it’s 15%. The problem is that Microsoft did not anticipate that hard drives would grow at such an incredible rate. Heck, today you can buy a 1TB drive for roughly $100. Windows would automatically allocate 150GB just for restore points. As a practical matter, we only need a month at the most of restore information. We have seen cases where Windows is storing years worth of restore points. In Mark’s case, there was 1.6 GB’s of unnecessary Windows Restore information.

On top of the humongous amount of gunk on Taxman’s computer, Mark’s computer also lacked memory. When Mark purchased his computer 5 years ago, 512MB would have worked just fine. But now, it is barely enough. The primary reason is the web and web browsers. Web sites use a lot more memory than before. Think about the popular web site, YouTube. As you watch the video, it caches the entire video where? In memory. Then web browsers have a new features which I love called tabbed browsing. This allows me to have multiple web pages open at the same time. This burns a ton of memory too. Whether we realize it or not, the way we use our computers is changing, and it all requires more memory.

So what happens when you run out of memory? Windows starts trying to write parts of the memory to the hard drive. The name of the file is called the page file, and it’s frequently called paging. When it happens, it is bad. Windows does not crash, but it might as well because a hard drive is 10 times as slow as regular memory. Therefore, everything becomes ten times as slow. But in Taxman’s case, it is even worse because he doesn’t have that much free hard drive space left. So Windows in constantly searching for places to stick this information and it takes a long long time.

That brings us to Taxman’s last and final problem. Taxman’s fragmentation on both files and data were well over 20%. Worse yet, was the most fragmented file analysis. Taxman’s poor Dell computer had a 4MB file that was divided into 1000 pieces. Think about that. There wasn’t room left for a 4MB file on the hard drive! It had to broken into a thousand pieces. When a small file is highly fragmented, there are big big problems.

At this point, I was really happy. I knew that I had the problem licked. Moreover, I knew that if I clicked Fix All on PC Matic, all of these problems with the click of a mouse would go away. Because of the severity of the problems, particularly the fragmentation, I knew it would take a while. So we went to dinner.

After we returned from a wonderful Italian meal at one of the best restaurants in all of Rio de Janeiro, Taxman’s computer was close to new. The transformation was amazing. I clicked the Windows button on the bottom left, and the response was immediate. No delay whatsoever. Everything was faster. Bringing up a browser window now took seconds rather than minutes. Boot times were the most noticeable. I would guess prior to PC Matic it was 15 minutes and now it was a few seconds. I felt like a wizard that had placed a magic spell on Taxman’s computer.

Taxman: Man, I was going to get a new one. Thanks so much.

No problem, Taxman. The only caveat is that he really should get some more memory. He told me that he would upgrade to 1GB, although I think that 768MB would have done the trick.

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