Diagnosing Computer Speed Bottlenecks

If you have a computer that is crawling, you will probably need to invest some time in figuring out why. Of course, if you rely upon that computer for mission critical information, you may be compromising your entire operation with just a minor bottleneck in speed. Fortunately, most bottlenecks are easily resolvable by technical professionals, but knowing what your problem is before you approach them will often save you time and money.

Processing Power

Processor bottlenecks are a fairly common problem on computers. Poorly written code often uses more of the processor than it needs to, and the superfluous CPU investment prevents other programs from getting the CPU time that they need.

Diagnosing these is usually quite simple. Your CPU, as measured through your operating system, will be pegged at 100%. Now, a spike once in a while to 100% is normal, especially on Windows, but the processor shouldn’t stay stuck at 100% for very long, and it should especially never stay at 100% when you don’t know what it is processing. That is to say that if you haven’t done anything for the computer to think about, it shouldn’t be stuck in thought. On most systems, the cure for most problems is to just close down some extraneous programs. On Windows especially, you will want to clean the machine of any viruses or spyware that are infecting it.

If you are reduced to only critical processes and your machine still won’t run efficiently, it is time to either recode the processes or upgrade the machine. Upgrading a processor is a job for someone with knowledge and skills within computers, and it is not recommended for someone who has never opened up their machine before. For many people, the cheapest option is to simply upgrade the machine to something newer.

Memory Bottlenecks

These are another common bottleneck on a computer. Memory is used constantly, and if you have too many programs running, it can add up to a clogged up memory pool. If that becomes clogged, the machine resorts to slower “virtual memory” which really slows the computer down if it is overused. Virtual memory is normal and should be used, but the computer should never be shoving pertinent, current data into virtual memory.

Diagnosing this is a bit more complicated, but fortunately, Windows will usually tell you when you are using too much virtual memory. It shouldn’t have to add more virtual memory during normal operations. If it does, then there may be a problem.

Typically, the first cure is to reboot the machine. Some programs, if they aren’t written properly, create a “memory leak” through which it slowly grabs more and more memory. Resetting the machine restores all the leaked memory, and it may fix the problem outright. If it doesn’t consider adding more memory. Your computer’s manual will give you instructions for accessing the memory and what type of memory to order. installing it is typically as easy as putting it into the appropriate slot.

Disk Speed Bottlenecks

Disk speed bottlenecks are the most rare. Outside of large data operations, it is uncommon to run into this, but it does happen. Essentially, the computer is ready for more information, but the slow rate at which it is read off of the disk is holding it back. This happens frequently with databases and other major storage operations, but few people really run these from personal computers. Unfortunately, if this is the case, only a faster disk or a more complex storage solution will help you to move forward.

On the other hand, most programs requiring such massive storage offer real solutions already in the form of indexing and clever retrieval algorithms. If possible, consult the offending programs and their documentation, since most programs that could cause such a problem are aware of it and have steps in place to prevent such an occurrence.

With occasional maintenance, your computers should be running fine for years. That being said, if you notice a bottleneck developing, address it before it becomes a catastrophic problem.

Thrashing: http://www.computerhope.com/jargon/t/thrash.htm
Microsoft- Detecting Memory Bottlenecks: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc749872.aspx