LiveBrianD asked the Windows forum for advise on improving performance on a slow PC. Given the PC's hardware, Brian feels that it should be faster.

A number of factors could be slowing down a PC. Let's look at some of the common ones, starting with the issues that are the easiest to detect and to fix.

I'll be honest; it's been at least a decade since I've seen empirical evidence proving that a fragmented hard drive slows a PC. But a lot of people insist that it does, and defragging certainly won't hurt. To defrag your hard drive:

Click Start and select Computer or My Computer. Right-click your C: drive and select Properties. Click the Tools tab, then the Defragment now button.

A malicious program working in the background could slow down your PC while also doing more serious damage. If your PC is infected, chances are that your existing antivirus program is compromised. Try something else. I recommend using the free version of either SUPERAntiSpyware or Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware. Or the AVG Rescue CD, which scans in a non-Windows--and therefore non-infected--environment.

If you're like most Windows users, you have too many programs loading automatically every time you boot. Turning some of them off may help. You don't have to uninstall the programs, just keep them from loading when you don't need them.

Of course, some autoloaders are absolutely necessary. For instance, you must have an antivirus program running at all times. Whatever other programs you want to autoload is up to you.

To manage your autoloaders:

Click Start (Start, then Run in XP), type msconfig, and press ENTER. Click the Startup tab. Uncheck some of the programs to disable their autostarting. Experiment until you're satisfied.

Here's another option: Download and install the free Glary Utilities and use its Startup Manager (which you'll find on the Optimize and Improve tab). Unlike Msconfig, it gives you useful information about the Startup programs.

My thanks to WiscoKid for recommending Glary Utilities.

SikFly recommended this in the original forum discussion. It's an extreme solution, but often an effective one. For instructions, see Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Data.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at [email protected], or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.