The most common complaint I hear from people calling for computer service is that their system is sluggish, slow to boot up and unresponsive. While the usual culprits (viruses and spyware) often factor in, sometimes even virus-free computers run slower than they should. — If you have a decent, malware-free system that’s underperforming, you may get noticeable improvement by replacing some of its resource-sucking programs — antivirus software or media players — with less bloated alternatives.
Norton and McAfee are the most well known antivirus programs around. Their manufacturers have relationships with most computer distributors, resulting in the vast majority of prebuilt systems arriving at the user’s door with one of these software packages pre-installed. Unfortunately, Norton and McAfee are massive programs that hog system resources. Heavy-handed online monitoring can lead to slow-as-molasses Internet surfing; in some cases, it can restrict access to certain sites or block a user’s Web access entirely.
Consider switching to Microsoft Security Essentials, developed by Microsoft for Windows. It’s free and automatically updates itself against the latest viruses and malware. It’s designed to run silently in the background when your PC is idle, so it won’t bother you.
Or, if you’re not enamored with the “in-house” option, consider AVG Technologies’ two free antivirus programs — http://free.avg.com and http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download — which will fit the needs of most users. The programs protect against most malware and use fewer resources than Norton or McAfee.
Adobe Reader is the most widely used PDF reader around, but it’s also one of the slowest on the market because it takes up more than 100MB of drive space and drains your system’s resources.
Many websites instruct users to install Adobe Reader and include links to download it, though in most cases it came preinstalled on the machine. While some advanced PDF functions may work best with Adobe — like watermarks, for example — you have alternatives that can quickly and easily handle basic PDF viewing.
Sumatra PDF is a simple reader program with a streamlined configuration and small file size (requires 4 MB drive space). Foxit Reader is another popular option that takes less than 1 MB to download and lets you open, view and print all types of PDFs. It integrates with DocuSign, a program for securely sending documents with eSignatures.
Media players also can be resource hogs.
For instance, iTunes offers an easy way to get your music and videos on your iPod, but you may regret making it your default media player. It’s slow to launch and run, and it nags with frequent pop-up notices to download updates to itself and its partner program, QuickTime. Save iTunes for your Apple gadgets.
Use any number of other media players to listen to your music — even the default Windows Media Player is faster to load and less of a drain on your system’s resources.
To get all of the organizational tools you’re used to from iTunes, check out MediaMonkey, a free media management program. Play MP3s, audiobooks, podcasts and videos, sync with your mobile devices and even burn CDs and DVDs, all the while keeping your media collection in order. MediaMonkey’s site claims it can “manage 100,000+ music and video files without bogging down.” It supports most file types and can convert file types to enable syncing across devices.
With a few software swaps, you could be singing a different tune about your system’s speed and responsiveness.