One of the biggest complaints coming from Dell users is speed — or rather, a lack of it. Often, an older Dell will start to put through even basic tasks, but sometimes a brand new Dell will be slow to connect to the internet or even freeze.
The issue isn’t unique to just Dell laptops or desktops, but other Windows based PCs as well. It doesn't matter whether your computer is aging or brand new. There are many reasons that your computer might be running slow. I'm here to help you figure them out, and share with you 12 ways to cure a slow Dell.
When your Dell starts running slow (or runs slow straight out of the box), the first step is try to identify the issue. How? Just like you’d determine whether or not you have a cold or the flu: by the symptoms. This guide is for you if you are experiencing some of the following issues with your Dell computer:
All computers may start to run a bit slow, but identifying when the computer runs slow will help. When does it run the slowest? All the time? At start up? When connecting to the internet? When using multiple applications at once? After running fine for an hour?
If your Dell runs slow all the time, look at solutions 1-7 as well as 10 and 11. Those solutions can help with a Dell that’s starting up slow. Tip 8 will help a slow Dell laptop that’s also running warm to the touch, and solution 9 can help if the freezes are occurring while running a program. If you still can’t pinpoint the issue (or if you are working with a brand new Dell and suspect there’s an issue with the hardware), you can also run the Dell diagnostic test.
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It’s easy to blame your computer for running slow, but sometimes that blame is misplaced. Anything that’s plugged into your computer could be making your computer work harder than it should, causing it to run slow. Since this is an easy issue to fix, try this solution first: unplug anything that’s plugged in to your Dell, like an external hard drive, SD cards and printers. Then, restart without the accessories and see if the issue has been fixed. If that fixed the issue, there may be a compatibility issue (like using an old printer with a new computer). Or sometimes the device is working in the background — for example, setting up automatic backups to an external hard drive will cause the computer to slow while the files are being copied in the background.
Hidden software downloaded into your computer is a big culprit of slow computers. Malware and spyware will run in the background, taking up valuable RAM without giving you anything in return. The easiest way to check for malware and remove them is to use BitDefender Total Security -- the software is very powerful, easy to use and will search your hard drive for malware, and if any is detected, eliminate it.
Over time, data can become separated or fragmented, which makes your computer work harder to find the information. Running the defragment process will fix any stray pieces of data and put them back where they belong — but only for Dells with hard disk drives (HDDs). If you purchased a Dell computer with an SDD instead of a standard hard drive, or later upgraded to an SDD, don’t run the defragmentation program.
Technology ages quickly, and sometimes computers that are a bit older have a hard time managing today’s more advanced programs. The solution? Cut back on the multi-tasking. The more programs you run at once, the harder the computer has to work and the slower it will run. It’s also a good idea to check Task Manager to see if there’s a particular program that’s eating up all your RAM. Sometimes, this can be fixed by using a different program, like trading Firefox for Chrome.
While the RAM that stores all the data you are currently using often causes computers to run slow, a full hard drive can cause performance issues as well. If your hard drive is over 85% full, you’ll generally see a boost in performance by cleaning it up. The easiest way to try CleanMyPC -- a tool that keeps your Dell hard drive clean automatically.
Other (manual) ways to clean up a full hard drive is to use an external hard drive or online cloud storage to store files that you don’t use often. Also, you can remove applications that you don’t use, run disk cleanup or remove temporary files. If you are a computer person, go clear out these caches, histories, plugins etc. that reside on your web browsers.
Over time, hidden errors can cause computers to run slow. The best way to find and fix hidden performance issues? Run an optimization software that can find and correct issues. We like PC Health Advisor because it detects a number of different types of system errors to improve a computer's overall performance as well as reducing the start-up times.
SpeedStep is a technology developed by Intel. It has been built into many Intel microprocessors (e.g. i5, i7). Basically it’s primarily designed to adjust CPU processing speed based on performance needs, thus aim to minimizing overheating issues. While the technology sounds fancy, it sometimes leads to serious slowdowns reported by many Dell users who have SpeedStep enabled, according to this Dell knowledge article.
Dell laptops, mainly the Inspiron and Latitude series, have pre-installed SpeedStep utility. Disabling the service can sometimes resolve certain performance issues you are experiencing. To turn off SpeedStep, you'll need to enter BIOS first. Shut down your Dell, press the Start button, then hold F12 key. Now select BIOS setup options > Performance > SpeedStep, select the option to disable the utility. Hit Apply and exit. Done.
Drivers allow your software to communicate with your hardware — and driver errors can cause your computer to run slow. The BIOS (Basic Input Output System) driver, for example, activates hardware when your computer powers up. To check and see if a driver error could be causing your Dell to run slow or freeze, follow the instructions from Dell.
If your Dell is a few years old and you’ve never cleaned out the fan, there’s a good chance that dust build-up in the fan is causing your computer to overheat, which will affect the performance. First, locate the fan by finding the vent on your computer. Use a can of compressed air to gently blow out the fan, clearing the dust. For extreme cases, you may need to remove a panel to access the fan and clean it out, but that process varies a bit by what model Dell you own.
Complete freezes are usually the result of software, and not the actual computer (though sometimes that may not be the case). If your Dell is freezing or running slow when a particular program is open, it’s time for some updates. You can approach this two ways, and doing both may help the most: updating Windows, and updating the individual programs with the latest version. The process varies for individual programs, but there’s often an update option under File (try Account Settings or Help).
If you’ve tried everything else on the list, you may be looking at a hardware upgrade in order to eek more speed out of your Dell. The RAM is the computer’s short term memory, more RAM will allow you to run multiple programs at once or run more high-demand programs quickly. If you have less than 4 GB of RAM, an upgrade will significantly improve your computer’s performance. Thankfully, most Dell computers are easy to update, but you’ll have to find your specific model for the exact instructions.
Besides how much space your hard drive has available, the design matters too, especially when it comes to speed. Solid State Drives or SSDs, unlike traditional hard drives, have no moving parts, so they are much faster. Most Dell computers are fairly simple to upgrade (if you see removable panels on the back of your computer or laptop, the process is simpler than if you have a computer without easy access panels). You can take your Dell into a reputable computer shop, or for the tech savvy, install an SSD yourself. Here are some useful video tutorials.
Like any computer, Dell laptops and desktops can run slow, whether that’s over time or with a new one. If your computer is brand new and running slow, be sure to contact Dell about the issue before the warranty is up so hardware glitches can be fixed at no cost. Methods such as cleaning up the hard drive, scanning for malware and upgrading to an SSD will also help speed up a slow Dell, no matter the age.
Fix the issue or still need help? Let me know what you think with a quick comment.
This page was last updated: July 16, 2016