Hello, IT... have you tried turning it off and on again?"
If you've never seen the British sitcom "The IT Crowd," which I highly recommend, then I invite you to think back to your last call to tech support — chances are their advice was pretty much the same. With dozens of applications and processes running at any one time, computers can get muddled from time to time and sometimes the best way to de-muddle things is to force quit a few applications or restart your computer to clear the memory out, reduce the number of programs and processes running, delete any broken threads that are jamming up the CPU and give things a few seconds to cool down. If you never shut down your computer then you probably should from time to time — each restart is like a blank slate and you get a little boost in performance as a reward.
Turns out that timeless "off then on again" piece of advice was number one on PC World's list of "How to Solve the 10 Most Common Tech Support Programs Yourself," along with the advice to run Windows Update now and then to fix bugs and performance issues.
Some of the other suggested fixes of PCs:
Slow computers — PC World recommends keeping your hard drive as clear of junk as possible. The closer to full a hard drive gets, the more fractured the bits and pieces of information that you store on it. Computers are fast but assembling those pieces does take time when they're scattered across your hard drive. They also recommend using the System Configuration tool to see what programs are running at startup, and to shut a lot of those processes down — after doing a quick Google search to ensure you're not shutting down a vital piece of the operating system. If the manufacturer is Microsoft you should probably leave it alone. Defragging every so often is also a must.
Errors and system restarts — Every computer has slightly different hardware and software installed, and it's in your best interest to keep those things up to date. Piriform (www.piriform.com) makes a program called Speccy that can tell you the exact name and model number for every piece of hardware under the hood, and you can use that information to visit the websites of those companies and download the most recent drivers. As well, check for viruses (Windows Security Essentials for Windows 7 and earlier, Windows Defender for Windows 8, and Malwarebytes, www.malwarebytes.com, for good measure). Since your shutdowns and restarts could be heat related, find a third-party program that can tell you your running temperature like Realtemp, CPU Thermometer, Fan Speed or Core Temp and compare those numbers to the specs for each piece of hardware. Your computer might need a dusting under the hood, a new fan, a second fan or simply a better location that gets more airflow.
Internet Speeds — If the problem is related to Internet speeds or connectivity, sometimes it helps to turn your modem or wireless router off and on again. Really. The problem could also be further up the pipe so do a quick check of your speeds at Speedtest.net and compare them to the speeds you were promised by your Internet service provider (ISP). You'll rarely get the maximum promised speeds but if you're consistently low then you may have a problem.
It's also a good idea to set up password protection for your wireless — you could be slow because your neighbour is using your connection to watch movies on Netflix.
Printer Issues — Printers are the most aggravating peripherals out there. If you do what seems like the right thing and install the program that comes with the printer then you're usually going to find a lot of new programs you don't need running in the background. My advice is to uninstall everything to do with your printer and start fresh by going to the Microsoft Download Center and looking for drivers. You may also have to go to the manufacturer's site, but if you stick to the basic driver then you won't wind up with all the annoying add-ons.
This is all good advice. Here's some more:
Sticky Windows — Sometimes if I have multiple programs open I'll have issues switching between them. I might click on a Word file to type something, for example, but find myself unable to bring the right window to the front. You can also experience lag where window switches and typing can take a few seconds to register. In my experience these issues happen most often when system memory is bogged down. Since web browsers tend to take up the most space that's usually the first thing I'll shut down. Sometimes I'll discover that one of my tabs is playing a looping video and closing that tab that will solve the problem. It also helps to look at the bottom bar and see if any of your open programs need your attention. A right click will tell you if a program has stopped responding, while an icon might tell you that something like a scheduled virus scan or update is going on in the background.
Always remember: computers are logic machines and any issues you have probably have logical solutions.