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Left to its own devices, a personal computer that seemed lightning fast when purchased will be painfully slow within a year or so.

One option is to toss the ageing PC and get the latest machine packed with gigabytes and megahertz. If the PC is more than three or four years old, that may be the most sensible course. Otherwise, there are cheaper options.

The first thing to check is how much Ram (random access memory) the PC has installed. In Windows XP, you can check this by looking in the System Information folder. Click on Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools and System Information. If you have less than 512MB of memory, adding more is the most effective way to speed up a machine.

But there are other reasons why a PC slows down and they can be fixed. Before you start tinkering, back up your system — or at least the most important data files — using a back-up utility and an external storage device.

PC performance can deteriorate from file fragmentation. Because of the way Windows-based machines store and delete files on a hard drive, fragments of these files eventually become scattered over thousands or tens of thousands of locations on the hard drive.

In time, when a software application is fired up or when the PC calls for a piece of information, it takes longer and longer for the hard drive to find all the fragments and deliver them to the PC.

In order to see how fragmented your hard disk has become, click on Start and select Programs, Accessories, System Tools and Disk Defragmenter, and select Analyze.

Unfortunately, the rudimentary disk defragmenter built into Windows 2000 and Windows XP is slow and ineffective. Add-on software packages, such as Diskeeper from Executive Software, do a much better job of defragmenting. Diskeeper is easy to use, reasonably fast, and effective and can be set up to run manually, or to activate automatically from time to time. Several PC utility suites, including Symantec’s Norton SystemWorks and V Communications Fix-It Utilities include defragmenters among other tools.

The second reason PCs slow down is that most new software packages insist on running at startup. You can see the icons sitting in the System tray at the bottom right-hand corner of a Windows screen. Talk to your computer administrator to find out how to delete applications from the PC’s Start Group. Other than the routine maintenance mentioned the organization should look at setting up an organizational Maintenance Expenditure Limitation Plan.

The Organization’s Maintenance Expenditure Limitation

When dealing with the decision to repair/upgrade of computers, personal digital assistants and associated devices should be based upon a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of replacing vs. repairing/upgrading the system. With the rapid advancement in technology, the repair/upgrade of computers may not be the best economic choice.

(1) The following factors should be considered during the decision process:

(a) Cost of replacement and moving from budget of replacement.

(b) Warranty/no warranty.

(c) Age of the equipment (consider substantially improved technology).

(d) Mission impact while the system is being repaired/upgraded.

(e) Extent of repair/upgrade.

(f) Cost of repair/upgrade vs. the MEL constraints.

(g) Availability of parts.

(h) Manpower availability versus manpower required in accomplishing the repair/upgrade.

(i) Estimated service life after repair/upgrade.

(j) Most timely method of getting system back into the hands of the end user.