When Slow and Steady Doesn't Win: Speeding Up Your Computer & the Web (Hypertext Student Newsletter)

This story written by Stephanie Polizzi, a junior in English & Italian, was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of the Hypertext quarterly student newsletter. Go to http://scg.ucdavis.edu/hypertext/2005spring.pdf to view a downloadable PDF of the entire newsletter.

You log in to MyUCDavis and wait for Geckomail to load. And wait. And wait. You look over at your roommate and -- what!? How did he get his email to load so fast? Come to think of it, it takes your computer a while to load almost any Web site... Does this scenario sound familiar? For many people, Geckomail and other Web-based email applications take a long time to load. This is due in part to the fact that retrieving Web-based email is inherently slower than accessing email through an email client. But that doesn't mean you have to settle for less. Learn here how to speed up your Web browsing and your computer.

Ever notice how MyUCDavis takes a long time to load at some points of the day and a short time at others? Well, the number of users logged on greatly affects the site's speed. You might want to access MyUCDavis during a less popular time of the day (6pm-10am or on weekends).

MyUCDavis' loading speed has greatly improved over the past year. The Web portal also identifies your connection speed and adjusts its content and loading speed accordingly. However, no matter how fast MyUCDavis loads, Geckomail is an entirely different issue. Geckomail is a Web-based email client, similar to Yahoo! email or Google's Gmail, in which you access your email on the Web. The loading time depends on how many email messages you have saved in your folders; all of those emails must be converted to HTML to be displayed, a process that can take a while if you're loading several hundred files. An easy solution to speeding up Web-based email is to delete the conte nt in your outbox and trash folders.

But what if you don't want to delete lots of your old email? Email clients, such as Eudora and Outlook, can download emails onto your computer. They are significantly faster than Web-based email, but your email is saved on only one computer. The email client usually offers the option of storing your email on an online server as well, but then you might run into the same problem: email taking forever to load. In the end, you must weigh the pros and cons of Web-based email and an email client and decide which is right for you.

If almost every Web page and program you access takes a long time to start up, you could be dealing with a security intrusion. Spyware and viruses will cause your computer to run slowly. The following are tips on how to speed up your computer and the Internet, but be aware that computing security should be your top priority when surfing the Web.

Rid your computer of spyware and adware. Download programs like Spybot Search and Destroy> or Ad-Aware and run them weekly.

Scan your computer for viruses weekly. Download a free copy of Symantec AntiVirus via the MyUCDavis Software page.

Defragment your computer. Defragmenting is like organizing the stuff in your closet; when you're done, there's more room and everything is easier to find. Defragmenting will speed up your computer and make your hard drive last longer, as it won't have to work as hard to locate files. The defragmenter for PCs is located in Programs > Accessories > System Tools. Macs running OS X automatically defragment ("optimize") whenever you install new software or operating system updates. Older Macs do not come with a defragmenting program; you will have to purchase one (e.g., Symantec's Norton Utilities).

Download patches and updates. Updating your software and operating system will protect them from security invasions, which often slow down a computer.

Adjust your security access level. Your Internet security level (usually found under the "Options" menu on your Web browser) should be set to at least medium, but recognize that if you make your security settings that high, your computer will run more slowly as it analyzes the Web sites it encounters.

Try a different Web browser. No browser is significantly faster than another, but Internet Explorer is vulnerable to the most types of spyware: an alternate browser may be a safer choice.

Clean the dust off your computer. This may seem like a no-brainer, but excess dust leads to heat buildup, which will slow your computer down.

Clear the Web browser's cache. Every time you visit a Web page, view a graphic, or download a file, it is saved by your Web browser. Clearing this storage often speeds up your browser. The cache list is commonly found in your Web browser??'s "Options" menu.

Purchase and install more RAM. RAM enables your computer to perform many actions at once, such as booting up, loading an instant messaging program, and opening a Web browser. Buying more RAM should speed up your computer. Be aware, that while RAM is not expensive, you'll have to install it yourself or have a techie friend do it for you.

Many factors influence a computer's speed, and now you know what you can do to speed up yours. Remember that keeping your computer safe from digital intrusion should be your number one concern. Thankfully, if you take security precautions and regularly maintain your computer, you should see an improvement in your computer's performance in no time.