If you're working with others online, as a small business owner or freelancer, then your computer is the conduit to your work. Your computer's efficiency correlates directly to the your work productivity. Below are some tips to optimize performance and make the most out of the computer you already own.
Disclaimer: Changes of this type may have the potential to cause loss of data. Before making any alterations to your system, backing up your data is strongly recommended. Proceed at your own risk!
OS and Memory
Memory (RAM) is where programs live while your computer is turned on. Your operating system(OS) is the first program loaded in to memory. You or your OS can then load more programs. However, if your OS has been instructed to load spyware, viruses, worms, or non-essential software in to memory, this can cause your computer's processing speed to grind to a halt.
This particular article is aimed at users running Windows XP. However, if you are running a Mac, check out Onyx. In my experience most Mac problems stem from Disk Permissions issues. Onyx is great at fixing these issues.
Malware Cleaning and Prevention
PC Tools Spyware Doctor and PC Tools Anti-Virus, are both available as free downloads. They can help you identify and remove malware from your system. Once they're installed they will auto-update unobtrusively and let you know if there are any more problems.
If the above doesn't work, then the offending piece of software is brand new and really evil. Check out the forums on MajorGeeks.com. Chances are someone else has had the same problem and the solution is there, or they are in the process of figuring it out.
Unwanted Legit Applications
Now, if your machine is still running slow there are probably some programs running that just aren't necessary.
If you truly do not use the application, then remove the application using "Add/Remove Programs" (Located by click "Start" and then "Control Panel").
If your problems originate with the "blue screen of death" (windows goes to a blue screen, and there will be a lot of text that you don't understand), or if none of the tips above have yielded performance on par with your computer's original state (from the manufacturer), then reformatting and reinstalling may be a good option. This is a sure fire way to get back to a good performing system. Consult your computer's user manual, or see below. Re-installing windows will cause data loss. Backup.
Keeping your system in a healthy state isn't too tough if you do regular maintenance. However, keep in mind that some of the programs above have the potential to cause permanent data loss. Backing up your data is highly recommended before undertaking any of the above. If you are hesitant to delve this deep in to your system, then consider consulting a professional computer technician in your area.