Now before you accuse me of wasting your electricity and contributing to global warming, I do not mean leave your computer switched on 24 hours per day 365 days of the year. But it would help to switch on your computer and leave it running for a while every now and again, especially if you do not use your computer very often and it is an older one with limited hardware resources.

Let me explain why. Over the past several months I have looked at a few computers with the following described symptoms: it takes ages to start up, it runs very slowly, it is unresponsive, programs take ages to load if at all, I cannot print anything (and I need my airline tickets), I have to force it to switch off. Sound familiar?

Such symptoms can indicated various potential problems with a computer and this is where getting a bit of background information from the customer first can quickly point me to the root cause of the problem. One question I ask is, “Do you use the computer much?” And therein has been the answer to some of their computer problems and the prompt for this item.

Many computers are now set to automatically receive operating system and program updates and install them. This ensures that software patches to vulnerabilities found in operating systems and programs, along with new features and enhancements are promptly installed to keep your computer safe and up to date with the latest features for you to use. In most cases I recommend using the automatic update and install setting for this very reason.

Updates to operating systems and programs can be relatively large download files sizes though and over a slow internet connection and on older computer equipment may take some time to download and install. The fairly recent Windows 10 anniversary update being a case in point.

What I have discovered is happening on some older computers is that the download and install of updates has commenced but the user has only switched the computer on to check a few things online, write a letter or print a few documents and then switches it off again. This does not allow the larger updates to download and install successfully. If this cycle is repeated several times, the computer quickly becomes increasingly unresponsive. The operating system struggles to keep track of where it is on the updates and switching the power off suddenly only adds to the problem the next time it is switched back on again. Sooner or later it grinds to a halt and can potentially corrupt your data by having forced it to switch off – as happened in the case of one customer. Another important consideration is that if you have anti-virus software installed, this may also not have had time to update and keep you safe from any new threats before you go online.

So, the next time you need to use your computer for some tasks, consider switching it on and leaving it for a short while to automatically download and install those important updates first. If you do not use the computer very much at all, do consider turning it on every now and again and leaving it running for a while before shutting it down correctly. There are no hard and fast rules of how long this is needed for as it depends very much on your broadband download speeds, hardware power of the computer and the number of updates that are available. As a general guide for the average user configuration I would say switching on once every 2 weeks or so for about 30-45 minutes should be sufficient. Bear in mind that an operating system service pack update could take considerably longer though.

You can check your update settings from the Windows 10 Start > Settings > Update and Security.