iTunes Causes Performance Lag: Check RAM and Prioritize Processes

Q: My computer is a Dell Dimension 2400 running Windows XP. I installed iTunes in late 2006 and for a while was able to use it to save CDs while doing other things at the same time. However, the following February I did a complete OS reinstall, and since then, I really can’t use the computer while I’m saving a CD in iTunes. The entire machine slows to a crawl. And in the past year, this has only gotten worse. iTunes has been completely reinstalled once and I’ve switched from Norton to AVG for my anti-virus needs. Any idea what’s causing this? Could I somehow limit how much processor power iTunes is using or add hardware that would help?

A: Performing an OS reinstall can benefit your computer’s performance if your computer is cluttered with applications and spyware that you no longer need. Just make sure you back up all of your important files first. Then perform a full format of the hard drive to wipe clean anything that might cause your computer to run slower than usual. Get expert help if you have not done this before.

If your computer’s hardware is somewhat outdated, you will want to look into upgrading parts to improve performance. The amount of RAM (random access memory) on your computer can have a large impact on your computer’s performance when you have multiple applications open and running at the same time. To check how much RAM your computer has, right click on the My Computer icon on the desktop and click Properties. Make sure the General tab is selected, and RAM will appear under the Computer section.

Version 7.7 of iTunes system requirements asks for a minimum of 256MB of RAM, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and a 500 MHz Pentium class processor or better. Keep in mind these are the minimum requirements just to run iTunes and are not going to be the requirements for optimum performance — especially if you are burning CDs while running iTunes. iTunes can use a large amount of memory and resources, so if you have a fast processor but a small amount of RAM, I would recommend you upgrade your RAM, if possible.

Besides updating your hardware, always make sure your software is up-to-date. Check iTunes for the latest version and run all critical Window XP updates. To check if you have the latest Windows updates, visit windowsupdate.microsoft.com.

Also, Windows uses priority levels to divide CPU time among each of your running processes. If you are running iTunes at a lower priority than your CD ripping software, your CD ripping software will get more CPU time than iTunes.

You can change the priority level of your iTunes application in Windows Task Manager by right clicking on the iTunes process and clicking “Set Priority.” Be careful what processes you change the priority level for and get help if you are unsure what the process does. I would not recommend changing the priority level of any system processes.

Take a look at your anti-virus software settings. Many people use anti-virus software that performs an on-access scan for viruses. What this means is that each file your computer accesses on the hard drive will be scanned by your anti-virus software. This can become a performance power hog and make a noticeable difference if you do not have a high-performance PC.

You may want to disable only the on-access scan setting (not your entire anti-virus software) while you are running heavy applications. You might not get a huge performance boost, but it could be enough to get you started.

Andrew Bonslater, MCTS, MCSD, MCAD, is a solutions developer for mid- to large-sized organizations. He is a thought leader with Crowe Chizek in Chicago. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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