Useful Stories When Doing Free Tech Support

Like many of you, I end up doing free tech support for friends and family and neighbors, etc. etc. The most common—and most dreaded—question I get asked in that role is

Why is my computer slow?

The answer to this question boils down to one of three things:

  1. You are infected with all the malware and your computer is busy mining cryptocurrency for a teenager on a different continent
  2. Your computer is very old and is trying to do new computer things
  3. You have 8GB of RAM trying to support sixteen browser tabs in Chrome, three Excel spreadsheets, five Word docs, a handful of PDF's, a game, and probably a hint of malware.

The first one is easy to explain, as long as you use the word “virus” instead of “malware”. That generally goes over all right. The second one tends to hurt people's feelings and I try to avoid it.

The third is actually the most common one I see, and I've finally found a workable story to help people understand it.

The “One Thing Per Gigabyte” Rule

That's it! that's the entire story. I tell people that, as a rule of thumb, they should only have one “thing”, be it a web browser, (or, if you're using Chrome, a browser tab), Excel Spreadsheet, Word Document, etc. etc. open per Gigabyte of RAM in your system.

Is this an actual computer rule? No. Do I abide by this? No. But I have spent years in practice and theory learning what I can and can't push a computer to do. And if you think about it, having more than eight “things” running on a computer with 8GB of RAM is asking for trouble. It's a useful story that encapsulates something I've learned about desktop support into something I can communicate to help people who haven't wasted their lives learning how computers work.