Kim Komando, Special for USA TODAY
Computers always act up at the worst times. You're in the middle of a major report or playing your best game ever and - pffft.
Often, users get so frustrated that they needlessly go out and buy a new computer or pay for a computer repair. With a cool head and a little know-how, however, it's easy to fix the most common computer problems. In fact, the solutions I recommend below are free.
1. Speed up a sluggish PC
Computers slow down over time - that's normal.
If your PC is fairly new and it's slow, remove the pre-installed programs, or bloatware, that came with it. PC Decrapifier will remove trial programs and other junk in a snap.
To give an older PC a speed boost, break out the CCleaner. This tool looks through Windows, Web browsers and other third-party programs for unwanted clutter and gets rid of it. CCleaner can also scan and fix errors in Windows' registry. Just make sure you allow it to backup the registry before making changes.
Grab Duplicate Cleaner to remove duplicate files that might be clogging up the system. But, limit your file hunt to the Documents area of your computer. You don't want to accidentally delete important system files.
In your cleaning process, you might find programs you no longer need. Windows' built-in uninstaller has a tendency to leave fragments scattered around your hard drive. You can remove those fragments efficiently with Revo Uninstaller.
2. The Blue Screen of Death
Thankfully, Windows' dreaded "Blue Screen of Death" is getting to be a rare event, but it still occurs. When it does, it isn't very helpful in helping you hunt down the problem.
The problem can often be traced to bad memory modules. Memory is cheap and buying extra RAM capacity is usually worth it for the performance boost.
It's not difficult to remove and install memory modules. You'll find video tutorials at all the major online memory stores.
Just remember to ground yourself when you open your computer. You don't want to fry sensitive electronics with static electricity.
3. The zombie spyware plague
A message pops up on your screen repeatedly, telling you to buy a security program. It happens so often that you can't get any work done.
Your gut tells you that this is a rip-off, and your gut is correct. The message is adware that found its way on to your system, probably through an online ad for a "free" security scan you clicked on.
If you do download - and, often, pay for - the security program, you'll end up with fraudware. No matter how many times you run the program it will always find the same problems and keep trying to get more money out of you.
Before you buy any security software, make sure it's real.
Once you have fraudware, running a real antivirus program probably won't help. To stop the pop-ups, you must run an anti-spyware program. There are a number of good ones - I'd start with Ad-Aware.
4. SD card stuck in CD/DVD slot
This is one for the Mac people. If you're distracted or pre-occupied, it's annoyingly easy to shove an SD camera card into an iMac's superdrive. The two slots are right next to each other on the right side of the computer.
You don't have to take the machine apart or ship it to a service center. The fix is easy. Cut an L-shape out of cardboard to use as a fishing hook. Slide it in and pull out the SD card.
5. Network issues
If your wireless network is dead, your router, cable or DSL modem probably crashed. It happens. Reboot the gadgets by unplugging them for 30 seconds, then plugging them back in. That usually solves the problem.
If your signal is weak or the connection is slow or drops out, there are a few tricks you can try to improve your home Wi-Fi, such as the beer-can antenna booster.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit www.komando.com. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.