Q. My computer is 7 years old. Everything seems normal when it first starts up, but the longer I use it, the slower it runs. After an hour, the wait is awful. Restarting returns it to normal, but the slowdown repeats. Help!

A. This is a challenging problem to troubleshoot. Different issues may cause this behavior.

The instant a computer starts up, it begins to use three things: CPU, disk space, and memory. The computer is designed to keep these in balance, so the computer feels fast.

Your computer should have a built-in application that lets you peek under the hood. This crystal-ball-like application is called “Task Manager” on Windows and “Activity Monitor” on Mac.

These apps present lists and gauges that show how hard the computer is working each moment.

With a little practice — and maybe a YouTube video tutorial on the basics — you can learn to make sense of the gauges.

Some are easy. If a process is always using 90% of the CPU, that is an obvious slowdown.

Some slowdowns are tougher to spot. For example, both disk space and memory are measured in gigabytes, but they are two different things entirely.

The path to fixing slowdowns is to learn what the crystal ball looks like after the computer starts, and compare it to how it looks after it slows down. That should identify the culprit, so you can make adjustments.

I wish I could be more specific, but every slowdown is unique. Good luck!


Q. What is the difference between the Do Not Disturb focus mode and the mute switch on my iPhone?

A. The official name of iPhone’s tiny mechanical switch (pushbuttons do not count) is the Ring/Silent switch. Its primary function is to keep the phone from ringing aloud. But it does more than that.

The switch is not connected to Do Not Disturb mode (the little half-moon icon). Do Not Disturb mode sends most calls directly to voicemail, silences notifications, and blacks out the screen.

When the Ring/Silent switch is positioned so the indicator underneath the toggle is red, the phone will not make noise except in very limited circumstances.

Alarms in the built-in Clock app ignore the switch. App developers can also request special permission to override the switch. This is rare, and I have yet to come upon an app that has it, but the override is intended for vital notifications, like medical alerts.

A few apps will continue working if it makes sense; for example, the music player will play music. But in general, if you see red on the switch, the phone will not make alert sounds. 

A deep dive into Settings will provide more options, but, because some settings overlap and can conflict, it gets complicated quickly. Be sure to experiment if you try out custom settings.

The bottom line: The default settings on the iPhone work very well almost all the time. To silence the phone in quiet places, flip the Ring/Silent switch to red.


Q. What is Google Fi?

A. Google Fi is a cellular carrier operated by Google. But the story only starts there. Google did not suddenly build a network of cell towers.

In a general sense, there are two types of networks in the United States: actual operators and virtual operators.

Companies like Verizon and AT&T build and maintain their own cell towers. They are actual network operators.

Google Fi is an example of a mobile virtual network operator. Virtual networks have been around a very long time, and they are “invisible” to most consumers. Virtual networks can be less expensive, but savings often come with limitations.

Because there are so many different networks, it is impossible to make universal recommendations. Buying decisions depend on the needs of each individual.

As for Google Fi itself, I am not especially impressed with its offerings compared to the plans from primary network operators like Verizon.

And Google, despite being an established technology brand, is a relative newcomer to direct end-user sales. I prefer to purchase tech products that are among the most important products each company offers.

However, Android is a key product for Google. That makes Google Fi important to watch.


Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com.

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