Even if you have a lot of computer experience, it can be tough to tell why your Surface is running slow just by looking at it. There are methods you can use to troubleshoot your Surface RT/2 or Surface Pro/Pro2 to see why your Surface is running slow.
Microsoft offers advice on troubleshooting slowness issues here but their advice escalates a little too quickly for my tastes. I would do a few other things first, before I resorted to wiping my settings and starting again.
So, I’m going to lay out how I would figure out why a Surface is running slow without resorting to restoring or refreshing your Surface so soon. I recommend doing these things in the order I’m presenting them but there’s no technical reason you have to do so.
OK, let’s get started…
1st thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Check your expectations
Are your expectations too high? Seriously. Are you simply asking too much of your Surface?
This is particularly true if you’re running a Surface RT or Surface 2. Both of these machines are running lower-end, energy efficient processors with less RAM than the Surface Pro/Pro2 tablets. While that does give you long battery life, the downside is that they’re not as powerful. So, some things that run fine on your desktop Windows 8 machine may struggle on your Surface RT/2 (some games, for example).
The Enterprise Syndrome: This is a term I’ve used for years. It refers to unrealistic expectations of computer performance based on science fiction shows like Star Trek. In Star Trek, it’s common for the USS Enterprise computer to perform highly complex calculations or solve almost unsolvable problems over the span of a commercial break.
As a result, some people start believing that their brand new computer should be able to perform just as well. Intellectually, people understand that it’s an unfair comparison but it still leads to frustration with their computing device.
So, make sure you’re not suffering from “The Enterprise Syndrome” and that your Surface is actually slowing down before you spend a lot of time and frustration trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist.
2nd thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Close running applications
The ease with which you can switch applications in Windows 8 has a downside; it’s incredibly easy to end up with a lot of open applications that may slow down your tablet. Fortunately, this is easy to fix.
- In Metro, simply swipe in from the left to switch to running applications.
- Close anything you don’t need by swiping from the top to the bottom of the screen. If you have a mouse, right-click and close.
- If you have several applications running in Desktop, you should close them by tapping the close button (the red “X” in the upper right corner of each window). Just closing the desktop window doesn’t necessarily close all the running processes.
- Bring up the search charm and search for “Task Manager”. This will bring up a list of running apps and processes in Desktop mode.
- Tap and hold applications you want to close to bring up the right-click menu.Tap End Task to close individual applications.
3rd thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Restart
Like just about every previous version of Windows, sometimes all you need to do is restart your computer. It’s easy enough and since Windows 8.1 restarts pretty quickly it’s not as much of a pain as it used to be. (I’m assuming you have Windows 8.1 installed)
- From the Start screen, swipe in from the right edge of the screen.
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Power, and then tap Restart.
4th thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Run updates
In contrast to some opinions, Microsoft is always trying to improve the way Windows 8.x works. As a result, there are periodic updates that improve performance or fix a bugs that might be slowing your system down. So, the next thing you should do is ensure your Surface has all of the latest updates.
- Make sure you’ve saved anything that needs to be saved as your Surface may need to be restarted as part of the update procedure.
- Swipe from right-side to get Charms menu.
- Select Settings from Charms menu.
- Tap Change PC settings.
- Tap Update and Recovery.
- Tap Check now.
- If any updates are available, install them by tapping the Install button.
5th thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Check disk space
This one is often overlooked but if your Surface is still running slowly, the problem might be low disk space. In general, Windows runs best when there is, at least, 10% free space left on the disk. Check how much space you have by doing the following:
- In desktop mode, tap on the Windows Explorer explorer from the task bar.
- Tap and hold “Windows (C:) under the “This PC” item on the left side of the screen to bring up the right click menu.
- Select Properties. The Drive Properties windows will appear.
If you have less than 10% free space, check out my posts for freeing up some space.
6th thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Windows Defender
If you’ve gotten to this point, then it’s possible your machine has picked up some malware. It’s more likely to happen to Surface Pro/Pro2 machines (because they aren’t limited to apps in the Windows Store) but it’s not out of the question for Surface RT/2 tablets. To see if that’s the case, you should probably do a full scan with Windows Defender to see if it detects anything.
- From the search charm, search for “Defender” then tap on the Windows Defender item that appears.
- The Windows Defender window will appear in Desktop Mode. Select Full under “Scan Options”.
- Tap Scan Now.
It can take a while to complete, so make sure your Surface is plugged in to ensure it doesn’t run out of battery before the scan finishes.
If Windows defender finds something then you should proceed directly to the Restore or Refresh item below and perform a restore of your machine.
I may be a bit paranoid but I would also think about changing passwords at this point. In particular, things like your online banking passwords and email. Sometimes, it’s best to play it safe. Remember: “Just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”
7th thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Resource Monitor
The next thing to try is to see what’s running on your Surface as a runaway app or background process. This requires a little bit of technical knowledge to do correctly; so, if you’re not comfortable doing it, find someone to help you.
It’s possible that you have installed applications (especially on the Surface Pro/Pro2) that are less than optimally coded. As a result, they may be hogging a lot of CPU or RAM causing your slowdown.
One of the easier ways to check for this is to use Resource Monitor. To start Resource Monitor, do the following.
- Close all open applications by doing a restart of the machine or closing everything manually.
- From the search charm, search for “resmon” then tap on the resmon.exe item that appears.
- The Resource Monitor window will appear in desktop mode. It will look a lot like this.
From here, you can look at what applications or processes are impacting four key areas:
There’s a short tutorial on how to use Resource Monitor to troubleshoot performance issues on the TechNet blog that will get you started. There are two parts to the tutorial:
If you find a process that’s eating up a lot of resources in one or more of the categories, you can close it by going to the appropriate tab (CPU, Memory, Disk or, Network) and ending the process. For this example, I’m killing the lucky.recorder.exe process from the CPU tab.
- Pick the appropriate tab.
- Tap and hold the offending item to bring up the right-click menu then tap End Process Tree to kill the process and its child processes.
- A warning dialog will appear. Tap End process tree.
- Next check to see if the performance issues went away. If so, figure out which installed application it’s part of and uninstall it. If not, check for more offending processes.
In general, you should only try to kill processes in blue. The processes in black are usually needed by the system. If you happen to try to end a system process that Windows needs, you’ll get this error popup:
It’s possible that your Surface may start acting weird after you kill a process (even if it’s not needed by the system). If this happens, simply restart your Surface and it will sort itself out.
Last thing to try if your Surface is running slow: Restore, refresh or reset
As a last resort, you can do a restore, refresh, or reset of your Surface tablet. It’s kind of a drastic measure but it does generally work very effectively. You can find instructions for doing so on Microsoft’s website: Restore, refresh or reset your PC.
It’s probably best to try a restore first (if you already have backups setup) then escalating to refreshing your Surface next.
I would only do a reset if I had no other choice, since it will wipe out all of your data and restore the machine back to “out of the box” configuration. As a result, you may lose data or, at a minimum, reconfigure your Surface to get it back the way you want it.
Hopefully, these steps help you solve the performance problems you’re having with your Surface. As you saw, we doubled the number of things to try before resorting to refreshing or restoring your Surface back to factory settings. But, hopefully, you didn’t have to go that far.
Please let me know if these suggestions helped you solve your Surface performance issues or if not, what else you may have tried so we can all learn from your experiences.
Tim Rolston is a professional geek with over 23 years of experience working in Information Technology and dealing with everything from large-scale storage to remote systems management and automation for organizations such as Texas Instruments, Mobil Oil, and the University of Michigan (where he was an Academic IT Director).
He co-founded JTRTech along with Joanna to realize his long-time dream of working for himself.