If your hard drive light stays on and your system is slow, it is most likely due to some or other hardware inadequacy or a full hard drive.
A computer suffering from these symptoms can be annoying as getting anything done with the machine will take a long time.
It can happen to desktop and laptop computers alike. In some rare cases, it can even occur after purchasing a brand-new computer.
The most common cause of this problem is usually a slow and cheap mechanical hard drive, or an insufficient amount of RAM has been installed. Thereafter, the other causes can be a full hard drive or malware/viruses.
Important: All the steps explained to help fix the issue in this article is based on the assumption that you aren’t trying to use a very old computer that struggles to keep up with the demands of today’s version of Windows and other software.
So let’s go through the steps to solve the issue.
Check the resource usage in Windows
We will start by opening the Task Manager and looking at the performance statistics.
From there, left-click on the ‘Performance’ tab. Now you will have all the computer’s main component’s performance information displayed.
It is highly probable that the ‘Disk 0 (C):’ drive is showing around 100% usage all the time. This means that the hard drive is working beyond its original intended use, thus delivering poor overall performance to your system.
Next, look at the ‘Memory’ item. Ideally, you would want a minimum of 16GB of RAM, and the percentage used to be less than 50% with no extra applications open or running.
If the RAM situation looks bad, you may have a problem where your RAM is below the needed amount and your hard drive.
In this case, I would also recommend removing any malware or viruses that may be present in your system before continuing.
If your CPU usage is also very high, I’d say it’s reasonable to assume that you have some sort of virus or malware.
Find out how much space you have left on your hard drive
Left-click on the ‘This PC’ icon on your desktop or on the yellow folder in the taskbar, and left-click on the ‘This PC’ item in the left column.
After doing this, you will be able to see an overview of all your drives present on your computer in the right pane.
Take a look at the ‘Local Disk (C:)’ item and see how much free space you have left.
If you have less than 15% of your space left (or the indicator bar is red), you will have to perform a drive clean-up, uninstall unused programs, and remove some old files from the drive.
Run the Disk Cleanup tool
You can run the Disk Cleanup tool by right-clicking on ‘Local Disk (C:)’ and left-clicking on ‘Properties’ in the contextual menu.
A ‘Disk Cleanup’ button will be in the newly opened panel under the ‘General’ tab. If you left-click on the button, a new panel will appear with the ability to select the items you wish to clean up.
Most items are safe to check. Just be aware of the ‘Downloads’ folder if it’s present. Having that checked will delete the contents of your Downloads folder.
Once you have run the ‘Clean up system files’ and then re-checked all the items you want to be removed once you click on ‘Ok’, it’s time to uninstall some unused software.
Uninstall unused/unwanted software
Open the Start Menu and left-click on the gear icon to open up the Settings app.
Left-click on the ‘Apps’ button.
All the installed programs on your computer will appear in a list. If you left-click on a program, you don’t want. An uninstall button will appear, giving you the option to uninstall it.
Just be careful not to remove any programs that you are unsure of. You may need the program at some point only to find that it’s gone along with any chance of reinstalling it.
Delete old or unwanted files
Open Windows File Explorer by either double-clicking on the ‘This PC’ icon on the desktop or by cleft-clicking on the yellow icon in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen.
Navigate through all your folders like Documents, Downloads, or Pictures and either back up or delete unwanted files by right-clicking on them and selecting ‘Cut’ (then paste somewhere else) or by selecting ‘Delete’ in the same contextual menu.
A handy program that shows you where all your largest files reside on your drive using a handy block graph is WinDirStat.
This will help you locate the largest files first, making your cleanup efforts more productive and as fast as possible.
Look at the hard drive specifications
Open Windows Disk Manager by either searching for it in the Start Menu or by right-clicking on the “This PC’ icon on the desktop and left-clicking on ‘Manage’.
Left-click on ‘Disk Management’ under the ‘Storage’ item listed in the left column.
Right-click on the disk that is associated with the (C:) drive and left-click on ‘Properties’. This is the grey area on the left with the disk number, drive type, and total size.
Under the General tab in the newly opened panel, the drive’s manufacturer name and model will be listed at the top.
Perform a Google search using the drive’s manufacturer name and model.
Find the corresponding manufacturer’s website listing in the search results and click on it.
Hopefully, you can look at the drive’s specifications somewhere on that landing page.
You should consider upgrading to an SSD if it’s a mechanical hard drive. I go over all the reasons why in my other article discussing if SSD’s are worth it.
At the very least, go and download a free program called Crystal Disk Info. Once you have downloaded and installed it, you will be able to check the health of your drive.
If you get any result besides good, you should back your drive up immediately and replace it as soon as possible.
Check the RAM
Quite often, a limited amount of RAM can cause a computer to slow down to a snail’s pace.
The minimum amount of RAM you would expect from any computer these days is at least 8GB.
You can find out how much RAM you have by opening the Computer Properties panel. Simply right-click on the ‘This PC’ icon and left-click on properties. Another way is to press and hold down the Windows key and tapping the ‘Pause/Break’ key.
There you will see the amount of installed RAM on your machine.
Make sure the operating system is clean
Like I’ve mentioned before, if you follow the instructions in my other article, how to stop your computer from sending automated queries, you will be taken through the steps to get rid of most of the unwanted viruses or malware that could be causing the hard drive led to stay on.
If that fails to remove all of the infections on your system, I highly recommend that you back up all of your important files on an isolated removable drive and format your entire drive and start over with a new Windows installation.
Caution: Make sure you have a good antivirus installed before copying any files back from your removable backup drive.
Check that the hard drive LED has been connected correctly
Occasionally, a hard drive LED on a desktop computer gets connected to the wrong pin header. This can cause your LED to stay on permanently and not show when your hard drive is actually reading and writing.
Although it won’t cause a slow computer, it may permanently solve the problem of the light being on.
If you download and check the connector’s location for the hard drive light in the motherboard’s manual, you can eliminate this as being the cause.
Simply find your motherboard manufacturer name and model number on the motherboard and complete a Google search to find the manufacturer’s relevant product page in the search results.
Check that the Page File is set properly
This is a setting, if it’s not configured properly, that can significantly impact your computer’s performance. Not only will you have the hard drive light staying on and the hard drive working overtime, but your system will also be very slow.
You can configure this setting by opening the System Properties panel (press the Windows key and tap the ‘Pause/Break’ key) and left-clicking on ‘Advanced System Settings’.
In the newly opened System Properties panel, left-click on advanced, then the ‘Settings’ button under the Performance section.
Left-click on the Advanced tab and under the Virtual Memory area, click on the ‘Change’ button.
Make sure the checkbox ‘Automatically manage paging file size for all drives’ is checked. Once you have checked it, click the ‘OK’ button (and the same on the other two open panels) and perform a restart as Windows will request.
You can find out more about adjusting your page file size if you wish.
While there are many things that can cause a hard drive light to stay on while having poor performance, these tips will help you eliminate most of the common problems causing these symptoms.
We have covered enough here to know that it will most likely be more serious if the problem persists after carefully going through these steps.
I recommend that you read my article on what to do if your high-end computer is running slowly in case something mentioned there could help you further.