My PC is barely breathing, please help the noob!

Long time reader, first time poster so I hope I've done it in the proper place, feel free to tell me if I haven't. I belong to many sites and I believe in following the "rules of the house". I'll try to keep this brief, I've spent dozens of hours trying to do it on my own, reading forums, and more, so please don't tell me to read the many posts covering the topic, I'm 47 and smart enough to have tried to search out the answers myself before bothering the "pros". So...I have a gateway media center GT5012 2.8 gig with 3 gigs of ram (though my pc appears to not "see" one of the memory cards I installed), shouldn't matter though, only using 38 gigs of my 232 in C drive. Anyway, my PC is barely responding to mouse clicks (this is not mouse related, 110% certain) and when I do manage to open any box and begin to type, nothing happens for a minute or more. I have aol, explorer and firefox on my system and it's twice as bad when in aol, but still affecting me even when I'm simply tagging desktop icons. I run norton AV and spysweeper, haven't picked up anything but innocuous cookies, come to think of it, my regular Norton scans seem to return nothing, and with the amount of time I spend online, this shouldn't be. I download risky P2P files, I should be picking up at least some "nasties". What I've tried, spybot, ccleaner and even launched a hijackthis report, but it was too complicated for me so I didn't continue.
I don't use reg cleaners of any kind, ever. I crashed 2 hard drives using them, learned my lesson. Can you guys please help me with some suggestions getting my pc running better? I'd be willing to wipe it out and start over, but would prefer not to. I'm on disability now and work on the internet, pc speed is everything to my side biz (auctions). I'd be so very grateful for your suggestions (don't bother telling me how crappy aol is, I said I'm 47 which means I can read, but I'm a creature of habit, I am trying to get comfortable using firefox to ditch aol, but don't like the way "my favorites" is laid out anywhere but aol (it's right on the page, no pain in the butt drop-downs to navigate, like I said, speed is crucial in auctions) Thanks so much for your valuable time in advance, I like having a roof over my little boys head and a poorly running PC can change that.
Fond regards
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More about barely breathing noob
  1. Consider taking the system to a shop and having a bench tech go over it.
  2. Run through the malware guide in my signature.

    You can use ccleaner to clean up windows, browser, and other temp files. It's got a registry cleaner that is trustworthy. You can choose to backup the registry before it fixes the issues, if you'd like. It'll ask you if you want to back it up.

    Run the windows defrag.

    Start-->run-->chkdsk /r <--say yes to the pop up, and it will schedule a chkdsk for the next time you restart, and fix any errors it finds.

    After running through all that, you should see noticeable improvement.
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