There are few things as frustrating as trying to work and play on a particularly slow computer. A computer that was once fast and responsive can slowly reduce to a crawl over weeks, months or years of usage, but there are methods to make your computer faster again, many of which do not cost any money. This article focuses on Windows PCs. While the exact mechanics may vary between different versions of Windows, the fundamental principles still apply.
Basic Steps for Faster Performance
Before working through some of the more technical fixes for making a computer faster, there are some basic steps that you can take.
- Performance Settings: Especially in the case of laptops, computers may come with different performance modes. The Power Saver Mode on a notebook computer is designed to optimize battery life at the cost of sacrificing performance. For the fastest possible experience, choose the Performance mode if available. This may be accessed via the taskbar in the lower-right corner or via software installed by the computer's manufacturer.
- Drivers and Updates: Keeping a computer as up-to-date as possible can help it run more quickly as well. Check to see if you have any outdated drivers or if you are missing any Windows updates. The former may need to be done for each piece of hardware, while the latter can be accessed through the Windows Update utility that comes pre-installed with the operating system.
- System Usage: Access the Windows Task Manager by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Del at the same time. This will display all the currently running applications. By clicking on the Performance tab, you can monitor the level of processor (CPU) usage as well as the amount of memory (RAM) usage. Keep this window open as you conduct some regular tasks and operations. If either usage level stays too high (over 90%) for too long (a few minutes), it may mean you will require further optimization or hardware upgrades.
- Internet Speed: Sometimes it's not the computer that is slow, but it is rather the Internet connection speed or the speed of the individual website being loaded. Try visiting different sites to see if the speed is affected and try connecting to different networks, both wired and wireless, to check too. The Speedtest tool by Ookla is a great way to measure this.
- Google Chrome: Related to the previous point, Internet speed can also be affected by the web browser. The Chrome browser by Google is one of the fastest and may provide a smoother experience than Internet Explorer or Firefox.
- Dust: A clean machine is a faster machine and dust can affect the cooling efficiency of the computer. Use cans of compressed air to clean out the dust from within your system. Opening up a desktop tower is generally a straightforward affair and it is usually best to utilize the compressed air when the computer is powered down. In the case of laptops, spraying compressed air at the intake and exhaust vents can have similar benefits.
Software Cleanup and Optimizations
From a software perspective, many things can be done to optimize a computer's performance.
- Startup Programs: Over time, an increasing number of programs may launch themselves each time you start Windows. These are accumulated from software installations and default settings. Open the Start Menu and type in msconfig, selecting that utility from the list of results. Check the "Startup" tab for all the items that run automatically when you start Windows. Uncheck any items that you no longer use and restart your computer to allow the new settings to take effect.
- Background Operations: Related to the previous point, any programs and operations that are running in the background use your computer's resources, even if you are not actively using them. These can be found through the Windows Task Manager, which can be accessed by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Del, as well as by checking the system tray in the lower-right corner. Close extraneous programs like instant messengers or multifunction printer managers if you are not using them.
- Viruses Protection: Ironically, one of the biggest resource drains on a computer is an overly robust anti-virus program that is constantly running in the background. Active scans can be even more draining. As powerful as the solutions from Norton or McAfee may be, they can slow down your computer. Instead, consider the free Windows Defender solution.
- Viruses and Malware: It is important to prevent or eliminate viruses and malware from your computer, as they are harmful and can slow the machine. There is also a lot of software to remove spyware available.
- Temporary Files: It is important to clean the contents of your computer from time to time, eliminating temporary files that are no longer needed. Empty the Recycle Bin periodically. Use the free CCleaner software to clear out browsing histories, cookies and other temporary data. Finally, run a disk cleanup by opening My Computer, right-clicking on your hard-drive, choosing Properties, and clicking on the Disk Cleanup button.
- Disk Errors: Also in the disk Properties window, there is a tab called Tools. One of the tools available checks the drive for errors, which may be slowing down your computer. Perform this error check periodically.
- Defragment Files: Over time, the files saved on your hard drive get allocated in an increasingly less efficient manner, exerting additional strain on the drive and reducing performance. That's what is called a fragmented drive. There is a tool is for defragmentation in the disk properties window. Complete this task periodically.
- Hard Drive Space: Even though a hard drive can supply a certain amount of storage, it becomes less efficient the fuller it becomes. A hard drive should never be filled to capacity and it should have at least 15% of free space available. Delete any files and folders that you no longer need (or back them up to an external drive) and un-install any software that you no longer use.
Upgrading the hardware on a computer can naturally boost performance.
- Hard Drive: If you find that you are running out of space, it may be time to invest in a larger hard drive for your computer. This will allow for more free space, which will in turn help to improve performance. In the case of a desktop (and certain laptops), having multiple hard drives can also be advantageous, loading media files on one drive and applications on another. Not all hard drives are made alike, so check the speeds (e.g., 7200rpm vs 5400rpm) and read reviews regarding performance and reliability.
- Solid State Drive: Although more expensive than a conventional hard drive, solid state drives (SSDs) can be substantially faster. In a multi-drive configuration, it is best to load software applications on the SSD and media files on the hard drive.
- More RAM: While hard drives and SSDs are designed for storage, RAM (random access memory) acts as the physical, working or operating memory of the computer. It is akin to short-term memory in humans. If the performance monitor in Windows Task Manager is showing that you are utilizing a high percentage of your current memory, it may be time to upgrade your existing RAM modules or simply add more RAM.
- CPU and GPU: The central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU or 'graphics card') are the brains of your computer. Depending on the types of tasks that you do, either the CPU or the GPU could be acting as a bottleneck. In the case of gaming and video editing, upgrading to a more powerful graphics card can have a more dramatic impact than upgrading the CPU, while the reverse may be true for different kinds of tasks.
Fixing a Computer Is Cheaper Than Replacing It
Just because your computer has slowed doesn't mean that it needs to be replaced. By going through some of the steps described above, the performance and speed of your computer can drastically improve, providing a far more pleasant and efficient experience. Just don't forget to donate your old computer to charity when it finally is time for you to upgrade to a new computer altogether.