A new PC always impresses with the speed at which it starts and runs Windows and other software, but it is noticeably slower after being used for some time.
Computers slow down over time and what was once a fast system can become slow and irritating to use after a couple of years.
It is frustrating the way computers can take several minutes to start up or shut down and everything slows to a crawl. Eventually they become so bad that you might even give up completely and buy a new computer.
Fortunately, there are ways of tackling the lethargy to restore most of your PCs original speed, which means you not need spend any money on a new one. This prolongs the life of the computer and reduces the annoyance factor that inevitably builds when using old hardware.
We will look at five ways you can speed up a Windows PC, but Apple Macs suffer from the same problem too and the solutions are similar as well.
Here is how to speed up Windows 7 and other versions
- Clean up Windows
Part of the reason why old PCs take so long to start is because of all the programs and utilities you have installed. Reducing the number of applications, which start-up when Windows boots, enables you to get to the desktop faster and increases the memory available.
At the right side of the taskbar, click the arrow to display the notification icons. Each is a program that loads with Windows. Some are essential, antivirus software for example, but others may not be. Right click each one and if there is a Settings menu, select it and turn off the option to start automatically with Windows. Some programs, such as Google Drive, can be manually started when they are needed instead of running all the time.
Press Windows Button + R Key and type in msconfig and click Ok or press enter. Select the Services tab, tick ‘Hide all Microsoft services’ and see what is left. There may be services you can live without and clearing the tick box prevents them from running. For example, Firefox works perfectly well without the Mozilla Maintenance Service.
On the Startup tab, click Task Manager in Windows 8, are lots of programs that start with Windows. Knowing what to disable is not easy, but you can use Google to search for items and see if they are necessary, useful or neither of those.
Recent versions of Windows automatically defragment the disk, but Microsoft’s tool is basic and there are better defragmenters that boost performance even more. Programs including O&O Defrag (oo-software.com) are excellent, but IObit’s Smart Defrag 3 (iobit.com) is nearly as good and is free.
- Remove everything and reinstall to restore original performance
The ultimate speed up technique is to reinstall Windows. This removes all unwanted software that slows down the PC, erases adware and other malware, clears out junk files and so on.
A Windows disc is needed for old versions of Windows, but Windows 8 has a built in Refresh option that makes the job easy. Bring up the Charms bar on the right side of the screen and click Settings, Change PC settings. Click Update and recovery, then Recovery. Under Refresh your PC without affecting your files, click Get started. Personal files – photos, music and documents – are kept, so it is not a complete refresh, but it may be enough for most people.
A more powerful option is Remove everything and reinstall Windows. Copy files you want to keep to a USB drive before starting though.
- Update everything
Drivers are programs that enable Windows to access hardware components like the video, sound, printer, scanner, webcam, and so on. Out of date drivers, programs, and Windows itself can cause the computer to run slowly. Faulty drivers for example, stop Windows shutting down or cause it to start more slowly. Video card drivers are often updated to fix bugs and boost performance, and it is always a good idea to check that you have the latest version.
Even if Windows updates are automatic, go to Windows Update in the Control Panel and manually check for updates. Only essential ones are installed automatically and there may be useful optional ones available.
Updating certain drivers can be a pain in the arse and you have to identify the hardware, the drivers and version numbers, the hardware manufacturer’s website and the download page. Take a shortcut by using free tools such as SlimDrivers (slimwareutilities.com) or Driver Booster Free (iobit.com). These do all the work for you and they are like Windows Update for drivers. They identify the current drivers, check if there are updates, and then download and install them for you. They solve a lot of problems.
- Free up disk space
Your PC hard disk slows down as it fills up and uninstalling software helps to free up space giving more room for Windows to work faster. Disk space can be recovered by using Ccleaner (piriform.com), Anti Tracks Free Edition (giantmatrix.com), Advanced SystemCare 7 Free (iobit.com) and others.
There is a right way and a wrong way to use these though. Select just a few items and clean them, making sure the app backs up the changes. If the PC is working OK, go ahead and clean a few more items, but if it is not, restore the backup. Do not clean everything in one go because if something goes wrong you won’t know where the problem is.
Many PCs have too much software, such as programs that are no longer used and they can be uninstalled to free up disk space. You could go to the Control Panel, open Programs and Features, and then uninstall software you have not used in the last six months.
Better still are free utilities such as IObit Uninstaller 3 (iobit.com), Revo Uninstaller (revouninstaller.com), and Wise Program Uninstaller (wisecleaner.com). They do a better job of removing software because in addition to removing the program itself, they clean the disk and registry.
Some programs install lots of files into Windows and they can have a detrimental effect on performance. To keep Windows clean and fast you should avoid installing anything. Of course, you need software, but there are many portable apps that do not need installing. A good source of software is portableapps.com. Click Get Apps and you will find office software, graphics and photo editors, utilities, internet, music and video and more. It is not the only place to find portable software, but it is a good place to start.
- Install better software
Sometimes it is possible to improve the PCs performance by installing better software. The speed difference between Internet Explorer 8 and Chrome on Windows XP is huge, so it is a must-have upgrade. Chrome is still the fastest web browser even on Windows 8 and is the one we recommend for performance.
Smaller, lightweight programs are often faster than big, full featured applications. Do you really need Word or is WordPad sufficient for your writing tasks? Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 requires 3GB of disk space, but LibreOffice (libreOffice.org) and Kingsoft Office (kingsoftstore.co.uk) work in just 300MB and are nearly as good. You need 4GB of disk space to install Adobe Photoshop Elements, but only 40MB for Paint.NET (getpaint.net) and 150MB for GIMP (gimp.org). They could be all you need for photo editing. Use alternativeto.net to find alternatives to popular software.
The speed at which games run is highly dependent on the screen resolution and special effects used. Some games provide options to select the screen mode and to turn off some effects that tax the processor and video card. This can make a slow game more playable by increasing the frame rate.
- Upgrade the hardware
All of the techniques discussed so far for speeding up the PC take you only so far. They restore the original PCs performance, but this may not be sufficient.
An old PC might not be capable of running the latest game or other software you want to use. A five year old model will struggle with the latest games, apps and operating system. For this reason, a hardware upgrade may be required and this will boost the performance of the PC beyond its original specification and narrow the gap between your current PC and latest ones.
Many old PCs suffer from too little memory and this is the first component to consider upgrading. 2GB of RAM is the absolute minimum these days but 4GB or 8GB is recommended to boost performance.
Memory suppliers including crucial.com/uk have tools on their website that identify what type of RAM you need. It shows the maximum the PC or laptop can take and this is the best upgrade you can perform.
Before you purchase any memory though, examine your PC or laptop because some are easy to upgrade, but others are hard. Buying RAM online and installing it yourself is the cheapest option, but if you are not confident in your DIY skills, local computer shops can do it.
A Solid State Disk drive (SSD) is another great way to boost performance. You need to clone the old disk drive onto the new SSD before installing it. This is achieved by plugging the SSD into the PC USB port and running a program on the PC. A special cable and software might be supplied with the SSD, but if not, they are available to purchase.
Upgrading the graphics card is a great way to speed up games, but the benefits to other software is limited. Top-of-the-range video cards are big, so before ordering the latest Nvidia or AMD model, check it will fit the case. Space, the size of the PC power supply and other factors limit your options and full height/dual slot video cards are for big PCs with lots of space, and low profile single slot cards are for compact PCs.