One of the best things about a new computer is the speed. It boots fast, opens programs like a dream and generally doesn’t leave you checking your watch.
Of course, the longer you use a computer, the slower it gets. It’s tempting to buy a new computer or call a professional, but I wouldn’t just yet. You can get back most of the speed with a few free tricks. They’re simple enough for anyone to do, and your wallet will thank you.
Keep software up to date
Make sure all your software is up to date. This includes web browsers, applications, drivers for devices such as printers and, most importantly, Windows itself, as Microsoft issues regular updates to plug security holes or fix glitches in the operating system.
Regularly defragment your hard drive
When your PC saves a large file to the hard drive, it breaks it into smaller pieces and stores them across several locations. This means the hard drive works slightly slower. Windows 7’s Disk Defragmenter tool, for example, reorganises this data in a more logical fashion, so your computer performs quicker.
Check for viruses and other malware Run your antivirus software regularly. Viruses can slow down your computer and cause data loss, while spyware can compromise security by monitoring your activity and collecting information about you. Launch your antivirus software and make sure it’s up to date. Then run a full scan of your hard disk.
Spring clean your web browser
Every time you visit a webpage, your web browser stores or ‘caches’ it as a small file in your Temporary Internet Files folder. Over time, the volume of these files can build up. Periodically clearing out your browser’s cache will help it to work faster when loading pages and reduce the amount of valuable disk space these cached files take up. In most browsers these settings can be found within the History menu, labelled something along the lines of Clear browsing data or Clear cache & cookies.
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Limit startup programs
How fast your computer starts up depends on several things, including the hardware you’re using, the version of Windows installed and how many programs are also scheduled to start up when Windows does. Here’s how you can take control of it.
Many programs will start running invisibly in the background when you turn on your computer, slowing down the system startup time and potentially causing software crashes. Yet, you can easily disable programs that you don’t need to start straight away: Click Start, type msconfig in the search bar and press Enter.
In the System Configuration window, click the Startup tab. From the list of programs that appears, untick the box next to those you don’t need to launch automatically at startup. Only deselect programs that you don’t use regularly or know that you don’t need. Click Apply and then click OK. Now restart your system. For a more in-depth look at how to improve startup speed, check out our full advice guide on the Which? Tech Daily blog here.
Get rid of unwanted programs
Speed increases don’t end with startup times. You’ll want to make sure that your computer is running fast when you’re using it, too. Here’s a few key pointers. Free up storage space and memory by uninstalling programs that you don’t use. These may include trial versions of software that came with the computer when you bought it, out-of-date antivirus programs, old software or games that you no longer play. Click Start > Control Panel > Uninstall a program. From the list of programs that appears, click the program you want to uninstall, then click Uninstall.
Remove temporary files
Window’s Disk Clean-up utility can help boost your computer’s performance by removing temporary files and unnecessary system files: Click Start. In the search box, type disk clean up and, from the list of results that appears, click Disk Clean-up. In the list of Drives, click the hard disk drive that you want to clean. For most people this will be the C: drive. Click OK. In the Disk Clean-up box, select the type of files that you want to delete and then click OK and then click Delete files.
Despite the expectation of a digital clean slate, brand new PCs often come preloaded with all kinds of unnecessary programs known as ‘bloatware’. It’s perfectly normal to accrue more of it as you install more and more programs throughout the life of your PC. Many preinstalled bloatware programs can be uninstalled easily, but the trick lies in knowing what can be safely removed and what you should keep. If you find programs installed on your computer that you’ve never used, and have no intention of using, these could be bloatware that you can easily uninstall. If, by accident, you uninstall something useful, don’t worry – your PC should have been supplied with discs containing backup copies, so you can always reinstall the programs.
Extra web browser toolbars are a classic example of bloatware. These sometimes come preinstalled with your PC, and many downloadable applications will attempt to add unnecessary toolbars. Toolbars typically appear at the top of your browser window, and often provide their own search box. Uninstalling toolbars can be done in the same way as other software. Look out for toolbars when installing other programs. Unusually, you will be offered the choice to opt out by un-ticking a tick box.
Speed up your startup
The most annoying computer slowdown for most people is startup. Even new computers can take a few minutes to start. After years of use, it can seem like hours.
Your computer spends much of that time starting third-party programs. Security software, printer software and driver updaters are just a few examples. The frustrating part is that many of these don’t need to run at startup.
is a freebie that can help reduce the load. It finds and disables unneeded programs so they don’t slow you down. But it won’t stop important startup processes, like security software.
Startup Delayer is a good program if you want more control. You can tell what programs to start when. That way, they’re not fighting for system resources.
If you have a Windows 7 or 8 computer, you might invest in a solid-state hard drive (SSD). These are much faster than conventional hard drives. It can bring your startup times to well under a minute.
SSDs are still small and expensive — a 128 gigabyte SSD costs $110 to $150 — but that’s less than a new computer. Before you put down any money, however, read on.
Clean the clutter
Another thing that slows down your computer is a cluttered hard drive.
In the past, you had to worry about a full hard drive. Thanks to modern large-capacity drives, filling the space isn’t easy.
Still, even coming close can slow down your system. So, if you have less than five gigabytes of free space, it’s time to clean.
Use a free disk-visualizing program such as WinDirStat
to see what applications and files are taking up the most space. Move space-hogging files you need to an external drive and delete the ones you don’t.
Grab Revo Uninstaller
to thoroughly remove any programs you don’t use anymore. Zap unused trial software and other unwanted bloatware with PC Decrapifier
Even if you have plenty of space, clutter can still slow things down. Plenty of programs create temporary files they have to sort through later. Get rid of temporary files with the free program CCleaner
You might have duplicate music or photo files clogging up your programs. Use a program like CloneSpy
to remove them quickly.
Pick up the pieces
Files on a hard drive aren’t like files in a filing cabinet. On a hard drive, files become fragmented. Bits and pieces of them get scattered around the drive. This increases the time your computer takes to open them.
That’s why there are defragmenting programs. These assemble the pieces so they’re easier to find.
With Windows Vista, 7 and 8 this isn’t such a big deal anymore. They run the built-in defragmenter automatically on a schedule.
To check when it runs, go to Start, or go to the Start Screen in Windows 8. In the search bar, type “defrag” (minus quotes). This will either bring up the defragmenter program or a list where you can select it.
Check when it ran last and when it’s scheduled to run. Usually it’s set for early morning. If your computer isn’t usually on then, change it to a different time. You can also run it manually.
In Windows XP, you’ll have to run the defragmenter manually. Open My Computer and right-click on your main drive. Then choose Properties.
Go to the Tools tab and choose Defragment Now, then click Defragment. It will take a while, so sit back and relax.
One exception to defragging is if you have a solid-state hard drive. These work in a different way and don’t have this problem. In fact, running a defragmenter on an SSD will shorten its life. Windows 7 and 8 will detect an SSD and turn off defragmenting automatically.
Boost your browsing
Your computer runs fast, but loading websites leaves you twiddling your thumbs. What gives?
First, make sure you’re getting the Internet speed you paid for. The free serviceSpeedtest
will give you the real scoop on your Internet connection.
If you suspect the problem is in your wireless network, you can tweak your router’s settings to eliminate hang-ups and bottlenecks.
If your wireless signal is weak or your home has dead spots, try putting your router in a central location. Also, move it away from walls and metal objects.
It might turn out that it isn’t your connection, but your browser. On Vista or 7, the fix for that could be as simple as upgrading Internet Explorer to version 9 or higher. Do this from Start>>Control Panel>>Windows Update.
Getting rid of unneeded browser toolbars, like Babylon, will also speed things up. These often come attached to free software. You can remove these manually in the browser add-on settings, or use a program like Toolbar Cleaner
Speaking of unwanted programs, viruses can seriously slow down your system. They might be busy recording everything you do, or sending out spam.