Ten ways to speed up a slow PC

Ten ways to speed up a slow PC

Summary: If your PC or laptop is running slow, it may be time to try one of these 10 tips: from clearing out the dust to upgrading your memory or even reinstalling Windows

TOPICS: Hardware

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  • Update, update, update

    8. Update, update, update
    Ensure that both Windows and your hardware drivers are up to date — apart from bug fixes, which should make your system work better, you may be getting new features as well. Graphics card drivers in particular should be kept up to date, as performance improvements are introduced frequently.

    One tip: don't use the drivers provided by Windows update. These are often cut down, or sometimes don't even work. Go straight to your hardware vendor (be it Nvidia, AMD, Intel, Creative, Realtek, Marvell, Dell, whatever) for the official software.

    XP users can run Windows update by visiting update.microsoft.com, Windows 7 and Vista users can use the in-built Windows Update application.

    For OS X, just click the Apple icon at the top left and select Software Update.

    Don't forget your browsers
    While you're at it, update your browsers as well, especially if you're running Internet Explorer 6. Not only will updating your browser get you new features and bring you in line with the latest standards, allowing websites to render properly; optimisations are being made to JavaScript engines all the time, making modern websites faster.

    Image credit: Craig Simms/CBSi

  • Upgrade hardware individually

    9. Upgrade hardware individually
    If you can determine what part is the bottleneck in your system, a simple upgrade will be much cheaper than getting a whole new system. With laptops, your options here are pretty much limited to RAM, hard drive and wireless card, but desktop users will have a little more room to play with.

    If you've got less than 4GB of RAM, investigate adding more — with more moving online, and browsers being particularly memory hungry, having more memory is never a bad thing.

    Just be aware that if you have 4GB RAM or more, you'll need a 64-bit operating system in order to recognise and use it all — which for some people still running XP might mean an operating system upgrade as well.

    Hard drive
    The hard disk is typically the slowest part of the computer. When loading data or if you run out of RAM, your hard drive gets hit — and if it's old and slow, you're going to feel it.

    While solid-state drives (SSDs) have definitely addressed the speed issue, they're expensive compared to mechanical hard drives and are much lower in capacity. If you can only afford a mechanical hard drive, make sure to get one that's at least 7200rpm. As a basic rule of thumb, larger capacity drives at the same revolutions per minute are faster than smaller capacity drives.

    If you're finding games are a bit slow on your desktop, it may be time to update your graphics card. These days, a new graphics card will have significantly more effect on your gaming experience than an updated CPU will.

    External, upgradeable graphics on the laptop never really took off — but perhaps we'll see something emerge should Intel's Thunderbolt interface take off.

    If you're finding the wireless in your laptop slow and unreliable, it's actually quite easy to swap in a new wireless card in your laptop — it uses a standard interface called Mini PCI Express. Just be aware of a gotcha: some vendors like HP will only allow certain wireless cards to be used in their laptops for warranty and support issues. Others, like Dell, will accept pretty much anything. If you've got a laptop that doesn't like alternative wireless cards, you can always get a high-end USB wireless adaptor that should improve performance greatly.

    If you've got a friendly laptop, it's a simple case (which, depending on the laptop, may involve removing layers of equipment, admittedly) of disconnecting the antenna wire, removing the old card, putting in the new one, reattaching the wire and then installing appropriate drivers. The hard bit is finding someone that will sell you a decent chip.

    Also consider the age of your router — wireless technology is improving all the time, and the more expensive routers generally do provide superior wireless performance. Just remember there's no such thing as a good router brand — stick to models that have had a good response in reviews and online.

    Image credit: Armin Hanisch, royalty free

  • Last ditch options

    10. Last ditch options

    Reinstall Windows
    Is everything still running slow? It might be time to back up all your files, format your hard drive and then reinstall Windows from scratch. While modern operating systems reduce the frequency with which this is needed, sometimes it's just the only sane way to return things back to how snappy they once were. Plan out at least a day, triple check everything is backed up and that you have some way of getting online in case things go wrong — then dive in.

    If you've got a desktop, you'll need your original Windows installation disc. If you've got a laptop, though, you very likely have a recovery partition — somewhere on your hard drive where your manufacturer stores the original state that your laptop arrived in. Usually you can access this by loading Windows's built-in recovery environment, often launched by holding (or in most cases, repeatedly hammering) the proper key from boot. While it can change from laptop to laptop, here's a "rule of thumb" chart for what needs to be done on a brand-by-brand basis to get into the recovery environment.

    Acer Press F8 at the Windows boot menu, select "Repair your computer"
    Alienware Download and run Alien Respawn in Windows. It can sometimes be found in the Alien Autopsy program.
    Apple (OS X Lion and newer) While restarting, hold down the Command + R until the Apple logo shows.
    Asus Press F9 at the BIOS loading screen.
    Dell Press F8 at the Windows boot menu, select "Repair your computer"
    Fujitsu Press F12 at the BIOS loading screen.
    HP Press Esc at the BIOS loading screen, then F11 for HP Recovery
    Lenovo Run OneKey Recovery software from within Windows
    MSI Press F3 at the BIOS loading screen
    Samsung Press F4 at the BIOS loading screen
    Toshiba Press F8 at the Windows boot menu, select "Repair your computer"

    You should then be walked through the process of recovering Windows. There are usually two options, to keep your files or to wipe everything and start again; despite the time it'll take to set up everything again, you'll most likely get the most speed out of the latter option.

    It's still slow!
    If all the above didn't work, perhaps it's time to finally admit what you own is old hat, and to get a brand new system with much faster parts and a spanking new Windows 7 64-bit operating system. Or a Mac — whatever floats your boat.

    As a positive, if you buy a PC these days, it will last you significantly longer performance-wise than it would even five years ago, and battery life has improved greatly for laptop users. Even price has dropped massively across the board in the last five years.

    Image credit: Alienware

    This story originally appeared as 10 ways to fix a slow PC on ZDNet Australia.

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Topic: Hardware

Craig Simms

About Craig Simms

Focusing on PC hardware, accessories and business products, Craig Simms is responsible for identifying new opportunities for the reviews channels on CNET Australia and ZDNet Australia, to better serve the readers. He has written about a vast range of technology since 2001, covering the gamut from print to online, hardware to software, consumer to enthusiast, the gaming world to workstations.

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