The quickest, simplest way to speed up an old, tired PC

Got an old PC? Here's how to breathe new life into your old desktop system.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

It's a fact of life that PCs get slower and more sluggish over time, as we expect aging hardware to rise to the challenges of newer operating systems and applications.

But eventually, PCs get to the point where they need some care and feeding. The method of rejuvenation I used to recommend was to add more RAM.

But not any more.

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Over the past few weeks I've been working on upgrading some of the aging systems here at the PC Doc HQ. These systems average about five years old, but all were already kitted out with lots of RAM -- ranging from 8GB all the way to 32GB -- and what would have at the time of purchase been considered high-end processors.

But these systems had grown to the point where they were slow and sluggish.

So where was the speed bump?

I figured it would be the hard drives. And I was right.

I just happened to have some old solid state drive laying about the place -- some a 256GB Integral drive, a couple of 460GB Intel drives, and a really tasty terabyte OWC Mercury Electra 6G drive -- so I decided to see what effect upgrading the primary drive would have on the systems.

It was like night and day.

Doing nothing other than migrating the operating system over from the hard drive to the SSD unit -- more on how I did this in a moment -- boot times went from the 30 to 60 second mark to under 10 seconds, and the responsiveness of Windows 10 on initially logging into the system went from awful to awesome, with the systems being immediately usable.

And all this was accomplished without removing a megabyte of cruft or detritus that had accumulated on the systems.

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So you want to try this at home?

If you want to do this yourself you'll need the following:

  • An SSD.
  • Depending on your PC, you may need a 5.25-inch or 3.5-inch tray to fit in a bay designed for a hard drive or optical drive (some SSD kits come with these parts).
  • A #1 Phillips screwdriver.
  • A tool for carrying out the migration (I used the free MiniTool PartitionWizard Free Edition, which performed flawlessly).
  • A basic understanding of how to fit and remove storage drives.
  • A knowledge of how your BIOS works, specifically setting which drive the system boots up from (there are so many different kinds that I can't help, so find do a web search for the manual for your motherboard).

Tip: A quick way to find out what your motherboard is to fire up a Command Prompt and use the Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line tool. To do that, type:

wmic baseboard get product,manufacturer,version

The quickest, simplest way to speed up an old, tired PC

The process is pretty simple:

  • Open up the PC and fit the new drive.
  • Fire up the Windows Disk Management tool (press Windows Key+R on your keyboard to launch the Run dialog box and then type diskmgmt.msc and press Enter).
  • Find the new drive, which will be marked as "unknown" and "Not initialized" in the listing of drives at the bottom of the Disk Management window, and then right-click on where it says "unknown" and choose Initialize Disk and then follow the prompts.
  • Download, install, and then launch MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition.
  • Click on Migrate OS to SSD/HD in toolbar and follow the prompts.
The quickest, simplest way to speed up an old, tired PC
  • When the migration process is done -- this will take some time, maybe as much as a few hours -- then you will need to set the system BIOS to boot up off the SSD.
  • You can, if you want, remove the old drive, or keep it in the system, wipe it, and use it for storage.

Tip: Swapping a drive will not trigger a Windows reactivation.

So will this work for you?

Having tried it with a range of SSDs (ranging in performance from basic to high-end), and across a range of systems (from dual-core to dual-socket), I'm pretty confident that anyone moving from a hard drive to an SSD will see serious performance gains, even when RAM is down at the 2GB levels (below that and RAM does become quite a limiting factor, but if you're running Windows 10 then you ideally need 2GB).

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