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Six Clicks: Cheap or free upgrades to squeeze more power from any PC

Want more speed? These performance tips will work for any PC running Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8.
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1 of 7 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Want more speed?

"This PC is so slow!"

This is a cry that's been uttered by PC users since, well, PCs were first invented.

Since we don't think that there's anyone out there who wouldn't like to squeeze a little more performance out of their PC, we've pulled together six top tips that will help you get the most out of your Windows PC, without having to spend a fortune.

These tips will work for any PC running Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.  

Get rid of the junk >>

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Get rid of the junk

There's nothing like having loads of junk installed on a system to turn even the best PC into a river of molasses.

There's two sorts of junk to consider. The first is the stuff that the PC makers install into new PCs, and the other is the junk that you (and other people using the PC) have installed on it.

You could spend your whole weekend manually tracking down this junk, but it makes much more sense to get a tool to do the job automatically, and the best tool out there for this job is PC Decrapifier. This free download will scan your system and quickly (and safely) remove any junk on your system. 

After running PC Decrapifier you might optionally want to do a pass using another free tool called CCleaner. This will go a bit deeper and clean your system of temporary files, log files and other junk.

 

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Add more RAM

While not a free option, installing RAM is, without a doubt, the single best bang-for-your-buck hardware upgrade you can carry out on a PC. And adding RAM has never been cheaper, with an extra 4GB costing around $60.

Finding what RAM your PC takes is easy. Head over to a vendor such as Kingston and use the online search tool find the right RAM for you. There are also handy videos that will show you how to go about installing the new RAM in your desktop or notebook PC.  

(Image source: Kingston)

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ReadyBoost to the rescue

If you've got a reasonably fast USB drive laying about the place then you can use this to give your PC a performance boost by using it as a ReadyBoost drive.

The ReadyBoost feature, which is part of Windows Vista and above, and allows flash memory – in the form of a USB flash drive, SD Card, Compact Flash card, or SSD – to be used as a high-speed cache to boost performance as long as they meet the following criteria:

  • Capacity of at least 256MB, with at least 64KB of free space
  • At least a 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4KB random reads
  • At least a 1.75MB/sec throughput for 1MB random writes

Making use of ReadyBoost is easy.

  • Plug the drive into the PC.
  • Either click on General options > Speed up my system from the AutoPlay dialog box, or right-click on the drive in Windows Explorer and choose Properties and then click on the ReadyBoost tab.
  • Choose whether you want to dedicate the drive to ReadyBoost (which prevents you from using it as storage), or use a portion of it for ReadyBoost.
  • Click OK
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Latest review

Defragment your drives

Carrying out a regular defragment of your PC is a good idea if you want to keep it in tip-top condition. The only think to bear in mind is that you shouldn't, under any circumstances, defragment an SSD drive. Not only will you get zero benefit from it, but you will seriously shorten the life of the drive.

But if you are still running regular hard drives then Windows is set to defragment your system once a week, but you should check to see that this is on and that all your drives are defragmented. You can run the Disk Defragmenter any time you feel you've made a lot of changes to the data on your drives.

It can be accessed from:

  • Windows Vista/7: Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter
  • Windows 8: Open the Charms bar and search for "Optimize Drives" and then click on Defragment and optimize your drives

There's a lot of voodoo written on the web about defragmenting drives, and there are all manner of arcane command-line switches you can use to carry out different sorts of defragment. In my experience, a simple defrag once a week is all you need.  

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Add power

If you have a notebook system that's a bit sluggish then the easiest way to speed if up is to connect it to a power supply!

Windows can detect if it is running on a notebook systems and it will switch over to a low power profile when it detects that it is running on battery power. While this is good for battery life, it's bad for performance, so if you want more oomph from the system, connecting it to a power supply will restore performance to normal levels.

You can go digging around in the bowels of Windows and make permanent changes to the power profiles, but I don't recommend this as it will have a huge detrimental effect on battery life. It's much easier to remember to hook up the system to a power supply when you want more performance.  

Last but not least >>

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Install the latest and greatest drivers

The drivers that control your hardware can have a huge effect on how well your system runs, and one of the drivers that's key to system performance is the graphics card driver.

While people who rely on the default Windows driver or who don't care about performance might never need to think about their graphics card driver, anyone who care about getting the best from their hardware – and especially anyone who is into PC gaming – should probably check to see if there's an updated driver every few months because it can make a huge difference to how well games run. 

Other drivers worth checking regularly are the motherboard drivers (which can have a huge effect of data transfer rates to and fromyour hard drives), and drivers for any external hardware you use.

(Image source: Nvidia)

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