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Do You Really Need a New Computer? Frugal Tips to Extend Your Computer’s Life

by Ryan Guina

old-computer.jpgMy wife and have two 6 year old laptop computers which, until recently, were running sloooowly (think molasses in January slow). We thought we would need to buy two new computers, but thankfully, we found a few ways to improve their performance and ultimately extend their life.

In then end, we decided one of them was still too slow, so we replaced it. But we were able to do a few quick fixes on the other computer to double it’s speed – saving us several hundred dollars in replacement costs! In another article (soon to follow!) I’ll share a few tips on how to save money when buying a new computer.

Improve Your Computer’s Performance (Windows only):

Scan your computer system for viruses, spyware, and other malware

Spyware and viruses can cause many problems with your computer including slowing down your system, corrupting or erasing data, causing system crashes, or stealing data. These are horrible and can cause irreparable damage to your computer, data, and on-line safety.

If you ever access the internet, keeping up to date on your anti-virus software is one of the most important things you can do to extend your computer’s life, safeguard your information, and prevent identity theft. You can use commercial software such as Norton AntiVirus or McAfee VirusScan, or free software such as Spybot – Search and Destroy. It is recommended to set up an automatic scan to occur at least once a week.

Move all unnecessary files to an external hard drive, CD, or DVD

The fewer items you have on your hard drive, the quicker it will be for your computer to locate the files you need on a regular basis. Move pictures, mP3’s, large databases, and other large files to an external hard drive or CD to free up space and to make it easier and faster for your computer to perform functions.

Remove unused programs

Unnecessary programs use up valuable disk space and consume resources, especially if the program automatically runs on startup. Remove these to free up hard drive space and resources – and speed up your computer.

How to remove unused programs:

  • Click Start –> Control Panel –> Add or Remove Programs
  • Select the program to remove

You may have to restart your computer after removing a program. I usually do this after I have removed every program I intend to remove, instead of doing them one at a time.

Remove autostart programs

Many programs are designed to automatically start when the computer boots up. This sucks up your computer’s processing power and slows it down tremendously. Many times you don’t even want/need the program to constantly run in the background. Removing the program from your start up will improve your computer’s performance.

A good utility to see what is running at start up (and at other times) is AutoRuns, which is a free Microsoft product. It does not need to be installed – just download, then run it (execute it). It will display everything that starts automatically, the order it starts, where the file is located and more.

How to remove autostart programs:

  • Click Start –> Run –> type msconfig –> Click OK
  • Select Startup Tab –> this displays a list of programs that run on startup
  • Uncheck those you don’t want to run on startup (do a Google search to identify those you aren’t familiar with, or check out sysinfo.org).

The programs you unchecked will not load the next startup and your computer will start faster next time. You can still run the programs by starting them as normal.

Turn off programs you aren’t using

If all you are doing is checking your e-mail you probably don’t need 5-10 applications running. Turn off programs that constantly run in the background, and close other programs when you have finished with them. This will free up processing power for other applications and your computer will perform faster.

Clean up Disk Space with the Disk Cleanup Tool

Freeing space on your hard drive will improve your computer’s performance. The Disk Cleanup tool helps you do that by identifying files that you can safely delete, then enabling you to choose whether you want to delete some or all of the identified files. This is a great way to remove your temporary internet files and other data that just takes up space.

How to clean up disk space:

  • Click Start –> All Programs –> Accessories –> System Tools –> Disk Cleanup.
  • or Open My Computer –> right-click Local Disk –> and then click Properties.
  • Select which files you want to delete. You may have to do this for each drive if you have more than one hard drive.

The system will spend a few minutes analyzing how much space will be saved. Click run. The process will take a few minutes.

Run Scandisk or Check Disk to check your hard drive for errors

Scandisk is a Windows utility which you can use to scan your hard disk for errors caused by improper shut-downs, viruses, and other problems. It can also clean your hard drive of the miscellaneous errors caused by software conflicts. Using Scandisk will help you check the integrity of a computer hard drive drive to help prevent issues with your computer data. It can also help isolate and correct errors that slow down your computer.

How to run Scandisk:

  • Close all applications and programs and turn off your screensaver
  • Click Start –> Run –> type in: scandisk
  • You will have an option of choosing a “standard” or a “thorough” scandisk.
  • If you have never done a scandisk before, choose the “thorough” option.

Be prepared to wait… this may take awhile!

Check Disk: Accoring to Wikipedia, ScanDisk is similar to Check Disk.

How to run Check Disk:

  • Click Start –> Run –> type in: chkdsk
  • To automatically fix any errors that are found, Type “chkdsk /F” (note space).
  • You must restart your computer for it to run

Again, this may take awhile!

Defrag your hard drive

Disk fragmentation slows the overall performance of your system. Data on your hard drive gets fragmented the more often you install new programs, delete data, and move data to new folders and locations. This causes data to be broken up (fragmented) and stored in different locations. When this happens, your computer’s performance slows down because it has to search in more places to retrieve the data.

Run a system defrag to arrange your files better so your PC can access them faster, which will increase your computer’s speed and performance. If it has been awhile since you have done this, you may need to perform a system defrag several times to gain full benefit. I like to run a system defrag about once a month on my home computer. I run it more often at work because I deal with large databases.

How to run a system defrag:

  • Click Start –> All Programs –> Accessories –> System Tools –> Disk Defragmenter.
  • In the Disk Defragmenter dialog box, click the drives that you want to defragment, and then click the Analyze button.
  • After the disk is analyzed, a dialog box appears, letting you know whether you should defragment the analyzed drives.

Keep in mind, this process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. If it takes a few hours that means your disk is highly fragmented and you will probably want to run a system defrag several times until a defrag completes in just a few minutes.

Install additional RAM (Memory)

The amount of RAM in your computer has a direct impact on your computer’s processing speed. The larger your computer’s RAM, the quicker it is able to perform certain functions. If you don’t have enough RAM, your computer will use temporary disk space instead (virtual memory), which will substantially slow down performance.

How much RAM do you need? Computers running Windows XP need a minimum of 256MB and 512MB is recommended. If you use a photo editing program like PhotoShop, play graphic intensive computer games, or if you often have several programs open simultaneously you will need more. I have 512MB one our laptop, and 2GB on our new computer. If you are running Windows Vista or Wondows 7, the minimum requirement is 1 GB of RAM, but 2 GB is recommended, and more is preferable. I wouldn’t recommend buying a new computer with less than 3 or 4 GB, and preferably, I would want my computer to be able to expand to more RAM if possible.

How to check the size of your computer’s RAM: go to Start — > Control Panel –> System. It will be shown on the bottom of the page.

How to upgrade your RAM (memory): Each computer has a different method for upgrading your memory, so I recommend reading your user manual, look at the memory upgrade instructions by Microsoft, or doing a Google search for a user forum where you can find instructions for your model computer. In most cases, it only involves accessing the area where the RAM is located and clicking it into place.

I added RAM to one of our laptops, and the process involved removing 4 screws, inserting the new stick of RAM, and starting the computer. It was extremely simple, and something anyone can do (keep in mind, however, it may be more difficult depending on your computer setup). After adding additional RAM, our laptop seemed almost new again.

How much does RAM cost? The RAM for my computer was only $30 (including shipping), and it was well worth the expense. Depending on where you purchase the RAM, you should expect to spend anywhere from $20-100, depending on the type of RAM you buy. I found a great deal on a memory stick on eBay and saved over 50%. Another great place to find inexpensive computer components is TigerDirect.com.

These tips should improve your computer’s performance

Using these tips, I was able to extend the life of one of our computers. The biggest difference maker was upgrading the RAM. The other actions – performing anti-virus scans, system defrags, and removing unnecessary files, are good things to do on a regular basis and will help your computer maintain its performance. They will make your computer run smoother and faster, and possibly last longer.

If these tips don’t work, you may need to consider buying a new computer. After doing these things, we were still not able to get one of our computers running fast enough to do everything I wanted it to. We still have it, but it isn’t good for much more than word processing or basic web surfing at this point. We will keep it around as a backup for the time being.

The new computer we bought is incredibly fast, and we got a nice deal on it. I will write about it soon and explain a few ways you can save money on a new computer.

Photo credit: fedek6.


Published or updated September 29, 2014.
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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 matt

There is only one way to truly make a 6-year-old laptop reasonably speedy: install Linux on it.

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2 tabodi

Another good way to keep old pc hardware running as good as new is deleting windows and installing linux. Linux will run fine for a few years more on anything that has and can run windows.

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3 Kixie

I’m sure this is simply oversight but in the first section Spybot S&D is mentioned in the same breath as Norton and McAfee’s AntiVirus suites. Spybot only protects your computer against spyware and will not protect against viruses. For a free antivirus suite, check out AVG or Avast.

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4 FFB

I updated our laptop with new RAM a few months ago. It was either buy a new computer or figure a way to make ours better. The RAM has helped so much! One tip – try to not buy the RAM from the computer Manufacturer. Our computer is a Dell and their RAM was much more expensive than what I was able to get from Staples online!

Another thing we did was switch from DSL to cable. The difference was night and day for us.

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5 Emily

I agree with the Linux comment. We were recently given a new computer but had been using a 10 year old sony desktop and with Linux it ran perfectly like new. I am sure there were other things like hubby upgraded RAM and such but I am sure running Linux helped a ton. And I hope installing it on our new one will extend its life as well.

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6 anona

The truth version:

Scan your computer system for viruses, spyware, and other malware, then disable all the scanning software. Antivirus and related software is the reason a $1000 computer these days feels as fast as a $1000 computer did ten years ago.

AV software is designed, from the ground up, to interupt what the user is doing, because it wants to scan for stuff on its ever growing list (you can imagine that as that list grows, it gets harder work to go through, and if a virus isn’t on the list your expensive AV software won’t stop it). For pretty much every operation you do on your computer, the AV will barge in, stop what you want, scan your program or data, then give it back. As programs, operating systems and AV-type products get more complex, more scanning happens with more delays. Yeah, computers might be getting faster, but the AV is getting fatter.

To not have to use AV etc., you’ll need to learn how viruses attack computers, and how to avoid malware, but once you know how to do that your computer will feel many times faster. Steps to block most crud also block annoyances online, like ads, so its win-win for you (but not for business, so thats why you won’t hear this advice often).

Moving data to other devices is a joke, and I cannot believe it is being seriously suggested as a method of speeding up a computer.

Modern filesystems cope fine when empty or full…. users probably need to learn something about how files and folders actually help you arrange your data, and frequent defragging will mean your data is contiguous.

The HDD is the slowest part of any computer, and a faster hard drive can be stunning upgrade. Budget computers often only have 5400rpm drives… a computer based around a 7200rpm or faster drive can feel quite a bit nippier.

Removing unused programs can be helpful (if it stops them being run at system start up), but a better habit is to never install any software you know you won’t need. Windows gets crufted up really badly with hundreds of bits of shareware being installed and removed. Get some personal discipline, realise how crap most software actually is, and test stuff in a virtual computer before deciding it is good enough to use on your real computer.

Stopping junk running at start up is essential. All AV must be stopped, as must many of Windows’ services. Automatic updates is another service that is essential for those that can’t cope, but it kills the performance of Windows machines. There’s plenty of guides out there to take you through disabling useless services.

chkdsk is a good tool, but regular defragging can really help (weekly or daily). And install the tool pagedefrag, which will defrag the otherwise-undefragable pagefile and registry files. (heh, scandisk and chkdsk are not the same… the writer of this article is repeating “facts” that were just made up pieces of info when Windows 98 was mainstream!).

RAM – install as much as you can afford.

Otherwise, there’s hundreds of things you can do with Windows to make it feel quicker. Turning off all the pointless animations and transitions helps immensely, as when the computer starts struggling, the animations and shit just finish it off. Little tweaks might only gain you 1 or 2% performance increase each, but combined these add up so they are worth doing.

And don’t be afraid of breaking your computer. By breaking it, you’ll have to fix it, and thats when you really learn how to use it.

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7 Caparo

The hard disk drive (HDD) is often the performance chokepoint in a computer, and keeping it healthy can improve overall system performance, especially for older computer with slower drives. Fragmentation can seriously degrade HDD health and speed, so it is important to keep it defragmented. A good automatic defragmenter that defrags in real-time ensures that the drives perform optimally all the time without any work on the user’s part. This can extend the useful life of the hardware in the long run, thus staving off unnecessary replacement costs.

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8 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

News you can use at Cash Money Life!

Thanks Ryan (and thanks to anona as well)! I’ll put these on my to do list for the weekend.

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9 Mrs. Micah

Thanks for the tips on stopping Autoruns. I turn them off when I see the option, but I hadn’t tracked down how to turn off the rest.

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10 Ryan

Thanks for the additional tips everyone. I make no claim to be a computer or software professional – these are just some tips I’ve used to help improve the performance of my machines. These will work for most people and situations, and best of all don’t require much money.

Of course, with unlimited time and resources, we wouldn’t have to worry about any of this would we? ;)

As for running Linux, I don’t know anything about it. That’s why I threw in the disclaimer that this was for PC’s. Maybe I should have written computers running Windows? Ayway, thanks for the additional tips everyone. :)

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11 Frugal Dad

Great tips! I actually work off a six year-old desktop at home. Other than doubling the RAM I have made no hardward upgrades to it. I perform many of the routine maintenance tasks you mention above (and there were a couple I NEED to be performing) to extend the life of my computer. Fortunately, the costs of a basic desktop system have come down since my last purchase, so when this one eventually dies I won’t spend nearly as much to replace it.

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12 FFB

Here’s another I just thought of that’s saved my laptop a couple of times – buddy up to the IT people at work! There were two times where my laptop blew up due to malware and such. Each time I had casually asked our IT guy what I could do. Each time he told me to bring it in and he’ll check it out. I’m not saying to pretend to be nice or that any IT person will help but it can be a nice resource for info when you get in a jam.

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13 Rachel @ Master Your Card

Great tips. Personally I find that norton antivirus really slows down a computer and by selecting a different antivirus you can really speed things up.

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14 tinglue

A lot of the PCs in my college were ready to be thrown out until a smart techie once suggested to see if a bit of maintenance will help. Something we had never done was diskcleanups and defrags. The amount of fragmentation on the drives was mind boggling possibly due to the amount of browsing and file editing that happens. After the defrag and cleanup i think we are ready to postpone purchasing new computers for a while. Purchase of some tools including a commercial defragmenter has been made.

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15 No Debt Plan

Looks like I am a bit behind here and others have mentioned it, but running Linux can definitely help extend it. Everything that Windows can do, but free? Seriously? Thank you, Ubuntu.

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16 rachel

As for running Linux, I don’t know anything about it. That’s why I threw in the disclaimer that this was for PC’s.

Linux runs on PCs.

Ubunti is a popular, user friendly version. (I don’t use it, but people I know who are switching over from MS like it.)

Linux’ll do just about any basic computer work. You don’t have to waste your time defragging and keeping your anti-virus up to date. And–depending on the version you choose–it’s free.

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17 Dividend Growth Investor

Thanks for the tips Ryan and everyone else that contributed. I will try to implement some of those tips over the weekend.

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18 Ryan

Rachel, thanks for the tips. I guess when I wrote PCs, I meant Windows. LOL.

I may consider doing something like that for my next computer – or even going with a Mac. This time around, I bought based on familiarity and need.

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19 Ryan

Tinglue, I bet the college saved an amazing amount of money! Doing little bits of maintenance can really extend the life of your computer systems and save a lot of money – whether it is on a large scale like a college network, or a small scale like a personal computer. Thanks for sharing.

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20 Ryan

No Debt Plan, Since I have an old laptop not doing anything, I may just try this out. What the worst that could happen? ;)

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21 Shanti @ Antishay

Good tips! I should write one for Mac users ;) I have had my laptop for 2 years now, but I had my previous one for 6. I expect this one to last a lot longer because it’s better, and I’m smarter and have more money now to take care of it. I just got a new 500GB hard drive a few weeks ago, and another 2GB of RAM and more memory. I clean out my computer every spring, but working a lot in the IT field, it’s only natural habit that I’d take care of my machine. I’m glad you wrote this post – I can imagine how crazy a computer would get (I’ve seen ‘em, actually) when it’s not maintained internally for a couple of years!

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22 MITBeta @ Don't Feed The Alligators

@Rachel: All versions of Linux are free. Companies can charge for the actual CD/DVD on which the OS comes, and they can charge for support, but they can’t charge for the actual OS.

I’ll throw my hat in the ring for Linux as well. I’ve been using it for a little over 3 years now. My brother called me up the other night with a tale of woe over viruses and spyware. What a hassle, I thought. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that crap anymore.

Beyond the malware, Linux is faster because it’s leaner. There’s far fewer resident programs running at any given time.

I’ll second the suggestion to try Ubuntu. Download a “Live CD”, pop it in, and you’ll be amazed at how intuitive and simple it is.

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23 Ryan

MITBeta, Thanks for the info. I have an old (slow) laptop that doesn’t see much action now, so I may try uploading Ubuntu on it to see how it goes. I’m all about increased performance, and I don’t like dealing with malware or viruses either. Thanks fo the tips.

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24 zach @ Pennywise

I will second all of the above linux users.

TRY LINUX.

I downloaded and burned a live-cd to test it out before I installed it (read: find somebody to install it cuz I don’t know anything about it and don’t have time). Awesome.

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25 Shanti @ Antishay

Thank you for linking back to my article :D

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26 Ryan

Zach, I have an old computer sitting there not doing anything, so I might give t a go. I don’t know much about installing it (and wiping Windows off), so I may find someone to help. :)

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27 missy

IF YOUR HARD DRIVE EVER CRASHES ALL U HAVE TO DO IS PUT UR HARD DRIVE IN A ZIPLOCK BAGGIE FOR 15 MINUTES IN THE FREEZER ONLY 15 IT WILL GET FIXED!TRIED IT AND IT WORKED !

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28 irina

I recently began using Advanced WindowsCare 2 Personal (free) It scans and removes spyware and adware, cleans windows by deleting unwanted files, deleting obsolete files, removing junk files, and eliminating corrupt registry entries and many other tasks. I love it.

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29 Ryan

Irina,

Thanks for sharing your tips!

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30 ANGELO JETTER

Merci! RAM, Memory Cards, External Storage, Computer Maintenance, Virus Software! Computer Lighting FAST!!

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31 Uncle B

Please donate your old boxes to a church-group or some needy student in these hard times! To comply with the law, and with Microsoft’s leasing policy, you can now replace Microsoft OS with the free (download from the net) Ubuntu OS, which can be set to erase the hard drive of all traces of the “illegal to give away ” Microsoft system and your private information, before donation! Now, explain to your lucky recipient that all the manuals they will ever need are available for free on the internet! Just ask for them in Google! OpenOffice, which is installed already is plenty adequate for homework assignments and with a little exploring, everything else can work well too! Happy computing!

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32 daniel sibanda

i think i would love to know more about computers

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