My 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):
Mac owner? Here is a great article with frugal tips to make your Mac last forever.
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.