A slow computer can be a nightmare, especially when any attempt to complete a task is met with loading, loading and more loading. Then the system crashes and you have to start again. At this point, your natural reaction is probably to throw the monitor out of the window to its well-deserved demise.
Fortunately you can improve the situation with a few useful tips from my friend Geoff, who does IT managed services for several companies, most of which can be carried out by all but the most computer illiterate. So without further ado, here’s how you can make your computer faster (or at least, more responsive).
Try to think of your computer as a virtual office, in that lots of files all over the place will slow down proceedings. Delete anything you don’t need, empty the recycle bin, stash all those random files on your desktop into one neat folder ─ a general tidy up can go a long way, especially if your hard drive is full to the brim.
Also set to work on uninstalling programmes you no longer use. Have you used a certain bit of software in the last few months? If not, there’s no harm in removing it as it will free up more space. Remember, though, that deleting an icon is different from actually uninstalling a programme.
Error check your hard drive
A Windows PC has the option of ‘error-checking’ when you go into your hard drive under My Computer.
Running this task will look for damaged files that could be slowing down your computer. The option to ‘defragment’ a drive is located in the same place and is well worth running to ensure your hard drive or hard drives are in tip-top condition.
Invest in a spot of software
Software can help with the process of keeping your computer running smoothly. CCleaner is one such programme that helps you remove unwanted programmes, delete unwanted temporary files and clean the registry, all of which can have an effect on performance. The software is free and easy to use, making it a no-brainer.
CCleaner can also be used to control the programmes that run at startup. If you have to wait an age before you get to your desktop, reducing the number of programmes in this list could prove advantageous as it reduces the initial load on your computer. Of course, be sure not to stop a vital programme from doing its thing. Google a task name if unsure.
Check for viruses
Anti-virus software is another essential. Free options like Avira and Avast will keep your computer safe from most nasty items, which can severely affect how well your computer runs. Some malware can prompt fake warnings on screen. Removing these will be a big help.
Run a full system scan to remove all the nasties, then restart your computer and do it once more. Especially nasty intrusions may require a Google search to help remove them – and the use of Safe Mode.
Fortunately, you are probably not the first and certainly not the last to be affected, which means the whole process will be documented. If not, there are plenty of forums where you can ask for help.
In future, try to only download files from a reputable source and keep your anti-virus software up to date. There’s no such thing as being 100% safe, but those daily or weekly updates will keep most problems at bay.
Computers may seem complicated, but inside the box is a bunch of components that fit together like pieces in a puzzle. With a bit of confidence (and the power disconnected), you can add a part or two that will really help speed things up.
Older computers can really benefit from having more memory ─ by that we don’t mean storage space.
If you are running as little as 256MB or 512MB of RAM (check your original spec sheet or use CCleaner to find out what you have), a relatively inexpensive upgrade can really help. A stick or two of 1GB or 2G of RAM will make your system punchier – and it’s good value for money.
Arguably the best hardware upgrade you can make is an SSD (short for solid state drive). An SSD basically replaces the spinning drive of yesteryear with clever electronics that greatly improve data speeds.
Fitting one is relatively easy, too, providing your motherboard has the necessary SATA connection and a spare slot in your computer to put it.
Should you go the SSD route, install all your programmes on it and put bulky items on the old hard drive. Why? Because it will improve start-up times. Note that because SSD storage is much more expensive than a hard drive, so refrain from filling it up with any old junk. A 128GB or 256GB SSD will suffice, unless you have the largest software collection. Even a 64GB SSD could do the job.
So you’ve cleaned the digital side of your computer ─ now you should check the physical one, too. Computers generate heat, and if said heat is unable to escape effectively, it can affect performance and reduce the lifespan of your computer.
A can of compressed air (yes, you can buy air) will help blow out thick dust located on a motherboard, while a bog-standard cloth can do the inside of the case.
Ensure your computer is turned off and disconnected before you remove the side panel of your computer, or risk getting electrocuted.
Be sure to avoid touching the internal components as best you can to keep static electricity at bay. Make sure the cloth is dry – because we all know what happens when water and electricity meet. Ultimately, what you want is dust to be removed from any fans and their outlets so that cold air can flow in and out of the computer case.
Check your broadband
If your computer loads up relatively fast but takes an age to load web pages on the internet, your broadband, wireless or internet connection is probably to blame. A signal booster or a better router can help with the range of a wireless connection, there are some routers made to have better performance which may prove handy if your computer is a distance from your wireless router.
You could also consider an Ethernet cable and plug your computer indirectly. Alternatively, a powerline adaptor will let you use your plug sockets to supply a wired connection around your home without all the pesky wires, giving you a more reliable connection than wireless.
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A quick speed test will ascertain the speed of your connection. Should you get a lower figure than you pay for – or if your connection proves patchy – it may be worth ringing up your internet service provider (ISP) to see what’s going on. A (painfully long) call may just help you get any speed issues fixed.
Give Windows 8 a go
Love it or hate it, Windows 8 is one fast beast, and not that difficult to get used to. Boot-up times are rapid, even on an ageing laptop, which makes it a viable option for Windows users. It’s also not that inexpensive, although on a really old computer you may be better off with the last and final tip for cost and time reasons.
For an article that focusses on helping you speed up your existing computer it seems odd to recommend you start afresh – but there is method to the madness.
Computers are much cheaper these days and so it may actually be best to cut your losses and start again, especially when you factor in the potential price of a new operating system, memory and SSD drive.
Prices, sizing and performance are all so varied these days that you could easily get a powerful system that won’t take up loads of space or break the bank. For the style conscious, there are a few stylish all-in-one systems that offer Apple-esque looks without the Apple-esque price tag, such as the Samsung Series 7.
Even a low-end laptop or netbook with a good Intel multi-core processor and 2 or 4GB of RAM will far surpass an ageing beast.
Alternatively, for moderate computing use, there’s always the option of a tablet like the Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface if you are happy to give up a full keyboard in return for touchscreen computing and portability.