One of the most common complaints people have about their computers is that they are getting too slow. It's true that over time, the more you use your computer and the more you store on it, the more it has to work. It's also true that once a computer is a few years old its hardware can become obsolete and might not meet the expectations of software developers. To fix these kinds of problems you might need to buy a hardware upgrade, such as more RAM (Random Access Memory), a bigger hard drive, or maybe even a new computer.
Before you go chucking your laptop into the garbage though, there are some other things that you can do to speed up your computer. Here I present you with seven easy and FREE ways for you to keep your computer running at its fastest.
1) Close unused programs and tabs: This one is kind of a no-brainer. The more jobs you give your computer to do at once, the fewer the resources it can give to each one. Sometimes it's easy to forget that you still have a Word document or PDF open from yesterday, and when combined with open sessions of Firefox, iTunes, Outlook, and Skype, your computer's memory usage can get pretty high. Solve this by closing unused programs, or programs you might not use for another few hours. Similarly, web browsers that use tabbed browsing (which is pretty much all of them, now) typically require more memory when more tabs are open. This is less of a problem with Google Chrome because of how it deals with memory, but is definitely a problem with Firefox. The same solution can be used here: close the tabs you are no longer using.
2) Choose which programs run at startup: You may or may not realize it, but many programs have a default setting which tells them to start running every time you turn on your computer. This is convenient for antivirus programs or others that you will always be using, but often it's unnecessary. On Windows 7, to better control which programs run at startup open up Control Panel, click on "System and Security," choose "Administrative Tools," and in the new window open up "System Configuration." (Alternatively you can just open the start menu, type "msconfig" into the search bar, and press the Enter key. This also works with Vista.) If you are using XP, open the start menu, click "Run," type "msconfig," and click OK. In this window you will click the "Startup" tab, which will show you the list of programs that automatically run when your computer turns on.
DISCLAIMER: If you are not sure what one of the Startup Items is (even I'm not sure what half of them are) DO NOT MESS WITH IT. It might be something you don't want, but it's equally likely that it's something important that needs to run.
If it's something that you recognize that you don't want automatically starting every time, uncheck the box next to it. When you are done, click OK to exit. Personally, I have disabled iTunes, Quicktime, Adobe Reader, Skype, and a few others because I know that I might not use those programs immediately when I start my computer. By disabling a few of these programs, your computer should take less time to boot than it did previously.
3) Keep your computer malware-free: Viruses and spyware can cause some of biggest slowdowns to your computer. By always running one antivirus program (we recommend Microsoft Security Essentials, but most well-known ones will do the job), keeping the virus definitions up-to-date, and running a virus scan at least once a week, you will most likely keep your computer clean. I say "most likely" because some forms of malware can slip by antivirus programs. This is why we also recommend using Malwarebytes to scan for and get rid of some of some of the trickier Trojans and spyware. Keeping your computer free from malicious programs designed to infiltrate and slow down your computer does wonders not only for the speed of your computer, but also for its security.
4) Run Disk Cleanup: The Disk Cleanup utility will help get rid of the temporary files, internet files, and files in the Recycle Bin which you no longer need. To access it on Windows XP, Vista, or 7, open the start menu, click on "All Programs," then "Accessories," and then "System Tools," which is where you will find "Disk Cleanup." (You can also use the search bar in the Start Menu in Windows 7 or Vista.) If it asks, select the C: drive to cleanup, and check the boxes next to each type of file you want to remove. On the right side of the window you can see how much space each type of file is taking up, which will help you decide how much of an effect the cleanup will have.
5) Defragment your hard drive: Many people don't know what it means to defragment a hard drive, so they won't see its importance and won't do it. As an example, you can basically think of your hard drive as a bookshelf. The shelf starts off clean, and as you collect books you line them up in neat, organized rows, left to right. Now say you want to get rid of a small, paperback book. It's removed from the shelf, but a space remains where it used to be. The other books do not get moved over. Now you want to put a dictionary on the shelf. You must now rip off a section of the dictionary to fill the hole where the book you just removed was, and continue filling in gaps like this until you reach the end, where you will put the remainder of the dictionary. Now, next time you want to use the dictionary, you have to pull out each section you separated, and put it back together before you can begin using it. On your hard drive, sections of your data are stored this way on a disk, so each time you need to run a program or retrieve data, each section is found and retrieved individually, taking more time than if it was all stored in one location. Defragmenting your hard drive reorganizes how your data is stored so that programs and large files are all kept in one place.
Now that you (hopefully) understand what defragmentation does you can see why it's important to do. In Windows 7 and XP, you can open up My Computer (just called "Computer" on Windows 7), right click on your Local Disk (C:), click "Properties," open the "Tools" tab, and click "Defragment Now." (Like the last few tips, you can also just search for "Disk Defragmenter" in the Start Menu on Windows 7.) Here you can analyze your C: drive to see if you need to defragment it, and defragment your hard drive if the analysis recommends it. On Windows 7 you can even schedule this task to run automatically so that you don't have to keep remembering to do this.
6) Move files from your desktop: On newer, faster computers this is not a very big issue, but on older computers this can be a great trick to get your computer to start up faster. By storing files (installation files, photos, documents, videos, etc.) directly on your desktop, your computer must load them all as it's booting up. It's already loading the operating system, connecting to the internet, and starting all of the necessary programs and services it needs to run, so why give it extra work to do? By storing these items in your Documents or Pictures folders you will save some time starting up. Note that shortcuts to start programs or go to folders (like Documents) do not add time to startup, because they do not need to be loaded -- they just point to where the program or folder is actually located.
7) Restart: This is probably the simplest one on the list, and it does wonders. Many people leave their computers running for days or even weeks without shutting them down or restarting them. Restarting a computer frees up memory that was being tied up in processes running in the background, some of which didn't even need to be running anymore. Restarting a computer is like getting a good night's sleep for a person -- when a computer starts back up it is better-able to handle more intensive tasks than if it had been on for a really long period of time.
These tips won't make your old computer lightning-fast, but you should see some improvement in speed. Replacing hardware or getting a new computer is typically the best way to greatly improve the speed, but these methods can be complicated and expensive. Performing some of these tasks I have just highlighted every once in a while should keep your computer running the best it possibly can, and should give you quite a few years of happy computing.