Make Your Computer Faster Instead of Buying a New One

By Carlos Portocarrero on 9 September 2009 (Updated 22 September 2010) 39 comments

Buying a new computer can be a very exciting time...until you get the bill.

What most people don't realize is that you don't need a Quad Core chip for email and Internet browsing.

But after you've had your computer for a while and it starts to get sluggish, a lot of people start thinking that a fancy, new machine will cure what ails them.

You Don't Need a New Machine

That's the good news. The bad news? You'll have to run a whole bunch of programs to get your computer running smoother and faster.

But fear not, computer newbies! I'm here to walk you through every step of the way.

Note: I know a lot of you aren't fond of installing new programs onto your computers, but these are all free programs that come highly recommended and can be downloaded from CNET, a trusted authority on all things tech. There are several programs that do what these programs do -- these are just the ones I use and trust.

AVG Antivirus

Step #1: Virus and Spyware Protection

  1. Download AVG Antivirus
  2. Install it, run it, and set up a regular schedule to run once a week, so that you don't have to worry/remember to do this manually
  3. Download Spybot Search and Destroy
  4. Same thing: install it, run it, and set up a regular schedule to run once a week. I like Wednesdays at 2:00am. I'd also schedule a weekly update to make sure you're scanning the latest viruses too.

CCleaner

Step #2: Clean the Registry

A computer's registry is basically a map of where everything in the computer is located. Over time it can get cluttered and cramped, so it's good to clean it up every now and then.

  1. Download CCleaner
  2. Install it and run it.
  3. The great thing about CCleaner is that you can clean the registry, clean up space on your PC's hard drive from things like temporary internet files, and you can also de-activate startup programs, which we'll get to in a minute.
  4. Run the registry tool and the cleaner tool.

Smart Defrag

Step #3: Defrag the Hard Drive

Hard drives are like your closet: sometimes you need to clean them out and put things back in order for everything to run nice and smooth.

  1. Download Smart Defrag
  2. Install it and run the Analyze feature, which will tell you if you need to defrag the thing or not. How easy is that?
  3. Set up a regular schedule so you don't have to worry about it. Let's do this one once a week too.

Step #4: Quick Startup

Does your PC take forever to get booted up? Most of the time, it's because so many programs are trying to launch right when the computer is starting up. Turning off a lot of the unnecessary programs will help speed things up.

  1. Open CCleaner
  2. Go to Tools --> Startup
  3. Disable programs that you don't really need to have open right away. If you're not sure, write them all down (or take a screenshot by hitting the "PrtScn" button and pasting it into Paint) and see what happens when you remove them. You can always add them back later if something doesn't look right. I only have five things set to run at startup and a whole bunch are grayed out.

Step #5: More RAM

There are several things you can physically do to boost performance: from overlocking to upgrading your processor. But you have to be pretty handy with tools and computers to do all of that. The easiest thing to install on a computer, however, is RAM. RAM is like the workspace your computer has to do work. If you're running a music program like Winamp, Microsoft Word, Excel, and have an Internet Browser open, that takes a lot of workspace to make sure things are nice and fast.

  1. Go to 4 All Memory (again, my personal pick—and no they're not paying me)
  2. Pick out which computer you have with any of their handy tools. It's really easy and kind of fun.
  3. Buy as much RAM as your computer will allow you. You may want to double check in your manual to make sure you buy just enough and not too much.
  4. Buy it.
  5. Install it. This sounds complicated, but it's as easy as putting a Nintendo cartridge into its slot. Really.

If you don't trust yourself or don't want to install the RAM yourself, have a friend come over and do it. Or call your PC's tech support line and have them walk you through it. If that doesn't work, search Google for your PC and "installing RAM" and you may find a nice walkthrough with pictures and everything. Don't worry, it's easier than it looks and more RAM will give you a really big boost in performance!

Enjoy!

Your computer should be noticeably faster now. Don't forget to uninstall any old programs you don't need anymore that are just taking up space. The more free space in your hard drive, the better.

If you don't see enough of a boost in performance, congratulations! You have done your due diligence and you've earned the right to actually say "I need a new PC."

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Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

You should retitle this how to make your Windows based computer faster. Well, I guess the ram thing could work for all computers, but that is probably a step that should be done by people who have experience opening their PC up and deal with subsequent issues that could pop up with new hardware. 

Guest's picture
lighterapps

If you are suggesting others to keep their old machines such as P3 (686), you should recommend apps that eat less system resources. AVG is the most bloated free antivirus out there. AVG is paranoid and has a lousy detection rate.

Antivirus: AVAST or Antivir (lot less CPU and RAM usage and higher detection)
defraging: defraggler. very fast and very low on your system resource.
spyware and malware detection: spywareblaster (light). if you don't care how long it takes. try malwarebytes.
ccleaner is simply the best.

Guest's picture
Gumnos

I'm typing this on a 9 year old laptop (800MHz maxed out with 384MB of RAM) running Debian Linux. It beats the pants off the WinME that came loaded on the machine originally. It currently operates not only as my primary workhorse machine for email, office work, and web-browsing (and remote-desktop into my work machine), but I regularly use it for web development & graphic design. This means that at any given time it also runs any combination of web-server, multiple database servers (MySQL and PostgreSQL), FTP/SSH server, SMB server, or GIMP/Inkscape for photo/vector image manipulation. It's a little under-powered for some of the virtualization work I'd like to explore, but otherwise, it runs like a champ. The only hardware issue I've has is the built-in WinModem which I don't use anyways.

I tried XP on it and by the time I added manditory anti-virus, anti-spyware, some office software, and a more powerful firewall it was unusably slow. Never mind all the development tools I need to do my job. Or the availability of drivers for some of my other old
hardware.

-gumnos

Guest's picture
lighterapps

Debian is great, because it has a very low dependency links among packages. Debian Fluxbox without any auto hal daemon can easily ran smoothly under 96 megs of ram. Firefox will add additional 40 to 75 megs with four to five tabs. But, most users of this site will be using Windows and OSX.

Guest's picture

I previously use Avast free edition but my problem is i can't total remove the program. After i want to install AVG problem occur ask me to total uninstall Avast. I use Revo uninstaller but it still there. what should i do?

Guest's picture
Doug

Q: I can't uninstall avast! What to do now?

A: You can download our uninstall utility called AvClear or AvClear4 (it depends on the version of avast! installed on your computer). More information is available here: http://www.avast.com/i_idt_1337.html.

If I were you, I would do another download and reinstall this program.
I have used AVG and promptly replaced it with Avast.
I just didn't like AVG's performance where, I think, Avast is a much better program.

I pulled the above uninstall info from 'Help' tab of my Avast program.

Just my thoughts.

Good luck w/your uninstall issue. I hope this info will cause you a better PC performance.

Guest's picture
Patti

Try Ubuntu Linux from Ubuntu.com. You can download the program for free, and then try it out on your machine before installing it.

It's very easy to use, has free online support on the forums, it's virus-free and includes access to hundreds of free programs. It comes with excellent office software - again, free - and much more.

There are versions available for netbooks, laptops, media developers, educators, students, scientists, kids, and much more!

Ubuntu is faster than Windows, and it doesn't get clogged up and slow over time.

Guest's picture

Great tips. Can you write one for a MAC by any chance? What a coincidence, as I just published an article called "Mea Culpa - I Just Spent $1,450 At The Apple Store" and I am really struggling on whether to return the computer or not.

I've got two weeks until the return policy expires, so if the financial community can give me some advice over at FS, it would be greatly appreciated!

A Mac version of this post would be sweet! I'm a total computer dummy.

Financial Samurai

Guest's picture
Steve

You can clean your registry out with a Brillo pad if you want but it has no effect on how quickly your machine runs, unless it's massively corrupted. You have a different problem all together there.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Cleaning the registry has an effect on how fast the computer starts up , how fast programs start up,  and also how long it takes to install stuff, but the rest of the time it doesn't do much.  And yeah, a massively corrupted registry could just prevent stuff from starting.  

Guest's picture
David

@Financial Samurai: About a month back I wrote the following article: Do you need a new Mac or just some cleaning? I hope it helps.

Whether Mac or Windows, as time goes on, computers get faster and more powerful. As this happens, application and OS developers use more of these resources. Running an "age-appropriate" system will do wonders for the performance of your older machine. This applies to Applications as well as the OS.

Remember, that old clunker in the corner used to be a speed demon just a few years back.

Guest's picture

All I can say is THANK YOU!! I needed an article like this badly, and, as I am no techie, it is precisely what I needed as the urge to buy a new laptop "because my current is so slow" had just hit me.

Guest's picture

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on my dilemma over at FS as well if you have time. Cheers.

Guest's picture

Great post, but I would add one thing. I also turn on 'adjust for best performance' in System>Advanced>Visual Effects and then I turn on 'Smooth edges of screen fonts'. No one needs that ugly Windows eye candy anyway and it just slows down your computer...

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

@lighterapps: Great tips here, thanks for adding them to the conversation. Those are the ones I 've used but if there are lighter ones out there that would run on leaner machines, that's even better.

I've used defraggler before but not the other ones. I will try them on my netbook since that's the machine that I really try to keep as efficient as possible.

If anyone has a hidden gem of an application they swear by, this is the time to speak!

As for Macs, I don't use them so I can't really say how best to treat them. Sorry!

The Writer's Coin  |  Follow me on Twitter

Guest's picture
vm-01

I agree about avoiding AVG if performance is an issue. It's a good antivirus but kinda bloated.

If you need to do some gaming try these:

-Gamebooster (to turn off unneeded processes)

-3DAnalyze (to help run troublesome games and turn off directx effects)

Guest's picture
rjwilcox

I have a $350 dollar laptop that will start up, boot, connect to wifi and able to run programs in under 60 seconds. I use Linux Mint (www.linuxmint.com) which has all the benefits of Ubuntu but adds programs that make it easier to run after installing. If you have a legal Windows CDs then install VirtualBox (www.virtualbox.org) and install Windows and reboot in about 10 seconds.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree linux mint kicks the crud out of anything 73mb of ram used when on desktop 101 with firefox...its great!

Guest's picture
FrugalNYC

I agree with many of the people here. Cleaning out your system is a big help. But one thing I have not seen anyone mention yet is reinstalling windows. yes, it is drastic, but I have done just such a thing on an old laptop (Thinkpad T40) and have both Windows XP and Ubuntu loaded. XP boots, logs into Chrome browser in under 60 seconds (with SP3 and antivir). This is no souped up machine at all - with less than 1G RAM. I only load software I use.

I also love to play around with Linux, but have been using Windows much longer. Ubuntu on this machine, with an install without tweaks (and Linux newbies would not know how to tweak anyway) takes nearly two minutes to - boot, login and bring up firefox. I'll have to look for some Ubuntu tweaking tips soon, so if you know of any, please let me know via twitter or via frugalnyc blog.

So if you are to judge a machine or platform, it really does depend on what someone NEEDS on the computer. Most people just load their pc up with too much unused bloatware.

With all that said. Thank you for this post, and all the great comments. I've got some additional software to check out thanks to all of you!

Guest's picture

I have to agree with the above commenter - reinstalling is the surest way to speed up your system. And cleaning your registry has minimal to no gain, with a large chance for something going haywire.

Guest's picture
Jim

I agree with the above commenters that resintalling the OS is the best way to get an older system running quicker & smoother. If your computer is 2-3 years old or more and has seen considerable use then reinstalling Windows is the best way to get it running like new.

However the difficulty level and time involved in reinstalling Windows can be considerable. It can take many hours to backup and reinstall everything. And you can run into problems along the way that could be hard to resolve. If you have a lightly used system without a ton of programs that has a OS install disk from the OEM maker than it could be relatively quick and painless. Honestly I wouldn't recommend most people do an OS reinstall.

Guest's picture
Just IT

Ok, for those of you who keep saying "Linux this, Debian that." Please stop. You are not helping. Don't bother commenting about these other OS's, unless you are willing to provide help with installation/support or even a comprehensive, easy to use link that goes over all the pro's and con's about the OS you suggest.

The target audience is clearly for those with Windows computers. They chose a computer with this OS for a reason. Whether you like the reason or not, that's what they have and what they want to stay with or else they probably wouldn't have clicked the link read the article.

Reinstallation of a completely new and foreign OS is beyond the intended audience of article. I am sure you understand that. Ok, fine, you got your little snipe in about "I'm a non-Windows user, *nix is uberz". Great, time to move on.

For everyone else who came for help with your Windows computer, please ignore me and the others that aren't able to stay on topic.

Guest's picture
Gumnos

I'm not sure what your concern is. I recommend Linux because it works for me and makes older hardware more usable (XP runs like a dog on some of my older hardware, and not at all on other hardware). I don't guarantee that it works for others; nor will it meet everybody's needs.

Most folks are satisfied with a way to browse the web, access to email (if it's not via the web), and basic office software (if not using Google Docs, Open/Libre Office will work for most, Abiword+Gnumeric will work on lower-end machines). Most folks using Linux setups I've installed are content with the casual games that come with it.

Yes, some office documents may not look identical, but I regularly experience that between versions of MS Office too, and those MS versions actually cost me money.

Yes, you won't get the latest & greatest games—then again, if you're running old hardware and trying to get the most out of it, you're not likely a hard-core gamer.

Yes, I provide support for the Linux installations I've done and I assure you that the support for those boxes takes FAR less of my time per box than the support I provide to my Windows-using friends & family. Especially with the secure built-in remote administration tools.

You say "they chose a computer with [Windows] for a reason"—too often, that reason is "because it came preinstalled on the box". With my Linux installs, they don't to keep their anti-malware software up to date. They don't have to worry about defragging their drives. They don't have to worry that updates will stop.

Yes, the target audience of the article is Windows users, but it's little trouble to download/borrow a live-CD and at least try it out to see if it works, especially if the plan is to do a full reinstall of the system anyways. If, after performing all the tips in this article, the box still runs slowly, using an alternate OS may speed things up without monetary outlay for new hardware.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Just IT has hit it on the money: we could tell people to do a million other things to make their PCs faster, but are they really going to do them? SHould they even try?

THe article was meant to provide a nice, quick, easy method of boosting performance on their PCs with minimal technical expertise.

The Writer's Coin  |  Follow me on Twitter

Guest's picture
Kim Moen

Hello, Liked your advice on the system performance. I would be interested in knowing what four or five items you have open in the MSCONFIG (start-up) file, these are obviously essential. You stated that all others are greyed out. Please email me and let me know, thanks.

kdpamoen@gra.midco.net

Guest's picture
Guest

I had no idea where to go to get this stuff for free. Thank you so much -- the Spybot thing found & "destroyed" all kinds of malware. Handiest, most practical tip EVER on Wisebread.

Guest's picture
Guest

If surfing the web, watching youtube videos and checking emails is mostly what you use a computer for, I think Linux is the best way to get an old computer running faster. I like Mandriva with KDE (http://www.mandriva.com/en/download/free) and PC Linux OS (http://www.pclinuxos.com/). They both make a good replacement for a tired WinXP installation.

In fact, why not put Linux on a new machine? The trick is to find a machine that isn't pre-loaded with Windows. Dell offers some desktops and laptops pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux. Memory Express and NCIX both sell desktops without OS.

The MS software license is only the beginning of the savings. Linux doesn't need as much RAM as Windows Vista, or as powerful a CPU, or as much hard disk space. You won't need as much security & maintenance related software. And what you do need to keep Linux safe on the Internet, such as a firewall, is free. Plus, most Linux distributions, like Mandriva and PCLinuxOS, come pre-loaded with a free office suite and everyday applications (music player, video player, web browser, etc).

RC

Guest's picture

I actually have been writing my own blog about virus protection and removal. I have been reading what others have to say and its really great help! Your the man!

Guest's picture
Guest

I like the tips in your article but i have had no luck with ccleaner i used reginout which was more effective anyone else had this issue with ccleaner?

Guest's picture

I read this blog and would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except NICE BLOG with a lot of information.

Guest's picture
blackomen

Buying a new machine? vs. optimizing or even Reinstalling? Are you serious?!?!?

It wasn't that long ago (1990s) when everyone who owned a computer knew how to fix these types of problems on their own..

I understand that cleaning up or reinstalling can be quite a chore but come on.. Buying a new computer simply cause you're too lazy to do the things in this article or reinstall everything is (literally) a royal waste of money.

If you STILL wish to ignore the sagely advice here and buy a new comp, please contact me and i'll buy your old system for $100 (and reinstall it with Linux)

Guest's picture
Casey

...or just get a mac in the first place

If you must revive an old computer, dump WinDoze, and install Ubuntu.

Guest's picture
Guest

While I agree with a most of the stuff here, I have to say that cleaning registries is a risky business, and should be handled with care - since deleting the wrong registries can brick your system. So before cleaning registries, always create a system restore point.

If you want to delete stuff throuroughly, use revo uninstaller, which can further delete unneeded registries from the uninstall

program booting times often depend on the speed of the hard drive as well. most hard drives today are 7200 rpm, which is quite speedy. if you have an old hard drive of 5400 rpm, its worthwhile to upgrade

Guest's picture
Guest

I would think that ADDING all those programs TO the laptop or computer would seemingly make it SLOWER...you know what I'm saying? yes, in the long run it's good to have things scanning your computer, but in the end, you're going to be sitting and sitting waiting for the computer to start up, because of ALL those programs!!

Guest's picture
rcmichelle

Hi, guys. I got same problem with you. I bought my Dell inspiron last Christmas. It worked sharp at the first few months, but got slow after that. It took about 15 mins to start up. I can even walk away and brew my coffee during waiting! I even thought about reinstall my computer! My friend recommended the software tuneup360 and Norton systemwork. I tried both. Norton did look really powerful and could do lots of thing, but it was too difficult for me and too expensive, while Tuneup360 is my type. I just need to click one big “fix now” button and get my computer fixed. Now my computer takes only 30 sec to start up.

Guest's picture

Great article, all i can say is ram ram ram ram, that is the main factor almost always. upgrading your processor is rarely a solution.

Guest's picture
JG From TechOD

Good article Carlos, there's a quite a few more things a user can do to make their PC faster though, you can read about them at http://techod.com/how-to-make-your-pc-faster/

Guest's picture
Nathaniel Fleur

Thank you for the effort of sharing this helpful information to us. Many of us are actually having problems with a slow PC and we need this. Currently I'm using Regcure: regcurelicensekeycode.com for cleaning my PC's registry, but I want to try out what you mentioned here, the Ccleaner since I heard a lot about. I already downloaded it from here. I'll just post another comment if all is fine with this registry cleaner. Thank you soo much Carlos Portocarrero for this helpful post

Guest's picture
kayman63

I defrag frequently and also use Krojam Cleaner. Works like a charm.