Is your computer running slow? Whether it’s a desktop or a laptop, here are a few simple steps to speeding up your Windows-based PC.
Whether your PC has been slowly degrading in speed or it happened all of the sudden, working with a slow computer can hamper productivity and cause frustration. Even if you run malware monitoring applications, other problems can arise that have nothing to do with cybersecurity.
If you think you’ve tried everything and are ready to throw out your old computer, you may want to consider following some of these tips before you spend the money. Some simple decluttering and other technical operations can have your slow computer running like the day you plugged it in for the first time.
Close System Tray Programs
When you boot up your PC a lot of programs are set to run by default, but oftentimes these programs aren’t necessary for normal operations. To close these programs, navigate to your system tray – otherwise, these programs will continue running and potentially hamper your computer’s speed and your productivity.
Accessing the system tray will be similar for Windows 7, 8, and 10 – but not identical. The system tray is located at the bottom right of your main screen. If there aren’t a bunch of programs displayed here, you may have to click the upward-facing arrow on the right side of your taskbar (to the left of your clock). Once you’ve figured out which programs you don’t need to complete your daily tasks, right-click these programs individually and then select Exit, Close, Shut Down, or something similar depending on the program.
Stop programs running on startup
Now that you’ve figured out that you don’t want certain programs launching when you boot up your computer, let’s make sure that these programs (and any additional unnecessary programs) don’t load on startup. Programs like Antivirus software are probably necessary to keep running, but other programs can unnecessarily slow down your PC.
There are multiple ways to launch your task manager in order to select which programs launch on startup. You can either Right-Click the taskbar and select Task Manager or simply hold Ctrl-Shift-Esc to automatically launch the taskbar. Alternatively, you can press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to launch a menu that includes the task manager.
Once you launch the Task Manager, you may have to select More Details depending on which operating system your PC is running. Now that you can see various tabs, select the Startup tab.
While there is no one-size-fits-all guide for which programs need to be running, you can probably determine which apps are unnecessary to run all the time. Remember, removing these apps from launching on startup doesn’t mean you can’t launch this app later by going to your start menu and finding the application.
Your task manager should have a category called Startup impact which tells you how much this program affects the performance of your computer. It is recommended to close High impact programs first, then medium, low, and not measured. Remember not to close any programs that are essential for your daily tasks or for normal operations of your PC. If you aren’t sure if you should close a program, it is highly recommended that you either leave it alone or try going to Google and searching for the program to find out what it does.
For Windows 7 users, instead of accessing the task manager, go to your start menu and search System Configuration.
Update Windows, drivers, and applications
While keeping your software up-to-date is great for cybersecurity reasons, it can also speed up the normal processes of your computer. Usually, Windows sends a notification automatically when an update is available. Make sure you don’t put these updates off.
If you want to check for updates, or if you think you’ve missed an update, you can always check by going to the Start Menu and selecting or typing Settings. Then go to Updates & Security > Windows Updates. Once you’re ready to update, select Check for updates.
Drivers and applications should also be updated when prompted – which is good for both cybersecurity and system performance. If you think one of your drivers or programs is due for an update, a simple Google search should help you figure out which version you should be using.
Delete Unnecessary Files
Just like an overcrowded photo album, computers can get cluttered too. If you deal with a lot of large files like high-resolution images, audio files, or video files on a daily basis, these programs can likely slow down your computer’s performance.
You can free up space by making a habit of deleting these files and folders each week and emptying the recycling bin afterward. If you do this regularly, you’ll be so familiar with your files and folders that you’ll know you won’t be accidentally deleting an important file.
Alternatively, if you want to free up space while keeping all of your files, there are a few ways to accomplish this. After all, HDDs (hard disk drives) run at peak speeds only up to 90 percent capacity and SSDs (Solid State Drives) can run at peak speed until they reach about 75 percent capacity. To free up space and keep your files, consider using Google Drive, DropBox, OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, IDrive, Box, or a similar personal cloud storage service. These programs keep your files on a cloud server and don’t affect your computer’s performance until you need to access these files on the web.
Find out which program is using too many resources
If your computer is only suddenly running significantly slower, chances are you downloaded (knowingly or unknowingly) a program that is eating up your resources. To find out which program is slowing down your computer, go back to your Task Manager. In the Processes tab, select More details to find out information about the programs that are currently running on your computer.
Then you can sort your running programs by clicking on each header and locating the items at the top of the list. Programs can eat up resources like CPU, Memory, Disk, or Network processes. If you want to close something, try closing the application normally first (either directly on the program or in the system tray). If the program still won’t close, go back to the Task Manager, right-click the application, and select End task.
Adjust your power settings
Windows comes with several preset power plans to suit the needs of average users. The default is usually something like Balanced, which takes into account performance and energy consumption. Energy consumption is only important if you’re running off a battery, trying to keep the electricity bill down, or trying to extend the life of your laptop’s battery (not applicable for desktop computers).
If your PC is running slowly, try changing your plan to the High-Performance option. Although this option uses more energy, it favors performance and should help speed up your computer.
If the standard options aren’t working for you, you can create your own plan. To change these settings go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Power Options > Create a power plan. Now you can choose which existing plan you want to start with and edit your new plan from there. Common options include how long the display stays on when you’re inactive or how long after use until your computer goes into sleep mode. While these options won’t really affect your computer’s speed, you can go into the Advanced Power Settings to make further adjustments that will have an impact. Note: You should only adjust these options if you know what you’re doing.
Uninstall unused programs
Sometimes we install programs without realizing how much space they take up. Even if it’s a program you use once in a while, it may be worth uninstalling the program for now and installing it again temporarily when you need to use it. Depending on the size of the program, this could drastically improve your PC’s performance.
To uninstall programs, go to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features. If you’re unsure about which programs to uninstall, make sure you research them first via a search engine.
Turn Windows features on or off
While you’re on the Programs and Features window, you might want to make sure there aren’t any Windows components running that you don’t need. To find out, select Turn Windows Features on or off and you’ll see a list of components. Again, if you aren’t sure about which programs you need, a simple Google search can help you figure it out.
Run a disk cleanup
This tip can get complicated – make sure you know what you’re doing before you run a disk cleanup. Once you know a little more about which programs aren’t necessary to run your computer, you can go to Control Panel > System Security > Administrative Tools > Disk Cleanup. Now you can select the types of files you want to get rid of, click OK, and click Clean up system files, and choose any files you want to remove.
Defrag your hard drive
Files on your hard drive can become fragmented over time, meaning your computer has to check in multiple places for the pieces – making it run more slowly. The term ‘defragment’ basically just means putting your files back together so your system can run more efficiently.
Windows 10, 8, and 7 automatically defragments the hard drive once per week, but if you suspect there is an issue, you can manually run the defragment drive.
If your computer uses a Solid State Drive (SSD), there is no need for defragmentation. But if your PC uses an HDD (Hard Disk Drive) or a combination of HDD and SSD, only defragment the HDD.
To optimize, go to My Computer, then right-click the hard drive (which is named WINDOWS (C:) by default). Then go to Properties > Tools and Click Optimize located under Optimize and defragment drive. After that, an Optimize Drives window will appear. If you’re using an SSD, Analyze will be “greyed-out” and you won’t be able to select it.
Now select your HDD drive and click Analyze to see how fragmented it is. A good rule of thumb would be to keep your HDD under 5 percent fragmented. If it’s over 5 percent, click Optimize to defragment the disk.
If you’re using an SSD, Optimize is an option. If you select optimize, your PC will run the TRIM command, which wipes any data that is considered no longer in use.
Adjust or disable graphics and animations
Recent versions of Windows like Windows 10 come with a bunch of graphics like fading effects and flyouts by default. While these may make applications appear sleeker, they can also slow down your computer.
To adjust these settings and save a bit of processing power, go to Control Panel > System and Security > Advanced system settings. Then, in the Performance section, select Settings. You can either select Adjust for performance to remove all visual effects or remove each animation individually and keep the ones you like. Although it is a matter of preference, fade and show features are completely unnecessary when it comes to completing tasks or running your computer properly.
Check for malware
Malware, or malicious software, is a blanket term used to describe any programs that could cause harm to your computer. Malware can come from various sources like email links, software downloads, and even ads. Aside from malware that can exploit you or cause permanent damage to your system, some forms of malware can cause your computer to run more slowly.
Having good antivirus software installed is a great way to protect your PC against malware and other cyber threats. Some great free options are available like Avast One Essential, AVG AntiVirus Free, Bitdefender Antivirus Free, Microsoft Defender Antivirus, or Adaware Antivirus Free.
Although the Windows 10 digital assistant, Cortana, is a great feature, it uses up a lot of resources and poses a potential threat to privacy if your computer is hacked.
To disable Cortana hold Ctrl-Shift-Esc and click the Startup column. Select Cortana and click Disable. Then open the Start menu, find Cortana under All Apps, right-click Cortana and select More. Now click on App settings and turn off the switch next to Runs at log-in. Now Cortana has been successfully disabled.
To Uninstall Cortana, open the Start menu and type in PowerShell. Right-click on Windows PowerShell and select Run as administrator. Next, type (or copy/paste) the following bolded text: Get-AppxPackage -allusers Microsoft.549981C3F5F10 | Remove-AppxPackage then press Enter. Keep in mind this step can be risky for everyday users and involves completely removing Cortana from your PC.
Most users will want to simply disable Cortana rather than completely removing the program from their hard drive.
Upgrade your hardware
If you’ve tried everything already, chances are it might be time to invest in some upgraded hardware. If you want to really speed up your PC, consider purchasing an SSD. Although HDDs offer more space for a lower price, adding an SSD can make your computer run a lot more quickly.
You can also add more RAM. If you have an older computer, it may have too little memory to efficiently run modern applications. On top of that, if you use a lot of programs simultaneously, you might not have enough RAM (Random Access Memory) to stay productive. Installing more RAM could be exactly the boost your computer needs.
Restart your browser
Have you been running your PC for days, weeks, or months on end? Restarting your browser (or computer altogether) can speed up your computer more than you may think.
To quickly restart your browser just close all of your Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari windows, and then start the browser back up. This may be enough to refresh your browser and get your connection back up to full speed.
However, if pages are still loading sluggishly, you may want to consider installing an ad blocker like Adblock Plus, AdLock, Ghostery, Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, or Chrome Browser Baseline.
Like other programs, it’s also important to keep your browser up to date so that it can run efficiently. Just Google the name of your browser with the term “Update” afterward to find what you’re looking for.
Lastly, you may want to remove cookies and clear the cache of your browser. This can generally be found under More Tools or Settings in the top right of your browser.
Close a few tabs
If restarting the browser didn’t help, try closing a few tabs that you don’t need right now. If you’ve become accustomed to running with dozens (or even just 10) tabs open, you’ve likely been experiencing performance issues without even realizing it.
After all, all of your tabs require RAM and the more RAM that is being used the slower your computer will run.
Remember, you can always find an old tab that you closed by navigating to Browser History.
Last-minute computer tips
It’s essential to keep an eye on which apps are running and which ones need to be updated. Follow these tips to make sure your computer stays free from speed issues:
- Clean your computer. That’s right, dust and grime can accumulate inside your PC causing it to slow down – or even overheat.
- Remove unused browser extensions. Like other programs, browser extensions eat up RAM and slow down your computer. If you aren’t using them, delete them for now.
- Restart your computer regularly. Sometimes restarting your computer can enable updates to take effect and shut down any stuck programs. Whenever you aren’t at your PC at the end of the day or at break time, restarting is always a good idea.
- Run fewer programs simultaneously. If you make a habit of minimizing or closing unused programs, you’ll likely see a boost in speed.
- *Reinstall your operating system. This should only be used as a last resort. If you’ve tried everything above to no avail, it may be time to reinstall your operating system.
Speed up your PC with the help of an IT consultant
We know how it is. Not everyone feels comfortable performing maintenance on their computer, especially a work computer. If any of these tips were too complicated, contacting an IT consultant is a great option.
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