En Español | The minute you turn on a new personal computer, it starts slowing down. Like any machine that’s exposed to the elements, things start to gum up the works. And like any machine, maintenance is required. Ads are everywhere for services that claim to “clean up” and “speed up” your PC — for a fee. Instead of hiring someone else, here are nine ways to speed up your PC without spending any money.
Photo by David Arky
Find out what’s slowing you down
Each time you add a program or a service on your computer, visit a website or order a product online, you drop digital breadcrumbs into your computer’s memory. Subsequently, when you start up your computer it takes a little extra time to “read” each breadcrumb, slowing things down. Here are several of the leading causes of a slowed down computer:
- Too many programs are loading when you start up your computer (and often the main culprits are programs you no longer use).
- Your computer doesn’t have sufficient built-in computer memory, also known as RAM, to keep up with your programs and applications. This is different from the memory on your hard drive. If your computer doesn’t have enough RAM, the data gets stored on your hard drive instead, and that’s a time-consuming process.
- Viruses and malware, such as tracking programs.
- Too many temporary files and “cookies” from places you’ve visited on the Web. Cookies can make it faster to load a website that you visit often, but if you compile too many of them, it will ultimately slow you down.
- Disk fragmentation — this occurs when different bits and pieces of computer files and data that should be stored together are deposited on different parts of your hard drive. This is a particular problem on older computers running Windows Vista or Windows XP.
- Out-of-date programs or drivers.
- Sometimes it’s not your computer that’s slowing things down, but the speed of your Internet service, or an outdated wireless router.
Try these 9 steps
If you have a little bit of computer savvy, you can do many of the things you need to keep your computer up to speed without spending a dime.
1. Periodically delete the “temp” files from the computer and “history” files and “cookies” from your browser. In Microsoft Windows, use the Disk Cleanup function.
2. Periodically empty your “trash” or “recycle bin.”
3. Don’t leave your computer running. Every few days, turn it off and restart it.
4. In Windows, defragment your hard drive every few months — but don’t do it too often, because it actually adds wear and tear to your hard drive.
5. Uninstall programs that you no longer use.
6. Make sure your antivirus program is up to date, and that you’re only running one such program. Running more won’t provide any extra protection and will slow things down.
7. Automatically download the latest updates for Windows and for your other programs and devices like printers.
8. For older computers, you may be able to manually add more memory to speed up performance by adding more RAM — but only if you’re comfortable opening up the computer and poking around.
9. To test the speed of your Internet connection, visit speedtest.net for a quick, free test. If you’re getting less than 75 percent of the speed promised by your provider, call customer service to investigate.
If you need more help
OK, so if you’re not comfortable going the do-it-yourself route, there are scores of available programs and services that promise to keep your PC up to speed.
Among the most popular is PC Tools by the makers of Norton AntiVirus. A one-year subscription will run you just about $40 for three computers. For $49 System Mechanic from IoLo will cover all the computers in your home with updates for a year. Despite some differences, both PC Tools and System Mechanic provide a host of tools to automatically clean your computer.
Bad news for Apple users: Very few third-party programs will clean up a Mac, in part because of the way Apple maintains its proprietary operating system. Apple suggests deleting unused applications from your hard drive and running the computer’s disk permissions and repair utility if you’ve added or removed a number of applications.
One last dose of reality: Whether you use a PC or a Mac, sooner or later your computer will become obsolete. New operating systems require new programs, which often use more memory and resources than older computers can handle. But if you maintain your computer properly, you should be able to get about six years out of it before you need to upgrade.
You may also like: How to permanently remove files from your PC.