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How to speed up a slow computer

BY James O'Malley

22nd Jun 2023 Technology

How to speed up a slow computer

James O'Malley shares some tips for how to speed up a slow computer, from turning it off and then on again to defragging your hard disk

We all tend to slow down a little as we age, and the same is true for our computers. What was once shiny and new can start to feel sluggish and unresponsive. But luckily there, are some straightforward steps you can take to make your machine that little bit faster once again.

Restart your computer

The oldest advice in computing remains true. As we use our computers, we open and close apps and files, each of which require different system resources and leave little remnants behind. Think of it like a kitchen worktop—there’s only so many times you can prepare food without needing to wipe it down. 

Limit what happens at start-up

When your computer first loads up, before you even touch the mouse, it has already opened a bunch of programs and apps. Most of these take care of important system processes that are critical to running the computer—but others are less important.

"Head to Control Panel and disable some of your least needed start-up items"

For example, you probably don’t need Zoom to run automatically unless you’re planning to make a call. Or that little widget you used to use, but you’ve long logged out of and given up on? You definitely don’t need that. So head to Control Panel or Settings and disable some of your least needed start-up items. 

Defrag your hard disk

If you run Windows, you may want to periodically defragment your hard disk in settings. This doesn’t mess with any of your data, but it does put it into a more logical order, like organising a bookshelf into alphabetical order.

Computer downloading file slowly - slow computer

This means that when your computer needs to access files, it can find what it needs that little bit quicker. 

Uninstall what you don’t need

Check how full your hard disk is. If it is close to being completely full, then deleting files you don’t need, or uninstalling programs you no longer use will give your PC that little extra breathing room to use the spare memory. 

Reinstall your operating system

Perhaps not for the faint hearted, but similar to the advice above, sometimes it is good to start again with a clean state, without the digital dust and cobwebs of years previous weighing down your computer.

"Make sure you back-up anything important first! "

Just make sure that you know what you’re doing—and make sure you back-up anything important first

Physically clean your computer

Heat is your computer’s worst enemy, and modern operating systems have controls built in to automatically throttle down the processors if your machine gets too warm to stop any fires from breaking out. So don’t forget to occasionally blast the fans and other air holes with some compressed air, to remove the dust, so heat doesn’t build up too quickly. 

Bite the bullet and upgrade

And finally, the most annoying advice: If your computer is more than a few years old, it might be time to upgrade

One of the reasons our computers get slow is because, without realising, we start to demand more of them: Whether it’s new apps demanding more memory to show higher quality visuals, who upgrades that add extra features to software, which takes up extra processing power and disk space. 

"Finally, the most annoying advice: If your computer is more than a few years old, it might be time to upgrade"

Operating systems are particularly notorious for this, as each time Microsoft and Apple release new versions of Windows and Mac OS, each reset the assumptions about how powerful your computer is. And the reason why newer operating systems have whizzier graphics, or perhaps some nice translucent effects around the edge of windows, is because the companies know that most computers can handle it. The only problem is that if you’ve got an older machine, it means more of your system resources are devoted to doing the basics, instead of running apps and other software on top of it. 

Yes, it can be expensive and yes, it is annoying—but the pace of technological change often demands it. It might really be time to upgrade to something new. 

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