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How to speed up your PC: 24 performance tweaks

Hardware upgrades, software tweaks and networking tricks to get more PC speed

We look at ways to give your PC a definitive boost of power, covering hardware upgrades, software tweaks and networking tricks.

None of us ever thinks we have a fast enough PC. However deftly that multi-core machine might serve up multiple web pages and flit between Photoshop, Word and iPlayer, we're rarely satisfied with its performance. Whether this is due to the sheer pace of development that means there's always a faster system out there, or the burdensome bloatware that saddles some PCs, we all expect more from our machines.

Uninstalling unnecessary apps and some of the files that you're unlikely to need anytime soon is a good start. But this is mere tinkering. Rather than cooling the jets of overzealous apps, you want to give your PC a definitive boost of power. Over the following pages, we'll look at ways to do exactly that, covering hardware upgrades, software tweaks and networking tricks.

We're not just speculating about what could improve your machine's performance either. We looked at the most common computer bottlenecks and found ways to fix them. We ran benchmark tests on our computers before and after we made various changes to the hardware under the hood. Our tips reflect years of experience and the latest tools to reach the market. Read on for the secrets of upgraders and performance tweakers.


Hardware speed boosts

You want a faster system? Put faster parts in it. That's the simple answer to a question that every PC owner asks from time to time. But replacement parts aren't free, and cash-strapped computer enthusiasts know that the key is to put their money where it counts most.

That's why we've been looking into which upgrades give PCs the best performance bang for the buck. We separated our benchmark tests into two components: general system tasks (including office applications, photo editing and video encoding) and gaming. Then we divided our upgrades into four categories: CPU, RAM, hard drive and graphics card.

We selected two primary test systems to represent the types of desktop PCs that users are likely to want to overhaul with hardware upgrades: a three-year-old PC with a 3.4GHz Pentium D processor, 2GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and an nVidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; and a one-year old Dell with a 2.8GHz Core i7-860 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a one-terabyte (1TB) hard drive and an ATI Radeon HD 5670 graphics card. We then ran tests on the systems using various combinations of the above upgrades to determine which configurations yielded the best return on investment.

The results for individual PCs will vary, but the data supports general conclusions about which upgrades make the most sense.

Hardware speed boosts

Upgrading the CPU

Bumping our three-year-old computer's processor from an Intel Pentium D to a Core 2-class chip yielded instant and obvious performance improvements across the board. Moving to a 2.67GHz Core 2 Quad prompted a 36.8 percent jump in performance when using everyday applications. Using an older 3GHz Core 2 Duo was even more effective, with a boost of 52.6 percent. This was probably due to the speedier frontside bus on the Core 2 Duo over the Core 2 Quad. Graphics performance improved even more with both upgrades.

Best of all, our CPU upgrades were affordable. The Core 2 Duo upgrade rated as one of the best-value here. It cost a mere £3.61 for each percentage point of general performance improvement.

Upgrade Advisor

Upgrading RAM

Conventional wisdom has always held that upgrading your system's RAM will give it an instant boost. The upgrade is easy to perform, and it makes sense because PC memory is cheap. But if your PC already has even a moderate amount of RAM, you won't see much of a speed increase from adding more. For example, when we bumped up our 2GB PC to 4GB, we got a paltry 1.3 percent improvement to our everyday programs and virtually no improvement to games.

Similarly, our one-year-old Dell PC's performance improved by just 3 percent when we moved from 4GB of RAM to 8GB. The limited benefit that the upgrade provided in our benchmarks made investing in more memory almost pointless.

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