Everyone wants a faster PC or laptop. At PC Advisor we spend an inordinate amount of time proferring advice on how to make PCs old and new feel more responsive. But that can mean too much information: if you are reading this article the chances are that you have one of only a few needs. Perhaps you have a relatively new PC or laptop that works fine, but you would like it to be faster. That may be for general use, or something specific such as browsing the web, or gaming. Or possibly you have an older PC or laptop that used to be fine but now crawls.
Here we've written an easy to follow checklist, pointing out what you should do to make your PC faster in any of these scenarios. They range from the easiest to the hardest - so start at the beginning and work through to speed up your PC or laptop.
Speed up a computer: the soft(ware) option
The following software changes really don't apply to a brand new system. If you need to make a new PC or laptop faster you do need to check the broadband and make sure it isn't infected with a virus, but you can skip the rest of this section and head to hardware upgrades.
Read on if, however, you've had a PC or laptop for a while and it has noticably slowed down. This is likely to be something you have changed - either hardware or software. Have you installed some new software or a new component? In the first instance you should roll back these changes. Either use System Restore or swap out the offending hardware. See how to use System Restore to fix a Windows PC.
If nothing obvious springs to mind there are two things to check.
Slow PC: Is it your PC or the broadband?
First, is it your PC or your connection that is slow? If you principally use your PC to email, browse the web and use Facebook it's possible that what is slow is your web connection and not your PC. It's probably not the case but you can check easily by visiting a broadband speed checker such as PC Advisor's own. Also, if you have a laptop take it to a friend's house or into the office where you know the broadband is okay, log on and see how things are. If you have a desktop PC borrow a laptop to do the same check at home (if the laptop slows down the network is the issue). If the web connection is the culprit you can improve things in several ways, but the first one is to complain to your ISP - especially if it has recently got a lot slower. For further tips check out our piece: How to improve Wi-Fi speed and range.
Slow PC: is it a virus?
Much more likely a PC slow-down is caused by a malware infection of some kind. You should of course have a robust internet security package running on your PC or laptop. If you don't, buy and install one today - see our article: what's the best security software? for advice on which one to choose.
Scan and clean your PC and you should find that things improve. If you have an existing security program it is still worth updating the virus definitions and running a scan, but it is likely that the infection has found a way around your chosen program. You can add a further layer of protection by using a free product such as Malwarebytes to do a further scan and clean up any problems.
Speed up a computer: software tweaks
If you've ruled out recent changes, your web connection and malware, the reason your PC has slowed up is likely to be related to wear and tear. If you've used your PC for a long time it's likely that the storage is pretty full with files, photos and videos. You may also have installed a lot of programs that all run at the same time causing your processor to struggle.
As a basic piece of housekeeping it makes sense to delete anything you don't want to keep. And by going to add/remove programs in your Control Panel you should remove and programs you no longer use - software is a resource hog that can really slow down your PC or laptop. Read our story: how to uninstall a program from your PC.
If the length of time it takes your PC to boot up is the issue, read our story stop programs starting up when your PC boots up and you'll find things speed up in that respect.
One other way of squeezing out speed from your PC is to defragment the hard drives. If you have a spinning hard disk rather than an SSD, even after you have deleted files the remaining data will be stored all over the disk. the theory is that your PC will have to work harder to access such scattered files, so defragmenting them (or defragging) will lead to a speed bump. I have to say in my experience I have never noticed much improvement from defragging, but if you have just removed a load of programs it is a good thing to do.
If all of this is sounding a bit too technical, fear not. There are plenty of easy to use free tools that will help with these PC housekeeping tasks. One of the best is CCleaner, which you can download here.
Ultimately these software tweaks are unlikely to make a major change to a poorly PC, although they are all good practice and will all give you small speed boosts. There's more advice in our features, speed up your PC with Windows built-in tools and speed up and clean up your PC.
Ultimately, if your problem is software related and you have used your PC for a long while, the only option may be to reinstall Windows. That is, however, a very serious move to make and should be only a last resort. For more read our piece: how to reinstall Windows.
Speed up a computer: hardware upgrades
After software the most important factors in the speed of a PC are memory, the processor and then storage. For a good overview read our piece should I upgrade my PC's memory, processor, hard drive, SSD or graphics card?
Number one: do you have enough RAM? You can really never have to much memory, although older 32-bit PCs and laptops can usefully use only 3GB RAM. Read our article how to upgrade RAM, and why to find out how to check your RAM and install some more.
Installing a new processor is difficult, but not impossible. It's also likely to be expensive (and you reach the point where a new PC or laptop may be a better idea). But it is possible, and we explain how in our piece how to upgrade a PC's processor.
A more simple upgrade is to install an SSD into your PC or laptop - if you don't have one already. Solid-state storage is much quicker than a traditional spinning HDD or hard drive. And if your Windows operating system is installed on an SSD you'll find that your whole PC works faster. Here we explain how to install an SSD in your PC or laptop.
Finally, another hardware upgrade is to improve your graphics card. This can be expensive, but is effective if you want to enjoy faster gaming or better quality HD video. Read our piece: how to upgrade your PC's graphics card to find out more.