By Liz Lanier [October 19, 2021]
Is your slow computer driving you out of your mind? Don’t start searching for a replacement just yet. There are a few tips and tricks to try that just might speed up your PC and help you put off a costly purchase.
There are several factors that contribute to how quickly your computer is able to run programs, handle multiple internet browser tabs, stream media, edit photos/videos and perform other taxing tasks. One major factor is how efficiently your PC uses its memory—both storage on the hard drive and via your physical random-access memory (RAM). Simply put, it takes a lot more energy for a computer to startup and run if it is overloaded with unused programs and unnecessary processes.
Freeing up space on your hard drive and increasing your RAM are both possible solutions if you’re trying to increase your computer’s speed, but there are a few other things to try as well.
How do I increase my physical memory/RAM?
Your computer’s RAM basically functions as the short-term data center of your PC. So if it’s overwhelmed, the result can be a sluggish performance.
Thankfully, for most computers, upgrading your RAM is not a difficult process. However, it does involve opening up your PC and handling sensitive components, so some caution and preparation is needed to avoid damaging your computer.
To see what your PC is currently working with, pull up your Task Manager under the Start menu or by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc and then click the Performance tab, then Memory. Generally speaking, 8GB of RAM is enough to provide fast browsing speeds and multi-tasking that the average PC user is probably looking for in performance.
If you want your computer to be faster in order to handle games, however, you might consider upgrading to 16GB (or even 32GB if your computer can handle it). However, that amount of RAM can be excessive (and expensive) for the average computer user. Make sure to search what your specific computer model has in terms of storage capacity for RAM. Usually there will be a specific number of “slots” into which RAM is placed.
The basic process of installing new RAM involves simply pulling the old memory sticks out and replacing them with the new ones, but it should be noted this is much simpler on a desktop PC tower than a laptop. But before purchasing new RAM sticks, make sure your PC can handle the upgrade. The maximum RAM your computer can handle is the lower limit of whatever your motherboard and operating system can accommodate, and you’ll need to check whether your PC takes DDR3 or DDR4-type RAM. You can find RAM at any number of online retailers, including Amazon and Newegg.
How do I free up space on my computer?
To increase your computer’s available memory to boost performance, you can either replace the hard drive with a larger one (if it’s removable) or you’ve got to make some cuts to what you keep on your computer. Don’t worry though: if you haven’t taken a look at your programs before, chances are high there are some unused items that could be clogging up your PC’s performance.
You can uninstall programs under the Control Panel, or by hitting the Windows key and typing “Add or Remove Programs” to pull the menu up. You can view programs by the order in which they were installed; it might be helpful to sort by “first installed” to see if there is any freeware installed on your PC that you don’t need. This can also potentially help your computer boot up faster if you are removing unnecessary programs that automatically run at startup.
It should be noted that malware, harmful software installed on computers which can absolutely slow down your PC, will generally not appear in this list since it is deceptive by design.
Check your computer for viruses and malware
If you don’t already, you’ll want to have some sort of antivirus protection on your computer to prevent getting those nasty bugs and adware on your PC that will slow it down further. If you suspect you might have a virus already, all is not lost. There are a variety of antivirus scanner and removal tools available online for free or at cost.
Adjust your computer’s startup settings
Programs that run in the background will take up valuable processing power and slow your computer down. While it’s simple enough to bring up the Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc) to see what’s running and close out unneeded programs, it’s even better to prevent your computer from opening these programs to start with.
Under the Task Manager, open the Startup tab. This displays which programs will open automatically every time you power on. If there are applications you know you don’t use everyday, right-click on them and select ‘Disable’ to prevent them from booting up automatically (the program itself is not disabled in any way).
Clear your temporary files
Clearing out your cache on your computer and in your internet browser of choice is one of the simplest ways to potentially speed up your PC and/or your internet browsing experience.
Your computer stores temporary files for faster loading, but when these temporary files build up they can actually slow down your PC experience. To clear the cache on your PC, you’ll need to select the Disk Cleanup option which you can find by searching the Start menu. Select your Temporary Files from the scroll-down menu to delete them (and maybe empty your Recycle Bin while you’re at it too?)
To clear your browser’s cache, you will need to clear out the temporary files under the settings of your preferred browser. Make sure to do this for each browser you use (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) to free up as much space as possible.
Defragment your hard drive
After you’ve done the work of deleting unused programs and clearing out temporary and deleted files, defragging your hard drive can help your computer optimize the space you’ve just freed up.
To do this, go to your PC’s Control Panel, then select the System and Security option. You can find the option to defragment your disk under Administrative Tools. Please note that defragging might take some time, anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
Liz Lanier is a journalist and MFA candidate currently living in Minnesota. You can find her writing at Variety, Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun, The Mary Sue, Game Informer Magazine, and other publications.