16 top tips for optimising Windows 10

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16 top tips for optimising Windows 10

Speed up Microsoft's operating system with these startup tweaks, shortcuts, productivity tips and diagnostics hints.

Windows 10 is built for speed – at least in theory. In practice, chances are you’ve upgraded an older, slower PC, or you haven’t got round to discovering Windows 10’s brand new navigational shortcuts.

As in any version of Windows, you can improve its speed by uninstalling programs you don’t use, disabling startup items you don’t need and clearing out junk you never wanted in the first place. But Windows 10 also offers new settings and approaches to speed up familiar tasks. These will give you quicker access to your favourite files and programs, while drastically improving startup times, system performance and more besides.

Windows 10 doesn’t always make these settings easy to find, meaning some serious digging is required to unlock the full potential of the operating system. But don’t worry – we’ve done the spadework for you. 

So, whether you want to print photos quickly, access the most important settings in a flash, open programs faster, or speed up Windows 10 on an older PC, it’s all explained here – along with before-and-after examples to show you what a difference each tip can make to Windows 10.

Read on for 16 ways to speed up Microsoft’s operating system with:

1. Start up your PC faster

The slow way

Windows 10 already starts up quicker than many of its predecessors, but if you stick with its default settings, you may be missing out on even shorter boot times.

The fast way

To enable Windows 10’s ‘fast start-up’ option, click Start, type , then click Power Options. In the window that opens, click ‘Choose what the power buttons do’, then ‘Change settings that are currently unavailable’. Under ‘Shut-down settings’ check whether the ‘Turn on fast start-up (recommended)’ option is available. If so, make sure it’s ticked and click ‘Save changes’. If ‘Turn on fast start-up (recommended)’ is greyed-out, click ‘Change settings that are currently unavailable’ so you can access the tickbox.

To make Windows 10 load even faster you can also use hibernation mode in combination with ‘fast start-up’. To put your computer into hibernation mode click Start, then the power button and choose Hibernate (rather than ‘Shut down’). This will put your PC into a very low power-usage mode, the benefit of which is much faster load times the next time you switch on your computer.

2. Log in to Windows without a password

The slow way

By default, you can’t log into Windows 10 without typing your password first. In many situations, this is a security feature that should be left enabled – if you use a laptop, for example, or share your PC with others. But if you are the only person who has access to your PC, then the login process could be costing you unnecessary time. Still, you should only carry out this tweak if you are absolutely certain no-one can take advantage.

The fast way

To skip the Windows login screen and move straight to the desktop, press Windows key+R to open the Run dialogue box, then type into the box and press Enter.

In the window that opens, click to highlight your user account, then untick the box next to ‘Users must enter a username and password to use this computer’ and click Apply. A new window will open, asking you to confirm this action by typing your password twice. Once you’ve done this, click OK.

3. Remove preinstalled junk

The slow way

Almost all new PCs these days come crammed with preinstalled junk software that you’ll never use, and that’s especially true for Windows 10 PCs. Not only will your PC have all those unwanted programs from your PC’s manufacturer, but you’ll also find a load of Windows 10 apps that Microsoft has added. Many of these do little more than sit there consuming space and system resources. Windows 10’s junk doesn’t just affect new PCs. Upgrade an older computer to the new OS and you’ll be importing a large number of useless tools in the process.

You can ditch the manufacturer’s junk fairly quickly using ‘Uninstall a program’ in the control panel, but removing Microsoft’s apps is a lengthy process that involves scrolling through the ‘All apps’ list, right-clicking any apps you don’t want, then selecting Uninstall. Worse still, some won’t even let you uninstall them.

The fast way

There’s a Powershell command that lets you uninstall all of Windows 10’s built-in apps in one go. And, while this is certainly fast, we don’t recommend using it because it removes certain apps that are essential for Windows to function correctly, including the Windows Store. The procedure can also make it difficult to reinstall any apps you later realise you want back.

Instead, we’d recommend using a free tool called 10AppsManager, which can safely remove many of Windows 10’s more pointless apps (3D Builder, we’re looking at you). Before you start, it’s worth creating a point so you can rewind your PC to this point in time in the unlikely event that installing apps causes problems in the future. Once you’ve done that, unzip and run the tool, then click a tile to remove its associated app. You can also click Reinstall to see instructions on how to get back the apps you uninstall (though you can also use the system restore point you created earlier).

4. Speed up Windows 10 on an older PC

The slow way

Windows 10 should feel snappy and responsive. But, on some older or lower-powered PCs, the operating system may not run quite as speedily as you would hope.

The fast way

Fortunately, there are several ways you can put a spring back in Windows 10’s step. First, try disabling animations by clicking Start, Settings, ‘Ease of access’, then ‘Other options’ and switching off the ‘Play animations in Windows’ option. Now click the Back arrow (in the top left of the Settings app window), and click Personalisation. Here, click Colours and switch off ‘Make Start, taskbar and Action Centre transparent’. This will save valuable system resources.

Finally, there’s a Registry hack that lets you reduce the time it takes for menus, such as the Start menu, to appear when you click – another way to make your system feel more responsive. Make sure you set a point before you start, then click Start, type and press Enter. In the Registry Editor, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop. In the right-hand pane, double-click MenuShowDelay, then change the number shown from 400 to something significantly lower – 20, for example – then click OK and restart your PC.

5. Access all your important items from one place

The slow way

You can waste a lot of time tracking down Windows’ hidden tools, files and settings. Thankfully, Windows 10 makes the process faster by letting you search for almost anything via the taskbar’s search field. However, this still requires you to type the name of whatever you’re looking for. A better solution would be to have a dedicated place for all your most frequently used folders, programs and settings so they are only ever a click away. Windows 10 can provide exactly that.

The fast way

With a little customising and re-organising, Windows 10’s Start menu will provide superfast access to just about everything you need.

The first thing to do is unpin any tiles you don’t use from the right-hand section of the Start menu. Simply, right-click each and select ‘Unpin from Start’. Now, pin all the items you want. These can include folders, programs listed in the ‘All apps’ list, and individual settings from the Settings app. To add any of these to the Start menu, right-click the program, folder or setting and select ‘Pin to Start’.

Next, click and drag the tiles to reposition them. It’s a good idea to arrange tiles into groups. You can create a new group by clicking and dragging a tile to the bottom of the menu until you see a solid coloured strip appear above it. Release the tile and you’ll see it sitting below the other groups. Click above the tile and type your chosen name for this new group. So, for example, you could create groups for your programs, folders and settings – all available simply by clicking Start. You can also extend the Start menu by clicking and dragging outwards from its top and right-hand edges.

Next: Shortcuts

6. Access your favourite files and folders 

The slow way

Most of us have specific folders on our computers that we return to time after time. Maybe it’s a specific folder of cherished photos, or a subfolder within your Documents folder where you store important letters. Either way, if you laboriously click Start | File Explorer, and then navigate to the relevant folder every time you want to access the files it contains, you’re wasting valuable time.

The fast way

In previous versions of Windows, you had the option of creating shortcuts for your frequently used folders by dragging them to your desktop. You can do this in Windows 10, but doing so for multiple items will soon clutter up your desktop. Windows 10 offers a much neater system called ‘Quick access’, which is the default view in File Explorer. 

Whenever you open an Explorer window ‘Quick access’ will automatically display shortcuts to any folders and files you’ve recently used. But you can customise it to display any folders you choose. Simply navigate to the relevant folder, right-click it and select ‘Pin to Quick access’.

Better still, you can now bypass File Explorer altogether when opening your favourite folders. For example, if you’ve already pinned a folder called ‘Letters’ to ‘Quick access’, simply right-click the File Explorer icon on your taskbar and you’ll see a shortcut to the folder listed in the Pinned section. Click this and you’ll be taken straight there.

7. Open programs faster every time

The slow way

Looking for a program that begins with the letter ‘W’? Such as Word 2016, for example? Well, it’ll be lurking at the bottom of your alphabetically arranged Apps list. Unless you’ve added a shortcut tile to your Start menu (see previous tip), you’ll need to click Start, ‘All apps’, then scroll through a lengthy list of all your installed programs to get to the one you want.

The fast way

Windows 10’s ‘All apps’ list offers a clever, albeit hidden, way to navigate to a specific program quickly. Click Start, ‘All apps’, then click the letter ‘A’. The list of programs changes to a grid of letters.

Clicking the letter ‘W’, for example, will take you directly to all the programs whose name begins with that letter, including Word 2016. Greyed-out letters in the grid mean there are no programs installed beginning with that letter. Click the clock icon at the top left to return to the ‘All apps’ list.

8. Launch Windows tools you use most often

The slow way

Device Manager, System Properties and Control Panel have always been among the most used tools in Windows. These and many other core functions and options are now accessible via the Settings app in Windows 10, which many people find easier to use. However, there are still crucial tasks that can only be carried out using these older tools. For example, if you need to roll back to an earlier hardware driver or check whether a device is working you’ll still need to rely on Device Manager. But to open it, you’ll have to delve deep into the ‘All apps’ list, find Computer Management (under Windows Administrative Tools), then select Device Manager from the left-hand pane of the window that opens.

The fast way

Thankfully, there’s a much quicker way to launch Device Manager and many of the other useful tools that Windows 10 tries to bury.

Right-click the Start button to reveal a handy hidden menu of shortcuts to important management tools, including Device Manager, Control Panel, System, Disk Management and the Command Prompt.

9. Navigate between open windows

The slow way

If you tend to work with multiple programs, browsers and File Explorer windows all open at the same time, you can easily get bogged down in an endless loop of clicking taskbar icons and dragging windows around the screen to see the one you want.

The fast way

If you prefer using the Alt+Tab keyboard shortcut to cycle through taskbar thumbnails of all your open windows, you’ll be pleased to hear you can still do this in Windows 10. But there’s another, potentially quicker method too.

To the left of your taskbar you’ll see the Task View button (an icon with two overlapping rectangles). Click this and your screen will fill up with larger thumbnails representing all your open programs. Simply click the one you want to switch to it.

10. Access all your photos from the taskbar

The slow way

Earlier, we explained how to pin folders to ‘Quick access’ for… well, quick access. And that’s a great way to get to a specific folder in no time. But what if you want a fast way to access the files and subfolders stored within a particular folder, such as your Pictures folder? Of course, you could open File Explorer and navigate to the folder you want. Or you could turn the folder into a toolbar and access its files directly from your taskbar.

The fast way

Right-click a blank space on your taskbar and select Toolbars. Here, you’ll see a small selection of default toolbars that you can add to the right-hand side of the taskbar to speed up certain activities.

For example, you can select Address here to add an address bar to the taskbar, which lets you access any web page directly from your desktop by typing its URL into the address bar and pressing return; the page will open in your default browser. The Links toolbar lets you navigate directly to a list of your bookmarked websites, but this currently only works with Microsoft’s Edge browser.

There will be other toolbars listed here that you can enable, depending on your PC and the programs you have installed. Alternatively, click ‘New toolbar’, then navigate to the folder you want (Pictures, for example), then highlight it and click ‘Select folder’. The name of the folder will appear on the taskbar. Click the pair of arrows (>>) next to the folder’s name for immediate access to any files or folders contained within it.

Next: Productivity tips

11. Find hidden settings by unlocking GodMode

The slow way

Windows 10’s Settings app is much easier to navigate than Windows 7’s Control Panel and easier to access than Windows 8’s PC Settings. But if you’re not sure what you’re looking for or where the setting you want might be, then it can still be time-consuming to trawl through the various pages of settings to find the one you want. This isn’t helped by the fact that some settings can only be found in the Control Panel, which can be a palaver to access. Luckily, there’s a way to view all of Windows 10’s configuration options in one place.

The fast way

GodMode is a hidden folder that makes a wide range of useful PC customisations available in one place. GodMode isn’t new to Windows 10. In fact, it’s available in Windows 7 and 8. But it’s particularly useful in Windows 10, whose settings are spread across two different environments (Control Panel and the Settings app).

Enabling GodMode requires a hack, but it’s a very simple one. Right-click anywhere on your desktop and select New, then Folder. The folder’s name will be highlighted – rename it with the following command and press Enter when you’ve finished typing: GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

A GodMode shortcut will appear, displaying a Control Panel-type icon. You don’t have to call it GodMode – you can type whatever you like before the full stop, and this will become the shortcut’s name.

Once you’ve created the shortcut, double-click it to view its contents. You’ll find more than 220 settings listed, all of which are grouped by type – Fonts, Troubleshooting, User Accounts and so on – and you can use the top-right search box to look for settings by keyword. Now, if you ever find yourself trying to track down an obscure setting or tool, such as Windows’ hidden program for creating custom characters for your fonts – the mysteriously named Private Character Editor – you know where to go.

GodMode recently came in for some bad press, when security firm McAfee revealed it had detected a new strain of malware that used GodMode-like techniques to make it difficult to detect or remove. But this doesn’t mean enabling or using GodMode on your PC is dangerous.

12. Instantly zoom in on hard-to-read text

The slow way

You’ll need to click your way through Windows 10’s Settings app to carry out many everyday tasks. For example, to switch on the Magnifier so you can zoom in on a piece of text, you’ll need to click Start, Settings, Ease of Access, Magnifier, then click the switch to enable the tool. The Magnifier is something you’ll probably only want switched on when you want to read small text, so wouldn’t it be good if you could quickly switch it on and off without this rigmarole.

The fast way

Well, as it happens, Windows 10 lets you add any setting in the Settings app to the Start menu as a tile.

To add the Magnifier to the Start menu, navigate to it in the Settings app (as described above), then right-click Magnifier in the left-hand column and select ‘Pin to Start’, then click Yes. The same method can be used to pin other settings.

13. Print photos and files faster

The slow way

To print a photo or a document, the conventional method is to navigate to the file you want, open it in a dedicated program, click File, then Print. It’s the logical way to do it, but it’s also the most long-winded.

The fast way

Windows 10’s File Explorer includes a tabbed ribbon toolbar at the top, which contains shortcuts for a number of useful tasks – including printing. So rather than opening the file you want to print, you could just locate it in File Explorer, then click the Share tab, followed by Print. But there is an even faster way.

File Explorer has a hidden toolbar called the Quick Access Toolbar. You’ll find it, by default, just above the ribbon in the top-left corner of the File Explorer window. The Quick Access Toolbar only contains two shortcuts – Properties and ‘New folder’ – but you can add others, including Print. Click the Share tab, then right-click the Print command and select ‘Add to Quick Access Toolbar’. You’ll now see the Print icon in the top-left corner whenever you open a File Explorer window, letting you print a selected file or photo with a single click.

You can customise the Quick Access Toolbar further, according to your needs. For example, you may want to add the ‘Burn to disc’ or Email shortcuts. In fact, you can add any command in any ribbon tab to the Quick Access Toolbar. Click the down arrow to the right of the toolbar’s icons to add even more icons (Undo, Redo, Delete and Rename) or select ‘Show below the Ribbon’ to give the toolbar more prominence.

14. Disable notification sounds when you sleep

The slow way

Notifications are useful, but there are times – at night, for example – when you might not want to be disturbed. You could click Start, then click Settings | System | Notifications & Actions, then switch off each individual option you require. Or you could use ‘Quiet hours’.

The fast way

‘Quiet hours’ is a setting in Windows 10 that instantly silences all notifications between midnight and 6am. You can reach it via the ‘Quick actions’ panel at the bottom of the Action Centre. This is a collection of handy shortcuts that you access by clicking the speech-bubble icon to the right of your taskbar. You’ll see only four ‘Quick action’ icons by default, so click Expand if you don’t see the ‘Quiet hours’ icon. And if that isn’t quick enough for you, simply right-click the speech-bubble icon and select ‘Turn on quiet hours’.

You can customise the ‘Quick actions’ panel to include other tasks. For example, it might be handy to have two-click access to Tablet mode if you’re using a touchscreen device, or to Flight mode if you regularly need to disable or enable all wireless connections. To choose which four ‘Quick actions’ you want shown when you open the Action Centre, click Start, Settings, System, ‘Notifications & actions’, then select your preferred options.

15. Read important notifications before they disappear

The slow way

While most of this feature is concerned with speeding up tasks in Windows 10, some aspects would be more convenient and save you time if they were slowed down. Notifications, for example, flash up in the bottom-right of the taskbar, then disappear before you get a chance to read them. Missing a notification can have serious consequences, particularly if it is alerting you to security problems or an urgent email. You can always visit the Action Centre to review your recent notifications after the event. But you wouldn’t have to waste time doing this, if the notification stayed on-screen long enough for you to read it in the first place.

The fast way

A quick tweak to your Windows 10 settings will make this happen. Click Start, Settings, ‘Ease of Access’, then ‘Other options’. Under ‘Visual options’ on the right, choose a longer period (anything up to five minutes) from the ‘Show notifications for’ dropdown menu.

Next: Diagnostic hints

16. Monitor your PC’s performance

Do you suspect that something might be slowing your Windows 10 PC down? If so, there are tools built into the operating system that let you monitor and analyse your PC’s performance and help identify the causes of its sluggishness.

First, right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager. Click ‘More details’ at the bottom of the window that opens, then click the Performance tab. Here you’ll see a real-time graphical representation of your CPU, Memory, Disk (hard drive) and Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

Click the thumbnails on the left to see more details in the main section on the right. If any of these graphs indicate constant high levels of activity on your hard drive, it could mean that your PC is struggling to cope with a program or process that’s running.

To find the culprit, click the Processes tab, then the column heading (CPU, Memory, Disk or Network) that corresponds to the graph showing excessive activity. For example, if the CPU graph on the Performance tab is showing high usage, click Processes, then click the CPU column until you see a small down-arrow next to the percentage figure. This will sort the list of processes so that those using the most processing power will be at the top.

Similarly, if Task Manager indicates that your memory is near to its limit, click the Memory column to find out which programs or tasks are hogging your RAM. To stop a resource-hungry program from running, right-click it and choose ‘End task’.

This article originally appeared at alphr.com.

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