Does your ageing laptop need a boost? We reveal the tweaks and upgrades that will give your Windows portable a new lease of life.
After a while, your laptop may not be running quite as fast as it used to. Maybe you have a new laptop that isn’t as quick as you hoped. Whether it is a few years’ old or a little underpowered, then it is a good idea to see if there are any software tweaks you can make or hardware upgrades to help your computer last a little longer.
First, let’s start with the easier software tweaks that can be done with Windows itself or free software.
1. Get rid of bloatware
Bloatware, crapware, unwanted software that comes with new laptops can really slow down a computer. You have to ask yourself if you really need them. Many of these games and apps will load processes when booting and take up processor cycles and memory.
Programs such as PCDecrapifier (pictured above) can make the process of getting rid of bloatware really painless and is a quick win for those looking to speed up their notebooks.
2. Disable start-up programs
Often, when you install an application, the process also installs a number of start-up programs that run each time Windows is started. This increases boot-up times and slows down the overall running of the machine. These can be disabled or removed altogether.
To do this, type in “Msconfig” on machines running Windows 7 or earlier. Windows 8 users onwards can locate the start-up programs list in the task manager.
On the Startup tab, look for anything programs you think you don’t need to use. Uncheck these items and click on Apply. Reboot the laptop to apply these changes.
3. Switch off unnecessary animations
Ever since Windows Vista (and some would argue Windows XP), the operating system has had fancy graphics and animated flourishes that did little to improve productivity. If these are slowing things down, it is easy to switch off everything and run on the bare essentials.
To do this, open that Start Menu and start typing in “Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows”. Click on this option and from the scroll menu untick everything you don’t wish to see on the desktop (such as shadows, smooth fonts, etc.) Click on OK and this will change the desktop to something more basic looking.
On systems other than Windows 10, switching everything off gives the desktop a Windows 95-style look and feel. It is surprising to note how much of the so-called “flat look” of Windows 10 relies on graphical flourishes when you switch everything off.
4. Use a Windows cleanup tool
Your first point of call when wanting to speed up a laptop is to use software that trawls through the disc drive looking for all the files and folders you never use.
Data, such as web browser caches, temporary files, cookies and such like, can clog up your laptop, making it run slowly. One program that’s been around for years is CCleaner.
Not only will it clear your drive of these files, it can also check the registry for problems there. There is also a tools tab so you can uninstall programs, disable startup items and find the files that take up loads of space.
First, download and install CCleaner from here. Once installed, start the application. This will open on the cleaner tab. Click on Run Cleaner and this will scan the drive looking for items such as temporary internet files, memory dumps and more advanced stuff like cleaning out Prefetch data. You can choose what items you want to scan for, such as specific applications or system components.
Second, click on the Registry tab to clean this of unnecessary entries that could slow down your laptop.
Third, use the Tools tab to uninstall various programs and apps already installed on your system. Sometimes, PC manufacturers pre-install unwanted apps (known as bloatware) and removing these can really speed up your computer in no time.
5. Get defragging
Old mechanical hard drives suffer a lot from defragmentation (this doesn’t happen on solid state disk so you can skip this step).
This means that files are often scattered across a drive and this slows the machine down as it tries to access all portions of the file. Defragging will put the files back together again and hopefully increase speeds of hard drive access at the same time.
To defrag your hard drive, go into the control panel, select “System and Security” under Administrative Tools.
You can analyse the drive to see how fragmented it is. Next, click on the drive you want to defrag. This will then run the process, speeding up the drive.
6. Make Windows 10 search quicker and more useful
Search indexing in Windows 10 has come a long way from its origins in previous Windows versions. The advice until recently was to disable this completely, but it has become too integral to the Windows experience to do that.
However, you can improve the speed of finding things on your laptop by using a few tweaks. First, you can disable the web results in search (let’s face it you use the browser for this and most likely Google rather than Bing). Simply, hit the Windows key, type gpedit.msc and hit enter. With the Group Policy Editor open, click on Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Search.
Find “Do not allow web search" and double-click this. Switch the preference to enabled. Then find “Don't search the web or display web results in Search and double-click this. Switch the preference to enabled. Lastly, "Don't search the web or display web results in Search over metered connections" and double-click this. Switch the preference to enabled.
You can also change the locations that Windows Search indexes to exclude stuff you know you don’t need to find, such as the App Data folder that contains, among other things web browser cache and cookies. If you don’t use Internet Explorer or Edge you may not want these indexed either.
To manage these, open the Indexing Options by pressing Windows and Pause to open the System control panel, then click on "All control panel items" in the location bar at the top, and the find and click on Indexing Options. This then opens a window that shows locations that are included by Windows 10's search indexer. Here you can choose which locations to include or exclude to speed up this search function.
7. Use ReadyBoost
ReadyBoost is a feature of Windows that was introduced in Windows Vista. It essentially uses a flash drive as a bit of extra memory.
While it’s not as good as swapping a traditional hard drive for a solid state one or adding more RAM, ReadyBoost will give a little uptick to the performance of your system. It puts aside a part of the flash drive memory for things such as caching, assisting often-used apps to open quicker, and increasing random read access speeds of the hard disk.
To use ReadyBoost, first insert a USB memory drive into an empty slot on the laptop you wish to speed up. A dialogue box will open asking you what you want to do with the flash drive. Choose ‘Speed up my system using Windows ReadyBoost'. Another window will open and here you can select how much of the drive you wish to use on the flash pen. It is generally a good idea to use as much of the drive as possible.
Once that is done, confirm the settings and the window will close. The drive will be automatically detected and used whenever it is plugged it.
One last note, if your machine is fast enough, Windows will prevent you using ReadyBoost.
8. Clean install Windows
While using a tool like CCleaner can help give your notebook a tune-up, it still won’t probably run as smoothly as having pristine, clean install of Windows.
You’ll need to put aside plenty of time and remember to back up your important files, including email and others that might not be in the Documents (or My Documents), Dropbox or other obvious folders.
We’ve covered this in more depth in our feature on how to clean install Window 10.
9. Add more RAM
If your laptop has around 2GB of memory, upgrading is a great way of eking out extra performance. There are some caveats to this, however.
If you are running a 32-bit version of Windows, the maximum amount of RAM you can have in one system is 3GB. With these systems, if you have 2GB and you add another 2GB, Windows will only use 3GB of RAM. This is because of the limits 32-bit operating systems have when addressing memory.
You can install more RAM on 64-bit versions of Windows, but anything more than 8GB could be a case of diminishing returns, unless you have a relatively recent laptop and use memory-hungry applications such as Photoshop.
10. Swap out for an SSD
If your laptop has a mechanical hard drive, then swapping it for a solid state drive (SSD) could pay dividends. As there are no moving parts, an SSD has read and write speeds far quicker than any traditional drive.
Over the past few years, SSD prices have gone down and capacities up. So putting one in your laptop won’t break the bank.
Rather than reinstalling Windows, you can use a cloning tool to copy everything from your old disk to an SSD. Freeware, such as Todo Backup Free 9.0, will do the trick.
Stay tuned for a more detailed look at how to install an SSD coming soon.