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If your computer is running slow, don’t panic.
Slower PC performance over time is a completely normal side-effect of regular use and can be caused by anything from a full hard-drive to a hardware failure.
It’s also usually at least somewhat reversible with these quick and simple clean-up tips.
Here’s our complete guide to speeding up your PC’s performance.
Why Do Computers Slow Down Over Time?
When you first got your computer and brought it fresh out of the box, it was probably incredibly fast.
Yes, even computers in the 90s were relatively fast at one point! That much hasn’t changed in the last few decades.
But after months and years of use, any computer begins to get bogged down and have its resources sapped. That can result in slower and slower performance over time.
The more software you install, the more files you store, and the more you tax your computer’s processors, the harder your machine has to work.
With a packed hard drive and a full suite of software running, it takes computers a little bit longer to find or open files and execute commands.
Then there’s the physical aging of the computer.
Pieces of hardware can fail or deteriorate, your hard drive can develop bad sectors of data that become difficult to access, and the whole machine can get damaged from environmental factors, either in small pieces (daily exposure to static electricity) or all at once (massive power surges).
Restoring your PC to its former brand-new glory can be a tall task, but there are lots of different fixes you can try to speed it up.
Here are a few, in order from the easiest fixes to the most severe:
1. Restart Your Machine
Second only to making sure it’s plugged in, doing a simple restart on your computer is probably the most common and effective fix for, well, nearly everything.
It isn’t magic, there’s actually plenty of logic and science behind the power of the restart. Restarting simply wipes the slate clean and closes down basically every software, task, process, and open piece of data that’s draining your computer’s processing power.
When you boot back up, your computer will have a lot more free RAM to operate and almost always performs faster.
2. Close Down Performance-Hogging Tasks & Programs
You can accomplish a lot of the same effects of a restart without losing your progress on projects or any unsaved data by manually closing certain apps and programs.
Just open the Windows Task Manager and head to “CPU” -> “Memory” -> “Disk” to see a chart of what’s using up all of your computer’s memory at that moment and close out of anything you’re not currently using.
You can close programs manually or use “End Task” inside the Task Manager. This will drastically reduce the drain on your CPU and likely speed up performance.
3. Remove Unneeded Apps, Software & Bloatware
Too many pieces of software running on your computer is one of the main culprits of PC slowdown.
Many of them will be necessary to your use of the computer, but you should make a point of getting rid of anything you no longer use.
Similarly, you’ll want to get rid of much of the “bloatware” that comes pre-installed on most computers these days — sponsored apps and utilities that you have no real use for.
You can right click on your Start button and choose “Programs and Features” to see a list of all of your computer’s installed software. From there, it’s easy to uninstall things for good and stop them from stealing your PC’s resources.
4. Free Up Disk Space with the Disk Cleanup Utility
You’d be amazed at how much hard drive space on your PC is devoted to files you have no use for.
After years of use, a good chunk of your computer’s storage may be devoted to data like:
- Leftover files from program installs
- Offline web pages
- Temporary files
- Setup log files
- File compression
- And more
The built-in Disk Cleanup utility in Windows is great at this, and can be easily found on the Start menu.
The less useless stuff you have on your hard drive, the easier and faster it can find the files you actually do need.
5. Delete Old Files & Downloads for More Disk Space
The Disk Cleanup utility is perfect for deleting files you never even knew were taking up space, but chances are you have even more old files that can be deleted in order to free up room.
Two big culprits to look at are photos and videos, and your Downloads folder.
If you’re storing all of your photos and videos directly onto your computer’s hard drive, you’ll find that they take up a ton of room. Consider moving them to the cloud and backing them up on a separate drive to free up space on your main computer’s storage.
Your Downloads folder is an oft-forgotten graveyard of photos, documents, and email attachments that fills to the brim over the course of several years. Cleaning this out can do wonders for your hard drive space.
6. Empty Your Trash Can or Recycle Bin
Like the Downloads folder, most people hardly think about files they’ve previously dragged to the Trash.
But until you empty the trash and delete those files for good, they’re still stored on your computer.
The Disk Cleanup utility should do this for you, but regularly emptying the trash yourself is a good best-practice to prevent gumming up the works.
7. Remove Browser Add-Ons and Extensions
If your Internet browser, in particular, is running slow, try getting rid of any extensions you don’t actually use.
Some of them can be really useful, and there are plenty of fun and humorous add-ons, too, but too many will bog your browser’s performance down significantly.
In Chrome, simply right click on the extension icon you want to remove and choose “Remove from Chrome.”
8. Clear Browser Cache, History & Temporary Internet Files
These are a few more culprits that can really slow down your web browsing.
Unless you have a specific need to keep track of your browser history, do regular sweeps and clear it out. Do the same for cached versions of websites and temporary Internet files, both of which take up space on your hard drive.
In Chrome, go to the main Chrome menu and select “Clear Browsing Data” to see all of your options.
9. Optimize Startup with the Task Manager
Usually, when you start your computer, it doesn’t just bring you to a blank desktop.
If you’re like most people, your PC probably defaults to launch all kinds of different processes, tasks, and programs upon booting up.
Some are necessary and helpful, but others aren’t — and they’re bringing startup to a screeching halt.
Go to the Windows Task Manager and choose the Startup tab. You’ll see a list of all the programs that launch every time your computer turns on (along with its impact on startup speed).
Switch off anything non-essential and you’ll probably find your startups and restarts taking a lot less time.
10. Check for Malware, Adware & Spyware
Malicious software and viruses can infiltrate your computer and severely impact performance by siphoning computer resources in the background.
If you don’t have one already, get a reputable antivirus software for protection and run regular scans to remove threats.
This is a good idea for safety reasons as well. Some antivirus programs will be able to at least partially protect your from ransomware that can completely prevent you from even access your computer or files.
I recommend Norton 360 — it’s got 100% malware detection/removal rates AND one of the best device optimizers on the market.
TotalAV is also a really good option.
Better safe than sorry!
11. Turn Off Search Indexing
To help you find the files and programs you need as fast as possible, Windows PCs like to keep an up-to-date index of all of your drives.
Building this index, ironically, takes up memory and can slightly slow down your computer’s performance.
You can turn off or tweak search indexing by heading to the Indexing Options Control Panel and deselecting all of your computer’s drives.
Your searches will take longer this way, but your computer won’t be bogged down by trying to continuously build and update indexed of all of your files.
12. Run a Performance Troubleshoot
Under the Systems and Security Control Panel, Windows users will have an option to “Check for performance issues.”
The utility will mainly look for the issues we’ve already covered on this list, but it should also find some causes that might be a little sneakier.
If your computer is running slow, this might be a good way to see if there’s an easy fix.
13. Adjust Appearance & Visual Settings
At this point in our list, we’re really just hoping to eek out a tiny bit more speed.
Adjusting your computer’s visualizations, for example, likely won’t make or break performance, but could help in some cases.
In the Windows Performance Options Control Panel, you’ll see a long list of animations and visual effects under the “Visual Effects” tab.
You can toggle these on and off, or just choose the setting “Adjust for best performance.”
Stripping away all the neat little animations you see when interacting with your computer may just help with speed a little bit.
13. Change Power Settings to “High Performance”
Your computer sometimes reserves a little bit of “juice” in order to save energy, especially in the case of laptops not connected to a power outlet.
It may, however, have a “high performance” mode that you can switch into. In most cases, this won’t do much to improve your computer speed, but it’s worth giving it a try if you’re not worried about battery usage.
Just right click your battery icon and choose “Power Options,” or go to your Control Panel -> System and Security and choose it from there.
Select High Performance mode, if your computer has it, and see if that helps with speed issues.
14. Use the chkdsk Utility to Scan Your Hard Drive for Errors
One possible cause of a PC slowdown is an error in the way your hard drive stores and accesses data.
Luckily, Windows has a built-in utility that helps scan and sometimes fix hard drive problems like bad sectors, lost clusters, or directory errors.
Right click on your local disk (usually the C: drive), choose “Properties”, navigate to the “Tools” tab, and you’ll see an option to “Check” the disk for errors. The scan may take a couple of minutes to complete.
If there are fixable errors on your hard drive, this can be a simple way to get a minor performance boost on your PC.
15. Defrag Your Hard Drive
Defragging your hard drive is a fancy way of saying “cleaning it up,” and better organizing the data it stores.
Older style HDDs (hard disk drives) get a little messy and chaotic over time as they manually move bits of data around. Defragging helps sort the data and put it where it should be, making it all easier and faster to access.
(More modern SSDs or Solid-State Drives don’t have this problem.)
To defrag, just open the Start menu, type in “defrag” and hit Enter. Choose the drive you want to clean up and hit “Optimize.”
If you have a large drive with lots of file storage, this process may take several hours to complete.
16. Do a Fresh Install of Windows
This isn’t an ideal solution, as uninstalling Windows will cause you to lose all of your installed software and settings. But in the case of severe slowdowns, it could be an effective fix.
Simply go to your computer’s Settings -> Update & Security -> Recovery and choose Reset this PC to reinstall a completely fresh copy of Windows.
Don’t worry — your files and data won’t go anywhere, but all of your software and other customizations will need to be rebuilt.
17. Overclock Your CPU
Not for the faint of heart or novice users, “overclocking” essentially means forcing your CPU components to run faster than they were designed to.
It can be dangerous, as overclocking can cause processors to overheat and become damaged. It may not even be possible to overclock your CPU if the motherboard is locked.
We wouldn’t recommend this option for everyday users, but for advanced users who know how to upgrade their computer’s cooling system (with a higher-powered fan or even water-cooling) and update clock rate via the BIOS, this is a clever, backdoor way to squeeze better performance out of an average machine.
18. Upgrade Your Computer’s Hardware
If all else fails, there could be mechanical problems limiting your computer’s performance, or it could be that the components are just so out of date that they can’t keep up with modern demands.
In this case, you can consider upgrading some of your PC’s components for better performance. Desktop PCs will usually be easier to upgrade than laptops, but check with your manufacturer to know for sure.
You have a few options here, depending on what’s causing your slowdown:
- Upgrade your computer’s RAM to handle more tasks at the same time
- Upgrade your HDD to SSD for faster and easier access to files and smaller load times
- Upgrade your GPU (graphics processor) for a better experience with gaming & high-definition video
Maintaining Good Performance
Regardless of what’s causing your PC to slow down over time, there are a few best practices to keep in mind for better day-to-day performance.
- Always close apps and software you’re not using
- Move large files to external storage and/or the cloud
- Regularly purge your Recycle Bin & downloads
- Restart your computer regularly
- Do occasional defrags (if you have an HDD) and chkdsk scans for errors
In most cases, these simple fixes should improve your computer’s speed.
Eventually, however, all computers and their components degrade or reach a point where they must be replaced or upgraded. With proper care, however, you can push that day further into the future and give your computer a long and happy life.