How to speed up a sluggish Windows PC

So your computer is really chugging. It happens to everyone: as a computer gets older, it gets loaded with more and more crud, while, at the same time, programs start demanding more and more from it.

The easy fix to this problem is obviously “upgrade your PC”. On a desktop PC, it’s relatively easy to upgrade the memory (low memory is one of the biggest culprits in a slow PC) and the graphics card (which is the biggest determinant of 3D games performance).

Another easy upgrade from a hardware perspective is to add an SSD. These make much better system drives than hard disks (you can keep your original hard disk as extra storage).

Unfortunately, you then have to go through the laborious process of reinstalling Windows on the SSD, and may have to fiddle with the BIOS/EFI settings to get it to boot properly.

For many people, a hardware upgrade is not an option. So instead, you can try follow these seven steps to get your baby back in fighting form.

Diagnose the cause

The first thing to do before any remediation is to try to figure out what the hell is taking up your system resources. That’s where Task Manager comes in.

Right click on an unused part of your task bar and select Task Manager. In Windows 8 and 10, it’s much better than it was previously, and gives a very full accounting of what is taking up resources.

In the ‘Processes’ tab, click on ‘CPU’ to sort them by CPU usage. Is there anything there that’s sucking up excess CPU? Then click on ‘Memory’ and look for things that are taking up large amounts of your system memory.

System and compressed memory is part of the OS, so you don’t have to worry about that.

If it’s a browser that’s sucking up huge chunks of memory and CPU time, then you’ve probably got too many tabs open (we should note that Chrome spawns each tab as a separate process, so there may be dozens of processes for it) — see point 5 below.

To kill a process, right click on it and select ‘End task’. If that speeds up your system, then you’ve found your culprit and should work to uninstall the app.

Run a malware scan from safe mode

Some of the things that might be slowing down your PC are apps that you don’t even know are running. Malware and other junk might be gumming up your CPU and memory, so it’s absolutely worth jumping into safe mode and running a proper anti-malware scan.

Remove the bloatware

PC Decrapifier 1It’s not just malware you want to get rid of — it’s all the other bloatware that you might have installed or had installed on your PC.

That includes all the unnecessary nonsense that hardware manufacturers pre-install, as well as third-party ‘offers’ that you inadvertently install when you’re installing applications that you actually do want.

There’s a free app called PC Decrapifier that’s a godsend for cleaning out this stuff. It uses community-based recommendations for applications to clear off PCs.

Download and install it, then run the app. It will analyse your system and come up with a list of apps it recommends uninstalling, as well as a list of other questionable apps.

Next to each app, you’ll see a percentage: that’s the proportion of users that recommend uninstalling it. Just check the boxes next to any and all you want to remove, then click on the ‘Remove Selected’ button.

Reduce startup items

StartupA lot of apps like to start when Windows starts — but they don’t really need to, and they just make the bootup process longer.

In Windows 8 and 10, you can now easily control what starts with Windows. Just fire up the Task Manager and click on the ‘Start-up’ tab.

It will list start-up items and their system impact, and let you choose to disable them. Just click on the name of the item, then on the ‘Disable’ button.

In Windows 7, you can use MSConfig — just type msconfig in the search bar, then click ‘msconfig.exe’ and go to the Startup tab.

Closing tabs

Tab WranglerA lot of users find that the major resource sucker is their web browser — and that’s usually because they’re the kind of person who likes to keep dozens of tabs open.

If you’re keeping 20, 30 or 50 web pages open, with their animations and videos and scripts and other things running, it’s no wonder that your system is struggling. It’s time to manage those tabs.

For Chrome, you should try to grab the Tab Wrangler add-on from the Chrome Web Store. This add-on closes tabs that have been idle for a while — but stores them in a list so you can easily open them again when you finally want to see them (you can also lock tabs open if you want).

There’s a similar add-on for Firefox called AutoClose Tabs, available from the add-on manager.

Tone down Windows animations

Particularly if you’re using integrated graphics, toning down some of the Windows effects can help.

Right click on the Start button and select System. Then click on ‘Advanced system settings’, then, under ‘Performance’, click on the ‘Settings’ button.

You’ll see a lot of switches you can turn on and off to remove Windows flair. You can also click on ‘Adjust for best performance’ to turn them all off.

Defragging

OptimiseDefragging reorganises the data on your disk for optimal performance.

It’s not as important as it used to be with the old FAT32 file system and it’s unnecessary on SSDs, but it still has a notable effect on mechanical hard drives.

Just type “defrag” into your Windows search bar, and start the Defragment and Optimise Drives app. Run a Defrag process and schedule it if you haven’t already.

Refresh (as a last resort)

If all else fails, a refresh or reset will turn the clock back on your system and restore it to something resembling factory conditions.