No matter how powerful or how new your PC is, it will eventually succumb to the wiles of Windows and slow down to the point of hair-tearing frustration.
In fact, we reckon your PC is already at that point – and that’s why you’re reading this article.
The good news is that it’s often easy to find and fix the causes of a slow computer. By following a few simple tricks and tips, it’s possible to breathe new life into a decrepit Windows PC.
We’d advise backing up your PC before beginning. You won’t need or want to follow every single one of our ideas but we have something for everyone – from Windows XP to Windows 8.1.
Tip 1: Run automated troubleshooters
For fine control over the speed-up process, skip this step. But if you’re short of time or patience, Windows’ built-in troubleshooters can provide an instant speed boost.
First, open Control Panel (via the Start menu in Windows 7, or right-click the Windows icon on the Windows 8/8.1 Desktop and choose Control Panel) then click Find and fix problems under the System and Security heading.
Now click Run maintenance tasks and follow the troubleshooter’s prompts: it will remove rarely-used files and perform other tasks.
Windows 7 users can repeat this step to run the ‘Check for performance issues’ troubleshooter (this was removed from Windows 8/8.1).
Tip 2: Check what’s starting up with Windows
Many programs will set themselves up to launch alongside Windows, even if they’re no use to you most of the time. This slows down your PC.
To check what’s what, first click Start followed by run then type ‘msconfig’ and press Enter. If you use Windows 8/8.1, you can just type this at the new-style Start screen before pressing Enter.
Now click the Startup tab (Windows 8/8.1 users should click the Open Task Manager link).
Many items listed here will be necessary so don’t disable entries willy-nilly. Instead, use Google to research entries and what to do with them. Then remove the ticks from those deemed unnecessary, click OK and restart your PC.
Tip 3: Clean up drive detritus
Windows has a tool called Disk Cleanup that will help you find and delete unneeded files that can slow down your PC.
In Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, click Start followed by Run then type ‘cleanmgr.exe’ and press Enter. If you use Windows 8/8.1, just type this from the new-style Start screen and press Enter.
Tip 4: Remove unnecessary software
Your PC probably has some programs that you no longer need. Some likely start with Windows (see Tip 2) while other simply take up room – so get rid of them.
Windows has a built-in uninstaller tool. To find it in Windows Vista and 7, click Start, type ‘uninstall’ then click Uninstall a program.
In Windows 8, type ‘uninstall’ at the new-style Start screen then click Uninstall apps to free up disk space.
In Windows XP, click Start followed by Control Panel then click Add or Remove Programs.
Tip 5: Run Disk Defragmenter
Defragmenting a drive is the equivalent of sorting out a disorganised filing cabinet. The result makes folders and files easier for Windows to find – and that can speed up your PC.
In Windows Vista and 7, click Start, type ‘defragment’ then click Disk Defragmenter. In Windows 8.1, type the same at the new-style Start screen then click ‘Defragment and optimize your drives’.
If you use Windows XP, click Start followed by All Programs – Accessories - System Tools and then click Disk Defragmenter.
Tip 6: Give up some graphics
If you’re prepared to put up with Windows looking a little uglier then you can trade beauty for a speed boost – by giving up some of its graphical fripperies.
Click Start, then right-click Computer (or My Computer in XP) and choose Properties. Now click Advanced system settings then click the Advanced tab (in XP, just click the Advanced tab).
Click the Settings button under the Performance heading then choose Adjust for best performance.
Tip 7: Switch off the Desktop wallpaper
Another way to reduce Windows’ workload is to avoid using high-resolution imagery as Desktop wallpaper.
In all versions of Windows, right-click the Desktop. Then, in Vista, Windows 7 and 8/8.1 choose Personalize - Desktop Background - Solid Colors from the dropdown menu then pick a colour.
In XP, choose Properties then select the Desktop tab. Choose None from the Background list and click OK.
Tip 8: Live with a lower resolution
If you’re prepared to accept less on-screen detail then lowering Windows’ resolution will speed things up.
Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1 users should right-click anywhere on the Desktop and choose Screen resolution.
If you use XP, right-click the Desktop then choose Properties followed by the Settings tab.
Tip 9: Check security settings
Disabling your security software would certainly speed up Windows, but it would be a very bad idea. However, you should review your software’s options to if any aspects are slowing down your PC.
Many security tools run automated daily or weekly scans – and that process can seriously slow down a PC.
In Microsoft Security Essentials, for example, select the Settings tab, click Scheduled scans and then choose a time when you’re unlikely to be using the computer.
Tip 10: Add more memory
Adding memory is probably the single best thing you can do to speed up a flagging PC. It’s easy to do and pretty cheap in most cases.
Use the free Crucial Memory Adviser tool to find out your PC’s memory type and capacity – and then buy as much as you can afford! The Crucial website has some useful fitting guides, too.
Tip 11: ReadyBoost
If you don’t fancy opening up your PC to fit more memory, Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1 have a built-in tool called ReadyBoost that can help by turning spare capacity on USB thumb drives into useful extra memory.
Pop a memory stick into a spare USB slot, right-click the drive’s entry in Windows Explorer (File Explorer in Windows 8) and choose Properties followed by the ReadyBoost tab.
Choose the ‘Dedicate this device to Readyboost’ radio button and click OK.
Tip 12: Brave the Bios
Your PC is probably set up to check other drives for disks before it looks at the hard disk to load Windows.
But checking other drives for non-existent discs takes time – and that’s time you can eliminate by venturing into the Basic Input-Output System, or Bios. You can probably guess that this tip is one for braver types.
Look for the option to access the Bios just after switching your PC, typically by pressing a key like Delete (Del), F2 or F10.
Use the cursor (arrow) keys to navigate carefully the BIOS interface. Look for a Boot Order or Boot Priority. Use the cursor keys and the Enter key to move the hard disk drive’s entry to the top of the list.
Exit the Bios, usually by pressing the Escape (Esc) key, and save.