Every so often, I’ll hear from a friend or a reader who wants me to point them toward a great deal on a new computer. “My old computer is so slow!” is a frequent refrain from them, and if that’s what I hear, I usually suggest something besides replacing their hardware.
Simply put, the only time I’ve upgraded a computer in the last several years has been due to hardware failure or complete unavailability of applications. A “slower” computer is something that’s absolutely solvable if you’re willing to put a little bit of time into it (and a bit of money for software applications), most of which can be done in the background while you web surf.
More than a few times over the last several months, I’ve responded to such an email by making a big list of all of the things I tend to do to a “slow” computer to restore most of the speed it had when newly purchased. Of course, whenever I find myself writing what amounts to an article more than once, I realize that I should just turn this into an article for The Simple Dollar because, clearly, this information will be helpful to more than just one person.
Most of the advice below applies mostly to PCs. Macs have some minor slowdown issues, but they’re nowhere near as urgent as the slowdown issues that a PC can generate over time; plus, the Mac slowdown issues are usually resolved by applying the things that do apply to Macs from this list.
So, without further ado, here are the things I recommend doing to computers that are experiencing significant slowdown. As with all such software, use these at your own discretion. Read the documentation before you use them and understand the inherent risks in using any form of computer software.
Run a good antivirus scan
One common factor that slows down computer use is a virus or some other form of malignant program running on your computer, gobbling down resources for some nefarious reason. There are a lot of different varieties and flavors of these, so a robust antivirus program running on your computer is a must.
My preferred free antivirus program is Avast Free Antivirus. I’ve been using it for a long time and have had great success with it identifying viruses, particularly after installing it on the computers of friends and family.
Run a good spyware scan
Spyware is the not-quite-as-nefarious-but-still-annoying cousin of the stuff above. These packages usually just cause unwanted advertisements to regularly pop up on your computer, doing things like redirecting your web browser to ad sites or other websites when you don’t want to go there or simply showing you ads out of nowhere.
My preferred free spyware protection program is Microsoft Security Essentials. It does a very good job of identifying and removing spyware and adware from my computer; I’ve not had trouble with either in quite a while. This package also includes an antivirus component, but I prefer the above antivirus package as it seems to catch a thing here or there that Security Essentials misses.
Uninstall unwanted programs
It’s worthwhile to occasionally check your installed programs and remove any that you no longer use. This saves hard drive space, can sometimes remove programs that are staying in memory, and will remove some unneeded registry entries that are just causing a slight bit of slowdown on your computer.
Go to Start > Control Panel > Install/Uninstall Programs (this varies a bit depending on your specific flavor of Windows). You should have a list of programs available to you. Choose to uninstall anything that you don’t actively use.
Run a good registry cleaner
Another element of your computer that can cause slowdown is the registry. In simple terms, the registry is a place where pieces of information that need to be shared between programs is stored. The more programs you install on your computer, the more registry entries your computer has. The more registry entries your computer has, the longer registry lookups take (imagine a dictionary with more and more words in it). Since your computer does quite a lot of registry lookups, an overweight registry can certainly contribute to slowdowns.
My preferred free registry cleaner is CCleaner. It goes into your registry, seeks out registry entries for programs that you no longer use, and removes them. This is a great follow-up to malware and virus scans, both of which can put a lot of false registry entries onto your computer.
OpenDNS is simply wonderful. It provides very simple internet protection and filtering, keeping you from visiting unwanted websites or downloading unwanted software in the first place. I consider it essential in any home where non-”power users” are actively using the internet (in other words, any homes with children in them).
You can find out much more about OpenDNS here, including links to download.
If you do all of this stuff, I’m almost sure your computer will be running faster and it’ll stay that way for much longer. These actions will save you from investing hundreds of dollars unnecessarily in new hardware and allow you to keep using them until they legitimately break down instead of just replacing a computer because of minor software issues.