Computers have gone a long way since the home PC became popular, and since Apple perfected the graphical user interface. Today, the trend is not towards giving the computer faster processing power per se, but rather the trend has gone toward making the computer more efficient in its use of energy. This means making it faster, but still reducing power consumption. And so the battle is no longer in terms of Gigahertz (or Megahertz), but rather in the CPU architecture, graphics processing unit, memory, hard drive speed, and a host of other factors.
But to the ordinary end user, what matters is how fast a computer boots up from a powered-off state, and how quickly applications like a Web browser, word processor and spreadsheet software open. These are usually dependent on several factors that an end user himself can fix, with or without the help of a more experienced user.
- Reinstall your Operating System. Notice how things seem to be fast and zippy when you purchase a new computer, or when you do a fresh install of your favorite operating system, like Windows. This is because there is not much bloat. The fresh install provides for a faster startup and application loading, because the system's resources are not eaten up by applications running in the background fighting for processor time and memory. Reinstalling your OS is usually considered the last resort, but if your computer is really dragging and slow, it might be time to do a backup, reformat your hard drive, and reinstall your OS.
- Remove unnecessary applications. If reinstalling your OS seems to be too drastic, you can start speeding up your PC by removing unnecessary applications from your installation list. Go to Control Panel, and open Add/Remove Programs, and you can take out unneeded applications from there. The system usually indicates how often you use a program. You might also chance upon unknown applications that might actually be malware and memory-resident programs that just eat up space.
- Choose only one good anti-virus software and regularly update. Many anti-virus software suites are big sources of bloat. These eat up memory, take up processor cycles, and might even be testing each and every file that you open every few minutes. This might be overkill if you are a cautious user, so one good bit of advice would be to choose a small, lightweight anti-virus like AVG, NOD32 or Kaspersky, and do away with heavy suites like Symantec, which are resource hogs. Be sure to turn on automatic updates. These anti-virus softwares will take about thirty seconds each morning to update their virus definitions automatically from online sources.
- Upgrade your RAM. One of the biggest bottlenecks a computer can face is availability of RAM. When physical memory runs out, your computer will swap out the contents of RAM into the hard drive. Hard drive read and write access would generally be slower than RAM access (which is near instantaneous), therefore causing slowdowns. Even if you have a very fast processor, limited RAM will prove to be problematic. Most OSes today support up to 3GB of RAM, and extra memory modules only cost about $20 to $30 apiece, which is very reasonable. If you have the extra funds, go for an upgrade.
- Other hardware upgrades. Apart from RAM, you can also upgrade your graphics card to one with a bigger capacity, if you intend to play graphics intensive games, or render big images and videos. You can also upgrade your hard drive to a faster and bigger one, as these are getting cheaper and cheaper. But the improvements in performance might be marginal compared to upgrading RAM, and cleaning up your system of bloatware.
If you need speed, buying a new computer may not always be the answer. Sometimes you just need to optimize and trim down your current usage, and get rid of the processing bottlenecks.