It happens to all of us. You buy a new computer, you set it up, you turn it on, and it blows you away with its blazing speed. Then a year passes, then another, and pretty soon it seems like you're mired in crashes, slowdowns, that dreaded Mac beach ball, a PC that takes ages to start up, or a computer that hangs in limbo when you try to shut it down. You’re left wondering, how to make it run faster. In the past, instead of trying to fix the issue, you might have just bought a new computer. But in this economy it's tough to just buy a new one if yours is running too slow. You'll be happy to know that there's a way to speed it up without spending an arm and a leg.
Yes. There are many solutions available to help your machine run faster. From basic housekeeping to increasing your RAM, these tips will help you learn how to make your computer faster.
Do Some Housekeeping
Whether you have a Mac, a PC, or even a Linux box, if you haven't done regular maintenance since you got your computer, there likely are a lot of simple things you can do to increase its speed.
“If your PC is running slow,” says PC and security expert Robert McMillan, who has written about computer technology since 1996, “uninstall apps that you're not using. See what's running in the background and remove it if you don't need it. Think about uninstalling Java. That's a major resource hog, and often a big security risk too.” Assess all the unnecessary programs you have running when you turn your computer on.
There are ways to speed up a PC that don't cost a lot of money. You can find plenty of free and built-in utilities for Windows if your computer is running slow. Startup Delayer, a free download, delays programs that may be bogging down your startup time. If you find programs you never use—useless or unwanted stuff bloating your system—it’s always a good idea to uninstall it for good (Start > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs).
For the programs you decide to keep, Startup Delayer staggers their launch time so that your computer is faster when it starts. The selected programs run in the background after your machine is already booted. It also lets you easily remove programs entirely from startup (without deleting them from your system). If your computer is running slow, keep in mind that many programs launch by default at startup so that they can constantly scan the Internet for updates, which is not necessarily something you want them to do.
On Windows machines, there are also built-in utilities to make a PC faster. Disk Cleanup can speed it up by getting rid of clutter. All those temporary Internet and Windows files, downloads you no longer need and trash you never empty all make your computer run slower. Disk Defragmenter consolidates chopped up files on the hard drive, to make it run faster.
In general, Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools will take you to these tools to fix a slow computer. Microsoft offers detailed online instructions on using these and other potentially speed-enhancing utilities to make it run faster—no matter what versions of Windows you’re using. Microsoft's Web site offers additional information on how to make your PC faster.
In your search, you may have come across many online sources for what are known as registry cleaners. Unfortunately, a lot of these products are bogus programs that cost money and can actually damage your computer rather than making it faster. Microsoft itself has sued several producers of this so-called “scareware” to get them out of the marketplace, but many simply reappear under a different name. A registry cleaner purports to be a tool for inspecting and repairing the Windows registry—all of these tools are marketed to Windows users—and typically targets users by preying on their vulnerability. (They may have ads saying, “Are you wondering how to make your computer faster? Let us fix it for free!”) Another typical tactic is persistent popups claiming to increase your computer's speed. These popups may appear even on legitimate sites, and almost invariably contain alarming messages about your computer running slow or needing repairs. Back away from them by shutting down your browser—Alt F4 will close it—if necessary. Do NOT click on these popups. They will most likely cause more harm than good.
Not all registry cleaners are bogus, but they should all be approached with extreme caution, and ONLY downloaded from trusted sites. “Some are legitimate,” says Robert McMillan,” but they're kind of like diet pills. They promise you a quick fix for something that often cannot be quickly fixed.” Tinkering with your Windows registry is inherently dangerous—you can cause serious damage. It's not something to be attempted by a beginner. A legitimate (and free) registry tool, such as CCleaner also offers other utilities which can help (including getting rid of temporary files and managing startup options).
Tools for Mac and Linux
There are inexpensive and even free ways to speed up your computer if it’s a Mac, too. When it comes to Macs, many people get in the bad habit of leaving them in sleep mode because it is so easy to do. Macs are hard-wired to run cleanup maintenance scripts in the early morning—but if they are always asleep or shut down, the scripts don't run, which can create a backlog of junk that can lead to problems. If you're fairly savvy at using the Terminal prompt you can run these scripts manually which may help you speed up your computer. Better yet, a free utility like Onyx will help, too.
Onyx also assists with other cleanup, maintenance and optimization tasks, including showing you what programs you're actually starting up every time you turn on your computer which can help you identify where to make a fix. (Again, you may be loading things into memory that you never use.) The Onyx site offers downloads for most recent Mac software and hardware configurations, including Snow Leopard, Leopard, Tiger, Panther and even Jaguar.
For Linux machines, a free program (well, almost all Linux programs are free) called kleansweep assists in removing unnecessary files that may be taking up space and draining system resources. A program called PreLoad can also speed up your computer because it improves overall performance on Linux machines, putting unused RAM to use.
Streamlined software alternatives can also make a Linux faster. If you only need basic word processing, don't use OpenOffice with its many features. A program with a smaller footprint like Koffice will be snappier and keep it running faster. If you want your Internet to be faster, Opera is lighter weight than Firefox. If you're running Ubuntu (a popular version of Linux) you can speed up your boot time by fine-tuning the process with Boot-up-Manager, available for download at linux.com.
Use Common Sense
There are some basic actions you can take to make your computer faster. Here are some of the simplest and easiest troubleshooting tips. If you have ten programs open, you're going to be sucking a lot of resources from your CPU, causing it to run slowly. If you're not using a program—close it. The same goes for having many windows open in your web browser, or having many photos open at once in a program like PhotoShop.
I have to confess that this is one of my own worst habits. You should also learn to check your available memory. Just for fun you can press CTL-ALT-DEL on your Windows machine, then click the performance tab, and view available memory. Open a couple of basic programs—word processing software, say, and a web browser—then open PhotoShop (or another memory-intensive program) and open six or seven of those beautiful pictures you took on vacation, and watch what happens to your CPU usage and your available memory. Now you can see how much that slows down your computer.
MenuMeters, a free program for Mac, is a nifty little tool that supplies CPU and activity monitoring. It can clean your Mac and it's free. While there are other ways make a Mac faster, MenuMeters is a popular little add-on.
If you have a lot of large files—a video, photo or extensive music collection, for example—consider keeping them on a separate drive so your computer can run faster. Keep in mind that your operating system—Mac, PC or anything else—will slow significantly if it's on a drive with little available free space. You can fix this by using external hard drives. When buying a separate external drive, it will be worth it to spend a little bit extra and get a faster drive (7200 vs 5400 on a Mac, for example). Keep your machine updated—whatever your OS is—because this will assure that you're getting the latest updates, security patches and bug fixes.
Spyware and Malware
One of the best things you can do is to guard against malware, which comes in so many constantly evolving variations that it's all but impossible to keep up.
Viruses, scareware, trojans, bots, rootkits, worms, spyware, adware—it’s all bad junk, and professionals call it malware (malicious software). Malware can slow a computer down. For a home user, the course of transmission is through the Internet—whether by clicking a link in an infected e-mail, being attacked through a browser vulnerability, or simply visiting a malicious Web site. Unfortunately for Windows users, they have always been the primary targets of malicious software.
“The vast majority of malicious activity today targets Windows PCs, so Mac and Linux users can rightfully feel a sense of security superiority when they're on the Internet,” says Robert McMillan. “It takes time to write these computer attacks, and if the bad guys feel they'll get a lot more victims by writing something that works on Windows XP, then that's what they're going to do. That said, we're seeing some interest in the Mac platform these days. There are a few Mac Trojan horse programs out there, but they're currently not much of a threat. However, if Apple's market share keeps growing, it's only a matter of time before Mac users really start getting hit, too.” So it’s not just PC users who have to worry about issues caused by malware.
While malware can do tremendous damage to entire systems as it spreads, one of the likeliest and most visible consequences to an unwitting home user may be aggravating slow downs. Not only do you want to get rid of the malware, but you also want to make the computer faster.
If the previously mentioned ways don’t work, fortunately there are many quality anti-virus programs available that can help.
Writer and author Neil Rubenking is an Advisory Board member for the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization. He writes regularly for PC Magazine, and his recent article ranks the current selection of free and paid anti-malware programs available for Windows users to make a PC faster. On the list are a range of choices for both cleanup and prevention. “A product should do both,” says Rubenking.
There are companies that now make anti-virus and anti-spyware products for Macs. Sophos is one of them; it recently announced its discovery of the nasty-sounding, but apparently not particularly dangerous, “Blackhole RAT,” a Trojan aimed at Macs. (Sophos offers a free anti-virus program for Mac home users.)
It’s very important to protect your computer from malware, but, surprisingly, it probably isn’t necessary to spend money because you can find a free speed-up program out there.
“If I were a Mac user, I probably wouldn't buy AV (anti-virus software) right now,” explains McMillan. “But then I wouldn't pay for it on my PC either. The anti-virus industry's dirty little secret is that you really don't need to buy AV any more, especially if you avoid risky behavior online. Avoiding open Wi-Fi, risky sites and questionable documents, keeping your software patched, and using free AV such as Microsoft's OneCare or AVG will do a lot to keep you secure.” Learning how to make your computer fast doesn’t have to cost you a lot of cash.
There are a number of other highly regarded free sources of protection (see Neil Rubenking’s detailed article above); many of them also offer maintenance utilities which will help make the computer faster and keep it running smoothly on other fronts.
Linux machines are currently the safest of the three major operating systems. But there is malware out there that affects Linux. However, while experts don't all agree, many discount the likely harm of widespread damage from Linux malware.
Individual users, however, may be able to cause damage to their own systems, a point worth noting since many Netbooks shipped to newbies came equipped with various flavors of Linux (Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu). “It's possible for someone brand-new to Linux to work hard to overcome various built-in system protections, fetch off the Internet a program written to hurt Linux systems, run it with root-user ('God'-user) authority, and thereby damage or subvert the system so it needs to be shut down and rebuilt,” says senior system administrator and well-known Linux expert Rick Moen. However, “There are features throughout the system to discourage such actions.”
It certainly is possible that some day as Linux gets more popular among consumers, hackers will be more interested in writing malicious code directed at it, but it may not be aimed at laptops or desktops. Even today Linux—long regarded as a programmer's language and not really for the average user—is the engine inside many incredibly popular consumer appliances, not just computers.
“Every single TiVo has a full-blown Linux computer under the hood,” says Moen. “Ditto many smartphones, many PDAs, most residential Wi-Fi gateway routers, and even IBM's Watson supercomputer that just won the Jeopardy playoff. Somehow, one never hears that regular users will never be able to figure out a TiVo—but then, many of the most ubiquitous Linux devices, such as TiVos, get perceived as somehow not even being computers at all.”
While there are lots of free resources for preventing malware, that won’t make you feel much better if you’re already infected and battling time-consuming popups, browser hijacks, or worse. At that point you just want to speed up your computer.
The Microsoft Malware Protection center offers tools for determining if you're infected, and a 24-hour hotline for security and virus issues: 1-866-PCSafety (1-866-727-2338) or you can visit their Web site. Clearing these issues up can definitely make a computer run faster.
There are also a number of free online forums moderated by experts, which can help you diagnose and treat your problem. Spyware Info Forum and the LandzDown forum are good places to start.
While getting rid of malware and doing some computer housekeeping may provide some fixes, that’s not all you’ll need to do to speed up your PC, Mac or Linux computer. You can also adjust some hardware issues.
Increase Your Memory
One of the simplest and most effective ways to get a faster computer, particularly if it's a bit older and has less than two gigabytes of RAM, is simply to add more. “Spend your money on memory,” says Robert McMillan.
RAM (random access memory) is what your computer uses to read and write data—to follow your instructions and make your programs run. If you want to increase speed, you’ll need enough RAM. When you don't have enough RAM for the task at hand, the computer is forced to do what's called “paging”—essentially borrowing memory from your hard drive. This borrowed memory is much slower than RAM memory, and the process used to access it can slow your computer to a crawl.
If you have less than two gigabytes of RAM, adding RAM will likely significantly speed up a slow PC or Mac. If you already have two gigabytes or more of RAM, additional memory may improve performance for memory-intensive tasks and programs (like video editing, gaming or using PhotoShop); however, you may not see dramatic improvement in day-to-day tasks like web surfing or word processing.
You can't just add any memory chip to your computer. The RAM you add must be compatible with what you are already using, and it must fit the slot available. There are many different types of RAM depending on the age, OS and hardware you're using. Memory seller Crucial offers a simple free tool that will scan your system to let you know what kind of memory to buy, how much you can add to your system and how many slots are available. You can then buy the RAM directly from Crucial, or shop around. NewEgg and Frys.com offer discounted RAM from quality suppliers.
It is important to buy and use high-quality RAM—look for brands like Hynix, Samsung, Nanya, Micron, Crucial and Kingston. If you have a Mac, you probably already know that RAM is very high-priced when bought through Apple. Mac RAM Direct offers the same premium RAM from the same suppliers (Apple doesn't manufacture its own RAM), usually at a significant discount, and it comes with a lifetime replacement warranty. In many cases, the RAM you buy here for older Macs will make your computer run faster than the RAM that came from Apple originally.
Installing RAM can be a very simple process even for the technologically impaired, and there are many guides out there. However, some computers (smaller laptops, usually) have RAM tucked away in inaccessible places, making installation too intimidating for a newbie.
Apple offers detailed instructions on its Web site (e.g. this is a tutorial for the MacBook) for upgrading RAM (even for old iBooks and Powerbooks) to make it run faster. Simply search in the Apple support forums for your make and model. The extensive site Macrumors also offers detailed tips and guides to buying, installing and testing RAM.
If you’re learning how to make a PC run faster by adding RAM, PCWorld has a nice straightforward tutorial for upgrading RAM in a desktop. Always remember to work safely—your computer must be turned off and battery removed (if it is a laptop) before attempting any upgrade.
Are you more concerned with how to make your Internet faster rather than your actual computer? If so, a good place to start is a basic bandwidth speed test: Check out services like this one at McAfee. (Be careful to use a trusted source for this kind of testing—bogus bandwidth testing sites are also frequent lurking places for scareware.) If you're paying for high-speed Internet and bandwidth tests show you’re not getting it consistently, using these tricks won't help. Call your Internet provider to complain and ask how to make your Internet faster.
Tips on Malware
It is advisable to install a quality anti-virus or anti-spyware program from a trusted (and free, ideally) source; however, more is not better. If more than one such real-time program is installed on your computer, you may generate conflicts rather than create a solution. Choose a single quality program and keep it up to date. Keep your system updated as well.
If you want to make your computer faster, know that prevention is always best. Experts advise that p2p (peer-to-peer) networks are notoriously risky when it comes to malware, as are open Wi-Fi connections. Files with .EXE, .DOC, .PDF are also more likely to be dangerous—in general it's best not to open any attachment you receive online, even from a friend, unless you are expecting it. Robert McMillan wrote a great article in PCWorld for advanced users detailing some advanced protection tactics that will help you remember how to speed up a computer. Don’t worry; you’re not being paranoid. They are out to get you.