10 Tips on how to Speed Up your Computer for Free


I’ve never heard anybody say: “This computer is too fast! I wish it was slower”. We all wish our computers performed faster, that it booted faster to allow us to get down to gaming working in a shorter lapse of time. The thing is, computers tend to get slower after some time. Windows XP was particularly vulnerable to this. Just after installing, XP booted in around 30 seconds. A few years later, it seems it takes ages to boot. Windows 7 holds its ground better in this area.

Leaving chatter and nostalgia apart, let’s see how I can get that machine of yours performing faster, while saving you some money. I’ll assume you are on Windows Vista / 7. Especially Vista. Yes, you resource-hogging Vista.

1. Disable the flashy features

If you are running the latest operating system (OS) on older hardware, you can get quite a performance boost by turning off decorations and flashy features of your OS. This will make your computer a bit dull to look at. You won’t have the fancy shadows and transparency, but you will have a significantly faster machine. So, you’ll have to turn off Aero in Windows Vista and 7 for example. How? Go there:

Control Panel → System → Advanced System Settings → Advanced tab → Settings button under Performance frame.

In that window, you can then choose “Adjust for best performance” and let windows turn off everything. Or you can pick and choose what you want to disable.

I’d recommend turning off Aero Peek, Desktop Composition, Transparent Glass, Shadows, Smooth scrolling among other things if you’re selecting what to turn off.

If you want additional speed, you can switch to the Classic windows theme. Just remember that this will make your latest OS look like Windows 98. Not the prettiest thing around, but certainly one of the fastest.

In Windows Vista / 7, right-click your Desktop → Personalize. In that window, choose Windows Classic. If you want to retain some prettiness, select Windows Basic instead.

2. Reduce the number of software that run at Startup

If you have a lot of programs running at startup, you’ll notice that your computer is not responsive for a few minutes after you login into Windows. That’s because your machine is trying its best to load your many programs at once and is failing miserably. If your taskbar looks like that, it’s time to act!

That’s at login time. Afterwards, all those programs will be taking memory sitting there in the background. You may not need all of them, correct? Maybe the music player, antivirus and 1-2 utilities have their place there full time. The rest? Scrap them.

You can use Windows itself to remove startup items, but I’ll recommend another utility, that we’re going to use for the next point too. You’re going to be downloading the great CCleaner if you don’t already have it.

As you can see above, CCleaner has a tool to help you get rid of startup items that you don’t need, or that you can launch when you need them. So feel free to disable those non-critical utilities you have in that list. You can restore them if you find you really need them. Like for me, I disabled some control panels for my graphics card and sound cards since I rarely use those. I also went ahead and disabled some auto-updaters for programs I don’t often use. You can also disable programs you don’t use often, but which have placed their shortcut there to “start when windows starts”. A good practice is just to keep your Antivirus and security software enabled. Then selectively enable the programs you absolutely need.

3. Clean up your computer

We’re again going to use CCleaner for removing junk files from your systems, such as .tmp files and cookies etc. This step will help in the next step, defragmenting. Removing unused/temporary files also saves disk space.

So you go to the “Cleaner” tab. On the left side, you have a list of things you can clean. You can uncheck “Clipboard”, “Run (in Start menu)” and some of your browser’s items if you wish.  Then go to the “Applications” tab and uncheck what you don’t want cleaned. After that, hit the analyze button and let it find out what it can clean.

After analysis, you’ll be able to see how much free space you’ll be able to recover and a report of what’s going to be cleaned. If you’re satisfied, just click the “Run Cleaner” button and let CCleaner do its thing.

4. Fix your registry

[WARNING: This point COULD cause system problems and prevent booting. Personally, I never had problems, but you never know. You’ve been warned. :)]

We’re going to remove the unused entries left in your registry by programs you have uninstalled, as well as possibly corrupt ones. Programs making use of the registry may then perform faster, but also, can resolve a few problems such as file associations not working properly.

For cleaning the registry, you have a choice. Either you can use the in-built Registry cleaner in CCleaner itself, which is good and is what I use.

Or you can use TweakNow RegCleaner. Both software will do the cleaning. It just depends on your choice.

I’ll just use CCleaner as example, since if you’re following this guide, you’ll already have downloaded CCleaner.

As with the Cleaner tab, you’ll just go to “Registry” tab, click Scan for Issues. Then click “Fix Selected Issues”. CCleaner will prompt you to backup the registry. It’s a good practice to back it up if ever you have messed up something and want to restore. But I think, if you really, really mess up the registry, you won’t even be able to boot.

5. Defragment your disk / Scan for viruses or Malware

“Just defragment your disk!” has been an advice for like, forever, to speed up your machine. But I have to tell you, from past experience and on NTFS filesystems, I find defragmenting gives negligible speed boosts. The only perceived advantage is that my files open faster, because the defragmentation process has moved them all to the front of the disk, and hence reducing seek time. Defragmentation works great for older FAT filesytems. But it doesn’t take a lot effort to give it a try, eh?

You can use Windows’ own defragmentation tool. Just search for it using the searchbar at the bottom of the “start” menu. It’s found under:

Start Menu → All Programs → Accessories → System Tools.

However, that tool is SLOW. I use another tool from Piriform (same people as CCleaner) called Defraggler. It’s faster and offers more options. I defragged my 500GB hard drive in around 1 hour, but it all depends on the number of files you have on disk, and their sizes.

The program is easy to use. As with other Piriform applications, just Analyse then Defrag. Leave it working and come back later. You could work on your computer while it’s defragging, but it’s not recommended.

Also, do frequent anti-virus and anti-malware scans. For that, you need a good but at the same time, light antivirus. Try one of the free ones: AVG or Avast or Comodo AV, or if you have some money, get Kaspersky or Nod32. Then do the scans from time to time. Some antivirus have a “Quick Scan” that will only check critical locations for virus. You can use that more often, but say, once a month, do a full scan. Just leave it there in the background. It may slow down your system greatly, so just put it before you go to bed or during another idle time.

Beware: Don’t install security software you don’t know about. There exists virus and malware that decoy as security software and will then nag you with spam and whatnot. They are known as rogue scanners.

Viruses and malware can eat up a lot of resources. Some are designed explicitly for this purpose. So better remove them fast before they cause any serious damage apart from just being annoyances.

6. Check your Power Plans

This tip seems simple, but a surprising number of people just don’t know what a “power plan” is. On default installs, there are 3 power plans: “Power Saving”, “Balanced” and “High Performance”. If you’re on a desktop PC or a wall-outlet-powered laptop, you can switch from the default “Balanced” to “High Performance” for a noticeable performance boost. If you’re on a laptop, you’ll have to reset the power plan to “Power Saving” otherwise, your battery will drain really fast.

If you’re on a laptop, you can find an icon in the tray area with a small battery and plug. Clicking once on it allows changing power plans.

If you’re on a desktop, or you can’t find that icon on a laptop, just follow this procedure:

Control Panel → Power Options → Select “High Performance”. The plan takes place immediately; there is no Ok button. You can also customize the different plans to suit your needs. Just click on “Change Plan Settings” then “Advanced Power Settings”. You can check out the different options. There may be different sets for laptops and desktops, such as CPU speed settings.

7. Free up disk space / Partition your disk

Freeing up disk space actually helps in optimizing your computer’s performance. Kind of strange, no? Not really. If you have a lot of files, your OS needs to search among these for the right one. File tables grow large. Large tables take time to search, even with an index. Even building an index takes time with lots of files. Antivirus and other scanning programs will take longer to complete. Your OS may not find enough space for virtual memory. In short, a lot of issues you don’t want to be worried about.

How can you free up disk space? Start with step #3.

Then, you can use CCleaner’s or Windows’ uninstaller (Control Panel → Programs and Features → Select a program → Right-click → Uninstall) to remove software which you no longer use. Be strict. If you haven’t used a program in a while, and probably won’t use it again soon, uninstall it. If you need it someday, you can always re-install it.

Finally, try to partition your disk. It’s quite complex and risky to do if you don’t know how to do it. So either check some guides online or have someone do it. It’s not difficult as such, but can really mess up your filesystem if you are not careful. You might even end up with a dead operating system that needs repair.

The advantage is that you can store your OS on a small partition, thus quick scanning / defragging / indexing / booting, and put your large files on a separate partition. Also, if ever your OS goes down, your files are safe.

8. Use lighter alternatives for common software

You use Firefox? Try Google Chrome.

Windows Media Player for music? Try Foobar 2000 or WinAmp. Not as pretty, but much lighter.

For movies? Media Player Classic or VLC.

Lighter alternatives make use of less resources (memory, CPU, etc…) so try checking them out.

The list is extremely long. For most common applications, there are usually alternatives. Find one which is lighter and use it. You may not get all the features of the heavier software, but if you want performance, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. 😀

9. Check if any program is eating up resources and terminate them!

Terminate resource hogging processes! This will leave more resources for other applications that need them. Like, the ones you’re working on!

This one is rather simple too. Firstly, close all your open programs. Open Task Manager (Alt + Ctrl + Escape key or Right-click the Start Menu  → Start Task Manager)

First, click on the CPU column to sort CPU usage in descending order. Ensure the “Show processes from all users” is checked. Now ignore “System Idle Process” since it usually takes around 90% CPU usage. It’s not consuming it, don’t worry.

Find the next programs consuming your CPU constantly. I mean, not like it jumps to 40% for a few seconds and comes back down. You should look for things that are constantly at 80-90% and not coming down.

Since you’re not running any of your own programs, it can either mean some virus or malware is at work, or some task is active in the background. In both cases, find out what is consuming so much CPU, for example by using Google, then terminate it if possible (highlight then click the End Process button). If it’s a virus, it should come back almost immediately. Then it’s high time you do a virus scan, or try to look for instructions on how to remove that particular virus.

Repeat the same step for checking Memory usage. Click on the “Memory” column and repeat the above steps for terminating the process.

Some Windows processes or your Antivirus itself may be using the CPU at that time, so before you start terminating processes, know what the process is. For example, if your Antivirus is scanning in the background, you shouldn’t terminate that process.

Finally, try to listen for your hard-drive. If you hear a lot of activity, and the activity LED blinking fast, a program might be trying a lot of disk operations. Look for it and try to see if it should be doing so much disk access.

You can do that from Task Manager itself. Go to View menu → Select Columns → Check IO Read and IO Write. Then click on those columns to give you an idea of what is accessing disk.

Another place to know what’s eating your resources is the Resource Monitor, accessible in Task Manager → Performance Tab → Resource Monitor button. Just open the various sections to get more data.

10. Change your Operating System

For the more courageous of you out there, if you think your PC is still too slow after all those improvements, you can ditch your OS!

Try one of the lighter flavors of Linux, BSD or other OS for example. Xubuntu? Slax? Wolvix? You have a really large variety of distributions out there to try. Just remember that most of your Windows programs won’t normally work in Linux. There are steps to take to try to make them work, but this is beyond this article. There are alternatives for many common Windows utilities on Linux, so you won’t be too much at a loss. Maybe at first, but after some time with it, you’ll probably be fine.

You can also try putting an older version of Windows. I wouldn’t recommend that though. You’d be exposing your computer to a lot of potential attacks since older OS are not maintained and security holes are not patched. Avoid doing this, unless you really want to know how many viruses can exist on a machine at the same time.

Bonus: Cannibalize parts

This step might not be “free” so that’s why it’s a bonus. It’s still a low-cost solution to gain performance though. You can try ripping out parts from older machines and see if they fit on yours. Try going to second-hand shops and see if they have some cheap parts on offer. Or try going to Ebay and search around. If you have a somewhat old machine, you can easily find cheap second-hand parts on Ebay. But keep in mind, older parts in IT do not necessarily mean cheaper parts. Instead they may mean rarer parts, thus more expensive than new, current parts. Go figure!

Bonus: System Health Report

Using this feature, you can identify a number of problems with your System. I find this tool really great for a quick diagnostic and providing me with a lot of statistics on my computer. The catch is that this tool is buried in the depths of Windows. Who’s bright idea was it to dump it there??

You can find it in there:

Control Panel → System → Performance Information and Tools (bottom of left sidebar) → Advanced Tools (left sidebar) → Generate a System Health Report

It gives some interesting tips about what might be wrong with your computer. Not necessarily performance issues, but they do help. For example, which drivers are interfering with Sleep.

If your computer is responding slowly, try these steps and see if they help with your problem. I’ve personally tried a few of them on a laptop recently, and I noticed a significant boost in responsiveness and a lowering of booting time. So do give them a try, and if you find some other tip that works great for you, do share with us in the comments! Thanks for reading.

P.s. Screenshots of CCleaner and Defraggler belong to Piriform

  • BUY MORE RAM!!! (unless price of RAM>price of new setup)

    MSE is best free antivirus I’ve used. It’s light, detection rates among the best & it’s made by… MS.

    It’s great to disable Aero effects, but not Aero itself. Cos the OS uses GPU acceleration & turning it off will mean it uses the CPU instead, hence slower.

    Ultimate way to ultimately speed up – buy a SSD! 😉

    Prob with your template? I see scroll-bars in every paragraph? :S

  • darklide

    Great Article!!!
    Will apply the measures I can later during the day 🙂
    Didnt know a few of them 🙂

  • InF

    @Carrot: Free methods man! No buying allowed! :p

    But yes, your suggestions hold and are the two best things you should aim to upgrade: get more RAM. Get a faster hard-disk, in this case, an SSD drive.

    Never tried MSE. I should give it a try someday.

    And template looks alright to me in Firefox, Chrome and IE9. If anyone sees some weird things, like scrollbars, do let me know. Thanks.

    @Darklide: Nice. 🙂

  • Looks ok in everything except Firefox. Looks like the overflow:auto isn’t working properly for me. :S

  • InF

    @Carrot: Strange… In my Firefox (3.6.12), overflow is working properly. Maybe something to do with cache. Good to know the problem is not on my side. :p