Speed up your PC

Are you sure that you're getting the very best performance out of your PC? Whether you're running Windows Vista or Windows 7, try these tips to give your PC a little extra zip.

Limit how many programs run at startup

There are a lot of programs that load automatically when you boot up your PC—which can really hamper performance. To manage these programs like a pro, learn how to get a comprehensive view of what's running:

  • Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, type System Configuration in the search box, and then click System Configuration in the list of results.
    The System Configuration dialog box
    The System Configuration dialog box
  • Click the Startup tab. The programs set to run at startup are indicated with a check mark. You can clear the check boxes for any nonessential programs to disable them, but make sure you only disable programs you're familiar with. When in doubt, don't clear the check box.

Delete, delete, delete

A clean machine is a fast machine. That means your best option is to uninstall all the programs you don't use. Delete things like trial software, limited-edition versions, and anything else you're never going to use. Antivirus software? Just testing. You always want your security program, but make sure you're only running a single, up-to-date program. To uninstall software:

  • Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click Control Panel.
  • Under Programs, click Uninstall a program. (If you don't see this page, change the View by option in the upper-right corner to Category.)

    Uninstalling a program in Control Panel
    Uninstalling a program in Control Panel
  • Click the program you want to delete, and then click Uninstall.

Run fewer programs at the same time

If your PC bogs down while you're working, check to see how many programs you have running. All programs take up system memory, which can have a huge impact on performance. In some cases, having multiple instances of a program (such as several open email messages) or multiple versions of a program type (more than one antivirus program) can use up memory. Respond to and close your messages right away and keep open only the programs that are necessary for the work you're currently doing—and you'll see a boost in speed.

Make ReadyBoost your friend

It's all very well to advise you to close programs you're not using—but just because you're not using it now doesn't mean you won't be using it in 10 minutes. The answer is ReadyBoost, a helpful feature that can use the extra space on a flash card or USB storage device to speed up your PC. Plug in a compatible storage device and click Speed up my system when you see the AutoPlay dialog box.

Troubleshoot

If your PC was whizzing along merrily and then suddenly started lagging, run a virus scan. Clean bill of health? Try a troubleshooter:

  • Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click Control Panel.
  • In the search box, type Troubleshooting, and then click Troubleshooting in the list of results.

  • Under Systems and Security, click Check for performance issues.

    Troubleshooting in Windows 7
    Troubleshooting in Windows 7
  • Run the Performance troubleshooter by clicking Next in the lower-right corner.

Clean your hard drive

The more you use your PC, the more programs you use and the more services you're running. Closing a program doesn't always close the service. That's why restarting fixes so many problems; it clears out the memory.

You should also make a habit of cleaning your hard disk to remove temporary files, emptying the Recycle Bin, and getting rid of system files you don't need any more:

  • Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, type Disk Cleanup in the search box, and then click Disk Cleanup in the list of results.
  • After the utility runs, you'll see how much disk space you can free up.

  • Click OK, and then click Delete Files.

    Deleting files with Disk Cleanup
    Deleting files with Disk Cleanup

Check your hardware

Is your PC still slow? Take a look at the Windows Experience Index, a method of rating your PC on five key components. Depending on your particular hardware, you might need a new PC or some hardware upgrades. To see your Windows Experience Index:

  • Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, type Performance Information and Tools in the search box, and then click Performance Information and Tools in the list of results.
  • Click Re-run the assessment in the lower-right corner of the window.

  • Check out your base score. If your score is lower than 3, it might be time to consider a new PC.

Keep your PC up to date

One of the best things you can do to protect your PC is also one of the easiest: Make sure you are set up to get automatic updates from Microsoft. If you use Windows and other Microsoft software, such as Microsoft Office or Windows Live Essentials, then you should use the Microsoft Update service. You'll also get notices about new Microsoft software that you can download for free.

So how do you turn on automatic updates? Simple: Go to the Microsoft Update website. If you don't have automatic updates turned on, we'll help you through the process.

The Microsoft Update website
The Microsoft Update website

Adjust visual effects

"Pretty is as pretty does,” my grandmother used to say. Maybe she wasn't referring to computers, but the principle still applies. Windows includes some stunning effects, but if you need more speed you can customize the settings you want to use for the appearance of Windows on your computer.

  • Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, type Performance Information and Tools in the search box, and then click Performance Information and Tools in the list of results.
  • Click Adjust visual effects.

  • Here you can decide if you want to let Windows choose what's best for your computer, adjust for best appearance, or adjust for best performance.

    Adjusting visual effects in Windows 7
    Adjusting visual effects in Windows 7

About the author

Zia Munshi is a freelance writer and copywriter who has written for a wide variety of publications and companies, including Microsoft and MSN. She especially loves writing about technology because it gives her an excuse to buy all the latest gadgetry and software. She lives in Seattle with her husband and her dog.