Optimize Windows for better performance


No matter how fast or shiny computers might be when they're new, they all seem to get slower over time. That state-of-the-art PC you bought last year might not feel like such a screamer after you install a dozen programs, load it with antispyware and antivirus tools, and download untold amounts of junk from the Internet. The slowdown might happen so gradually that you hardly notice it, until one day you're trying to open a program or file and wonder, "What happened to my poor PC?"

Whatever the cause, there are lots of ways to help speed up Windows and make your PC work better—even without upgrading your hardware. Here are some tips to help you optimize Windows 7 for faster performance.

Try the Performance troubleshooter

The first thing that you can try is the Performance troubleshooter, which can automatically find and fix problems. The Performance troubleshooter checks issues that might slow down your computer's performance, such as how many users are currently logged on to the computer and whether multiple programs are running at the same time.

Open the Performance troubleshooter by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type troubleshooter, and then click Troubleshooting. Under System and Security, click Check for performance issues.

Delete programs you never use

Many PC manufacturers pack new computers with programs you didn't order and might not want. These often include trial editions and limited-edition versions of programs that software companies hope you'll try, find useful, and then pay to upgrade to full versions or newer versions. If you decide you don't want them, keeping the software on your computer might slow it down by using precious memory, disk space, and processing power.

It's a good idea to uninstall all the programs you don't plan to use. This should include both manufacturer-installed software and software you installed yourself but don't want any more—especially utility programs designed to help manage and tune your computer's hardware and software. Utility programs such as virus scanners, disk cleaners, and backup tools often run automatically at startup, quietly chugging along in the background where you can't see them. Many people have no idea they're even running.

Even if your PC is older, it might contain manufacturer-installed programs that you never noticed or have since forgotten about. It's never too late to remove these and get rid of the clutter and wasted system resources. Maybe you thought you might use the software someday, but never did. Uninstall it and see if your PC runs faster.

For instructions, see Uninstall or change a program.

Limit how many programs run at startup

Many programs are designed to start automatically when Windows starts. Software manufacturers often set their programs to open in the background, where you can't see them running, so they'll open right away when you click their icons. That's helpful for programs you use a lot, but for programs you rarely or never use, this wastes precious memory and slows down the time it takes Windows to finish starting up.

Decide for yourself if you want a program to run at startup.

But how can you tell what programs run automatically at startup? Sometimes this is obvious, because the program adds an icon to the notification area on the taskbar, where you can see it running. Look there to see if there are any programs running that you don’t want to start automatically. Point to each icon to see the program name. Be sure to click the Show hidden icons button so you don't miss any icons.

Picture of the Show hidden icons button
The Show hidden icons button in the notification area

Even after you check the notification area, you might still miss some programs that run automatically at startup. AutoRuns for Windows, a free tool that you can download from the Microsoft website, shows you all of the programs and processes that run when you start Windows. You can stop a program from running automatically when Windows starts by opening the AutoRuns for Windows program, and then by clearing the check box next to the name of the program you want to stop. AutoRuns for Windows is designed for advanced users.

Note

  • Some people prefer to manage which programs run at startup using the System Configuration tool. For more information, see Start System Configuration.

Defragment your hard disk

Fragmentation makes your hard disk do extra work that can slow down your computer. Disk Defragmenter rearranges fragmented data so your hard disk can work more efficiently. Disk Defragmenter runs on a schedule, but you can also defragment your hard disk manually.

For more information, see Improve performance by defragmenting your hard disk.

Clean up your hard disk

Unnecessary files on your hard disk take up disk space and can slow down your computer. Disk Cleanup removes temporary files, empties the Recycle Bin, and removes a variety of system files and other items that you no longer need. For step-by-step instructions on how to do this, see Delete files using Disk Cleanup.

Run fewer programs at the same time

Sometimes changing your computing behavior can have a big impact on your PC's performance. If you're the type of computer user who likes to keep eight programs and a dozen browser windows open at once—all while sending instant messages to your friends—don't be surprised if your PC bogs down. Keeping a lot of e‑mail messages open can also use up memory.

If you find your PC slowing down, ask yourself if you really need to keep all your programs and windows open at once. Find a better way to remind yourself to reply to e‑mail messages rather than keeping all of them open.

Make sure you're only running one antivirus program. Running more than one antivirus program can also slow down your computer. Fortunately, if you're running more than one antivirus program, Action Center notifies you and can help you fix the problem.

For more information, see What is Action Center?

Turn off visual effects

If Windows is running slowly, you can speed it up by disabling some of its visual effects. It comes down to appearance versus performance. Would you rather have Windows run faster or look prettier? If your PC is fast enough, you don't have to make this tradeoff, but if your computer is just barely powerful enough for Windows 7, it can be useful to scale back on the visual bells and whistles.

You can choose which visual effects to turn off, one by one, or you can let Windows choose for you. There are 20 visual effects you can control, such as the transparent glass look, the way menus open or close, and whether shadows are displayed.

To adjust all visual effects for best performance:

  1. Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type Performance Information and Tools, and then, in the list of results, click Performance Information and Tools.

  2. Click Adjust visual effects. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

  3. Click the Visual Effects tab, click Adjust for best performance, and then click OK. (For a less drastic option, select Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer.)

Restart regularly

This tip is simple. Restart your PC at least once a week, especially if you use it a lot. Restarting a PC is a good way to clear out its memory and ensure that any errant processes and services that started running get shut down.

Restarting closes all the software running on your PC—not only the programs you see running on the taskbar, but also dozens of services that might have been started by various programs and never stopped. Restarting can fix mysterious performance problems when the exact cause is hard to pinpoint.

If you keep so many programs, e‑mail messages, and websites open that you think restarting is a hassle, that's probably a sign you should restart your PC. The more things you have open and the longer you keep them running, the greater the chances your PC will bog down and eventually run low on memory.

Add more memory

This isn't a guide to buying hardware that will speed up your computer. But no discussion of how to make Windows run faster would be complete without mentioning that you should consider adding more random access memory (RAM) to your PC.

If a computer running Windows 7 seems too slow, it's usually because the PC doesn't have enough RAM. The best way to speed it up is to add more.

Windows 7 can run on a PC with 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM, but it runs better with 2 GB. For optimal performance, boost that to 3 GB or more.

Another option is to boost the amount of memory by using Windows‌ ReadyBoost . This feature allows you to use the storage space on some removable media devices, such as USB flash drives, to speed up your computer. It’s easier to plug a flash drive into a USB port than to open your PC case and plug memory modules into its motherboard. For more information, see Using memory in your storage device to speed up your computer.

Check for viruses and spyware

If your PC is running slowly, it's possible that it's infected with a virus or spyware. This is not as common as the other problems, but it's something to consider. Before you worry too much, check your PC using antispyware and antivirus programs.

A common symptom of a virus is a much slower-than-normal computer performance. Other signs include unexpected messages that pop up on your PC, programs that start automatically, or the sound of your hard disk constantly working.

Spyware is a type of program that's installed, usually without your knowledge, to watch your activity on the Internet. You can check for spyware with Windows Defender or other antispyware programs. For more information, see How to tell if your computer is infected with spyware.

The best way to deal with viruses is to prevent them in the first place. Always run antivirus software and keep it up to date. Even if you take such precautions, however, it's possible for your PC to become infected. For more information, see How can I tell if my computer has a virus?

Check your computer's speed

If you try these tips and your computer is still too slow, you might need a new PC or some hardware upgrades, such as a new hard disk or faster video card. There's no need to guess the speed of your computer, however. Windows provides a way to check and rate your PC's speed with a tool called the Windows Experience Index.

The Windows Experience Index rates your computer on five key components and gives you a number for each, as well as an overall base score. This base score is only as good as your worst-performing component subscore.

Base scores currently range from 1 to 7.9. If your PC is rated lower than 2 or 3, it might be time to consider a new PC, depending on what tasks you want to do with your computer.

For more information, see What is the Windows Experience Index?

Don’t settle for slow

For even more advice, see Ways to improve your computer's performance.



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