Although Windows 10 has not been plagued by performance issues as seen inVista or Windows 8, there is always room for improvement. This guide will lead you through a variety of improvements, some specific to Windows 10, others tried and true for any operating system. Start at the beginning to be sure to clear up any underlying issues in order to get the most out of the subsequent tips.
Also see our article How to Speed Up Your Mac
Fixes for Malfunctions
Your computer could be slow because there is a problem that should be fixed. This is the area to check first. You want to be sure that your computer is in good shape before moving on to fine-tuning tweaks.
Hard Drive Problems
The first place to check, especially if the computer has recently slowed down a lot, is the health of the hard drive. It is easy to check this and rule it out as a problem, and if there is a problem it is vital to identify it as soon as possible and recover data before it is too late.
The Acronis disk monitor is an example of a tool that provides an easy way to check on the health of a standard magnetic disk drive. Once installed, the program checks the SMART status of any hard drives attached to the computer. Magnetic drives are manufactured with extra disk capacity to compensate for sectors that fail over time. When a sector does fail, the system marks it as bad and removes it from use, bringing in one of the reserve sectors to take its place and moving the data over. It is normal for a drive to do this a few times over its life span.
Acronis disk monitor alerts you when this process has happened too many times. It can be a sign that the drive is failing, especially if you have noticed the computer getting slower as it accesses the drive in File Explorer or in programs. If you see the warning and the drive has slow access, time is of the essence. The drive will get worse and eventually you will not be able to get data from it. Get and install a new drive as soon as possible.
There can be circumstances where Acronis will report a problem but the drive is OK. If you see a warning but the computer is not drastically slow, keep it in mind but move on to look at other items. If Acronis reports no errors you are ready to move on to check other areas for speeding up your Windows 10 computer.
Another quick check is to see how full your hard drive is. Windows needs free space on a disk for normal operations. Windows will slow down when the C: drive gets above about 80% full. You can check this quickly in File Explorer by right-clicking on the C: drive and select Properties. You will see a graph showing you the used and free space. If used space is above 80% see the hard drive upgrade section further on in this article.
If you have a solid state drive (SSD), you should leave about 20% free space, but for reasons related to how the drive operates. They do not have the failing sector problems described above. Most SSD manufacturers provide a utility to check on the health of the drive. Use that to assess the health and performance of the SSD drive.
The first thing many people think when they have a computer issue is “my computer has a virus.” There are many problem files that don’t quite fit the definition of “computer virus,” so it is better to think of malware: any malicious program that you don’t want and did not willingly install yourself.
Of course, you should be running an anti-malware program. Yes, it technically slows down the computer, but with one infection you will lose all the time you saved and then some. However, any program can slip up and miss a file, and they may not guard against all types of malware.
It is a good idea to run additional programs to catch anything that slips by the first one, but this is where you need to be careful. Anti-malware programs can detect the actions of each other as malicious activity, and this conflict can slow your computer to a crawl. Be sure that any additional program you run is compatible with your primary protection program.
Some signs of malware, especially the type that a primary program may miss, are lots of pop-up ads while on the Internet and landing on sites other than what you intended.
Malwarebytes is a good program to run as a one-time scan to detect and eliminate these problems. Also, the major anti-malware vendors offer free online scanning that does not interfere with your primary anti-malware program and will detect any problems. These programs eliminate most of the problems they detect, but in some cases you may need to do some research online to find specialized removal tools.
Problems with RAM (random access memory) can slow down the computer. This may especially be true if the computer seems to get slower as the day goes on. Bad RAM will also cause the computer to crash, restart, and have blue screen errors. You can use the Windows 10 Memory Diagnostic Tool to check the RAM. Press Win-R (Windows key and the R key) to get the run box, type “mdsched.exe” and hit enter. You will get an option to run the checker right away or at the next boot.
If the diagnostics show RAM trouble, it gets a little more complicated to pin it down. You will have to open the computer, remove all but one RAM stick, and test each one individually to identify the faulty one. It might be easier, but more expensive, to just replace all of them (if one failed, others may follow suit). See the section below about upgrading RAM for more details.
Overheating is another problem that can make a computer crash or restart in addition to running slow. It is pretty easy to check and is definitely worth doing this once or twice a year to prolong the life of your system.
For desktops, you can clean the vents on the outside of the case but you will also have to open the case to look at the CPU cooling fins. These are mounted directly over the CPU and a fan is mounted over them. When you open the case you will see the fan attached to the motherboard. Peek through the fan blades to the cooling fins. You should see shiny metal. If there is a coating of dust, use a can of compressed air to blow it clean. Do not let the air spin the fan and keep the can upright while spraying. If you tilt the can you will spray liquid propellant onto the CPU.
If your desktop has a dedicated graphics card, it will likely have its own fan which should be checked. Unfortunately, you will probably have to remove the card in order to see and clean the fan.
For laptops, check the ventilation vents and be sure they are clean. Blow them clean with compressed air. Open the back and clean out as much dust as you can see. If you can easily expose the CPU, check for dust build-up there. When using the laptop, be sure that you are not blocking the vent.
Upgrades for a Computer with no Malfunctions
Once you have ensured that the computer has no malfunctions, the next thing to consider is whether you can benefit from any upgrades. The upgrades we will discuss can eliminate potential speed bottlenecks in your computer.
The first upgrade to consider for speeding the computer is adding RAM, or system memory. RAM is the space where the computer does all of the work. If there is not enough RAM, the computer will constantly move things on and off of the hard drive, which is much slower than RAM. The minimum requirement for Windows 10 after the Anniversary Update is now 2 GB. Most third-party sites recommend 4 GB as a realistic minimum. 8 GB is a better choice if you use computationally-intensive applications or if you routinely run may apps at once.
You can check on the memory use in the Performance tab of Task Manager. Do this when you are in the midst of a busy time with many apps open. This is when you will be using the most memory. Right-click on a blank area of the task bar and select Task Manager. When it opens select the Performance tab, and click Memory. You will see a graph showing the current memory use. Is the line up near the top consistently? If so you should consider increasing the amount. It is inexpensive and fairly easy to do.
Crucial was the first company to offer a small app that checks your system and suggests upgrade options. Today most vendors that sell RAM upgrades offer a similar option. Open a web browser and go to crucial.com. Download and run the tool. The results page will show you how many slots (places to plug in RAM chips) are in the computer, how many are used, and the capacity of the RAM chip in each slot. Most importantly, it should be able to tell you the maximum capacity RAM chip that can go into each slot. You may need to go to the computer or motherboard manufacturer’s site to find this information.
If you are lucky, there are empty slots and you can buy RAM to plug in there. If all of the slots are filled, but can take a higher capacity chip, you can replace the smaller chip. If the slots all have the maximum capacity already, you are already running the maximum RAM for your computer.
Your next option for a useful upgrade is to get a bigger or faster hard drive. If you checked your hard drive space and less than 20% is free, more drive space is needed. For a desktop computer, it may be possible to add a second drive and then move your documents, movies, photos, videos, etc to the new drive. New programs can be installed there as well. The only sure way to know if you can do this is to open the case. You need an open SATA port (where the drives plug in) on the motherboard, a place to mount the drive in the chassis (some low-end cases only have a place to mount one drive), and an available power plug from the power supply (possibly missing in lower-end computers).
If you are missing one of these items, or if you have a laptop (few laptops have an option for a second drive) you will need to replace the hard drive with a new one. This is more complicated, because you will need to have a backup and a way to install Windows 10 to the new drive. The ideal case is to have a disk image of the drive and restore it to the new drive. Describing the details of this process is beyond the scope of this article.
Magnetic drives are commonly sold at two speeds, 5400 rotations per minute (rpm) or 7200 rpm. If you have a 5400 rpm drive it might be worthwhile to upgrade to 7200 rpm, but a lot of other factors affect hard drive performance and you may not notice much of a difference. The best way to get a speed increase is to upgrade to an SSD. These work with flash memory instead of spinning disks and are much faster than traditional magnetic hard drives (HDDs). Unfortunately, they are also more expensive per gigabyte of storage space.
If you have a lot of data to store (music, photos, and video can add up to a lot of space) it may not be economical to get an SSD large enough for everything. If your system can take two drives, you could run Windows and some disk-intensive programs on the SSD and everything else on an HDD. If you store little data and mostly do email and web browsing, running an SSD could be a good option. In fact, if you have a recent computer it may already be running on an SSD.
Dedicated Graphics Card
The graphics controller puts the picture on your screen and updates it constantly. Many systems are sold with the graphics controller integrated onto the motherboard, and possibly using some of the system memory to perform this task. Higher-end systems are sold with a separate graphics card with its own dedicated memory.
You already have a dedicated graphics card if you are a gamer. You may benefit from an upgrade if you are seeing slow performance in the games but not in other computing. If you are not a gamer, an add-on graphics card might help with heavy photo processing and video processing, otherwise this should be the last upgrade you try, if you try it at all. You can only add these cards to desktop towers.
If you have a laptop, you either have dedicated graphics or not and you can’t change it. If you have integrated graphics, you can add more RAM and look in the BIOS for a setting to allocate more RAM to the graphics system.
There’s not much you can do about this, but you should know about it. Windows 10 will run better on a processor with two or more cores. Four is better for those who do lots of multi-tasking. Low-end systems, netbooks, and older systems may only have a single-core CPU. If this might apply to you, check on this because the other fixes here may not pay off as well for you. Go to the Task Manager and click the Resource Monitor link at the bottom. Select the CPU tab. You will see a graph for each core, letting you know how many you have.
Remove Vendor Bloatware
When you purchase a computer from a major manufacturer, you get more than Windows 10. Each computer company makes deals with various software companies to include those companies’ software pre-installed and ready to use when you turn on the computer. Uninstall any programs you are not likely to use. You can use the built-in uninstall facility in Programs and Features. Access this by right-clicking on the Task Bar’s Windows icon and selecting Programs and Features. Look for programs that you don’t want and select uninstall. You can do a more thorough job of clearing these program files and registry entries by using a third-party utility such as Revo Uninstaller.
One caveat while doing this: you will see things you probably don’t recognize in the uninstall list. These are likely to be drivers and utilities for your system hardware. The rule here is don’t uninstall unless you are sure of what it is and sure that you don’t need it. Do some Internet research if needed.
Startup Files and Services
Many programs add a start-up item when they are installed. It may be needed for proper functioning of the program, such as for anti-malware and firewall programs, but for ordinary applications these startup items often just get the program going faster or offer a quick way to access the program. Many of these startup items can be seen as small icons in the task bar.
If you use a program a lot, it might be a performance boost to leave its startup item in place. For most programs, however, the startup item is an unnecessary drag on startup time and performance. Task Manager gives you a view of these items with the option to disable them. Press Crtl-Shift-Esc or right-click the task bar to get to Task manager, then select the startup tab. You can right-click on an item and get an option to disable it. You can get a more comprehensive list of startup items along with more editing options with the utility Autoruns from Systernals, a Microsoft partner. Again, you must be sure of what an item is before you disable or remove it.
You can access services with the Task manager or Autoruns. Tread carefully here. Some services are needed for Windows and programs to function correctly. Do some research before turning anything off. Another option is to set the service to start manually. If it is needed, it will start at that time. It is best to do one at a time and use the computer a while. If you see a problem it is easy to go back in and re-enable the service or change it back to Automatic.
Applications can run in the background in Windows 10 updating, sending notifications, and more. To shut them down go to the Start Menu and click the Settings gear to the lower left. The select Privacy. The last choice on the left menu is Background apps. This will give you a list of apps with a slider to turn them off in the background.
Browsers Extensions and Caches
Internet browsing is a major part of the computing experience, so it is important to be sure that your Internet browser is running at optimum speed. The key steps are to disable and remove any unneeded extensions and keep the cache size under control.
Extensions are installed by services and features you wanted, but may also get on the computer without your knowledge. Any one of them may be OK, but in aggregate they can slow down the browser. Be especially critical of items that you did not install yourself. When it comes to security tool bars, you’ll have to weigh the benefit of the protection they may give you against the performance drain.
The internet cache was a feature needed in the days of slow dial-up Internet access, but not so much today. The idea is that the browser will keep a stash of the website files you might need on your hard drive so that you do not have to download them each time you visit the web site.
Today, a large browser cache might slow things more than it helps. The browser has to sort through the cache, compare what it has to what’s on the site and decide what to do. It depends on how many web pages you typically visit, how often you visit, and how often they change the content on the pages. If you go to the same sites every day it might help to make the cache large enough to hold files from all of them, if the appearance tends to stay the same. If the content changes a lot, or if you go to the sites infrequently, the stuff in the cache will be wrong or will have expired and won’t work, so there is no sense in keeping it. This is a setting to adjust and then observe how it affects your experience. If you clear the cache and then go about your browsing that will give you a sense of what will happen if you set the size very low. You may find that it doesn’t help much. In fact, two of the browsers don’t let you mess with this setting.
Click the “hamburger” icon (the three lines at the upper right) of the Firefox window. In the dialog that comes up click “Add-ons.” Along the left there are choices for Extensions and Plugins. Examine both lists and disable or remove any of them that you do not need.
Access the cache by going back to the hamburger and click “Options.” In the next screen select “Advanced” along the left and then the “Network” tab along the top. You can see how large the cache is at the moment and set a manual limit if you want to change it. There is a button to clear the cache as well.
The Chrome settings are accessed with the 3-dot icon in the upper right. Select “Settings” in the menu that pops up and “Extensions” on the left of the page that follows. You can now examine this list for items to remove.
There is no user menu to change the cache. You can clear the cache by selecting “Settings” on the left of the Settings page. There is a search box at the top of the page that follows. Type in cache and you will be presented with the button for clearing the cache. If you want to see how large the cache is, type “chrome://net-internals/#httpCache page” in the address bar as if you were going to a site. Select “Cache” on the left of the page that comes up. The value for the current size (in bytes, so it is a huge number) is on the fifth line. The Chrome cache will expand as needed, so you don’t need to increase the size manually.
Edge added the ability to install extensions with the Anniversary Update. The Settings icon is three dots in the upper right. Select Extensions and review the list of installed extensions. Edge does not offer a way to manage the cache. You can clear the cache through the settings dialog. After selecting “Settings” from the upper right menu, look for the “clear browsing data” button. This will take you to a screen where you can select “Cached data and files” and other options.
Open Internet Explorer and access the Tools menu (Alt-X or gear icon). Click the “Manage add-ons” option. On the screen that follows you can review and delete add-ons.
Access the cache management through Internet Options in the Control Panel. The General tab has a “Delete” button at the bottom. Click this and you will get a screen where you can delete “Temporary Internet files and website files,” as well as other options. The “Settings” button on the General tab will bring up a screen where you can set the size of the cache.
Disable Animations and Other Visual Effects
Windows 10 has many visual effects that may make the experience more flashy but use valuable RAM space and processor time. The option to turn them off is buried in the Advanced System Settings. Start with Win-X and then click on Control Panel > System and Security > System > Advanced system settings > Advanced > Performance > Visual Effects. The easiest thing to do here is select “Adjust for best performance” and all of the options will be turned off. You can enable any individual items you simply can’t live without.
The transparency setting is another visual effect but is found in a different place. In the Start Menu, select Settings (gear icon) and then Colors. Look for the toggle button “Make Start, task bar, and action center transparent” and slide it to off.
There is one more animation to switch off. Back in the settings menu, Select Ease of Access. At the bottom left of this new window select “Other options”. Move the slider for “Play animations in Windows” to “Off.”
Virtual Memory Settings
Virtual memory, also called the swap or paging file, is space on the hard drive that is used if the system runs short on RAM. If you have checked RAM and upgraded, you shouldn’t need much space for this. Hit Win-X and then click on Control Panel > System and Security > System > Advanced system settings > Advanced > Performance Settings > Advanced, and then the “Change…” button.
In the next window select “System managed size” and note the “Recommended:” size. Then select “Custom size:” and put in the recommended number for the initial and maximum sizes.
At this time you can change the location of the swap file. It should be located on your fastest physical drive or the C: drive if they are all the same. If you move it, you have to leave a small token file on C:.
Hit Win-X or right-click the Windows icon on the Task Bar. Power options is the second choice in the menu that comes up. There is a plan for “High performance”, but if you like to save on electricity this option may not be for you. You may have to click the triangle next to “Show additional plans” to see this option.
Search indexing runs in the background and makes searches run faster. As seen in the screenshot, it will scale back when you are actively using the computer. If you don’t do many searches, you may wish to turn it off. If you search frequently, you’ll want to leave it on but you can limit indexing to those places you are likely to search. Indexing Options is accessed through the Control Panel. It shows you the current locations that are indexed. The “modify” button opens a window where you can select and deselect the locations that are indexed. The spinners (right-pointing arrowheads) next to each drive open to allow you to select individual folders.
Windows 10 integrates OneDrive, Microsoft’s online file hosting and cloud storage service. It runs in the background to sync your files to their servers. If you do not use OneDrive, this is a needless use of resources and you can prevent it from starting. Right-click on the OneDrive icon (clouds) and select settings. In the next window there is a check box to auto-start OneDrive with Windows. Clear the checkbox. It will take effect the next time you restart Windows.
If you are comfortable editing the Registry, you can completely disable OneDrive. Open Regedit, go to the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows, then create a new key in the Windows key named OneDrive. Give this key a DWORD called DisableFileSyncNGSC with a value of 1. If you ever decide to use OneDrive, come back here and delete the key.
If it is not a security risk for you, you can disable the need for a password as the computer starts (not a good idea on a laptop). Use Win-R to get the Run dialog and type “netplwiz.” In the next screen (User Accounts) clear the checkbox, “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.
Windows Fast Startup slashes even more time from the startup process. It uses hibernation mode to store the state of RAM, open programs, the Windows kernel, and more in the hiberfile, and then activates it all on the next startup. In essence, the computer never really shuts down. Before we see how to do it, there are some caveats to consider:
- Since there is not a complete shutdown, Windows Updates will not work correctly. You will have to disable Fast Startup or restart manually to do the updates. The time you lose on a botched update may cancel the benefits of this setting.
- Encrypted disks will be already mounted, negating any security benefit of the encryption. You will need to remember to dismount them every time before shut down.
- Some systems just won’t work well with hibernation.
- Dual booting is not a good idea. The Windows hard disk is locked and can’t be accessed from another operating system. If you were able to change anything on the Windows partition, the system can get corrupted.
- You may not be able to access BIOS unless you do a manual restart.
If you still think you want to try this, use Win-X to launch the Power User Menu and select Command Prompt(Admin). Enter this command: powercfg /hibernate on.
Next, go back to the Power User Menu and select Power Options> Choose what the power button does > Change settings that are currently unavailable. Set the checkbox for “Turn on fast startup” and then hit “Save changes.”
You can save some clicks at the end of the day by speeding up the shutdown process. There are two ways do do this. First, you can re-program the power button. Press Win-X and then Power Options from the menu. On the left is an option, “Choose what the power buttons do.” Clicking this brings up a new window with the choice “When I press the power button:” In the drop-down menu, change the choice from “Do Nothing” to “Shut down.”
The second method is to create a desktop shortcut (you can move it to the task bar later). Right-click on an empty section of desktop and select New and then Shortcut. In the next box type “%windir%\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0”, click Next to name the shortcut, and hit Finish. Be careful with this one. The action is immediate and irreversible.
There are a few settings in Folder Options that can give a slight boost to system performance. Access them by opening a File Explorer window and click View at the top. At the right side of the ribbon you will see Options. Click this to bring up the Folder Options window. Select the view tab.
Uncheck the following:
- Display file size information in folder tips
- Hide empty drives
- Hide extensions for known file types (it is also a good security measure to disable this)
- Show encrypted or compressed NTFS files in color
- Show pop-up description for folder and desktop items
You can turn off the sounds that accompany system events to save a bit of time. Right-click the Start Menu and go to the Control Panel. Select Sound, and then the Sounds tab. Now you can select individual events that you don’t need a sound for and select “None” from the drop-down list at the bottom. There is also a “No Sounds” choice for Sound Scheme which will disable all sounds at once.
The collection and sending of data takes system resources. Go to the Start Menu and select the Settings gear at lower left. Then select Privacy. Go through all of the menus turning off options that you don’t want or need. The exact choices will vary from person to person.
Tips and Notifications
Select the Settings gear in the Start Menu and then select System. Select “Notifications and actions” from the left menu. Turn off the slider for “Get notifications from apps and other senders” and “Get tips, tricks, and suggestions as you use Windows” to Off.
Trim the Start Menu
In the Start Menu, select the Settings gear and then Personalization. Then select Start. Turn off options in this window, then select “Choose which folders appear on Start” at the bottom, and trim folders in the next window.
Set Active Hours
The Active Hours setting will keep Windows from restarting for an update in the middle of your work day. Access this setting from the Settings gear in the Start Menu and then select “Update & security.” The Windows Update screen will appear with the “Change active hours” choice in mid-screen. Click this to set a 12-hour window where you will be safe from updates.
If you are impatient waiting for the mouse to show menus when you hover over an item, you can change the delay time in the registry. In the Registry Editor, find the following keys. They are set to 400 milliseconds, or 4 tenths of a second by default. You can make them pretty much instantaneous by changing the values to 10.
- HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Control Panel > Mouse
- HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Control Panel > Desktop
This is the one you may need to do most often. If the temp files folder gets too large (in the multi-gigabyte range) system performance could suffer. You can do this through the Disk Cleanup feature of Windows. Open a File Explorer window from the Task bar and select This PC on the left. Right-click on the C: drive and select Properties. The Disk Cleanup button will be in the window that appears next. Click this and follow the instructions. Ccleaner is a free third-party program that brings together this and other maintenance tasks in one easy-to manage place.
The registry usually only needs to be cleaned after uninstalling programs. The uninstaller often misses some files and Registry settings. Revo Uninstaller does a better job. Ccleaner and JV Powertools have good registry cleaners that can catch any leftovers.
Normal file operations on a disk drive result in bits of files written all over the hard drive wherever room is available. The more scattered, or fragmented, the files become, the longer it takes to read them.
Windows 10 does a good job of keeping fragmentation in check. You can check on the status of the drives and run a manual Optimization from the Tools tab of the C: drive’s Properties box. Select the Optimize button on this tab to bring up the Optimize Drives window. Select a drive and hit Analyze to get the latest status. Hit Optimize if you want to defrag the drive.
Note that SSDs work differently and should not be defragged. Defragging is disabled for SSDs in Windows 10.
Disk Images and Clean Installs – A Closing Thought
If you have upgraded the computer from previous versions of Windows it might be time do do a clean install. Describing the full process is beyond the scope of this article. This process would clear out any problems that were carried over from the old system. It will take a lot of time to re-install all the apps you need, but it could be worthwhile to know that you are starting with the cleanest possible configuration.
If you do all the work of optimizing your system or a clean install, the ultimate cleaning/restoration tool is a complete disk image of a fully-cleaned system with all programs installed and ready to run, along with a current backup of all of your data. After that, the next time your system gets to a point where it is slower or needs major cleaning, all you have to do is restore the image and then restore your data from a curent backup. Again, it is beyond the scope of this article to describe the process in detail, but it is not hard – mostly a matter of setting the right software into action – and it is good to know that such an option exists.