Windows has a history of software bugs and malfunctions that have followed the operating system for years. Windows XP was wildly popular with consumers and businesses alike, but the OS was known for security holes and bugs. Windows Vista was a major visual reinvention for Microsoft, but the operating system was criticized by both technology journalists and consumers for its privacy concerns, security holes, and issues with driver support. When Windows 7 was released in 2009, it was largely sold as fixing problems created by Vista, and though Windows 7 was largely praised by critics, it too experiences its fair share of criticism, especially as it ages.
Also see our article How to Speed Up Your Mac
Like Windows 7 with Vista, Windows 10 exists to improve on the mistakes and criticisms on Windows 8, complete with small, biannual updates and mandatory security patches to keep computers safe during everyday use. It isn’t a stretch to say Windows 10 is the best operating system Microsoft has ever shipped, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Like any other operating system, Windows 10 can slow down over time, especially when you’re using your computer every day.
This article will take you through a variety of improvements and tweaks for Windows 10, that can help you speed up your system and get your computer back up to speed. (If you’re not sure what version of Windows you have, we’ll help you figure it out here.) Let’s take a look in this ultimate guide to speeding up Windows 10.
It’s no secret that your computer gets slower over time. Whether you’re a Windows or MacOS user, you’ll notice your laptop or desktop slowing down in the first few months of owning your device. As you install software, download files, store media and photos on your device, and browse the web, your device is constantly using more resources to do the things you need it to do. Everything from keeping too many tabs open in Chrome or Microsoft Edge to installing unnecessary software onto your device can contribute to slowing it down. While these are some pretty standard hiccups in your everyday use, we’ve also seen plenty of malfunctions cause headaches for Windows 10 users. If your computer is running increasingly slowly, it may be worth looking at some of these solutions to see if your device is in good shape before moving onto the more fine-tuning tweaks.
Hard Drive Problems
If you’re having major speed problems with your computer, one of the things you’ll want to check first is the health of your hard drive. The hard drive (or HDD) is the storage location for everything on your computer, from your files, photos, and documents to the operating system itself. Traditionally, hard drives are disk-based pieces of hardware that use magnetic storage to retain digital information for your computer to access, though SSDs (solid-state drives), which lack mechanical parts and use flash-based storage similar to your smartphone, are becoming more and more popular due to lowering prices and increased speed over traditional hard drives.
Your hard drive is one of the most important components in your computer–without a healthy, well-functioning hard drive, your computer can slow to a crawl. It’s important to manage your hard drive the same way you’d clean your house or apartment. Setting aside a couple hours to go through old files, folders, and software, deleting, uninstalling, and archiving where necessary, can make a computer feel new again. The easiest way to start doing this is to open your File Explorer on Windows 10, going folder by folder to delete and archive software. We recommend starting with your system files like Documents, Pictures, Videos, and Downloads to remove and delete any data that’s been built up over time. Not only can this free up gigabytes of space on your hard drive, it can also increase your speed.
Another excellent idea is to archive files and folders not needed on a daily basis to an external USB-based hard drive. Terabyte hard drives can be found on Amazon for less than $60, making them a great investment for users looking to speed up their computer without purchasing a new device.
You can also use a disk monitor for an easy way to check on the health of standard disk drives. Our recommended disk monitor is WinDirStat, a tool for analyzing your hard drive storage space and making smart decisions about the state of your hard drive. The free software provides a visual way to view what’s on your drive, with each file and folder sorted in color-graded boxes.
Upon installing WinDirStat, you’ll be asked which drive you wish to view in the app (if you have multiple drives, that is). You can view all drives at once or just select certain drives to view. Each file type has its own corresponding color you can use to match up to the blocks on your display. The key for the map is displayed in the top-right corner of your display, making it easy to tell what is what in your file system.
Rolling over each block will display the file name in the bottom of the application, while selecting a block allows you to access the file in your file browser. You can delete the file or folder right from WinDirStat, either to the Recycle Bin or permanently. As you clean up your drive, you should be able to regain some speed from older drives, though remember that drives can’t go faster than their typical set speed. For example, an older 5400 RPM drive isn’t going to match the speeds of a 7200 RPM drive, and will never come close to competing with an SSD.
If you’re looking for something to monitor the health of your hard drive, making sure you know when your computer is on its way out, you can check out PassMark DiskCheckout, a utility that is free for consumers and costs $19.99 for business licenses. The application itself is rather basic, but using it can be the difference between saving your files, photos, and music collection and losing everything because you failed to recognize a dying hard drive. Simply boot the application, select your drive from the main menu, and check out the basic information provided about your drive. PassMark uses the same SMART system that allows hard drives to recognize when they’re failing, so you’ll receive an alert if the status of your drive changes unexpectedly. Using DiskCheckout, you can view your drive’s current read and write speeds, your average disk latency, and the SMART info provided by the drive itself. Finally, using the configuration settings inside the app, you can set up both desktop notifications and email notifications for your hard drive’s health.
Though most people think of all computer viruses as the exact same thing, but the term’s actually a catch-all to describe dangerous software that infects your computer. There are several different varieties of viruses, each with their own individual way of attacking your system, but the most common variety by far is malware. When you think of a traditional computer virus, you’re probably thinking of malware, or malicious software, a program designed to damage or disable computers and other computing systems. Malware itself is a bit of an umbrella term, but all you need to know is this: your system can be infected with malware without much action needed on your part, typically spreading through a dangerous executable file. Though executable files (marked with the file extension .exe) are a necessity in the Windows world (used to install nearly every program and application on your machine), a dangerous .exe file can spell trouble for your computer.
Though the basic type of malware simply disables or corrupts general processes on your computer, there are plenty of specific “flavors” of malware that harm your computer in different ways, including:
- Trojan horses: Like the wooden horse that helped lead to the fall of Troy, Trojans are pieces of software disguised to mislead you about their true intentions, instead convincing the user it’s a real piece of software. Once it’s infected your computer, Trojans can do all sorts of bad things, including disable your antivirus, steal your bank information send your passwords to hackers, infect users on shared IP addresses, and more. They’re one of the most dangerous types of viruses—but luckily, can be avoided easily by verifying your .exe files before opening them, as well as avoiding .exe file attachments in suspecisious emails.
- Ransomware: Another popular variety of malware, ransomware is becoming more and more popular these days, with several high-profile attacks on older operating systems taking place throughout 2017. Unlike other malware, which exists to spread and create disruptions and problems, ransomware does exactly what the name implies: it asks for a ransom to unlock your computer. In modern ransomware, this ransom is typically asked for in the form of Bitcoin, a digital cryptocurrency that, as of writing, currently equates one bitcoin to over $4,000.
- Spyware: This malware exists primarily to spy on the infected user, gathering personal and private information including your browsing history, passwords, bank information, and more. Spyware often includes a keylogger, a piece of software that directly tracks what is typed on your computer and sends it to another external source.
- Adware: Adware isn’t necessarily malware; plenty of friendly and safe pieces of adware exist, including applications like Skype, or any other software suite that shows embedded advertisements as a way for the software owner to make money. Adware becomes malware once it’s installed without the computer owner’s consent, thus creating a situation where the computer owner is being shown advertisements and being used to make money for a company without giving explicit permission. Adware can often morph into other forms of malware, including ransomware and spyware.
- Worms: Unlike other malware, worms exist primarily to spread to other computers and computer systems, often over a shared network of devices. Worms typically cause some amount of harm to the computer it infects, including by consuming bandwidth from the users’ networks. These can typically be defeated with a strong password and security system.
- Scareware: As the name implies, scareware exists primarily to cause the user into being terrified or shocked into manipulation, often pushing the user to buy unwanted and expensive software. This often comes through telling the user through popup messages that they’ve been infected with software, or that the FBI has tracked their internet usage and deemed the user dangerous. The software purchased by the user through scareware tactics often infects the user’s computer with another type of malware.
Though this may make your computer and the web sound dangerous, it’s also important to remember that operating systems are more secure than ever. Though many of these types of malware still exist on the web today, Windows 10 is far more secure than any version of Windows before it, with the popularity of most of these viruses having died off since the days of Windows XP reigning supreme. Even this year’s biggest malware attack, the WannaCry ransomware that asked users and businesses like hospitals to pay to unlock their computer, mostly attacked computers running Windows 7, with Windows 10 computers accounting for 0.03 of the attacked systems.
Still, you need to defend yourself against attackers by running an antimalware and antivirus software suite on your computer. The biggest problem with these pieces of software, however, is their notoriety for being buggy, inconsistent, and expensive. Many computers bought from places like Amazon or Best Buy ship with trial versions of software like Norton and McAfee antivirus, that often expire after a certain amount of time running on your computer. You don’t need to pay for this software to protect your desktop or laptop from dangerous software—there are plenty of free pieces of software on the market that exist to protect your from malware like what’s described above. Here are some of our top picks:
- Windows Defender (or Windows Defender Antivirus in Windows 10 Creators Update): Since Windows 8, this software suite has been included in Windows by default, keeping all Windows users relatively safe from dangerous pieces of software. While it’s a competent antivirus, it’s not quite as strong as what we’ve seen from outside companies. Advanced users can probably stick with this as their basic defense against outside software, but most users will want to upgrade to a third-party suite.
- Avast! Free Antivirus 2017: This is our top pick for antivirus software, since its status as a free security suite while still remaining fast and quick leaves it as one of the few unpaid antivirus apps still worth downloading. There are paid versions of Avast you can upgrade to, but you don’t need them—download Avast! Free, set it up, opt out of their toolbar for Chrome, and allow it to run in the background of your computer. If you’ve tried Avast! and you don’t like it, Avira and AVG both offer excellent antivirus suites for free as well.
- MalwareBytes: While Avast! covers most viruses and other dangerous components throughout using your computer, it’s still worth looking into a dedicated anti-malware program, and nothing’s better than MalwareBytes Free, which helps you detect and remove malware on your computer.
We recommend using both an antivirus and anti-malware program on your computer, since both tools help make up for the other’s shortcomings. However, be careful not to install too many pieces of security software; they often pick up each other’s action as malicious activity, which can cause your PC to slow to a crawl. Be sure to determine that your programs are compatible with each other before installing them on the same computer at once.
Most of these programs, including the ones we recommended above, work in the background of your computer without any major prompts or actions on your part, typically alerting you with a notification when a scan has been completed on your computer, along with a report of any found threats. If your software does find anything, you’ll be prompted to remove it using either your antivirus or anti-malware’s built-in removal tools, making it easy to get bad or unwanted software off your computer and to get it back up to speed once more.
While your hard drive may be responsible for slowing down applications from opening on your computer, problems with your RAM (or random-access memory) can cause issues with storing recent and temporary data, also causing problems with speed. If your computer seems to grow slower as the day goes on, this may be the cause of a faulty RAM stick, which can also cause your computer to crash, restart, or have blue screen error messages. Luckily, the Windows 10 Memory Diagnostic tool can be used to check the status of your RAM. To use it, press Win+R to open Run, type (or copy and paste) “mdsched.exe”, and hit enter. Your computer’s Memory Diagnostic tool will load, and you can either use the application immediately (causing your computer to restart), or the next time you start your computer.
If the diagnostics display problems with your RAM upon reboot, it’s a bit more difficult to pin down a solution for all machines. For desktops, the problem isn’t entirely unsolvable. Opening a desktop isn’t difficult (typically, you’ll be unscrewing a side panel to reveal your machine’s motherboard, where the RAM slots in), and there are plenty of guides online showing how to replace RAM in your machine. Replacement RAM isn’t too expensive to purchase, and inserting the RAM into your computer is as easy as pressing the RAM stick into place, similar to inserting a video game cartridge into a SNES (though with a bit more pressure required to trigger the motherboard’s locking mechanism). RAM is typically sold in packs of two sticks, so replacing or upgrading your RAM should be done at the same time.
However, if you’re main computer is a laptop, things get a bit more difficult. While some modern laptops—specifically gaming machines and other laptops not concerned with being thin and light—can allow users access to the machine’s RAM, you’ll want to ensure your laptop has user-replaceable or expandable RAM before tearing open the bottom of your laptop. In many cases, you’ll want to ensure that your warranty won’t be voided by opening your laptop. Also, if you happen to be the owner of an Ultrabook-style machine, you’re likely to find the RAM has been soldered to the motherboard inside the device. In that case, you’ll need to contact your device’s manufacturer to arrange service for your laptop.
It might seem basic, but computers tend to run at very warm temperatures. Your PC’s CPU typically runs at around 45 to 50 degrees celsius (113 to 122 degrees fahrenheit), sometimes reaching maximum temperatures of 60 degrees celsius. If your computer has a dedicated GPU, you’ll likely see even hotter temperatures, typically ranging from 60 to 85 degrees celsius under load and reaching maximums upwards of 95 degrees celsius, before your computer shuts down to avoid damage. This is why cooling is so important on high-end machines. On desktops, dedicated CPU coolers from companies like Cooler Master are typically recommended, and some power users have switched to liquid cooling to manage their own self-built systems. On laptops, you’ll often see complaints about the noise level of fans in current and older gaming laptops, especially those focused on thinness, but that’s required for the system to run such powerful hardware.
That said, if your computer is continually overheating due to restricted airflow or poor cooling conditions, you’ll want to make sure your computer is still running at a reasonable temperature. Unfortunately, this is another example of something that’s easier to manage on a desktop than a laptop, but regardless, it’s possible on both types of computers.
For desktops, turn off and unplug your device and start by taking the side panel off your machine to reveal the interior of the machine. Using a combination of brushes and compressed air, make your way through the machine carefully cleaning. Fans and coolers can be cleaned by using compressed air to blow the dust out of the machine, though make sure you aren’t spraying any of the compressed air on the motherboard or other components. Blowing up through the fans is the easiest way to do this; alternatively, if you have experience in building PCs, you can remove components from your PC one by one to clean them. On areas where you can’t remove dust with compressed air, the brush will do the trick.
Desktop computers also have the ability to replace the fans if your computer is no longer being cooled properly. Fans plug directly into the motherboard for power, and you can buy a solid pair of fans for $30 or $40 online. You’ll want to make sure you research the size of fan you need before buying the product, but otherwise, replacing your fans in a desktop is a great, cheap way to ensure your device is staying cool. Finally, make sure the fans on your GPU are active and functioning; an overheating GPU can cause graphics errors, resulting in a forced restart of your machine. Both NVIDIA and AMD have built-in software for controlling your GPU’s fans manually, and GPU-Z is a free program for Windows that can also control your graphics card at manually-set speeds.
For laptops, it’s a bit more difficult to truly clean the machine. If your device allows for it, you may be able to remove the bottom casing of your device to check the ventilation vents and remove any dust, carefully cleaning them with compressed air. The CPU should be covered in most modern machines, which means less of a risk of accidentally exposing important components to dangerous elements. With laptops, it’s also important to ensure you aren’t blocking the vents; this goes especially for gaming laptops. If you’re using your machine on carpet or cloth, invest in some form of stand for the device that will prevent the machine from having closed-off airways.
Upgrading Your Computer
Once you’ve ensured your computer is well-cooled, protected against malware and other dangerous software, and hasn’t experienced damaged hardware, it’s time to consider possible upgrades to your PC. Desktops are typically easy to upgrade; it’s a matter of removing the side of the tower and manipulating the parts and wires plugged into the motherboard of your computer. Laptops can be upgradeable as well, to a certain extent. Some laptops, especially those focused on gaming or content creation, allow your specific hardware to be upgraded by the user by removing the bottom panel of the laptop (often, this means your warranty will unfortunately be voided). We’ll be focusing mainly on desktop PCs below, but if you’re using a laptop, make sure to check Google to see if your computer supports any sort of upgrades. While you won’t be able to add a new graphics card or CPU to your laptop, there’s a good chance you can switch out the hard drive or upgrade the RAM depending on the make and model of your computer. Let’s get started.
One of the first things to consider upgrading on your PC when trying to speed up the computer is adding additional RAM, or random access memory. As we covered above, a lack of accessible RAM forces your computer to constantly load oft-used information, files, and software from your hard drive instead of keeping it on your computer’s memory. This means everything on your computer, especially the stuff you use most often, will feel slow and unresponsive. Windows 10 has a minimum 2GB RAM requirement for most computers, but realistically, you’ll want a minimum of 4GB and more preferably, a full 8 gigabytes to power your PC. In 2017, applications and operating systems have become more memory-hungry than ever. Even your phone likely has 3 or 4GB of RAM at this point. Most users won’t need over 8GB or RAM for everyday use, but if you are truly concerned about future-proofing your machine, 16GB is plenty for 90 percent of users. Content creators will want to look at 16GB of RAM as a minimum, and may want to consider stepping up to 32GB.
If you aren’t sure how much RAM is currently built into your PC, don’t stress too much. Start by hitting the Start menu icon in the lower-left hand corner of your display and type “RAM,” then click “View RAM info” to load your system settings. This settings page will display the amount of RAM in your PC, along with other basic info about your computer. Alternatively, you can also open up task manager on your computer. Press and hold Ctrl+Alt+Delete and tap on the “Performance” tab, then select “Memory” on the left. This will display a real-time chart of your memory usage. If your usage is often charting at the top of the graph consistently, you may want to consider increasing the amount of RAM in your machine. If you’ve never upgraded a computer before, you’ll be happy to know it’s affordable (typically under $150 to upgrade to a fresh 16GB of RAM) and one of the easiest upgrades to install in a PC.
- 4GB: This is the barebones amount you should use to power any modern computer. 4GB is useful for anyone looking to browse the web, write documents, and watch movies. 4GB will also allow for some basic photo manipulation, though don’t expect anything crazy here. Finally, if you’re expecting to do any major multitasking, you’ll want to step up to a higher tier of RAM. Even keeping multiple tabs open at once inside a browser (especially Chrome, which infamously uses a lot of memory) will cause your computer to slow to a crawl.
- 8GB: The sweet spot for most modern users, 8GB represents a good mix of value and utility. You can do everything 4GB allows you to, but a bit faster and smooth. Watch Netflix and browse the web at the same time, all while keeping dozens of tabs open. Video chat and watch a movie together. Edit more photos than you were previously. 8GB of RAM will even allow you to play some games, though keep in mind that your ability to play games also relies on both your GPU and CPU inside your machine.
- 16GB: For upgrading users, this is our recommended allocation of RAM. 16GB basically guarantees anything you want to do with your PC will be possible. Multitasking? No problem. Current-day games? Handles them like a champ. Video production in applications like Adobe Premiere Pro or After Effects? You’ll be good to go. Basic consumers might want to consider this tier too, simply for the sake of future-proofing your computer. If you’re looking to hang onto your computer for as long as possible, this is the best amount for the price.
- 32GB: If you’re a total power user, whether it be a master of 4K editing, sound mixing, constant photo editing and manipulation, or a full-time gamer, you’ll want to jump up to 32GB of RAM, if only for the sake of convenience and power. 32GB can handle the same sorts of processes as 16GB of RAM, but with a bit more power behind every action. Most users won’t need to jump up to 32GB of RAM, however, and if you’re the type of user who needs it, you likely already have it.
One thing you’ll want to consider before upgrading your RAM is the limitations imposed by your existing hardware, including your PC’s motherboard. You’ll want to ensure the motherboard of your computer can support additional RAM in your PC. Luckily, Crucial (one of the leading manufacturers of computer RAM) has developed a tool that allows you to quickly scan your machine and ensure the proper amount of RAM that your device supports. To follow through with it, head here to download the Crucial System Scanner tool onto your PC. This will automatically check your system BIOS for the information on the amount of RAM slots in your machine, as well as the maximum capacity of RAM your motherboard can support.
Once you’ve determined the correct amount of RAM for your machine, you can buy RAM from any number of websites and stores, including Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, and NCIX. Look out for user reviews and other information on your RAM, and follow the manufacturer’s guides for machines of your type. Desktops and laptops typically have different sized RAM sticks, so make sure you’re buying the right RAM for your type of machine. Replacing or adding RAM is as easy as sliding your RAM into the memory slots on your computer’s motherboard. On laptops that allow for expandable or replaceable RAM, all you’ll need to do is slot your new RAM sticks into the corresponding compartment. Some laptops can’t be upgraded by the user at all, so make sure to consult your manufacturer guides for more details.
Upgrading your RAM is important for increasing the speed and fluidity of your computer, especially when it comes to juggling multiple applications, browser tabs, and loading applications quickly. That said, adding or replacing the memory in your computer will only boost your performance so far, especially if your computer slows down when loading applications or files from your hard drive. Investing into a new hard drive can make sense for most users, especially if:
- Your computer is a few years old.
- You’re interested in investing in flash storage for your PC.
- Your hard drive is consistently more than 80 percent full.
Let’s discuss each of these options in more detail. First, if your computer is a few years old now, it’s likely that the machine is still using a disk-based drive. These disk drives are cheaper than their flash-based counterparts, but they’re also far slower, causing your PC to have slower startup times and longer load times. Disk-based hard drives are typically rated by disk speed, with most modern drives either rated at 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM. While it’s better to have a 7200 RPM drive than the slower and more common 5400, neither of these drives can stand up to a full-fledged SSD, which uses flash-based storage like your smartphone to retrieve information faster than ever before, while also reducing startup and restart times to seconds. The other reason to upgrade or purchase a new hard drive is based on your storage capacity. If you’re constantly pushing up against the full capacity of your hard drive, you’ll have a higher chance of experiencing fragmented files, slowing down your computer as it searches through your entire library of storage looking for specific content. Using a higher-capacity drive will help eliminate the need for fragmented files, and generally speed up your device.
If you’re looking to upgrade your computer’s hard drive, you’ll want to consider both what type of computer you have (desktop, laptop, etc.), and the class of hard drive you want. There’s a few different varieties of storage for computers, so here’s what you’ll need to consider:
- Hard Disk Drive (HDD): This is the traditional disk-based storage drive that most computers have used over time. They come in a few different sizes for different devices, and are by far the cheapest option for adding new storage to your device. As mentioned, of course, the problem with using disk-based storage comes down to speed. If you want to modernize your computer and really make the device feel faster, you’ll want to skip over using an HDD. That said, if you’re just looking to add plain storage, or you want a nice pairing with a new SSD, using a standard hard drive is a great place to keep your extra files or games.
- Solid State Drive (SSD): SSDs are all the rage these days, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike traditional disk-based hard drives, SSDs use integrated circuits without moving parts, typically using NAND-based flash storage similar to your smartphone or your tablet. Without moving pieces, SSDs are generally considered more reliable, and the speed increase is noticeable as soon as you begin using the drive. These drives have been slowly dropping in price, but they’re generally more expensive than their disk-based counterparts. They also don’t quite offer the same storage; a terabyte HDD will run you less than $100, but a terabyte SSD will push that limit to around $300 depending on the technology used.
- Hybrid Drive (SSHD): Hybrid drives are exactly what they sound like: traditional disk-based hard drives with an included solid state cache for loading the OS boot drive and occasional files. Hybrid drives are a good choice for anyone looking for a decent speed boost while still maintaining the typical amount of storage expected from an HDD. These aren’t nearly as great of an upgrade as an SSD (and indeed, you might be able to reach a better combination by combining an HDD and an SSD inside your desktop), but for anyone on a budget, it’s a better option than a standard hard drive.
- M.2 SSD: This is a subsection off of a standard SSD, but it’s worth paying attention to for one very simple reason. Since M.2 SSDs bypass the traditional SATA input, they use the M.2 standard, similar to PCI slots but with improved speeds and a smaller size. These are, by far, the most expensive upgrade on this list. You’ll have to research your laptop or motherboard to find whether your computer supports M.2 drives, but if you can afford them, you’ll see the benefits as soon as you’ve installed your new hardware.
Once you’ve chosen your new hardware, you’ll have to install it into your device. Desktop users get off easy. Most modern motherboards have more than one available SATA port, the interface used to connect hard drives to the motherboard. Replacing your drive or, more likely, adding a second drive to a desktop computer is incredibly simple. Most desktop towers have mounting brackets for you to screw the hard drive into place. If you choose to buy an SSD or smaller hard drive than the standard 3.5″ internal hard drive, you can pick up a cheap adapter bracket from Amazon for a few bucks, allowing you to safely mount the drive in your computer. When the drive has been mounted in your machine, it’s as easy as a plug-and-play solution. Ensure the SATA cable is running from your new hard drive to an open SATA port on your motherboard, and use a power connector to run from the hard drive to your PC’s power supply. You’ll want to ensure your power supply is powerful enough to handle the additional drive, but for the most part, you should be fine. Once you’ve done this, boot your desktop PC backup and use disk management to ensure the disk is recognized by the computer. If you’re adding a traditional disk-based hard drive, typically you’ll just want to move files between the two within Windows Explorer. Anyone upgrading to an SSD should consider moving their partition of Windows 10 from their old hard drive to the new SSD. Typically, your new SSD will include some form of transfer software to walk you through this process.
Laptop users, unfortunately, will have to check with their manufacturer before adding or replacing a drive. Most older Windows laptops do have some capabilities for replacing the drive, typically with either a new SSD or with a 2.5″ laptop hard drive. Ultrabooks ship with SSDs included as the main (and typically only) drive, and unfortunately, you’re likely out of luck for adding onto an Ultrabook without complication. Again, check with your manufacturer for more on whether your laptop’s drive is replaceable. Finally, most gaming laptops typically ship with user-replaceable hard drives, along with extra slots for additional storage. Newer gaming laptops might also include spaces for M.2 SSDs, which, as mentioned above, bypass the SATA interface to increase speed, performance, and size. Tablets and other ultra-portable devices, meanwhile, are likely out of luck when it comes to storage upgrades. Devices like the Surface Pro 4 originally had the ability to replace the SSD (albeit with a moderate level of difficult and know-how), but Microsoft’s newest 5th generation Surface Pro did away with that option.
Dedicated Graphics Card (GPU)
Your computer’s processor is what powers most of the tasks you perform on your computer, but your graphics card (or GPU) shouldn’t be overlooked. Most users will be satisfied with either an integrated GPU (typically referred to as Intel HD or Intel Iris graphics), but anyone who plans to game or edit photos or videos on their computer might want to look at upgrading their device’s GPU. The graphics card inside your computer can help out when performing heavy tasks that the CPU might be too weak on its own to handle. For that reason, it’s important not to ignore the strength of your GPU when building or buying a computer, whether it be a laptop or a desktop.
Upgrading a graphics card on your existing desktop is fairly simple. Just as with your RAM, your graphics card simply slots into your computer’s motherboard, making it a relatively painless process. That said, there’s still a pretty serious process you need to follow when upgrading your computer’s GPU, and if you aren’t careful, you could end up overpowering your existing components. The first thing to understand is this: buying a brand-new, top-end GPU for your computer with a half-decade old processor will result in bottlenecking performance on games. It’s important to keep a balance between both your CPU and GPU, and you should look for our guide to upgrading processors below for some advice on improving your performance.
If you’ve determined your GPU won’t be bottlenecked by using your processor, you also have to consider whether your new graphics card is supported by your motherboard and your computer’s power supply. We recommend using PC Part Picker to do this. Enter your existing components into the list, then add your new graphics card and check their PC Compatibility Check, which will estimate whether your now your components will be supported by each other. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a good way to ensure your devices are working well together before you upgrade your devices. Finally, once you have your new GPU in hand, make sure to uninstall the graphics drivers from your old GPU inside Device Manager before continuing onto installing your new GPU (with the system turned off). Once you’ve inserted your new graphics card into your computer, you’ll have to install new drivers from the manufacturer of your GPU (almost always either NVidia or AMD).
If you’re using a laptop, you don’t have a ton of options to upgrading your GPU. Either your device uses integrated graphics, or has a soldered dedicated graphics card inside the chassis that cannot be replaced by end-users. That said, if you’re using a newer laptop that supports Thunderbolt 3, you can look into using an external GPU to increasing your gaming or editing performance while at home. These eGPU enclosures are typically a few hundred bucks, and that’s without including an actual GPU for using in your device. These modules can go a long way in increasing your gaming performance on any number of Ultrabook and other thin and light laptops, and even macOS is beginning to support eGPUs using AMD processors (there’s no official NVidia support for MacBooks). Still, the market for these devices is young, and if your laptop doesn’t have a Thunderbolt 3-compatible port, you’re probably better off putting that money towards a more powerful computer.
If you’re using a laptop, this section isn’t for you. Unlike RAM and hard drives, there’s no laptop that contains an easily-replaceable processor. And while the graphics card market at least offers the ability to use external graphics cards in a housing using modern IO for connections, there’s no way to power an external CPU. Even prebuilt desktop users might find it difficult to replace the CPU in their computer without some intermediate-to-advanced knowledge, so replacing your processor might an option only for those who have the technical know-how to built their own computer in the first place.
That said, it’s important to know what to look for in modern processors. The majority of computers sold today are powered by Intel CPUs, and though lower-end PCs and Chromebooks typically use Intel Celeron processors, most computers on the market use Intel Core i-series processors, typically designated with either Core i3, i5, or i7 (ranging from the weakest to strongest). Desktop and laptop PCs have different processor models, despite sharing the same Core branding from intel, meaning a desktop-class i7 is typically faster and more powerful than the desktop class i7 (the same is true with GPUs, though that gap is starting to close as mobile GPUs finally grow more popular). A laptop using a Core i7 processor should still be able to perform most powerful tasks, including video production and gaming on the go (assuming a dedicated GPU is used in conjunction with the CPU). The Core branding has also been around for several years, currently in its seventh generation. Each generation has included changes and increases in performance, some major and some minor, along with improved battery consumption.
All of this said, if you’re looking at replacing your CPU, you’re probably looking to rebuild your entire desktop. Typically, buying a new CPU also means buying a new motherboard to set that CPU on, since different motherboards have different pin sizes for different processors. It’s tough to recommend a general processor for anyone looking to get into the world of building PCs, but here’s a general rule: Intel’s Core i5 is incredibly solid performance for the price, though power users will want to jump for the i7 line offered by Intel. AMD’s new Ryzen line is the first time in years the company has produced CPUs under a new architecture, and they’re also great for the money, often performing at similar levels to the Intel line without demanding as much cash. Buying a CPU can be a daunting task, but if you’d rather save as much cash as possible, using existing parts from your computer (the tower, the RAM, etc.) and buying new pieces like a brand-new CPU or GPU can really go far in saving you some cash.
Windows 10 Tweaks
As with any computer or phone, there are a number of tweaks and changes you can make to your settings in order to speed up your PC. You’ll want to try these one by one, using your computer as you would everyday in the process, in order to ensure that the tweaks you perform on your computer work correctly for you. This may take a while to work through, as you’ll be testing your computer step by step, but if you make several changes at once and suddenly discover a critical error with your PC, it’ll be much tougher to figure out what’s causing your problems if you’ve recently enacted a number of dramatic changes on your PC. The first four categories in this lists are must-dos for anyone trying to speed up their computer, as they go a long way in solving errors and slowdowns caused by rogue applications and problematic setting changes. Everything after that can be considered optional depending on the apps and services you use. Let’s dive in.
Remove Vendor Bloatware
When you purchase a computer from a major manufacturer that isn’t marketed or sold directly by Microsoft, Windows 10 isn’t the only software installed on your device. Each computer company makes deals with various software companies to include their products pre-installed on your device. This can be everything from antivirus software that includes a “free trial” like Norton or McAfee software, to DVD-playing software like RealPlayer or PowerDVD. Some of this software can be useful, and if you find yourself using it on your PC, there’s no need to remove it. That said, some manufacturers have a nasty habit of installing all sorts of apps and plugins on your PC that can cause you some serious headaches down the road. What’s worst is that it isn’t always immediately clear what software should and shouldn’t be uninstalled from your device. Some of the apps, particularly those developed by your manufacturer, can typically add certain elements to your PC, including volume and brightness controls. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re uninstalling the correct software.
To do this, we’ll be using “Should I Remove It?“, a website that is dedicated to helping Windows users determine the importance and utility of the software installed on your PC. Should I Remove It has all sorts of rankings and lists designed to help make removing bloatware a whole lot easier. The homepage of their site has a ranking of worst-to-best manufacturers in terms of the average amount of apps installed on their devices. Toshiba is ranked dead last, with Acer and Asus both featuring the least amount of any bloatware on their PCs. Each of these brands allows you to view lists of the software included on their device, which helps make it easy to decide which ones stay and which ones go. Should I Remove It also has their own application, and while it might sound silly to install a piece of software when you’re trying to uninstall apps from your computer, Should I Remove It actually makes the process much more streamlined than we’ve seen otherwise. The app is free, and displays the rankings of each piece of software on your computer. If you don’t want to use the app, you can also stick to using the website; it does the same thing but without a built-in uninstall link.
In order to start uninstalling apps, you’ll need to open up the “Add or Remove Programs” option, either from your control panel or by pressing the Start button and typing “Add or Remove” until the suggested app comes up on your Start menu. This will open your settings menu and allow you to begin uninstalling applications from your device. You can search for specific applications by name, or you can scroll through an alphabetical list. Be careful not to uninstall anything you aren’t familiar with, as some apps are needed to properly control your computer without error messages. For example, anything developed by Microsoft is typically a good app to keep on your device without removing it, but applications that are from unknown publishers are typically safe to uninstall. The easiest way to make sure you aren’t removing important apps is to use Should I Remove It to search the name of your program; likewise, you can also Google the name of the app to ensure it’s safe to remove from your device.
Removing programs from your computer can typically take a good chunk of your time, so make sure to set aside a couple hours to run through your full list of apps. Uninstall anything that you don’t use or recognize, though make sure to cross-check your answers using the resources on the internet. Some apps may also require you to restart your computer, though in some cases you can hold off on doing this until you’ve uninstalled multiple apps. After you’ve removed your programs, take a day or two to use your computer as normal and feel it out. Make sure everything still works as intended and that you didn’t uninstall any necessary software. Typically, apps that are required for general usage can be re-downloaded from your manufacturer’s site.
Startup Files and Services
When you install a program on your computer, the installation guide may ask you to add the application as a startup program on your PC, which means it will automatically run once your computer boots. For some applications, like certain utilities or apps, this can be a good thing, helping you get to the program or application you need much faster than it would otherwise. For other programs, however, this can slow down your computer and drag the bootup process dramatically. Some apps, like Spotify or Steam, might seem like good applications to allow to boot up directly upon a restart, but if you don’t use these apps everyday, it’s a good idea to remove them from your startup manager.
The easiest way to disable these applications is through task manager, accessed by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete and selecting the task manager option from the list of settings. Alternatively, pressing Ctrl+Shift+Escape will automatically open the taskbar. Select the tab labeled Startup, which will load a list of applications designed to begin running when you boot your computer. This list will show you information about each of these selections, including their name, publisher, status, and even their startup impact. The status is the important part: each of these apps will either be disabled or enabled. If you see an app that’s slowing down your computer (or a program you’re unfamiliar with) that also happens to have startup enabled, that’s an application that’s prime for disabling. To disable each app, right-click on the selection and press the “Disable” selection. This won’t stop the program from currently running on your computer, but it will cause the application to no longer run following your next reboot. If you find the app important to your daily computer use, you can also always use the same tab to re-enable these apps to run at startup.
Applications that run in the background in Windows 10 might be doing a lot more than you think. They could be updating sporadically, sending notifications to your device, looking and searching for content, and more. Not every background application is bad for your computer, but some users might find that their device runs smoother when there are less apps taking up your device’s resources, particularly on older and less-powerful computers. Luckily, Windows 10 now has a way to automatically disable apps from running in the background on your device, and it’s as easy as diving into the Privacy section of your settings menu. To do this, tap on the Start icon in the lower-left hand corner and type “Privacy,” then hit enter. Scroll to the bottom of the left-hand list and begin deselecting applications you don’t want to run in the background of your computer. These can be turned on and off as you see fit, and depending on your selection of installed applications, you should see a minor to major increase in performance by disabling some of the apps.
Browsers Extensions and Caches
Internet browsing is a major part of the computing experience, so it’s important to be sure your Internet browser is running at optimum speed. The key steps are to disable and remove any unneeded extensions and to keep the cache size under control.
Extensions are supposed to be 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 keeps 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 website. 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 major browsers don’t let you mess with this setting. But here are the steps to adjust the cache in Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and IE.
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 icon and clicking “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. You can also 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. However, 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 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 make the experience more flashy, but they use valuable RAM space and processor time. The option to turn these animations 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.
Now you can also 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:.
You can give your computer some extra juice to make it run faster by adjusting your power settings. 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 can be 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. This 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 this 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). To do this, use Win-R to get the Run dialog and type “netplwiz.” In the next screen (User Accounts), clear the checkbox labeled “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, then activates it all on the next startup. In essence, the computer never really shuts down. Before we see how to use 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 install the updates. The time you lose on a botched update may cancel the benefits of this setting.
- Encrypted disks will be 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 could 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 that shuts down your computer when you use it (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 clicking 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.
Collecting and sending data takes system resources. You can tell Windows 10 to send Microsoft less of your information, and speed your computer up a bit in the process. 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
To turn these off, 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. In this window, 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
In older versions of Windows, we had to pay attention to these items frequently. Today we only have to look at them infrequently, after a lot of use and many cycles of adding and deleting programs and files. You can go a long time without paying attention to these items–maybe just once a year.
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 manage 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.
Cleaner is a free third-party program that combines 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 your computer from a previous version of Windows, it might be time do do a clean install. Describing the full process is beyond the scope of this article, but 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 your 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 current backup.