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Column: Tips for speeding up your computer

Computers are very much like cars: if you neglect them, they won’t run as well or last as long as they should. Here are some tips on how to improve your computer's performance. (Thinkstock)

Q: Any suggestions on how to speed up a 2-year-old Windows 7 laptop that’s become so slow that it’s driving me crazy? Do I have to buy a new computer every two years?

A: No matter how much money you spend on a computer, if you don’t maintain it regularly, it can become noticeably slower in a fairly short period of time.

Properly maintained, there’s no reason your computer shouldn’t perform reasonably for at least five or six years, if not longer.

Keep in mind that the more time you spend on the internet, the more your computer is exposed to unwanted programs and malware that can have a big impact on your machine’s performance.

There are plenty of do-it-yourself steps you can take to help improve performance, but if those don’t yield the kind of improvement you’re looking for, having you computer serviced instead of replacing it will still be your best bet.

Start with boot times

Start your evaluation with the length of time it takes your system to boot up from a cold start. The longer it takes, the more likely your computer has been loaded with programs that have inserted themselves into your startup routine.

Not only does this cause your computer to take forever to start, it hogs up valuable working memory (RAM), which makes everything slower.

You can do a quick test by opening the MSConfig utility and switching to the “Diagnostic startup” mode, which tells the computer to only load the basic necessities at the startup.

If your system boots very quickly in diagnostic mode, you’ll likely improve performance by reducing the load at startup. If it’s still really slow, you may have a hardware problem.

A deep scan with your security program and other free tools such as CCleaner and Malwarebytes can weed out spyware, malware and browser add-ons that have sneaked into your system.

Free disk space is critical

If your hard drive is close to full, that will certainly cause major performance problems, so take a look at how much free disk space you have left.

Uninstalling unnecessary programs can remove items from your startup and free up valuable hard drive space at the same time.

If you aren’t running the Windows Disk Cleanup utility routinely (at least once a month), your system is likely loaded up with lots of unnecessary junk, and this tool can clear them out for you.

If you need more space, installing a newer, high-performance solid state drive (SSD) or hybrid hard drive can have a dramatic impact on performance and extend the life of your system even further.

More RAM — best bang for your buck

Your working memory can be a constant problem, especially if you like opening a lot of programs or browser tabs at the same time.

You can open the Task Manager and go to the Performance tab to see quickly whether more RAM could help you.

The second graph in the tab shows you your physical memory usage history; the higher up the blue line is, the more likely that adding RAM will help improve performance.

Computers are very much like cars – if you neglect them, they won’t run as well or last as long as they should.

Editor’s note: Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services.

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