Data Centers

10 things you can do to boost PC performance

Does your PC performance need a kick in the pants? These simple steps will help speed things up.

There's so much information out there about PC performance (especially on Windows machines), it's difficult to be sure what's right and what's not so helpful. Here are 10 proven performance enhancements you can make to your computer, many of which are free.

1: Get rid of malware

New machines shouldn't have malware on them. But one of the most common causes of the "my PC used to be fast, and now it isn't!" complaint is actually the presence of malware. Malware can sneak onto a computer in a zillion different ways and quite often it sits in the background slowing your machine to as it sends out spam emails, searches for other computers to infect, works on cracking cryptography, or any number of the other nefarious tasks that hackers like to use their botnet slaves for. There's a good chance that the malware brought even more friends with it (that's often how you see computers with thousands of viruses on them not long after the initial infection), and the infection may be bad enough to justify a wipe and reload. My first step in investigating a slow system is usually a virus scan.

2: Upgrade to a better video card

For typical business productivity tasks, a video card probably isn't an upgrade that will have a lot of value. But for gamers and other similar uses, a video card is a slam dunk upgrade. If your current card and motherboard support SLI or CrossFireX, adding a second card and bridging them will be a good option as well. In some scenarios, better video cards can be a huge benefit even without heavy onscreen video work, because certain applications can leverage the GPUs for calculations.

3: Get a faster drive

Many times, the real performance issue is the speed of disks. Look at numbers like the RPMs, cache size, seek speed, and transfer rate to buy a faster drive. Often, a good drive will seem slow because the computer's power settings are allowing it to spin down. You may want to consider changing these settings to make sure that the disk is more likely to be ready to work when you need it to. While the SSD vs. hard disk debate is still continuing, SSDs usually seem to feel faster to users. Boot times are usually cut for sure. But something about an SSD makes a system feel more responsive or "snappy" to use, and for day-to-day work, that's a great feeling.

4: Address hardware and driver issues

All too often, system slowness is actually a sign of hardware problems. For example, if your CPU isn't being properly cooled, it will often have its speed reduced in an effort to keep it from overheating. Recoverable errors with disk access can kill your throughput while not showing up as a dead drive. And bad hardware drivers can often make the whole system slow, especially video drivers. Using utilities to check your CPU speed and various temperatures, scanning for hard drive errors, and updating your drivers is a good start to investigating performance problems. Often, problems caused by hardware or drivers are not just poor speeds, but system flakiness too.

5: Use a RAID

Using a RAID can dramatically lower the read and write speeds of your disks, depending upon the RAID level you choose. You will want to do some research to see what RAID level fits your needs the best. Personally, I am a fan of RAID 1, 6, and 10 because I feel that they offer appropriate levels of data protection along with a good measure of speed improvements.

6: Try a different browser

It's no secret: Different browsers perform differently, and most people spend a lot of time in their Web browser. Benchmarks really muddy the browser speed conversation. Some browsers perform well on some but do badly on others, even when they are supposed to test the same thing. The problem with the benchmarks is that what they usually test is not real work performance! While JavaScript is an important part of the modern Web, few Web applications beat on the JavaScript engine hard enough to produce a noticeable impact on performance. That said, it's been my experience that the Chrome browser is the fastest for actual work. If you want to have your Web browser feel more responsive and lively, consider a switch to Chrome.

7: Remove junk

It's easy to have a computer get loaded up with junk that slows it down. The worst part is, we invite this garbage into our lives by installing "helpful" utilities, toolbars, and other add-ons. I could easily write a list of 10 kinds of computer-stalling junk. Here are some of the things you'll want to seek out and remove for best performance:

  • Automatic update systems for various applications (but be careful: some apps, like Flash, Acrobat, QuickTime, and Web browsers are prime malware targets and you will want to keep these up-to-date)
  • Things that run on startup
  • Windows services you don't really need
  • Crapware from the PC maker
  • Toolbars
  • Browser plug-ins (the Skype browser plug-in is an especially bad offender, I've found)
  • P2P applications
  • Web servers and database servers that were installed by since-removed applications, but left behind

8: Add a faster DNS lookup server

Most ISPs love to brag about how much bandwidth they are giving you. But they don't mind letting the rest of their infrastructure slowly get overwhelmed or deteriorate. Among the biggest offenders are the DNS servers our ISPs use. If you want to know why things seem to take forever to start loading, slow DNS servers are often the cause. Consider adding a fast DNS server as your primary DNS server in your TCP/IP settings. Google's Public DNS server is a great option.

9: Defrag

Defragging your hard drives is a great way to get some more performance. While modern Windows systems automatically defrag on a regular basis, I've found that the Windows defragging is fairly unaggressive. We've reviewed a lot of different defrag apps here at TechRepublic. I suggest that you check out your alternatives and find one that does a better job for you.

10: Check network connectivity

Time and time again, "system slowness" actually is caused by networking issues. Our computers do so much on the Internet that slowness there can affect just about everything you do on a regular basis. While there isn't enough space to write an exhausting troubleshooting list here, some of the things you should try (or investigate) are:

  • Replacing the network cables, switches, routers, WiFi access points, etc.
  • Calling the ISP and checking the distance from the CO (for DSL) or the local segment's current load (for cable); the ISP may need to rewire or rework its connectivity. Satellite customers will want to double-check their dish installation and ensure that it is tightly locked down and pointed in the right direction.
  • Malware scanning on all PCs to see if malware is burdening the network
  • Inspecting the wiring of the phone lines (for DSL) or coax (cable customers) to look for loose connections, corrosion, or flaky wires
  • Cable customers will want to find out how many splitters are between the line from the pole and their modem. If it is more than one (and preferably only a two-way splitter), they should rewire so that they have only a single two-way splitter between the pole and the modem to ensure the cleanest signal possible.

More on PC performance

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

59 comments
lisawayne
lisawayne

Also, removing unwanted applications and unnecessary login items would definitely speed up the performance of the system. And regular scanning the system with the antivirus and antimalware utility will boost up the performance as well. 

Sphincter_Muscle
Sphincter_Muscle

Hey you know if you want to get the most speed out of your computer you may even want to go to another operating system. I have several computers with Windows 7 on them, 1 with XP, and 1 with Vista. I also have a notebook computer with Ubuntu Linux on it. I am new to Linux but I have been impressed by the performance with it, and it is NOT suseptable to virus or malware, unless you transfer files to a Windows machine. YOU only need a virus scanner to prevent the spread of virus. I click on a pgm link and it is up and running before I can blink. I wouldn't drop my Windows OS from my other computers because I paid for it. That is another thing about Linux. Its open source and it's FREE. If you have a computer W/O an OS you may want to give it a try. there are many Linux OS's out there and they are all free.

anita1111
anita1111

Jam Replika Jam Tangan Replika Jam Tangan

acruiz
acruiz

Just reinstal damn windows once on year or two and it will work just fine.

brocksamson2011
brocksamson2011

While i 1st admit each scenario can be different and since many techies like to fix problems themselves I wanted to object to the last statement "Cable customers will want to find out how many splitters are between the line from the pole and their modem. If it is more than one (and preferably only a two-way splitter), they should rewire so that they have only a single two-way splitter between the pole and the modem to ensure the cleanest signal possible." As a former cable installer for time warner- I was installing cable lines when road runner first came out. A time when they also sent out geeks to install NIC's and they were not standard equipment on PC's in those days. In some cases this is a legitimate issue as I recall when it first came out we had limit splitters and confirm the modem line was on the splitter side with the lowest signal drop as modems would not pick up the signal otherwise - remember this was the early naughties and I am sure signals/strengths have changed much since then but on the other side of the coin in the last couple of years I was having many issues with comcast ISP not delivering the promised speeds when they recently jacked up their speed to the max of 50mbps, while i may not have been on the top tier plan - they claimed us on the 6mb plan should see speeds double to 12-15 and I was barely getting the 6...something was wrong and if their service wasnt so expensive - I probably would have let it be as 3-5 was acceptable for most daily tasks but hey I want what you claim and what i am paying for....Well after many a service visits a tech with a signal meter claimed my signal strength was a little too high and they want a specific signal range to deliver the goods so to speak...so he added a splitter before my modem to decrease the signal strength, now that wasnt the end all/fix all to my problems, they ended up doing many other things like giving me my own drop from the pole as I live in a triplex and even gave me one of their 50mb modems since I had an EMTA for phone/internet in one - I now have both...Finally I am getting avg speed tests of 20mbps while paying for less...but the point is I just wanted to make other techies known of this issue before they start rewiring their house/network and make things worse. BTW: the comcast techs claimed my issue was interference from a neighbor - and it could have been anything from an old TV or VCR, supposedly they can scan the area with some kind of wireless signal meter now, but they never did anything about it and I was thinking if that is not just some excuse and true then what can they do about a problem with someone else personal property, well another tech told me that actually they can b/c of FCC rules or something or other... Hard to tell what the truth is...many people now a days are afraid to say "IDK" and come up with all kinds of stories and excuses to avoid looking like a stoopid monkey. I for one appreciate someone who can be honest and say IDK but I will find out for you!

dominikbjegovic26
dominikbjegovic26

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limanemin
limanemin

Not for nothing but next time show how to do certain thing it might be more helpful.

MidnightDawn
MidnightDawn

Alright, I agree with a majority of this article. However, I believe it is only fair to point out that Chrome is a great browser from the point that it is in major use. Opera is by far a much more capable browser however than Chrome, IE, or even Firefox. In comparison I was able to pull 2.46 times the workload out of Opera as I was Firefox [fair to note however that was before this most recent major update]. In Chrome versus Firefox tests, I only saw a slight edge to Chrome. [And most of those were in high stress situations. For daily workload Firefox actually out performed Chrome.] [These tests were done on both Windows XP, Vista, and Seven; and repeated on varying hardware] But, that is just my two cents. Try for yourselves guys, and see what you get.

mbaker2311
mbaker2311

Have you ever done any real metrics on defragging? You won't be able to come up with a measureable difference. Defragging made sense a hundred years ago when spindle speeds were low. But drives over the last five to ten years have such a great seek time, you can defrag all you want, you'll never gain any real, work place performace increases. Also, defragging would only benefit if you have long reads, which may have happened under DOS, but todays drives get calls from every imaginable source, so the head is moving all over the platter whether your files are contiguous or not. Defragging is one of my favorite myths. Want to increase drive performance? Get SFF drives - the platters are smaller so the arms don't have to move as far. But even that will be marginal. But it will at least be measureable.

bob
bob

Who is this article for? If for techies, wouldn't they know this? If its for non-techies (hobbyists) then it doesn???t help. Too much industry language and not enough how to do it help. Eg: ????????????. SLI or CrossFireX, ?????????bridging them ???..can leverage the GPUs for calculations?????? Not a clue what you are talking about and that???s just one paragraph! ???????????????changing these settings to make sure that the disk is more likely to be ready to work when you need it to.??? So go on???..how do I do that?????? Again only one example.

Sir_Twist
Sir_Twist

Ok, I like this, but I'm going to add to things. The best way to help your system performance, overall, is to cool your system. I prefer to use multiple fans. All of them working together, and pointing out can be a good thing. You can switch to a liquid coolant, as well. They have improved things for them. I'm actually thinking about one myself. As to going to a RAID configuration, all I can say is that you buy all the same drives, and make sure they are all the same speed, etc. You don't want to screw up things. I'd go with 2 or better. The one other thing I can say is that if you have a good anti-virus, a good anti-malware software, and keep a good schedule on maintenance, and updating, you should be good. However, I don't recommend the newest Flash player for those still using older browsers.

vucliriel
vucliriel

... _Upgrading_ to an operating system that actually WORKS FOR YOU INSTEAD OF AGAINST, such as the robust, fast and effective Windows XP and Windows 2000 and install previous versions of software designed at the time when speed and efficiency were actual design goals instead of the marketing fluff and bloat that is prevalent nowadays.

caballo2000
caballo2000

Raid 0 give you better speed, but you sacrifice security. Raid 1 give you fault tolerance with some performance gain (depending on the controller). You can get raid1 for OS with SSD and get amazing speeds and fault tolerance for the OS and apps. Defrag to SSD do not have any sense. You can defrag but only one time every 6 months.

DrDCMgr
DrDCMgr

So if you're a member of TechRepublic, and you don't already know of these old tips (although I agree,, RAID?? on a desktop/laptop).. well, not more I can say!!

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Funny, under Windows 2000 and XP, I have never once seen a noticeable improvement in the performance of a PC after defragmenting its hard drives. On the other hand, on Windows XP I have seen huge improvement several times after freeing up hard disk space. For whatever reason, less than about 12 GB free on single drive XP machines noticeably hurts performance.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

Don't remember where I had read it, but somewhere is a small study and review of the performance enhancements gained by using bridged video cards. It basically came to the conclusion that the general benefits (even for gamers) are not all that noticeable. However, in cases where extraordinarily high resolutions are used or when a single application/game is run across multiple monitors, then performance gains over a single card were greatly noticed. Perhaps this study was done only on one of the available bridging technologies. Different technologies may present different advantages. If anyone has seen this or a similar study and can link it, I'd be grateful, as I'd like to re-read it myself. Heck, for all I know, it may have been presented by TechRepublic.

HACristian
HACristian

I use OpenDNS, is there any advantage in switching to Google DNS?

DEREKGL
DEREKGL

Hi I think one of the main problems is the start up time for all OS's especially Win Vista. Even XP slows down after time.Win Vista seems to be the worse culprit ,it takes a lifetime to boot.Is it a case as suggested install Linux with all it compatibility issues or a new install which is rather drastic and time consuming solutions. If there was one tool that will identify the problems and actually give you a result. Are the various software tools ie Quick Care effective or is it a placebo effect ?

IanDSamson
IanDSamson

Nothing in the article apart from Defrag will make XP-Home work quicker. There are numerous services that are not required that could be stopped. I tried to change the video card but that would mean a new motherboard! The short answer is either going back to W2kSP4 or buying a more up-to-date computer. Sigh!

i.hilliard
i.hilliard

Because of Linuxes smaller memory footprint, unless you have lots of memory, replacing Win7 with Linux will give a considerable speed boost.

Superar1960
Superar1960

Its a dinosaur PC, made back in the days when a single core processor was king..... so change it!

jokl-123
jokl-123

While a lot of your reasons very are obvious and common and some of them are not in the hand of the users, you missed the main reason of slow PC: not reasonable Memory. And you don't mention the danger of using Raid1 for loosing data against the advantage of getting some speed if a single person is working very hard on the HDD (e.g. video applications)

FlagstaffCJ
FlagstaffCJ

RAID 1 would actually slow down your computer. Granted, it will give you redundancy in case of a failure but there wouldn't be any performance benefits. RAID 0 would give you the most in speed (without any redundancy) but you at least need to be writing non-redundant data to multiple disks to realize any performance boost.

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