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Increase any PC's performance with these 10 steps

Justin James lists 10 simple steps that will help improve the speed and performance of any PC.

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.

This blog post was originally published in the 10 Things Blog.

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 as it sends out spam emails, searches for other computers to infect, works on cracking cryptography, or performs 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 justify buying 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 on 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 poorly 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
  • For cable customers, finding 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.

31 comments
SlowPCHelp
SlowPCHelp

Great article with nice amount of depth. Another super easy hardware updgrade (that arguably has the most benefit) is upgrading the RAM! As far as software tweaks there are a lot so I'll just mention a couple here. If you want more detail on these or even more PC speed tips you can find it at http://www.fixingaslowcomputer.com 1) Check the power settings because the wrong setting can make your CPU and GPU run at slower speeds to save power. 2) Scan your computer for Ad-ware which in many cases can be worse than viruses!

JohnnyStompanato
JohnnyStompanato

Here is something I used to do on a daily basis on an old Win XP that was choking with junk. I still do it occasionally for a slow running program on my Win 7 system: Open the Task Manager Processes tab & raise the Priority of the Image Name for the program that is running slow. The higher you set the program's Priority, the more system resources will be allocated to it, so it should speed up. Be careful with Realtime, it could stall Windows causing you to reboot.

earlehartshorn
earlehartshorn

If you are running graphic or CPU intensive software adding a video card can help tremendously. They are not just for gamers. If you do very much photo editing, drafting, mapping, or even database work, adding a graphics card can free up RAM and CPU processes and make a huge difference in performance. And you don't need to move to a $200 video card to see a benefit, even a $60 GeForce card can make a big difference.

cbmjb
cbmjb

A free download (donations accepted) "Startup Inspector" will show you all the applications that are opened upon starting. These applications suck up lots of RAM and bog things down. Then you can decide if the app is really needed each time the PC is turned on. Some of the culprits are Adobe Reader. Wait until you actually need it to open a PDF before it opens. There are lots of apps that have a check box when being installed that lets it be put on your start menu. Often that little box is ignored or missed and there goes another "feature" that is effectively taking some RAM out of availability. You can always buy more RAM but first see why it is really needed.

johnywhy
johnywhy

If your pc has less than 2 gigs of ram, Adding more memory will do more to speed it up than any of these other things.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

OpenDNS, GoogleDNS and others are all good, but why not choose the best DNS servers for your situation. Steve Gibson over at grc.com has great tool just for this purpose. His DNSBenchmark tool will scour though quite a few servers and let you know which ones are faster and more secure. You can find it here at this site: https://www.grc.com/dns/benchmark.htm

pgit
pgit

rather than google's DNS... for the paranoid among us.

rexrzer1238477
rexrzer1238477

You addressed cable and satellite systems, and DSL systems, but you forgot about the No.1 fastest systems out there, and it's FIOS (Fiber Optical Coax System) as offered by Verizon locally in SoCalifornia, and other carriers back East, North, and South. It is a big investment by the companies that have/offer FIOS systems, as each network connection has a dedicated SINGULAR LINE HOOKUP to the FIOS Coax system, a dedicated FIOS Terminal, a high-end high-speed FIOS Router inside the home/business (wireless), and the FIOS lines literally have to be dug into the local streets and sidewalks, driveways, etc so that installations are complex vs simple cable, Satellite, or DSL. When FIOS came to our neighborhood in Ventura County, CA, most everyone was hooked up with Time-Warner Cable, but no more! They are virtually gone from here now, and FIOS has been installed in virtually every single home/business where the line installs took place, bar none. Cost is about the same as cable/DSL so it's a no-brainer to go FIOS when you can pick up amazing download/upload speeds vs any other type of system, end of story! My system, for example, is a "35/35" FIOS system, and that's 35Mb/sec download AND upload also, so if you happen to construct web pages and do commercial applications which often have to upload huge quantities of data, pictures, graphics, etc to achieve your mission, the upload speeds are increased an average of 30X-35X vs the cable system that we used to have. That is the upload speed of my "fast" cable modem system was less than 1Mb/sec, and look at me now! I can upload without concern for data acquisition and payments for excessive data inference and use at 30-35Mb/sec vs less than the 1Mb/sec speeds of the former cable system and that type of performance is very typical with FIOS. Not to mention the download speeds, I mean when have you heard of residential accounts pushing more than 35Mb/sec 24/7, with no variance whatsoever because a dedicated FIOS line is just that, and it doesn't get "throttled or cut back" when loads are at their peaks daily, nightly...it just keeps on working at its highest speed forever, literally...amazing! My systems "speeded up" considerably with the FIOS system installed, because there is zero waiting time for pages to load vs cable/DSL or satellite systems in terms of browser performance...plus I've been a Chrome browser user for almost 3 years and counting and having FIOS plus Chrome in the house is a Godsend, to say the least! Our computers interact more and more with the internet, even for basic functions when we need to source a major Search Engine for whatever reason, when our systems are interacting with our mobile devices, etc...there's hundreds of reasons and causes as to why we need fast internet speeds vs the "old way" of cable/DSL, and satellite systems. You WILL NOTICE a HUGE IMPROVEMENT in your system's performance with FIOS installed because it eliminates all bottlenecks and connections with secondary servers and equipment, ie in your neighbor's homes and businesses for example, so that there is no competing for bandwidth with FIOS installed: your system is a dedicated ISP address with vastly superior firepower to virtually any other type of internet hookup today, and the difference between FIOS and the other systems is totally off-scale once you begin to compare and analyze how your system performs with FIOS vs the other types of connections, bar none. I am very surprised that you forgot to address internet connectivity and its role in system "slowness and poor response time" for interaction with your computers and mobile devices of all types, and FIOS is in a Class of One with respect to download and upload speeds, and universally disfavored "throttling", or "peak period competition" with your neighbor's systems and connections in the region you live in, and certainly FIOS is the only type of system that can administer upload and download speeds 24/7 that stay the same, have no "peak periods" competition within itself for each connection to the FIOS system. In short system speed-up will be accomplished immediately and instantaneously when your FIOS system gets online, and you will experience a level of performance never dreamed of with all things internet. I don't work for Verizon or any other FIOS company, and I am only reporting the tip of the iceberg with respect to benefits achieved with a FIOS connection vs the traditional cable/DSL/satellite hookups that have been standardized, slowly strangling their own systems with peak time service interruptions and throttling of their internet connection speeds without fail presently, and there is no solving problems with those types of connections except to choose FIOS when it comes to your neighborhood and giving all those negatives a big push into the ocean, never to be thought of again. With FIOS installed in a residence or business system speed-ups are a natural occurrence and part of the deal when you sign up, and it happens every time without fail to everyone who experiences FIOS firsthand. Go FIOS!

jprins
jprins

I'm surprised not to see "upgrade RAM" to this list. The price to upgrade the RAM in your system is so low that oftentimes, it's the cheapest way to add performance to a machine experiencing slowness. And compared to switching to a faster drive, it's so much less complicated...

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Running programs from a RAMDrive means that you never have to access the hard drive. Any "portable app" can be ran in a RAMDrive. Try using a portable version of FireFox or Chrome and make sure that all temp files stay in the RAM. Zero seek time can do wonders.

JCitizen
JCitizen

speed my PC articles he links to; the newbies could use the tips! Thanks! :)

JCitizen
JCitizen

in one of the other articles about speeding up the PC.(I see the links at the bottom of the article) I assume this article is more network centric.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

RAM is one of the least expensive hardware upgrades you can do. If you want to make a go of it also try CleanMem (http://www.pcwintech.com/cleanmem), I have successfully sped up clients systems that have under 2GB of memory and they were strapped for cash. Seems to do a good job of cleaning memory used by certain programs like Chrome, FireFox, Internet Explorer, etc...

essex133
essex133

Thought I would look at the possibility of changing my DNS server and visited the grc site. But I'm obviously not as technically minded as I could be because the info given all sounds too confusing for me :-(

JCitizen
JCitizen

Thanks for the tip - I've never drilled down on Steve's site - far enough to find all his goodies - I'm running the benchmark now! v/

pgit
pgit

Thanks for bringing that up. It's been a while since I've dropped by Mr. Gibson's place, but it's always a worthwhile venture.

spdragoo
spdragoo

The top FIOS speed is not even [b]half[/b] the speed of a home LAN running at 100Mbps, let alone with a Gigabit router. And even the old Wireless-G standard (54Mbps) equals or beats most FIOS speeds. So from a networking standpoint, FIOS may be faster than any other ISP out there, but only handles part of the problem. Of course, that's assuming that your house has power. FIOS depends on the power in the house for everything to work; converting light signals coming over fiber-optic cable back to electrical signals for CAT5/6 or coax cable requires electricity, after all. Not to mention customers tend to hate being told they have to go out, remove the battery box cover, & unplug/reconnect the battery backup as part of their tech support call. And let's not even start in on the "troubleshooting tool" that Verizon pushes on its customers. If the tech support agent doesn't download it on your PC for you, they'll pester you to provide an email address so they can send the download link...every time you call in.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I think this article is right on, to that end; besides - every PC I've run into by my clients, has over 6 Gbs of RAM because todays PCs are literally full of it! Even the new laptops come with at least that much.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

If there is one thing Steve Gibson is good for it is documentation!! All those words just seem to get in the way of easy sometime. Just download and run the DNSbench.exe file from this site: https://www.grc.com/files/DNSBench.exe Then click the Nameservers tab at the top and click Run Benchmark on the top right. After it finishes and locates the best DNS servers for you they will be listed at the top. I have Comcast as my ISP, but COX DNS servers are faster. You can stop here if you like and take the top two DNS addresses (listed in the left column) and enter them in your DNS settings on your computer (http://www.mediacollege.com/computer/network/dns.html, just focus on DNS addresses and not IP address). You can also change them in your router as well, but it is not necessary. You can also go a step further and run the longer DNS Benchmark (by choosing the "build custom list option" after the initial scan is finished) to find what servers out of 50 are the fastest for you.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I've switched to Dragon(better EULA), and use Bing now. Just my little protest for Google's arrogance about privacy. B-)

JCitizen
JCitizen

Thanks for that. Our ISP is using fiber, and we have gigabit speed; but we have had trouble every since they went to this. I think something is causing collisions and bottlenecks in their infrastructure. I wonder if changing to PPPoE is relevant to high speed bandwidth in these instances. Some of these factors are why I think the focus of the article correct - hardware notwithstanding. Of course going this route has caused me to have purchase plans for a gigabit router, and N wireless of course. Fortunately all my machines have gigabit rated Ethernet ports. I do have to wonder if one should look at heavily shielded cable for that purpose though; regular CAT 5 may just not cut the mustard.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I'm getting a little too anal here! Thanks for putting me in my place! :-bd

JCitizen
JCitizen

That was really cool pgit!! I feel better now, as at least I got to see someone's effort to capture this rare event! Wished I was there, but I can really appreciate your efforts, and thanks for the post!!

pgit
pgit

I'm pretty sure it was 1966 when my dad bought me an astronomy book. I remember reading of the transit, and never imagined I'd live all the way to 2004, let alone 2012. It seemed so far off in the future, and (being 7 at the time) I calculated I'd be in my 50's... IMPOSSIBLE! Not ME!! I saw both transits. My son drove me to the observatory at his college, we were barely above the fog and were lucky to see it. This time, I vowed I'd drive as far as necessary to see it. Up to the day of the transit it looked like I'd be driving south into West Virginia. It turned out Lake Erie (and Ontario) caused the clouds to dissipate that day, apparently perfect conditions for this. There was a Lake Erie-shaped hole in the clouds, I was able to see the whole thing up to sunset. I made a lousy video of it, except the few moments around the sun slipping below the horizon are interesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSuXKFSDAIg The best video I saw of the event had a "green flash" at the very end, where the last remnant of sun turns bright green before disappearing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6PrCV4mLE0&feature=related Sorry to hear you missed it. If you're anywhere in the north eastern US you probably wouldn't have been able to see it anyway, it was solid clouds. I ended up driving a couple hundred miles to Presque Isle park in Erie Pennsylvania. Nobody here in the southern tier saw it. Too cloudy.

JCitizen
JCitizen

When I missed the transit! I completely forgot about it that day! :_|

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

I had the same issues with AT&T DSL a year or so ago. I would always set my DNS servers statically in the router and computer to Google's Addresses and without fail a month or so later all internet access would cease. The only thing that would bring it back was resetting these addresses back to obtain them automatically. I also happened with OpenDNS and Norton's DNS servers as well. I have yet to have an issue with Comcast yet, but only time will tell.

pgit
pgit

I was darting around a couple hundred miles west of here looking for a location where the weather would allow me to see the transit of Venus last month. I'd pull in to some place with a hot spot to fire up the laptop and check weather, but ended up sampling quite a lot of the local coffee offerings before I finally found a hot spot I could connect to. I hadn't thought about it, but I bet it was my OpenDNS settings. BTW the hot spot I could use was at a McDonald's in Erie Pennsylvania.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

My home ISP won't allow an outside DNS; I tried configuring my router to use OpenDNS and completely lost www connectivity unless I entered the IP. Adding insult to injury, most of the wireless networks I connect to outside the home use NAT, which also knackers external DNS lookup unless the router is specifically configured to allow it..