Hardware

10 ways to speed up a slow PC

Clear out the dust

Is your computer moving at a crawl? Don't give up. There are some things you can do about it. Craig Simms of ZDNet Australia takes a look at some of the possible ways to motivate a PC that runs like a turtle and  bring it back up to speed.

Dust build-up over time can impede airflow, and airflow is vital for keeping system temperatures down. If your system overheats, it'll likely throttle its performance down to cope.

Cleaning out the dust is easier if you've got a desktop rather than a laptop — you can still clear the dust away from vents in the laptop, but be wary about opening it up to do a thorough clean, as depending on the vendor this may invalidate your warranty. If you're out of warranty, and you're confident of navigating the maze in most laptops, go for it.

The first step is to remove general dust from around the system. You could use a moist paper towel and cotton buds to get into harder-to-reach areas, but one of the best tools you can employ is a can of compressed air. Make sure to avoid vacuum cleaners — or at least getting overzealous with them. We've known people to have sucked capacitors right off the board. There are other issues with using a vacuum cleaner, too, as Brian Cooley of CNET tells us:

...you might be tempted to stick a vacuum-cleaner hose inside and suck out the dust. Don't. Vacuums create static electricity, which is deadly to sensitive electronic components.

On that same note, don't be tempted to reverse the flow of your vacuum and blow the dust out of the computer. The dust inside a household vacuum can be harmful to your health, and you'll be spreading it all over your PC. Also, you risk blowing out sizable particles, which could physically damage internal components, especially if you're using a workshop vacuum. The beauty of compressed air is that it's clean and particle-free.

Before you start blasting, unplug your computer and take it outside — or at least to your garage. Now, working from the top down, blow out all that dust (put on a dust mask, unless you want a face full of grime) ... be sure to spray air in short bursts, keeping the can upright and the tube at least a couple of inches from the hardware.

Next, you'll want to get your fans and heatsinks clean. Cooley has some tips here, too:

Start by powering down your PC, removing the case lid and locating the various fans. Starting with the power supply, blow through the internal slits from inside the chassis, aiming so dust will exit the back.

Next, blow into the intake fan (if there is one) to push more dust out the back. Finally, blow the blades of the rear exhaust fan clean. If possible, aim just beneath the centre, where the motor meets the fan assembly, and blast again. Repeat the process for each fan, keeping the can upright at all times.

Now restart your PC, and while the fans are spinning, spray them once more — very briefly — to really send the dust flying.

If a fan continues grinding or ticking after you've cleaned it, there's a chance that you can always add extra lubrication. But if this is one step too far, you could always just replace it.

Credit: Fons Reijsbergen, royalty free

67 comments
lisawayne
lisawayne

Nice article. But cleaning the computer using computer cleaning software is also important because this problem usually arises due to corrupt window registry errors. Also defrag the drive and uninstall all the unnecessary problems will speed up the slow PC issues.

alfredan
alfredan

use krojam cleaner it would be usefull.

Mattaton
Mattaton

I use a vacuum on my PCs. Never had any problem with static or sucking components off the MB. But, what I normally do is use the vacuum and compressed air together. I blow out all the nooks and crannies with the compressed air while the vacuum hose is sucking up all the dust that flies up before it can resettle elsewhere. I also usually use a cloth to wipe off all grilles and fans. Of course, you have to be gentle with the fans. But, if I'm going to take the time, I like to get them as clean as possible.

Ken the IT guy
Ken the IT guy

I just take it outside and use the same compressor I use for my air tools. If you use a little common sense, hold the fans so they don't break and don't put the nozel so close it rips components off the board, you get a nice shiny box.

Ken the IT guy
Ken the IT guy

I really have to pay more attention when not using Office apps :)

IT cowgirl
IT cowgirl

Most non IT users are notorious for not doing ANY of these listed items. The first thing I have to do is blow out enough dirt, fuzz and dust bunnies to start a new garden. Its amazing how much stauff accumulates inside computers down here in Texas; especially in the country! Most of these non IT persons do not upgrade until the old computer finally dies a slow and painful, wheezing death! I am still working on computers that I have to upgrade to install XP!!!

dunnamin
dunnamin

If yer suckin' or blowin' inside your machine hold the CPU fan still or you culd turn the motor into a dynamo and send all those volts back into the mb - and they don't like it.

stevenscottoddballz
stevenscottoddballz

I would like to thank Fons for writing this article. Although I AM a competent PC user, (as essex133 puts it), I do like the occasional reminder about how to speed up the computer. When I saw this, I decided to shut down my computer when I went to bed. When I woke up, I opened it, & WOW! I had NO idea how much dust was in there! Thanks again, Fons! As for essex133, there ARE those of us who need an occasional reminder!

tickytack_1999
tickytack_1999

A lot of them will run x64 OS and run rings around a brand new i3/i5 intel box. Sure, it'll only get you XP, but it's cheap enough to upgrade by buying a Win 7 x64 disk. I bought a Gateway E4620S with an intel E6550 chip that blows a lot of the new stuff out of the water. Cost me $129 with XP Pro.

Logginsuck
Logginsuck

iMesh...What are your thoughts on downloading iMesh? I seem to be badly "enmeshed" like a rotten tuna as my punishment, and I can't seem to get online easily. Your thoughts? It's impossible to delete it, it only downloads! kt@H5

founder
founder

We often use a vacuum to "help" keep dust out of the air when blowing out a pc. As far as sucking components off the mb I've never, ever heard of that but then again a lot of wanna be techs have zero common sense. Not really sure how this or re-seating the sinks would make the pc run "faster". There's no such thing as "a good router brand"! Yeah, go buy a Belkin. Children in a man's world.

karsten
karsten

If a heat sink doesn't do its work either because the thermal paste has degraded or dust is blocking the heatsinks fins then the CPU temp will rise into the area where the CPU's temperture sensors cut in and your 2,4GHz CPU throttles back to 133mhz or even 33mhz. It's just like a radiator on a car blowing the cap. BTW. Intergraph brought this to the pentium chips. Old 486's would burn and die. AMD chips still do. Intergraph sued Intel and won damages. That's why dust, bacteria and age make PCs slow down. They just can't handle the heat. A little silicon paste, dust cleanup and mechanical checking of fans is all it takes to speed up old PCs usually. Linux doesn't do anything if a PC is clogged up and overheating. BTW Installing Dos would make PCs fly too.. but what apps run on it nowadays. Linux suffers from the same problem as Unix did. Too many cooks. Even Linus has said this. It's mainly used in unattended servers. the only support needed is a turn it off and on again approach as they tend to run only a few apps. Mainline applications don't run on Linux only browsers etc. There are great free Linux apps but they aren't mainline and there are very few companies using Linux as desktops.

laseray
laseray

The fastest way to speed up an old PC is to not use windows. This is the first thing you should consider if you know anything about computers.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

...10 ways to Speed Up a Slow Windows PC. Then the advice would have sort-of made more sense. Because my experience has always been: the best way to speed up a Windows PC is to dump Windows and install some flavour of Linux. Even netbooks (originally running Win7 Starter) see a dramatic improvement in performance with a change of OS. But to most, changing the OS is not an option for a number of reasons. I can accept that. And so, they will have to tap-dance through the re-install Windows thing from time to time. Says something, doesn't it? :)

jr
jr

When cleaning computer fans, it is recommended to hold the fan still while using compressed air or canned air. If the fan is allowed to spin too fast, it can damage the bearings causing premature fan failure. Dirty fans can lose 90% efficiency. You can use a coffee stir straw, or spray tube that comes with canned air for this! 95% of computers that show up have TOO many programs runing simutaneously in the background. We call it the "95% Problem" J.R. Guthrie Advatage Micro Corporation http://www.advantage77.com

karsten
karsten

I don't work in IT but CAD support. Funnily enough users came to me with their Slow woes, instead of asking IT techs and being fobbed off with nonsense jargon. Most IT support don't know anything more than they have been shown. Hardly any ever check the event logs or know how to trouble shoot properly. It's more uninstall, reinstall and hope it works. One of the first things I used to do to a new built CAD PC was defrag it as they always had 25%+ deframentation. The IT Crowd is so funny as it's based on reality. BD In corporate domains old hardware usually doesn't survive. Sometimes its given to users and just written off. I've fixed tons of desktops and laptops and it is usually an issue of cleaning, reseating and using cable ties to replace broken fan assemblies. 'Bugs in the machine' is common problem too. IT departments don't bother much with hardware, but a laptop often slows down just due to fluff. IT give it a shot of compressed air and then declare it dead. I remove the keyboard etc gain access to the fan assembly and open it up. Never fail to find compacted fluff which the fan still spins in. From ouside the fan looks clean and spins (often a bit slower than usual) There is no longer enough air flow over the MB. Good sign for this is a high HDD temp and/or CPU temp. Old thermal paste gets eaten by bacteria that make bubbles so heat doesn't conduct. Lot's of laptops with Nvidia and ATI just stop working as the solder on the GPU mirco fractures. The tip about using laptop desks is good but also check the rubber feet are all there. if one corner is missing even a flat surface with block air. I fix missing feet with extra thick sticky back cloth pads or rubber feet taken from other broken PCs. Dab of super glue and good as new. Not every one can afford a new PC every 3 yrs. An 8 yr old PC can easily do what most people want it for. Installing Linux for research/learning is ok, but for most people I still think it best and easiest to stick with the original OS/Apps. Of course if the Raspberry Pi can be manufactured on a big enough scale.. I think there will be a lot of old PCs being scrapped so if you want to upgrade memory or HDD check out local FreeCycle sites or buy a Raspberry if you can. One of the worst cases of PC abuse I ever saw was at an Oil Refinery. Had to ride my bike out to the place and was supposed to fix/replace the graphics board. It was placed on a table by an open widow in a prefab hut. Opened the grubby filthy unit and just laughed. It had probably gotten very dusty but was now completely covered in oil. I just plled out the plug coiled the wire up and threw it in the bin. Then told them it was NOT to be used and skipped. 2.5hrs travel there 2.5 hrs back for 10 mins support.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

One of the tech-groups on LinkedIn posted a question asking "What to do if a user comes to you and says the computer is slow.". The interesting bit about the responses is the folk with years of experience responded by stating the first thing to do is talk to the user and ask questions. Those with no, or little, experience immediately begin defragging disks, emptying c(r)ache, deleting history, etc. God forbid the tech-guru engage the user in converation to determine what is meant by "slow", and "is it always slow or only at certain times", "how long has it been slow", etc.

klahti
klahti

Well the first thing I will tell you all as an IT professional is not to assume a user has ANY expertise at all. I work in a area where people buy computers to play POGO, use Facebook, and email. They barely know how to turn them on, so this article was enlightening for users. I know a lot of you talked about not bothering with an 8 yr old system. I know in a primarily Windows world, that is probably a suggestion with some merit. I would like to encourage anyone with an older system with limited resources to consider installing some type of a Linux desktop to get a little more use out of it. It will expand your horizons and expand the life of your older system and best of all Linux OS software is free. You can do almost every general computing task on a Linux machine, using freeware or shareware that is available. Most drivers are installed with the OS. I rarely have to update a driver. Linux works very well and it uses less resources than Windows systems, so your older machine will love it.

ComputerSuperheroes
ComputerSuperheroes

I agree with essex133. Worthless information. We're not noobs. Post something that makes our subscription worthwhile. I guess they needed the ad space.

nrkmann
nrkmann

- Fastest processor for the socket & buss, e.g. I have been changing socket 755 core duo processors to core 2 duo for speed and 64 bit processing. - Max out the memory in both quantity and buss speed. - Max out the HD speed and cache size, i.e. 7200 or 10,000 rpm with 16mb cache. For the SW side, run lean, mean, & clean, i.e. get rid of anything that is not used, i.e. software, startups, toolbars, etc. (lean): updated (mean): anti everything and defrag (clean). Re: Vacuum vs blowing: Three three packs of air at Fry's equals one air compressor at Harbor Freight. In 30 years have never harmed a computer by blowing it out. During Desert Storm we would blow out computers every week or two to get the fine dust out.

tjh1965
tjh1965

I missed out on the fact that the images are not just a slide show . . . each image is a separate page in the article. I take back my previoius comment. Your layout isn't user friendly . . . at least until a person figures out how it works.

slobodan.hajdin
slobodan.hajdin

Is it able to run 64-bit OS? Yes? Try to upgrade RAM (and maybe CPU) and finally ditch 32-bit OS. Do other necessary upgrades (and clean dust). No? Buy new PC able to run 64-bit OS. Be careful! It might well be cheaper then to upgrade existing rig... ;) Everything else is well known among readers here, as essex133 wrote...

cbci
cbci

to ditch a 32 bit OS if more than 90% of your applications are 32-bit. Like most still are - on the 14th of March in 2012.

tjh1965
tjh1965

This article wasn't about 10 ways to speed up your PC, it simply was an article on why and how to best clean your PC. Nothing wrong with the article, a good reminder on what should be regular maintenance that often doesn't get done.

macaroo_z
macaroo_z

Being in the computer repair business, I can't over state the importance of grounding the nozzle of your air source when blowing out the dust on a desktop chassis. Early in the game, I had to buy a couple of Motherboards because I did not ground the metal nozzle on my portable air compressor. Now I use a couple of alligator clip leads to ground the nozzle to the metal chassis before blowing out the dust.

'techy'
'techy'

A lot of times computer manufacturers put in generic RAM. Which in my experience, they put in 800Mhz of memory when the system can run 1066Mhz.

slefave
slefave

I'm a little disappointed in this post. Now I may have missed something, but I saw one step with lots of directions and suggestions on how to accomplish this one step. What happened to the other 9 steps. Like cleaning the file system out and getting rid of unused software and clearing the registry and removing the temp and temporary Internet files. There are soooo many things that can be done beside cleaning the dust out of the box which should be part of a regular maintenance program. Why not give 10 steps for a regular maintenance program which ppl can do to keep their machine running at optimum performance. Now that would be useful.

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

It's a slideshow. There are ten pages of this, not just one and the items you mentioned are included in those other frames.

bgcr
bgcr

I take the view that whenever anyone goes to the trouble to write something that can help now, next week or in 5 years time it will come in useful. Over the UK winter the "tool" I used most was a McDonalds wooden stirer to clear out heatsinc vents in conjunction with a vacuum. No quick fix for laptops other than dismantle and remove the plug of fluff accumulated in the air vent. Poor ventilation has caused more trouble than anything else on all sorts of machines from * year old XPs (God bless 'em) to 3 grand (pounds that is, not dollars) year-old gamers. Agree with startup and browser fixit options in addition to defrag. Not too proud to fix anything no matter how old it is.

gsmith
gsmith

One thing to keep in mind with memory upgrades is that many computers come with mother boards that support faster than installed from the factory memory. That was to save cost when the system shipped new (and the 533 DDR2 memory was so much more expensive than the 400 DDR2). Sometimes the replacement 533 you just put in there will be slowed to 400 to remain compatible with the "old" memory in the machine. Use the BIOS to see the memory speed with just old memory and just new memory to see if your system might run faster without the older memory in it. If you just bought 2 x 1 gig sticks of 533 to go with your existing 2 x 512 400 - you might be better off with only 2 gig of fast ram instead of 3 gig of slow ram

phil
phil

Recently changed memory on a system which had 4 5300 modules to 2 6400 modules, User thinks its a new machine. BIOS actually reports running them at 667MHz (i know its MT/s but that's what BIOSs say) just as before. Just because hardware checks say their is nothing wrong does not mean that renewing the bits won't make it quicker (particularly with hard disks which get tired).

ambraun
ambraun

I use Directory Report instead of SpaceSniffer The treemaps are too confusing and I uninstall every Explorer toolbar

Guido Cangelosi
Guido Cangelosi

We are hyped to believe that newer is better (or faster, or cheaper ?). So much so that when I look back I remember my "old" pc on windows 3.1 running swiftly. Latest state of the art machine running on memory hogs++ gives me time to take "a cup of coffee" when compiling my 22 projects C# solution - well my old turbo Pascal has found no match these days. As the article is all about "performance" or was it that too much dust can kill your machine FAST with same speed CPU. I would add more parameters affecting you r overall performance on recent machines more than ever before. - disk fragmentation (and compaction) along with file corruption. - registry corruption with lots of redundant keys (do a cleanup) - swapfile corruption or fragmented (create a manually defined contiguous file twice your RAM) - Antivirus - sometime can account for slowness as it checks all your files and often. - Microsft Update - put it to manual and take control of when to update. - number of services and autostart software (are they all needed) some can be put on manual when you are not sure. - Any crawling worms - do a test with safe antivirus - launched manually once a week. - Did you partition your machine in a reasonable way example: 1 huge C: drive with everything there - Poor layout. example: 1 C: drive for system and 1 D: drive for Data and 1 E: drive for your swapfile and temporary files => Better layout on my system I like to separate fixed binary files that do not change with heavily edited files on seaparte partitions whenever possible. Well, here are the 9 ways I wish I had read in the article above. Guido Cangelosi

cbci
cbci

For XP - C: 16G boot(system) drive, D: 8Gb swap(pagefile)+environmental \temp folder and the rest of the drive for E: data and programs. We heard about, and started using, this Linux scheme on XP around '05 and it makes our old 80Gb boxes sing. Plus this "a place for everything and everything in its place" setup makes defragging less of an issue and future cleanup a breeze for non-techies. Plus, for oem boxes, you'll end up with one large user space instead of one partition that fills up too fast and a practically empty partition that the user didn't even realize was there. For the few who don't know the rest of the scheme, here is a couple of more hints: 1. While using NTFS for C: and E:, format the D: as Fat32 which is faster for XP pagefile and; 2. move the pagefile to D: (setting min/max to 4092) before redirecting temp folder. Although the post was about slow PCs, I just want to pass along one more little tidbit, take it for what it is worth. For our Win7 boxes with 500Gb drives, we have been doubling the sizes of C: and D: to 32Gb and 16Gb, respectively and we, naturally, have gone back to NTFS for D:. We have installed these alongside the standard oem with their 2 - ~220Gb partitions and while there has not been huge performance gains, we have noticed far fewer calls about slow program response from the users of the 'special setup' PCs.