10 ways to make your home computer run faster

Tips on minor Windows modifications and the power of a simple restart

“Did you restart your computer?”

How many of us have cringed when we received that as tech support? Maybe because we thought it would never fix whatever was slowing our Windows machines. Maybe we were loath to lose all the tabs we’d hoarded. Or maybe we just didn’t want to stop working, and the computer was already enough of a drag on productivity as it was.

But it is often a fix, says Terry Waskowich (Computer Systems Technology ’94), a digital workforce analyst with NAIT’s IT support team. And it’s an easy one. Now that many of us work from home – away from the techs who kept our machines running like they might indeed have been well oiled – easy is what we need.

Here, Waskowich explains why the restart may be king, and nine other ways to give your machine back its zing.

1. Guard the gate

If you’re not the only person who uses your machine, you may need to take charge of keeping everyone up to speed. Go to Accounts via Settings. Give every user their own space, and make yourself their administrator. (Directions throughout this article, by the way, should apply to recent versions of Windows, says Waskowich.)

“If they want to install something, or a website wants to install a plugin, [the machine] will prompt them for an administrative-level user,” says Waskowich. That’s you, who can then block programs that might bog you down.

2. Save your system from yourself

If you decide to let a program pass, pause to create a system restore point, says Waskowich. “It’s a snapshot of the system files and vital data.” That is, it’s a kind of backup. Type “restore point” in the menu search bar to zip to the Control Panel and set one up. Then, if your machine ends up sluggish despite your best intentions, you can return to faster, happier times.

3. Speed up your start up

When you turn on your computer, a host of programs runs automatically. They’re trying to help, but they can get in the way of getting going. “If I don’t use it [at startup], it’s taking up memory,” says Waskowich.

Open the Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del), pick the Startup tab and right-click to disable programs in the list. Spotify, albeit important, is not a priority. Antivirus, on the other hand, is. If you’re not sure about an item, Google before you click.

4. Embrace the antivirus

While Waskowich says Windows has good antivirus defenses, a third-party provider may be required if other of your machine’s users tend to test limits. That extra software may be subject to frequent updates that can hinder performance, but viruses can lead to slowness by taking over the system to get up to no good. “Third-party [software] can slow down your machine, but it’s for protection.”

5. Mind your memory

The amount of memory in your machine determines its capacity for multitasking. Windows itself, says Waskowich, will likely need two to four gigabytes to operate, while your computer may have eight total (check by right-clicking This PC, in the File Explorer app).

Layering on programs (and internet tabs) might max out memory, leading to stalls. Lighten the load with the Task Manager; click CPU, or the “brains” of your machine.

“You can tell what programs are being hogs,” says Waskowich, and shut some down. While you’re there, check Disk, which handles information storage. If any programs are unnecessarily busy, close them, too.

6. Rule by restart

If any of those programs refuse to stand down, now is the time: Wipe the digital slate clean by restarting your machine. At startup, they shouldn’t be a bother – unless you need to disable them from the get-go (see tip #2).

7. Clear out the clutter

If problems persist, try taking out the trash. Your computer may be hauling around the baggage of temporary files, a full recycle bin, past downloads and more. Right-click your C: drive icon under This PC then click Properties to start Disk Cleanup. From there, “it’s just picking and choosing what you want to remove,” says Waskowich. “It’s always good to do once a month.”

8. Soup up your system

If you’re able to part with your machine temporarily, have a tech install more memory and, just as importantly, a new drive. Any computer store will be able to help. Most drives, says Waskowich, are “platter drives – which are moving parts.” Switch to a static, quicker M.2 SSD, or solid state drive.

With the boost in speed “it’s like getting a new machine.”

With the boost in speed “it’s like getting a new machine.” But it’s cheaper than one, with drives starting around $50, parts only.

9. Work out Wi-Fi weaknesses

Most people bury their routers in the basement, says Waskowich. Because the Wi-Fi signal then has to penetrate floors and walls, “you’ll get dead zones, or the speed is slower.”

Consider running a network cable up through an air return duct to an access point you install on the main floor. Alternatively, Waskowich adds, try

  • powerline adapters, which plug into electrical outlets and channel Wi-Fi along the wires throughout your home;
  • mesh WiFi, where mulitple routers running on a single network extend your network to those hard-to-reach areas of your home;
  • or repeaters, which catch the signal from the router and retransmit it.

10. Don’t ignore the updates

Eat your vegetables. It’s the same idea. You have to care for your system to keep it running smoothly. Windows needs regular updating, but so do apps, which can get bugs.

“You don’t have to do it right away but make sure you’re not a couple of months behind,” says Waskowich. Just to bring your machine back up to speed, “you could be updating for an hour.”

Laptops don’t belong in laps

Sitting with your laptop actually on your lap may cause it to crash and burn, literally. Beneath it are cooling fans that are easily blocked. The more programs and tabs you run, the harder the fans need to work. If they can’t keep up, the machine can overheat.

“Tipping the back up will give the laptop more airflow,” says Waskowich. He’ll do this on a desk as well, especially if he’s using programs that get the fans churning.

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