When you buy a new computer, it is usually zippy and fast. Over time it tends to slow down. With Windows computers in particular, the slowdown can often be because of a full hard drive (if that causes the computer to not be able to use the swap file to its full potential) or because of installed applications that are running on startup and taking up a small amount of memory even when they are not in use.
Some slowdown is going to be inevitable over the years, not just because of the situation with “clutter”, but also because the programs that you want to run will have updates and may be more resource hungry than previous generations. Browsers such as Firefox and Chrome get updates on a regular basis, video games are constantly being patched, and even things such as Java (that are required to run other programs) get updates too. While developers do try to keep their programs as streamlined as possible, and to make performance improvements with each version, feature creep can cause applications to become bloated. Browsers get extra features such as email, messaging or torrents. Message clients get video chat. Office apps get blogging features. Developers introduce background-patching applications from www.directics.com and helpers that run in the background and consume resources even when you are not using that specific program.
Beating the Memory Drain
There are a few things that you can do to beat the memory drain. Firstly, disable apps that run on startup if you don’t know what they are. Look at the icons in your system tray next to the clock and think about whether you really need those things running. Some things, such as your motherboard/graphics card utilities for fan management are worth having running. You probably want your messaging client too. Other things, such as launchers for apps that you sometimes use, game clients, and “helpers” or even desktop buddies are not really all that useful and if your computer is currently running slowly then you may want to stop them from running on startup.
Be aware, however, that sometimes doing this may not be the most efficient option. Launchers for some programs, such as the Adobe Suite, are also update tools. The same applies for Steam, Origin and other game clients. They will download updates for you in the background, and if you prevent them from running then you may find that when you do want to use the programs that relate to them you will have to wait for the program to patch first. This may be a non-issue if you have a fast broadband connection. If you are stuck on a slow copper line or an unstable wifi connection then you may actually find life is easier if you let the apps update overnight instead of only when you want to launch them.
Cleaning Up Old Messes
If you stop using a program, uninstall it using the Programs and Features menu. Do not just delete the folder from Explorer, because this can lead to lots of problems and unexpected behaviors. There are some companies that sell ‘registry cleaners’, and these used to be incredibly useful back in the Windows 95/98/ME days, but Windows is much better now than it used to be when it comes to handling the installation and removal of programs.
You may still get some value out of using tools such as Malware Bytes and Spybot: Search And Destroy to keep your computer free of malware, browser helper objects, and other nasties. These tools have free versions available. Download and run them to see if there is anything on your computer that shouldn’t be there.
It is still worth having a virus checker and a firewall. Windows Defender ships with modern versions of Windows and is up to the task for most people.
If you have a lot of extensions or toolbars installed with your browser, disable the ones that you do not use. You can do this via the Settings menu for the browser in question. This should give you a huge performance increase for your browser, and since the browser is the thing that most people spend the most time using, that is essentially the same as “improving the performance of your computer”.
Extending a Computer’s Life Span
If you play a lot of video games then you will need to upgrade your computer quite regularly, because processor speeds and graphics card chipsets matter a lot more for modern games.
If you just use your computer for document editing and browsing the web, then you can get a lot of mileage out of an older or cheaper machine with some very small upgrades. Putting more memory into a machine can make it feel faster and will allow you to have more browser tabs open, or to run, a spreadsheet and a word processor at the same time without worrying about slowness.
Replacing the main hard drive with an SSD, if the current one is an older platter-based drive, will make it feel like you have a brand new computer in some ways. This is a task that does require some techical expertise to move everything over to the new drive. SSDs boot up much faster than older hard drives, and they also allow you to launch programs far more quickly. They are perhaps the single highest ‘return on investment’ you could get in terms of a part for a laptop or a desktop computer. RAM, or ‘memory’ is the next most useful upgrade.
Once you have an SSD and more memory you will want to make some tweaks to your swap file, depending on how much memory you have. If you have a lot of memory for the job you are doing (16GB or more is ‘a lot’ for basic text editing and spreadsheets) then there is probably no reason to have a swap file unless you do photo editing (and for photo editing, which is a specialist task, 16GB is not a lot!