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How to Speed Up Your Older Computer: Five Options

Question: What is the best method to increase speed and avoid “XXX not responding” from anything I try to open on my older computer, a Lenovo laptop which has 4 GB with 3.6 used (my newer one with 8 is blazing fast). It can be very slow. This happens usually when I first start it up or after it has been on awhile. Are there file or programs I could safely delete or move to an external drive to increase efficiency? Thanks!

You’re not alone. Many people with older computers face this struggle. The machine they’ve been carefully using for years seems to get slower and slower over time, with each subsequent update of operating system and/or applications.

The good news is, we have options.

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Trying to speed up an older computer? Reinstall Windows from scratch to remove accumulated cruft. Upgrade your hard disk to an SSD. Maximize the RAM installed. Uninstall and get rid of all software you’re not using. Run the disk cleanup tool. If after all that the machine is beyond hope, it may be time to abandon ship and replace it with a faster one.

Option 1: Go nuclear

Older Desktop ComputerHonestly, if this were my older computer, and with only the information you’ve provided, I’d probably bypass all the other options I’ll talk about in a second and go nuclear: I’d back up, and then reinstall Windows from scratch (downloading a Windows install disc, if I didn’t have one of my own).

Perhaps most importantly, I’d only re-install applications after carefully considering whether I actually need and use them on this machine.

This, more than anything, will tell you about the hardware limitations of your machine with respect to whatever version of Windows you’re running. If it’s still slow after a reinstall of only what you need, then pursuing further software solutions is probably not going to be particularly cost effective.

Option 2: Hardware upgrades for an older computer

One of the most effective upgrades you can perform on an older computer is to replace its hard drive with a solid state disk (SSD). SSDs are significantly faster than old spinning disk hard drives, and can really perk up a pokey machine.

The process is conceptually simple:

The other traditional hardware upgrade to make an older computer faster is to add RAM. I suspect your machine is maxed out at 4GB, mostly because you have only 3.6GB available (here’s why, by the way). If that’s the case, you won’t be able to add RAM. But if I’m wrong, and your computer is capable of more, then by all means, add more RAM. This, too, can often result in significant speedup.

Again, if this were my computer and I was planning on keeping it for some time, I’d do both of the options so far: upgrade the hardware to the extent possible, and reinstall Windows from scratch. That’s likely to get you the best possible result.

Option 3: Purge

Let’s say you don’t want to reinstall from scratch, and you’ve maximized your hardware’s capacity (or that of your wallet). The next step is to get serious about getting rid of everything you possibly can that’s installed on your older computer.

Visit Add/Remove programs in Control Panel (or Apps and Features in Settings), and review the list of installed applications. Consider carefully whether you really need every item.

You might think that having an application installed but not running doesn’t impact performance. In theory, that’s true. In practice, however, many applications install helper apps that run all the time, from the time you boot up to the time you shut down. Those little helpers add up, and can place a surprising burden on your system.

If you don’t really need the applications they’re helping in the first place, then an uninstall should get rid of the bloat.

Option 4: Clean up

It’s not quite as impactful as most people think, but simple disk maintenance can help speed up older machines. That falls into two categories: clean up and defragment.

Start with the Windows built-in disk cleanup tool. Make sure to delete temporary files, and consider cleaning browser caches, files left over from Windows Update, and more. Particularly if your disk space was tight to begin with, freeing space can speed up your machine somewhat.

Then run the Windows disk defragmenting tool. With Windows 7 and later, you don’t need to worry much, since it happens automatically. However, particularly after a cleanup such as we just performed, immediately running a defrag can help improve things right away.

Option 5: Abandon ship

Sometimes, machines are simply too old and underpowered to run current versions of Windows. It’s sad, in a way, that what was a trusty machine might no longer make the cut, but it’s also inevitable.

One final alternative before disposing of the machine entirely is to consider installing a different operating system — specifically Linux.

There are many flavors (or “distributions” or “distros”) of Linux specifically tailored to older computers that aren’t as powerful as current models. Linux can work wonderfully on these machines.1

An older computer can make a perfect test bed for evaluating Linux, or it can be a useful way to extend the life of that older machine.

As one example, one of my oldest machines — my 11-year-old previous-previous desktop machine2 — lives in my basement happily running Ubuntu.3 It acts as a file backup, and media server for my home network, and has many good years ahead of it.

Regardless of which option you choose, from a complete reset to a re-purpose, there are several options to lengthen the life of that older computer.

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Footnotes & References

1: Linux can run wonderfully on new machines also, of course. :-)

2: At the time, quite the machine: “Core 2 Quad” 266 Ghz processor with 8GB of RAM.

3: It’s run Mint for awhile, until I switched recently for what I can only describe as obscure reasons :-).

18 comments on “How to Speed Up Your Older Computer: Five Options”

  1. 1. Most computers now come WITHOUT WINDOWS-DISK. How can the owner get a Windows Installation for the computer THAT IS VALIDATED, i.e. with the Windows License that makes it valid all the time.
    2. This applies to your described “Nuclear option”.

      • As you state in the article that you link to, those downloads of Windows likely won’t work with a OEM product key, which is what most people have if they have Windows pre-installed. I know. I tried when I wanted to set up a Windows 7 VM on my Windows 10 Home laptop.

        However, if Windows is pre-installed, factory default is in a hidden partition on the hard drive. The manufacturer usually has a procedure to boot to that partition and do a fresh reinstall. That is, unless you’ve reformatted the hard drive or repartitioned and wiped it out, or if you upgraded Windows from what was pre-installed.

        Of course, I think your best advice is to make a backup as soon as you get the computer out of the box. Then it doesn’t matter if there’s a partition or not, whether it’s OEM or not.

  2. “many applications install helper apps that run all the time, from the time you boot up to the time you shut down. Those little helpers add up, and can place a surprising burden on your system.”

    Another thing you can do with programs that you use is to disable those programs from starting up with Windows. Programs like Libre Office have options to load the program into memory so it appears that they start up faster than they really do. You can go into Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC), click on the Startup tab, right-click on any program you don’t want to start with Windows and click Disable from the resulting pop-up menu.
    What Windows Startup Programs Do I Need
    What Can I Disable in Task Manager’s Startup List?

  3. I installed an SSD and maxed-out the RAM (8MB) on my 10-year-old Sony Vaio laptop and it runs as fast as an up-to-date machine. Total cost, under $100.

  4. I understand that theoretically, installing a downloaded copy of the Windows .iso wouldn’t activate on an OEM (preinstalled) version of Windows. When I tried it on the above mentioned machine, it activated without a hitch. Back up first before attempting that. In fact, backup regularly, preferably, daily.

    • I think it depends if you’re upgrading Windows or reinstalling from scratch. If you do an in-place upgrade from Windows 7 (or whatever) that is properly licensed, then the upgrade to Win10 will activate automatically. If you perform the nuclear option, the only time I’ve heard of an auto-activation w/o a license key is when the .ISO file is some Enterprise version that most people shouldn’t have.

      • Yes, I used the upgrade in-place option. I did it to preserve my installed programs and settings as I wanted to do it as painlessly as possible.

  5. Agree that replacing hard drive with SSD makes a major difference. I did this on my 2010 Toshiba, and it made an incredible difference. I also did this on my 2012 MAC and it runs like new.

  6. “As one example, one of my oldest machines — my 11-year-old previous-previous desktop machine2 — lives in my basement happily running Ubuntu.3 It acts as a file backup, and media server for my home network, and has many good years ahead of it.”

    That sounds a great idea, how do you go about it?

      • That’s a very good answer. I understand. I though originally you were networking your whole system but as you say there’s no need to make it complicated, just share files.
        Many thanks as ever.

  7. Your out of memory, so the PC has to constantly access the drive.
    Close down most of those running programs and you may get some relief.

  8. I’ve been trying to get everyone who is on 7 on 10. Funny thing: you go to the majority of local health centers and they are still on 7. Unbelievable the exposure to patient information. I’ve complained, but just to the provider. Regarding reviving an old computer. You need 8Gig RAM. Usually, if you are on 7, your hardware is “old age.” About 10 years in, the boards, which are covered in a plastic substance, begin to crack, changing the electrical characteristics of the computer and letting in water vapor from the atmosphere. Any computer over 6 years, replace the hard drive, as suggested above. Get an enclosure for it that makes it a USB backup drive. Then transfer what you really need. And make sure you have all the license info for software you bought. Belarc is a good free tool to get the key information. Save the old drive as backup and archive.

    With respect to installing a Linux distro, I am a fan of doing that. If you use Microsoft Office, you will have to be willing to go to OpenOffice or LibreOffice instead. There is very little in the way of a learning curve. I taught an OLLI course on installing a Linux distro and it was surprisingly well attended. You don’t need to go to 8 Gig. Even 2 Gig will work. The distros have matured and the best today is Elementary. ( It looks and works like OS/X. The old problems of installing drivers and software have mostly gone away. On occasion, for some printers, you have to go to the manufacturers’ site in another country to find the driver.

    If you are thinking of giving the computer to your younger kid or grandkid, safety on the internet is a concern. I’ve installed Edubuntu for them. There are other choices. Read A warning: these are in the same range of skill to install drivers as Ubuntu, so you will have a learning curve if you haven’t been exposed to Ubuntu install methods.

  9. I bought a 32 GB SD card and inserted it in the card slot and configured it as extra memory using Windows Ready Boost. It helped my HP 620 laptop from 2011 to work a lot faster. The SD card configured as Ready Boost is not as fast as RAM, but on this old laptop RAM upgrade was limited to 8 GB and much more expensive. Please note Windows Ready Boost will not help if you have Windows installed on a SSD.
    You can read more here:

  10. Because of this article, I swapped out the old hard drive with an SSD drive on my 6-year-old laptop and, wow, what a difference. Thank you!


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