How to upgrade an old PC: No-brainer improvements anyone can do

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Windows PCs slow down over time—that’s the popular wisdom, at least.

Your PC’s hardware isn’t actually becoming slower, though. Startup programs, junk files, and even clumps of dust are just weighing it down. If you give your PC’s software and hardware a quick tune-up, it should run like it did the day you bought it. Inexpensive hardware upgrades can even make your PC run faster than it ever did.

Software Tune-Ups

1. Disable or remove unwanted startup programs

Many programs install system tray utilities or services that piggyback onto your system's startup routine, slowing your PC's boot time and wasting valuable RAM. 

In Windows 8, right-click your taskbar, select Task Manager, click More details, and use the Startup tab to disable programs you don’t need. The Task Manager even tells you how much time each program adds to your boot process.

Windows 8 Task Manager manage startup programs Chris Hoffman

You can turn off programs that start automatically with the Windows 8 Task manager.

In Windows 7, you can use the Startup manager in CCleaner to change which programs start after a boot. In CCleaner, navigate to Tools > Startup. Of course if you don’t use a program, you should probably uninstall it entirely from your Control Panel instead of just disabling it.

windows 7 ccleaner manage startup programs Chris Hoffman

CCleaner can help you to turn off unwanted programs that start automatically when Windows 7 starts.

2. Clean up unnecessary system files

Use a tool like CCleaner or the Disk Cleanup program included in Windows to clear unnecessary files from your PC. These files take up space and can even slow down your PC.

Windows 8 Disk Cleanup Chris Hoffman

The Windows 8 Disk Cleanup utility will help by eliminating unneeded files from your hard drive.

To open the Disk Cleanup program on Windows, start by tapping the Windows key to open your Start menu or Start screen. Type Disk Cleanup, and click the Free up disk space by deleting unnecessary files shortcut in Windows 8 or the Disk Cleanup shortcut in Windows 7.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup Chris Hoffman

The Windows 7 Disk Cleanup utility can help you free up

Use CCleaner if you want to clean up even more types of temporary files. You may want to tweak CCleaner’s settings first though, as it will erase your browser history, cookies, cache, and other data you may want to keep.

Windows 7 CCleaner remove temporary files Chris Hoffman

CCleaner can help you clean up some of those pesky temporary file in Windows 7 that the Disk Cleanup utility may miss.

3. Defragment and optimize your hard drives

Modern versions of Windows defragment drives automatically in the background, so you probably don’t have to defragment your hard drive manually. Still, it doesn’t hurt to check.

Tap the Windows key to open the Start menu or Start screen, type Defragment, and launch the Disk Defragmenter in Windows 7 or the ‘Defragment and optimize your drives tool’ in Windows 8. Analyze your drives, and the tool will tell you whether you need to defragment them.

Windows 8 Optimize and defragment drives

The Windows 8 Optimize Drives utility is safe for both traditional hard drives and SSDs.

Windows 7’s Disk Defragmenter should refuse to defragment solid-state drives, while Windows 8’s Disk Defragmenter is now named “Optimize Drives” because it can also optimize solid-state drives.

4. Keep your system free of viruses and malware

Even if you're using antivirus software and otherwise playing it safe, newer kinds of malware can sneak into your system and hog resources. 

The nuclear option is reinstalling Windows entirely and starting afresh. In Windows 8, you can use the Refresh your PC feature to effectively reinstall Windows.  You’ll keep your personal files, but you’ll get a fresh desktop system and will have to reinstall your desktop software.

Windows 8 Refresh PC Chris Hoffman

The Windows 8 Refresh PC utility will reinstall Windows 8 and wipe out all program files, but leave your personal files intact.

On Windows 7, you can use your manufacturer’s recovery partition or reinstall Windows 7 from an installation disc.

If you refresh your PC or reinstall Windows from your manufacturer’s recovery partition, you’ll need to clean up all that nasty bloatware to make it run as fast as possible.

5. Upgrade to a newer operating system

You can also upgrade your PC’s operating system. If you have a really ancient PC—maybe you have an old Windows XP PC lying around—you can try installing a lightweight Linux system on it to give it a new lease on life.

Old computers that came with Windows Vista can probably be sped up by updating them to Windows 8.1 or even Windows 7, but it may not be worth the $100 for a new Windows license. You’re usually better served putting that money towards newer, faster PC hardware.

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