Packing Your PC with All the Speed It Can Handle

From cleaning house to installing new hardware, there are a host of things you can do to get your PC in the fast lane.

How fast do you want to go? Getting more speed from a PC is always a compelling goal, but you may encounter hurdles in trying to go from slow crawl to hyperspace.

Fortunately, there are proven ways to pack your PC with more speed without hitting the roadblocks.

Free Speed Boosts

Cleaning up your PC's software and documents is like getting more space in your office by tidying the desk and filing cabinets: While any given aspect of the cleanup may not have a big impact, the overall effect will make you more efficient and productive. Another bonus is that many software cleanup tasks involve either low-cost tools or none at all.

Here are a few tips for tuning up:

  • Remove software, games, documents, music, photos and videos that you don't use anymore. This can be time consuming, but you'd be surprised at how much memory gets taken up by large files like games and videos. For some software, you may need to use an uninstaller program to scrape them out of your drive.
  • Do deeper virus and spyware cleaning with your existing antivirus programs. Although these applications do regular, automatic checks, many have advanced functionality for doing more extensive scans. Set aside some time for a thorough virus cleaning.
  • Defragment your hard drive. Fragmentation is a normal part of computing. As you save files, parts of them get stored on the drive in different areas. These fragments need to be pulled together when they're retrieved, which means the computer has to search for all the pieces — and that can take time. Use a disk-defragmentation application to consolidate the fragments and speed up your operations.
  • Check the resources at Microsoft, particularly system upgrades, disk-cleanup utilities and ReadyBoost, an application that adds memory to a system. This handy Web page is a good starting point.

Hardware Store

Software cleanup and upgrades can be hugely helpful for speeding up a PC, but those tactics can only take you so far. Sometimes, a computer needs some new hardware to really get the engine running. Here are some hardware options:

  • Random access memory (RAM) chips increase the amount of memory the computer can access. That means applications that take up a chunk of memory — e.g., games, video-editing programs and conferencing programs — will be able to work more efficiently.
  • Solid-state drives (SSDs) can be good options because they use flash memory to operate. That lowers the chance of failure or breakdown compared with a standard hard drive. SSDs bring significant speed enhancements without increased power use and are particularly good for laptops and tablet PCs.
  • External desktop drives reside outside your computer, and many are portable. They have large capacities so you can transfer a huge amount of files and increase the storage space on your PC.

Service Call

Boosting speed and performance can be as easy as leaving your computer with a qualified professional. Staples EasyTech offers an affordable PC tune-up where a technician removes trialware (the "free trial" programs that can gunk up a computer), adjusts key settings, does disk defragmentation and cleanup, and even removes excess dust.

In some cases, a computer can be riddled with viruses, spyware and adware (see glossary below). Antivirus programs are helpful, but only if they can run — some PCs are so infected that they can't even start up these applications. EasyTech offers a virus/spyware/adware removal service that diagnoses the extent of the problem and cleans the system.

If the system still seems sluggish after you've done a series of software and hardware tweaks, EasyTech has a diagnostic service that checks hardware and performs a system analysis. This will identify any software-related issues along with any hardware failures or conflicts. (Sometimes, a seemingly minor interoperability issue can cause widespread slowdown.)

Having a professional check for issues and do a general tune-up can not only speed up a PC now, but also prevent problems in the future.

Watch Out: Pitfalls to Avoid

When doing any kind of work on a PC — cleanup, installation of hardware and even taking the computer in for service — keep in mind issues like these:

  • During software cleanup, be 100 percent certain about what to delete. If you don't recognize an application, take the time to research it online to make sure it's not necessary for system start-up and operations. Countless PC users have trashed a crucial app for start-up and then couldn't get their computers to boot up.
  • Before doing any kind of maintenance work, back up your files. You should do this regularly anyway, using either a separate drive or an online service. But making triple-sure the files are stored off your computer will prevent heartache over data loss later.
  • We mentioned backing up your files, right? Seriously, make sure they're safe. It's surprising how many people don't do this task because they "don't have the time." However, think about how long it would take you to get back to normal operations if you were to lose everything.
  • When doing hardware installations like secondary drives, check your warranty first to make sure you wouldn't be voiding it by opening your computer's case. If this does void the warranty, bring the PC to a professional technician instead.
  • If you decide to do the hardware installation yourself, read up on how to prevent static-electricity jolts while doing the work. These electrical discharges can be uncomfortable for you — and deadly for a PC's sensitive electronics.
  • When all software, hardware and service options have been explored, you'll probably be at the maximum speed for your machine. For some people, this still won't feel fast enough. But be patient, because the next super speedy PC technology is likely in development.

Top Terms to Know

Here are the most common terms you'll find when taking on a speed and optimization project:

Serial ATA: Some internal hard drives involve the use of Serial ATA, also known as SATA or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. This is a system that allows for data transfer between components in a computer, particularly for connecting storage devices like hard drives and optical drives to each other. Basically, SATA gives components in a computer the same language so they can communicate. And who doesn't appreciate such a skilled translator?

Spyware and adware: Spyware is a malicious program that's designed to hurt your system or to obtain personal information from you (e.g., usernames and passwords) for identity theft. Adware doesn't have that level of evil intention, but instead collects information like Web surfing habits so that marketers can send you more targeted ads. Although the latter is usually harmless, both types of unauthorized software can slow your computer significantly. Regularly cleaning these, as well as trialware, can keep your computer zooming along.

Service packs: These updates to the Microsoft Windows operating system are designed to make the system more reliable and efficient. Provided free, they usually include multiple security and performance improvements as well as support for newer hardware. Windows doesn't need service packs to run. However, by keeping up-to-date on service pack releases, you'll get improved security, better performance and more interoperability.

Flash memory: This type of computer storage can be erased and written over, making it useful for both short-term and long-term data storage. It's usually found in memory cards, solid-state drives, USB flash drives and other storage products. Using flash memory helps to keep a computer speedy, since the data on it can be "read" quickly.

ReadyBoost: A free resource from Microsoft, this handy tool helps to speed up your system by using nonvolatile flash memory (like from a USB flash drive) to improve performance. And you don't even need to add more memory. Check out this page for instructions on how to use ReadyBoost with Windows 7.

With software, hardware and service options, packing your PC with more speed can be straightforward and effective. Although you'll need to set aside some time initially for cleanup, installation or in-store professional tune-ups, the speed you gain will be more than worth the effort.

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