Slow laptop?

Don’t throw out your slow laptop just yet. Try these free fixes to make your laptop faster!

Even if you buy the best laptop on the market, you’ll notice that it starts to slow down over time. You might be tempted to take it into a repair shop or even buy a whole new laptop, but if you spend an afternoon trying the tricks below, you may well find a solution that doesn’t cost you anything!

In this post, we reveal the best ways to speed up a slow laptop or PC using Windows 11, 10, 8, or 7. Note that we’ll be focusing on system performance issues rather than those related to the network you’re using. The screenshots below are of Windows 11 but don’t worry if you’re using a different version; most settings will be in a similar place, and we’ll let you know if there are any major differences.

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  • Works in real time to optimize CPU, RAM, and hard drive performance
  • Removes junk files to free up space
  • Identifies unwanted programs which slow down start-up
  • Monitors for and fixes over 30,000 known problems that can cause errors or performance issues
  • Patches known Windows security vulnerabilities

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Here’s how to make your laptop faster:

1. Close system tray programs

If your computer is off to a slow start, then it’s possible you have too many programs starting up at the same time as Windows itself. Items in the system tray often launch at startup and then stay running while you use your computer.

To access these items, click the upwards arrow toward the right side of your taskbar.

A desktop with the system tray open.

If there are any programs you don’t need to have running, right-click them and close.

2. Stop programs running on startup

Similar to programs running in the tray, other programs that automatically run on startup can slow down your computer. Some you may actually want to run, such as antivirus software, but others may be unnecessary.

Right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager (or hit Ctrl-Shift-Escape). Head to the Startup tab and you’ll be able to view each item that runs on startup, along with its impact.

The Task Manager screen.

Go through these and decide which ones don’t need to start automatically. Plenty of programs just allow themselves to launch on boot by default, and if you’ve had your laptop for a while, this can have a cumulative impact.

Note that some of these programs are vital for Windows to operate. For example, the ones with Microsoft listed as the publisher are probably best left alone. If you aren’t sure, either leave it, or try a Google search to find out more.

To prevent a process from starting at boot, simply right-click and hit Disable. Remember, you’re not disabling the program, just the fact that it runs on startup.

Windows 7: Instead of accessing Task Manager, you’ll need to search for System Configuration.

3. Update Windows, drivers, and apps

You’ve probably heard that keeping your software up to date is a good idea for security. This is true and it can help performance too. Windows will automatically send you a notification when an update is available. You just need to make sure you don’t keep putting it off.

If you think you might have missed an update, you can always check. Go to Start and click Settings or the settings icon. Then go to Windows Update (or Updates & Security > Windows Update in older versions)

Aside from your Windows operating system, drivers and apps should be kept up to date too. Again, this is good for both security and performance. If you think you might have missed an update, a quick online search should tell you which version you should be using.

4. Delete unnecessary files

Just like our closets and drawers, our computers get cluttered. While you can’t really see it, you know it’s there, and it could be having a negative impact on your computer’s performance. This is especially true if you deal with a lot of large files, such as high-resolution images, audio files, and videos, on a day-to-day basis.

Free up space by making a habit of deleting files and folders each week and emptying the recycle bin afterwards. Doing this regularly means it’s more likely you’ll remember exactly what’s in the files and folders and won’t be so concerned about mistakenly deleting something important.

Handy tip: HDDs usually run at peak speed until they reach roughly 90 percent capacity. So if you check how much space is used up and you’re over 90 percent, that’s probably what’s slowing things down. SSDs slow down more gradually as they fill up, so it’s good to stay on top of things. It’s recommended not to fill an SSD to more than 75 percent of its capacity.

5. Find programs that eat up resources

If you find that your computer is suddenly running significantly slower, chances are there is a particular program to blame. One way to identify the culprit is to go into your task manager and find out what’s eating up your resources.

Right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager. Click the Details tab to find out information about the programs that are currently running on your computer. It should show you the Processes tab by default.

The Processes tab within the Task Manager screen.

You can click each header to sort the list according to which applications are using the most of that particular resource. If you need to close something, try closing the actual application first. If it won’t close, come back to the Task Manager screen, right-click the application, and hit End task.

Windows 7: Instead of accessing Task Manager, you’ll need to search for System Configuration.

6. Adjust your power options

Windows comes with several preset ‘power plans’ to suit your needs. The default is set to Balanced, which takes into account performance and energy consumption. But the latter is only really a concern if you’re running off battery or trying to keep the electricity bills down. As such, you may want to change your plan.

As its name suggests, the High performance plan is a better option is your PC is running slow. Although this option uses more energy, it favors performance so should help speed up your machine.

Aside from the standard options, you could choose to create your own custom plan. Go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Power Options > Create a power plan. Choose which existing plan you would like to start with, enter a name for your new plan, and select Next.

Power plan options.

Basic options include how long the display stays on for when you’re inactive and how long before the computer goes into sleep mode. These won’t really affect your computer’s speed, but if you go into Change advanced power settings, you can make more adjustments that will have an impact.

7. Uninstall programs you don’t use

We often install huge programs without realizing how much space they’re taking up. If you think that might be the case, you can easily uninstall any programs you don’t use. Even if it’s a program you do use now and again, if it’s particularly large, it might be worth simply reinstalling each time you need it.

To uninstall a program, head over to Control Panel > Programs > Uninstall a program (or Programs and Features > Uninstall a program in older versions)

Go though the programs and decide which ones, if any, you don’t need. If you’re unsure about a particular program, you could simply use a search engine to find out more.

8. Turn Windows features on or off

While you’re in the Programs and Features screen, you might want to check to see if there are any Windows components you don’t need. Click Turn Windows features on or off and you’ll see a list of these components.

A Windows Features screen.

Be careful not to turn off anything you actually need. So again, a search for anything you’re unsure about is a good idea.

9. Run a disk cleanup

Windows comes with a built-in tool for cleaning up junk that accumulates over time. To access the Disk Cleanup tool, go to Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Tools > Disk Clean-up. If you’re running an older version of Windows, you’ll find it in Control Panel > System and SecurityAdministrative Tools instead.

The Disk Cleanup options.

Here, you can select the types of files you want to get rid of and click OK. Then click Clean up system files and choose any system files you want to remove.

If you’d rather not do this manually, there is software you can purchase to help. For example, Iolo System Mechanic will detect and remove junk files in real time so you don’t have to worry about them.

Iolo system mechanic

It has lots of other features designed to boost your computer’s performance such as cleaning up your browsing history, optimizing settings and application processes, and defragmentation (see below). This software currently costs around $50 for a one-year subscription.

10. Defragment your hard drive

Over time, files on your hard drive become fragmented. As your computer now has to check in multiple places for the pieces, it can run more slowly. The term ‘defragment’ sounds a little dramatic, but it basically means putting those files back together so your system can run more efficiently.

In fact, it’s something that Windows 10, 8, and 7 do automatically on a set schedule. The default schedule is once per week, but you can go in and manually run it if you suspect there’s an issue.

First, it’s important to note that you only need to do this if your computer uses a traditional mechanical Hard Disk Drive (HDD). A Solid State Drive (SSD) works differently from an HDD, and there is no need for defragmentation. If you have both, only defragment the HDD.

Start by pressing the Windows key and typing “defragment”, then clicking the first result.

The Tools tab of the drive properties screen.

You’ll then get an Optimize Drives screen popup.

A list of the drives to be optimizied.

Note that in the above screenshot, all of the drives are SSD. These do not need to be defragmented. As in the image, Analyze will be grayed out for SSD drives, but will be available for hard drives.

Select an HDD drive and click Analyze to see how fragmented it is. A good rule of thumb would be to keep it below five percent. If it’s above, you can click Optimize to defragment the disk.

If you have an SSD, you’ll notice Optimize is actually an available option. Clicking it will run the TRIM command, which wipes data that is no longer considered in use.

Windows 7: Look for Disk Defragmenter using the search bar and select an HDD under Current status.

11. Adjust or disable graphics and animations

More recent versions of Windows come with lots of graphics, including animations such as fading effects and flyouts. These help make the application appear more sleek and refined and contribute to a better overall user experience. On the other hand, they can also slow down your computer.

Thankfully, it’s simple to adjust these settings and hopefully save a little processing power. Go to Control Panel > System and Security > System > Advanced system settings. Then, in the Performance section, hit Settings and you’ll have a full list of options.

The Visual Effects tab within Performance Options.

You can select Adjust for best performance (this will remove all visual effects) or opt to remove some individually. It’s a matter of preference, but fade and shadow features are some you could probably live without.

Windows 7: Search for Performance Information and Tools, select Adjust visual effects, and use the Visual Effects tab.

12. Check for malware

Malware (malicious software) is a broad term used to describe malicious programs that could cause harm to your computer. These may come from various sources, including email links, software downloads, and even ads (malvertisements). Aside from potentially causing permanent damage to your system, some forms of malware can cause your computer to run slow.

Having good antivirus software installed can help protect against malware, as well as other threats. Some solid free options are available, so you don’t need to spend a penny.

We particularly recommend Avira’s free tool, which scans for and removes malware and includes tuneup tools. This means it will protect your data and speed up your PC at the same time.

If you’re willing to pay a fee for your antivirus software, we recommend Norton, TotalAV, or McAfee.

If you suspect malware is already affecting your computer, you can check for it using a scanner such as Zemana AntiMalware. You can then remove it using a removal tool like Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit. We’ve tested both of these products and were very satisfied with the results.

13. Disable Cortana

While the Windows digital assistant, Cortana, is a handy feature, it uses up a lot of resources and also poses a privacy threat. Cortana used to be easily removed but in the up-to-date versions, it’s a little trickier. Nonetheless, if you’re willing to make an edit to your system’s registry, it can be done.

14. Upgrade your hardware

If you’ve tried all of the tricks above, it might be time to invest in some new hardware. Here are a couple of things you may want to consider putting some money into:

  • Add an SSD: While HDDs offer more space for a lower price, adding an SSD can make your computer load programs and write files much faster.
  • Add more RAM: If you have an older system, it may have too little memory to run modern applications efficiently. What’s more, if you use a lot of programs simultaneously, you might not have enough Random Access Memory (RAM) to carry you through. Installing more RAM could give you the boost you need.

15. Restart your browser

If your computer is experiencing particularly slow speeds when you use the internet, it could simply be that your browser has become a bit clogged up. Don’t forget that your browser is your gateway to the internet, so if it starts loading pages very slowly, you could be left scratching your head.

To solve this issue quickly, simply try closing down your browser and restarting it. This may be enough to give the browser a refresh and get your internet back up to full speed. If pages are loading sluggishly, you may also want to install an adblocker (such as Adblock Plus) and a tracker blocking extensions (such as Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin).

To keep your browser working as efficiently and quickly as possible, you will also want to check that it is up-to-date. If all else fails, you could decide to uninstall and re-install your browser to give it a fresh start. Alternatively, you may want to try removing the cookies and clearing the cache in your browser to see if this helps to speed things up.

16. Close your browser tabs

If restarting your browser still doesn’t help to solve the issue, it is possible that you need to close some tabs.

Anybody who is accustomed to running their browser with ten or more tabs open will likely be experiencing some sluggishness. This is because all of those tabs require RAM, and your computer will allocate more resources each time you open a new tab.

If you are staring at your browser and the entire top of your screen is full of tabs, it’s probably time to spend 5 minutes closing any unnecessary tabs that are open.

Also check for any additional Windows that may be running behind your primary browser window, as these could have multiple tabs in them that are causing your computer to grind to a halt.

17. Try a different antivirus program

Everybody needs a solid antivirus program to ensure they do not accidentally download malware or end up infected with other malicious infections. A reliable antivirus will run in the background at all times, and will even scan incoming files in real-time. This will ensure you never let anything nasty onto your laptop, so it is important to use one.

The only potential problem is that some antivirus programs are extremely heavy on CPU and RAM consumption. This means that if your laptop is a little low on processing power, the antivirus could be sapping away too much raw power. As a result, you may find that it is causing your laptop to come to a grinding halt.

If you are using an antivirus that is known to eat up system resources, you may want to try something else. For more information on the best antiviruses to use, check out our antivirus reviews.

18. Do one thing at a time

Sometimes, we simply ask too much of our computers. They have limited processing power, after all, and most laptops (especially older ones) will struggle to run a game at the same time as a music app. It’s possible to mitigate this somewhat by lowering graphics settings, but a lot of the time, your best bet is to lower your expectations.

Also, if you’re downloading a large file, you may not have enough bandwidth to stream at high resolutions. This is why Netflix playback can seem choppy when lots of people are using the internet at the same time. If you’re planning on torrenting, or doing other data-intensive tasks, consider leaving them running overnight so that they don’t interfere with your day-to-day activities.

A few more tips

How you use your computer can potentially affect the speed at which your machine is running. this makes it essential for you to keep an eye on what apps are running and how your system may be getting clogged, leading to slow speeds. To help you out we have included a few additional tips below:

  • Keep your computer clean: This may sound obvious, but accumulated dust and grime can actually slow down your computer. Physically cleaning your computer regularly could help speed it up and prevent overheating.
  • Remove unused browser extensions: These can slow down your browsing experience so it’s worth doing some regular housekeeping there.
  • Use a memory-saving extension: Speaking of extensions, there are some popular options including Auto Tab Discard and New Tab Suspender, which will reduce the memory footprint of open tabs.
  • Restart regularly: Sometimes all you need is a fresh boot. Restarting your computer can enable updates to take effect and shut down stuck programs. When you’re taking a break, it could be a good time to hit restart while you go and make yourself a cuppa.
  • Run fewer simultaneous programs: Just like multitasking can be detrimental to our productivity, running lots of programs simultaneously can dampen your computer’s speed. Make a habit of closing programs instead of just minimizing them and you should see some improvement.
  • Reinstall the operating system: If you’ve tried everything and you’re still running into problems, a last resort might be a fresh install of Windows.

Keeping things running smoothly

Once you’ve cleaned up your computer by implementing some of the tips above, no doubt you’ll want to keep it running at top speed. To avoid getting frustrated with lackluster performance, it’s a good idea to schedule a monthly cleanup. Use the above list of tips as a handy checklist and you’re all set.

FAQs about slow laptops (and making them faster)

Can my VPN make my computer slow?

The answer to this question is yes. Unfortunately, not all VPNs are fast and if you are using a substandard service with slow servers and inferior apps, it could cause your internet speeds to come to a grinding halt. VPNs require system resources to encrypt and decrypt data coming and going from your PC.

Of course, when pages start loading slowly, and it becomes impossible to use the internet, it is easy to simply blame your computer or assume you have become infected with a virus.

In reality, it is worth checking to see how your VPN is affecting your internet speeds. Some VPNs have been known to slow down their user’s internet by 95 percent. Understandably, that makes the computer feel like it is broken.

If you find that your VPN is severely slowing down your internet, you may want to try a different VPN protocol. And failing that, it may be time to quit your current VPN and get a subscription with one of the world’s fastest VPNs instead.

My laptop is still slow after trying all of the tips in this guide. What else can I do?

If your laptop is still slow after trying the above tips, you may need to take more drastic measures. Some potential options include:

Reinstall your operating system: This will erase all of your files, programs, and settings. It should only be considered as a last resort.

Replace your laptop: If your laptop is old or underpowered, it may be time for an upgrade. A new laptop can significantly improve performance.

Will Windows 11 slow down my laptop?

No, Windows 11 will not slow down your laptop. Microsoft has designed the OS to be as efficient and lightweight as possible, ensuring it requires minimal resources while providing a great user experience. Additionally, Windows 11 includes many performance-enhancing features, such as improved startup times and enhanced memory management, that should make your laptop run faster than before. So don’t worry—upgrading to Windows 11 shouldn’t cause any slowdown on your device.

How often should I clean my laptop's hardware components to keep it running smoothly?

Is your laptop getting sluggish and overheating? It’s time to roll up your sleeves and give it some TLC!

To keep your laptop running smoothly, it’s recommended to clean its hardware components, such as the fan and vents, at least once a year. Dust and debris buildup can seriously impact your laptop’s performance, causing it to overheat and unexpectedly shut down. Trust me; nothing is more frustrating than losing valuable work time due to an overheating laptop.

However, don’t worry! Regularly cleaning your laptop can help defeat these mortal enemies of your hardware components. By removing dust and debris, you can improve your laptop’s performance and give it a shiny, new look.

So, get ready with your cleaning supplies and give your laptop the spa day it deserves. Your laptop will thank you for it, and you’ll be able to work and play without any pesky interruptions.

In other words, make it a habit to clean your laptop’s hardware components at least once a year to keep it running smoothly like a well-oiled machine.

Should I upgrade my laptop's graphics card to improve performance?

Upgrading your laptop’s graphics card may appear as the go-to option, but there are better alternatives to consider.

It’s worth noting that upgrading your laptop’s graphics card may not always be feasible, particularly if you own a compact laptop. Moreover, it can be quite expensive and may not necessarily deliver a significant performance boost for the cost. Therefore, it’s imperative to evaluate the costs and benefits of upgrading your laptop’s graphics card before setting your heart on ultra-high graphics settings.

Instead of upgrading your graphics card, you may want to consider upgrading other components, such as RAM or the hard drive. An upgraded RAM can enhance your laptop’s multitasking capabilities and overall speed, while shifting to a solid-state drive (SSD) can substantially reduce boot and load times.

It’s important to understand that your laptop’s performance is subject to several factors, and upgrading your graphics card is just one of the many pieces of the puzzle. Hence, before you shell out for a fancy graphics card, weigh your options, and explore alternatives.

To sum up, while upgrading your laptop’s graphics card may seem the best option, it’s advisable to consider other options like upgrading the RAM or hard drive. Such upgrades offer a more cost-effective way of improving your laptop’s performance.