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How to speed up an old computer

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As your computer ages, performance declines. Some people choose to wipe their hard drive and start over. Others buy whole new machines. Before you do either, try some basic maintenance to solve these common problems. You might be surprised by how easily you can improve your computer’s performance, says Roberto Caprio, MD, Dial a Nerd.

Limited hard drive space
A hard drive that is near capacity may be hurting your computer’s performance. This is because Windows begins writing data to the hard drive when it runs out of RAM resources. The space used on the hard drive is called “virtual memory.” If your hard drive runs out of space, Windows has no place to store virtual memory. The result is a slow computer.

To check your computer’s hard drive space, click the Windows “Start” button and click “Computer.” Right-click your hard drive and click “Properties.” The amount of space you need depends on the programs you use. However, you should have at least a few gigabytes of space free for virtual memory.

The only way to improve storage is to buy a new hard drive or delete programs and files. Movies and music take up gigabytes, so deleting these items will free up the most space. You can delete unused programs in the “Programs” section of Control Panel.

Too many start up programs
Many software programs have background services that load when you start your computer. Each time you boot up, these programs slow the computer’s performance, taking up valuable RAM. You probably don’t need many of the background services, so you can remove them.

Click the Windows “Start” button and type “msconfig” in the text box. A window opens where you configure start up services. Click the “Start-up” tab. A list of start-up programs displays.

Scroll down the list and remove the check mark next to each program you don’t need. Click “Apply” when you’re finished. Reboot your computer for the changes to take effect.

Hard drive fragmentation
Hard drives perform best when the needed data exists as a cluster or group. This prevents the need to search around as data is read. As you delete and re-add programs, your hard drive data fragments, leading to slower data access. Hard drives also lose performance as the platter itself becomes damaged. Corrupted sectors on the platter increase the time to store and retrieve data.

You can fix both fragmentation and corrupted sectors using disk defrag tools. Fortunately, Windows includes a disk defrag tool with its operating system.

Click the Windows “Start” button and click “Computer.” Right-click your drive letter and select “Properties.” Click the “Tools” tab. Windows gives you several tools for disk maintenance. This time, click the “Defrag Now” button to start defragging your hard drive.

Defragging may take several minutes or even hours, so perform this maintenance when you don’t need to use your computer.

Windows updates and outdated drivers
Some performance issues stem from outdated drivers. Windows has an installer that updates software, patches security issues and fixes bugs. These updates are generally downloaded using background services, but you can manually install them too.

Click the Windows “Start” button and type “Windows update” in the text box. Click “Install Updates” to start the installation. If no updates display, click “Check for Updates” to download the latest patches.

Final thoughts
Basic maintenance can’t boost performance as much as a new computer. However, you’ll free up resources and improve overall speed.