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16 ways to speed up your laptop

Does your ageing laptop need a boost? We look at the software tweaks and hardware upgrades that will give your computer a new lease of life

Every laptop – even the latest, ultrafast model – is prone to lag once in a while. This can be due to a myriad of reasons, from simple fixes such as too many different programmes running in the background, to more serious issues, like running out of RAM or disk drive space and even a fragmented hard drive.

Whatever the reason, a slow laptop is the last thing you need when trying to meet a project deadline – which is also, quite ironically, when many people find their device lagging behind. After all, a busy day often requires a number of different files, tools, and tabs to be open at the same time, leading to your laptop struggling to keep up with your tasks.

This can have an impact not only on your stress levels, but the overall productivity of your business as well. For instance, if one employee works 7.5 hour-long days and experiences a lag in laptop responsiveness for five minutes every hour, this translates to almost 40 minutes a day – and three hours a week – lost on waiting for your files or programmes to load. Depending on the employee’s hourly wage, this could result in thousands of pounds lost each year to only one slow laptop.

Although one answer to the issue is investing in new hardware, this is often considered a rather expensive option – especially for smaller businesses. After all, why commit hundreds of pounds to a new laptop when the issue could be easily fixed for free? In order to help you win back lost time, we’ve compiled 16 easy ways to speed up a Windows 10 laptop.

Delete unused programs

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Over the course of your computer’s life online, it’s highly likely that you’ve downloaded numerous small applications onto it, only for them to be running quietly in the background, relatively unnoticed. These little programmes, which may have had a one-time use, can use up small amounts of hardware resources. This is perfectly fine when you have one or two, but if you have multiple years-worth of programmes all consuming a small amount of resources, this can quickly add up.

Programmes like disk cleaners, desktop customisation software, and virus scanners fall into this broad family of forgotten software that impact computer performance, not to mention any programmes younger members of the household may have downloaded. Removing these applications is relatively straightforward, even though Microsoft says you might not even know they’re running.

An easy way of staying on top of these chip-drainers is to visit your Windows settings and scan through the list of installed programmes, removing any that you no longer need. This doesn’t need to be a regular check - once every few months should be enough to stay on top of the situation - or get into the habit of deleting things as soon as you realise you no longer need them.

Limit startup programmes

Many programmes (including some of the utilities mentioned above) are designed to start automatically as soon as Windows boots. Software manufacturers often set their programmes to open in the background, out of sight, so they'll open right away when you click their icons. That's helpful for programmes you use a lot, but for programmes you rarely or never use, this wastes precious memory and acts as a drag on overall system speed as well as making your machine slower to boot to the desktop.

Thankfully, it’s now easier than ever in Windows 10 to adjust what applications are allowed to run on startup. Simply head to the settings menu, click on ‘Apps’ followed by the ‘Startup’ tab; this will show you a list of every program or service that has the option of running at startup, a label showing the impact on system resources and performance, and a toggle switch to block or allow it from running on boot. Simply flip the switch on any services that you don’t want running all the time, and you should start to see an improvement in performance and boot times.

Get rid of 'bloatware'

Latency affects many devices, not just old computers. This includes new computers, which is often due to the bloatware manufacturers pre-install on laptops prior to sale. Sometimes, this can be in the form of the manufacturer’s own services and software, but it can also include third-party applications that are pre-installed due to commercial distribution deals between software vendors and the manufacturer. It doesn’t matter if you refer to it as crapware, bloatware, or PUP (potentially unwanted programmes), this unwelcome software can affect your computer’s performance.

Similar to the old utilities and programmes mentioned above, these services can impact memory and processing power and take up valuable storage space. Some pre-installed programmes, like the Microsoft Office suite or Dropbox desktop client, can be seen as useful additions, but there’s a good chance that at least a few of them will be surplus to your requirements. It’s worth spending some time going through a new laptop to identify any pre-installed apps that can be sent on their way.

​Remove malware

Malware in code

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Just like with unused programmes running in the background, malware can often go unnoticed and is more common than you might think. Clicking one wrong email link or downloading a small one-time-use program can be all it takes to infect your computer with malware that often drains your system of resources.

Cryptocurrency miners are among the most common types of malware affecting PCs in 2022 and they are designed to run invisibly, quietly siphoning your computer’s power to mine cryptocurrency for a cyber criminal. Depending on how much performance your PC can generate, this type of malware may be more noticeable on some computers than others.

Removing these types of malware is usually a straightforward process, though. There are a number of excellent security suites on the market that are completely free to use and will most likely spot malware running quickly, removing it as well. Configuring your PC to run regular virus scans is an effective way to proactively stay on top of cyber threats.

Delete unnecessary system resources

The Ccleaner app as seen on a smartphone

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A simple but effective way of making things run a little smoother is to delete any unused resources. You can do this fairly easily using a file scanner tool, which will tell you whether there are any older folders or files you haven’t accessed or used in some time. This might come in the form of older documents, or maybe even data stored on your laptop, including temporary files and cookies that could be affecting your PC’s performance.

A number of tools exist to help you with this. One of the most widely used is CCleaner, developed by Avast, which will clean potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries from a computer. In 2019, the app made the news after hackers managed to breach the company and used the software to spread malware to its customers. Avast claims to have fully recovered from this incident, and today CCleaner remains an incredibly useful tool, one that we would recommend using if you're new to PC maintenance.

The tool will scan your PC’s hard drive and look for any folders or files that haven’t been accessed in a while. It will then delete anything you allow it to, while also taking a look at any problems that may exist in the registry that might be slowing down your PC. The tool also has a tab that allows you to uninstall programmes directly through the utility, instead of having to go through the Control Panel, as well as a function for turning off startup programmes, and another that locates hidden files that may be using up too much storage.

You can download and install CCleaner from here. Once installed, start the application. This will open on the ‘Health Check’ tab, which runs an overall system scan for a variety of problems, but we’d recommend running a custom clean to get a little more granularity. In the ‘Custom Clean’ tab, click on ‘Analyse’ to scan the selected components, followed by ‘Run Cleaner’ to perform the actual operation. This will scan the drive looking for items such as temporary internet files, memory dumps and more advanced stuff like cleaning out Prefetch data. You can choose what items you want to scan for, such as specific applications or system components. The Registry tab can also help you clean up any unnecessary registry entries that could slow down your laptop.

You can also use the Tools tab to explore various other features offered by CCleaner, including disk analysis and application removal. You may also want to head into CCleaner’s settings menu and disable the update notifications, as these may become irritating if you’re only planning on using the application every couple of months.

Defrag your hard disk

Old mechanical hard drives can often suffer from fragmentation. This happens when the various bits that make up a complete file are scattered across the physical surface of the drive platter. Because the drive head has to travel further across the surface of the disk to read all the separate portions, this slows the machine down. Defragmentation - or defragging - restructures the disk so that all of the bits that make up various files are grouped in the same physical area, which hopefully increases the speed of hard drive access at the same time. Note, however, that because solid-state drives (SSDs) do not use spinning-platter disks, they are immune to fragmentation.

It’s easy to check whether a physical disk needs defragging; simply head to the storage tab in Windows 10’s system settings menu, and click the option labelled ‘Optimise drives’. This will open the optimisation wizard, which allows you to analyse all of your machine’s drives individually and presents you with a percentage showing how fragmented each one is. From there, you can defrag the drive, which should result in more stability and faster performance.

Use ReadyBoost to increase your memory

ReadyBoost is a clever little feature that was introduced by Microsoft as part of Windows Vista. It essentially allows you to boost your system memory by using a flash drive as additional capacity.

Although it’s not as effective as swapping a traditional hard drive for a solid-state one or adding more RAM, ReadyBoost will give a little uptick to the performance of your system, particularly if you’re using a low-powered laptop with only a couple of gigabytes of RAM. It puts aside a part of the flash drive memory for things such as caching, assisting often-used apps to open quicker, and increasing random read access speeds of the hard disk.

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To use ReadyBoost, first insert a USB memory drive into an empty USB slot on the laptop you wish to speed up. A dialogue box will open asking you what you want to do with the flash drive. Choose ‘Speed up my system using Windows ReadyBoost'. Another window will open and here you can select how much of the drive you wish to give over for boosting. It’s generally a good idea to use as much of the drive as possible.

Once that’s done, confirm the settings and the window will close. The drive will be automatically detected and used whenever it’s plugged in.

One last note: if your machine is fast enough already, Windows will prevent you from using ReadyBoost, as your system won’t be able to see any benefit from it.

Switch off unnecessary animations

Ever since Windows Vista (and some would argue Windows XP), Microsoft’s operating system has become cluttered with fancy graphics and animated flourishes that do little to improve productivity. By default, Windows will automatically disable some of these based on how powerful your system is, but if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit more aesthetic appeal for the sake of speed, it’s easy to switch all of the graphics off and run on the bare essentials.

To do this, open that Start Menu and start typing in 'Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows'. Click on this option and from the scroll menu untick everything you don't wish to see on the desktop (such as shadows, smooth fonts, et cetera). Click OK and this will change the desktop to something more basic looking.

On systems other than Windows 10, switching everything off gives the desktop a Windows 95-style look and feel. It’s surprising to note how much of the so-called 'flat look' of Windows 10 relies on graphical flourishes once everything is switched off. 

Disable automatic updates

Normally, we wouldn’t advise you to disable automatic software updates, as they’re the simplest way to keep your machine safe and secure from an array of cyber attacks and compatibility issues. After all, turning off the automatic updates has the potential to cause your device to become plagued with serious security holes. 

On the other hand, there are some cases in which this may be considered excusable.

For example, if your work laptop doubles as a gaming device, there’s a high possibility that games distribution platforms such as Steam and the Epic Games Store are often installing multiple large updates and patches in the background. The Adobe Creative Suite is also prone to significant updates. By turning this option off and updating only when you actually want to use the software, you can ensure that these updates aren’t getting in the way when you’d rather be doing something else.

We would still advise that any critical software or frequently-used services - such as Windows or antivirus updates - are left on automatic, but if you’re really pushed for processing headroom, you can set these to download and install at a specific time when you’re unlikely to be using the device, such as late at night or at the weekend.

Remove web results from Windows 10 search

Search indexing in Windows 10 has come a long way from its origins in previous Windows versions. What this feature does is create an index of files and folders throughout your system, along with their metadata, to find them more efficiently when you try and look them up using the operating system’s built-in search function. In recent years, the way Windows handles search indexing has been radically improved, but it can still be worth optimising if you want to make your system more efficient. 

First, you can disable the web results that appear in Windows 10’s search menu, because let's face it, you’ll almost certainly use a web browser for searching. Simply hit the Windows key, type gpedit.msc and hit enter to bring up the Group Policy Editor. With this open, click on Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Search.

Find the policies labelled 'Do not allow web search', 'Don't search the web or display web results in Search' and 'Don't search the web or display web results in Search over metered connections', then double-click to edit them and set preference for each one to ‘enabled’. You’ll need to restart your computer for the changes to take effect, but once they do, you should stop seeing web results and suggestions in your system search bar.

Make Windows 10 search faster

If you want to further improve the speed of your machine’s search function, you can also change the locations that Windows Search indexes to exclude stuff you know you don't need to find. This can include locations such as the App Data folder that contains web browser cache and cookies, among other things. If you don't use Internet Explorer or Edge you may not want these indexed either.

To manage these, open the Indexing Options by pressing Windows and Pause to open the System control panel, then click on 'All control panel items' in the location bar at the top, and then find and click on Indexing Options. This then opens a window that shows all the locations that are included in Windows 10's search indexer. Here you can choose which locations to include or exclude to speed up this search function.

Improve your cooling

Have you ever witnessed your laptop getting disturbingly warm during the summer months, sometimes accompanied by the sound of a starting plane? Sadly, this means that your laptop has reached its maximum safe operating temperature, making its processors reduce their heat output by suppressing their performance.

A lot of laptops come with built-in cooling systems such as fans or heatsinks which aim to facilitate delivering its topmost speeds before the processor’s temperature escalates too much. However, in many cases, this simply isn’t sufficient to experience the full potential of your processor’s capabilities.

Fortunately, there are some options available on the market which are worth investing in, such as an external cooling pad. This device is placed underneath your laptop to cool it down by blowing cold air into its underside, keeping the internal components from overheating. These are optimal when used with laptops that have airflow vents situated at the bottom of their chassis, and are available for as low as £10.

Add more RAM

Many of the tweaks we’ve listed already are based on freeing up additional system memory to be used in general operation. However, if your laptop has 2GB of memory or less, adding some additional capacity is a great way of eking out extra performance. There are some caveats to this, however.

If you’re running a 32-bit version of Windows, the maximum amount of RAM you can have in one system is 3GB. With these systems, if you have 2GB and you add another 2GB, Windows will only use 3GB of RAM. This is because of the limits 32-bit operating systems have when addressing memory.

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A more important point to note is that for many laptops, this simply won’t be an option. In the past, laptops featured removable RAM sticks, meaning they could be swapped out for repairs or upgrades. However, the drive for an ever-thinner chassis has led to many manufacturers soldering their RAM directly to the motherboard, which makes an upgrade all but impossible. 

Even if your laptop does use replaceable SODIMMs for its RAM, actually opening up and tinkering with the chassis is likely to be a fiddly and involved process, and is almost certain to void the machine’s warranty. On the other hand, if your laptop is slow enough that you’re considering a RAM upgrade, chances are that it’s already old enough to be out of warranty, but it’s worth bearing in mind regardless.

Swap out your hard drive for an SSD

If your laptop has a mechanical hard drive, then swapping it for a solid-state drive (SSD) could pay dividends. As there are no moving parts, an SSD has read and write speeds far quicker than any traditional drive, as well as better reliability, and can revitalise an ailing system. If your laptop already uses an SSD, it might also be worth considering an upgrade to a faster SSD.

Over the past few years, SSD prices have gone down and capacities up, so putting one in your laptop won't break the bank. However, as with RAM, many laptop hard drives won’t be replaceable or will use specialised form-factors which prevent the use of third-party drives. 

Assuming your laptop will support an upgrade, you can use a cloning tool to copy everything from your old disk to an SSD rather than reinstalling Windows from scratch. Numerous freeware tools can be used for this task, such as Todo Backup Free 9.0. Many SSD manufacturers will also include a license key for disk imaging tools with the purchase of a new drive. 

Switch to Linux

If all else fails, your last resort in reviving your laptop might be to switch to a Linux-based OS. Of course, this might not be an option for everyone but is definitely worth considering. Taking the leap to Linux means a significantly less resource-intensive operating system for your computer, with numerous versions designed with the sole purpose of being gentle on your old hardware. Gentler than Windows, at least.

However, one downside to this option is that trading in your Windows OS for Linux isn’t the most straightforward journey. In fact, it’s a task that will require you to come prepared with time, patience, a USB stick, as well as copious amounts of troubleshooting.

On the other hand, the challenging installation process might be worth it. Linux is, after all, a truly impressive and useful operating system and you’re likely to find it easier to use than it at first seems.

Bite the bullet and buy a new laptop

A Lenovo laptop's keyboard and stylus pen

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It is worth considering this as an option, although it might be seen as a last resort. Buying a new laptop, of course, isn’t some frivolous purchase. It can be, in fact, quite expensive to do so. However, if you’re already spending more than you’d like on repair costs, it could actually be better, and more financially sustainable, to invest in a brand new device. After all, most devices come with at least a year of warranty, which means that some issues will be eligible for repairs, like faulty hardware or operating system malfunctions.

Furthermore, there are plenty of good quality, affordable laptops on the market. Even though some may find it difficult to let go of their beloved hardware, there are still lots of good options available to purchase, and you might find some to be just as good, if not better, than your legacy device.

It is worth doing some research if you decide to get a new laptop. It’s the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your hardware needs, whether they are business-related or personal, as well as any other requirements you’d like to see in your new device.

Many manufacturers have reimagined their offerings following last year’s shift to remote working, by making their devices more suitable to the current working conditions. For example, HP unveiled a new line of home office laptops “designed to power hybrid work environments and growing personal creative studios”.

Buying a new device is also a great time to think outside the box. Would you get more benefit from a PC? What about a tablet or even a 2-in-1? Now is your best time to take all the options into account.

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