How to speed up Windows 10

Does Windows 10 feel a bit sluggish for you? Read on for tips and tricks to speed up the OS

The main Windows 10 desktop screen

Windows 10 has been Microsoft’s flagship operating system since its release in 2015, and many among us may still be using the same Windows 10-powered machine now that we were back then. Although these devices will still work as intended, it’s possible that they’ve lost their sheen, and that tasks that perhaps didn’t take too long to perform six years ago are now sluggish.

Generally, technology is known to slow over time, and this isn’t isolated to Windows devices, but macOS and Linux-powered systems too. While it’s really frustrating to see your machine slow down with time, taking longer to start-up, for example, it’s by no means the end of the road. Rather than binning your machine and purchasing a new one, there are a number of techniques we can deploy in Windows 10 systems to wind things back up. Think of it as a little spring cleaning.

Bloatware, for instance, is one of the most common causes of slowdown, preventing your machine from running at peak performance. These programmes aren’t necessarily malicious, rather they’re not necessary to the functionality of your device. They might be systems you once used but no longer have any need for, or add aesthetic alterations to the user interface that you can well do without. Generally, removing bloatware will serve to speed up your device without affecting how it operates on a day-to-day basis.

Make logging into Windows 10 quicker

The authentication or user accounts settings in Windows 10

We cannot stress the importance of security and, most of the time, a strong password or two-factor authentication are an absolute must. However, when your old laptop is already taking forever to start up, logging in can make the process even lengthier.

Although we wouldn’t normally advise it, you might want to consider skipping this process by disabling password authentication on your Windows 10 device. Typing in a password might only take seconds, yet having to reboot your PC every time it falls asleep could cause your unsaved work to be lost, as well as take way more time off your schedule, potentially impacting your productivity.

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Considering that many of us are still working from home, the likelihood of someone manually hijacking your PC is minimal, especially if your devices haven’t left your own four walls since March 2020 and your area isn’t prone to break-ins. By disabling your password login, you’ll significantly cut start-up time and make the process faster and less stressful. 

However, if you find yourself regularly working from public spaces such as cafés, pubs, or workspaces, you might want to reconsider this idea – especially if your laptop tends to tag along. Although you could try to ensure that you never lose sight of your device, an unlocked laptop is heaven-sent for thieves and other threat actors, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

One way of interpreting this advice is to only apply it to stationary devices which never leave your home, such as a desktop PC. However, when it comes to tablets and laptops, you might want to skip this one.

Make shutting down Windows 10 faster

Creating a shortcut to shut down Windows 10

If you like to shut down your computer after a hard day's work, then you will realise that the process still requires three clicks. To speed this up you can use a shortcut. Simply right click anywhere on a free part of the desktop then click New > Shortcut. In the Location field, type in the following.

%windir%\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0

Click on the Next to finish. Now each time you click on that shortcut, your PC will immediately shut down. Be careful though, as this will happen without a confirmation check.

Disable startup programmes in Windows 10

Disabling startup programmes in Windows 10

Virtually every version of Windows allows you to disable startup items, and Windows 10 is no exception. Stopping some programmes from starting up will speed up the OS.

To find this option, right-click the taskbar and choose Task Manager. Tap 'more details' and then click on the Startup tab. Here you can disable the programmes you don't want to start up.

Remove bloatware in Windows 10

No one likes bloatware (except PC manufacturers) but it does mean your system is slightly cheaper as a result. But you can ditch this crapware. These are programmes such as disc burning software, backup tools from the manufacturer, or other utilities that you don't necessarily need.

Why programmes such as PC Decrapifier and CCleaner do a sterling job of getting rid of bloatware, if you have a brand new (but bloatware laden) computer, then a clean install of Windows 10 could be the best way of clearing out unnecessary software clogging up your system.

Make the Windows 10 Start menu and other windows zippier

Settings menus to make Windows 10 zippier

Although Microsoft's new snazzy Windows 10 Start Menu is a breath of fresh air compared to the older version, bringing it up to speed with the likes of Apple's sleek interface, it can be a little slow to pop up if your machine isn't brand spanking new. This is because it takes more processing power to make it appear and if your machine doesn't have a newer chip, you might be waiting a few seconds for it to react. However, it's straightforward to shut down some of the animations to make them show up without the wait.

To do this, open up Systems Properties (type in the search field sysdm.cpl and press Enter), then click on the Advanced tabs and settings in the Performance options. By default, the Animate windows when minimising and maximising box will be ticked. Click to deactivate and then click Apply.

Not only should this add some speed to the Start menu opening, but also other windows that appear on your desktop. You can also disable all the visual effects throughout Windows 10 to speed up everything. Just click on the tick boxes to turn them off individually or choose the "Adjust for best performance" option to optimise the performance for your machine.

Turn on Windows 10 fast-startup

The power menu in Windows 10, a precursor to fast startup settings

With Windows 10 there is a new "hybrid" startup mode that should cut down on bootup times. It does this by putting the PC into hibernation instead of fully shutting down.

To enable this, click on the Start button and type in "Control Panel" and press enter. In the control panel click on Hardware and Sound. A new page should appear, here click on Change what the power buttons do. Then click on Change settings that are currently unavailable. Finally, tick the box marked Turn on fast startup.

Disable services on Windows 10

Disabling services on Windows 10

As with all versions of Windows, working in the background are services. While some of them are vital to smooth running, quite a few aren't for day-to-day use. If you disable these services, you can speed up Windows 10.

To turn off services in windows, type: "services.msc" into the search field. Then double-click on the services you want to stop or disable.

Many services can be turned off, but which ones depend on what you use Windows 10 for and whether you work in an office or from home. A great guide to the services that can be switch off can be found here.

Remember, though, stopping or disabling services can have unforeseen consequences. Many components or applications may stop working properly, so proceed with caution.

Clean up your Windows 10 disk

The disk cleanup settings in Windows 10

Thankfully, Windows 10 has a built-in Disk Cleanup tool which is extremely useful when you want to get rid of unnecessary files. To launch the tool, click on the Start button and then select the File Explorer link. Right-click Local Disk C: and choose Properties. Navigate to the General tab and then find the Disk Cleanup button. Once there, click "unnecessary files (temporary internet files, etc.)" then hit OK.

For advanced users, you can select the "Clean up system files" button to get rid of even more files. Following this, you can then...

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Defragment the hard drive on Windows 10

Defragmenting your hard drive is one of the most basic ways to speed up your computer. This consolidates the various parts of your files into the smallest possible sequential area on the disk. This means the read/write heads must travel smaller distances so will be faster at completing requests.

It is worth mentioning that this only applies to physical, platter-based drives instead of solid-state drives. Since SSDs (solid-state drives) store data in a particular way, fragmentation has a negligible effect on performance. Defragmentation is unnecessary because of this.

For those of you with physical HDDs, regular defrags are an essential way of ensuring your computer remains up to speed. To defrag the hard drive, click on the Start button and click the File Explorer link. Right-click Local Disk C: and choose Properties. Select the Tools tab, then click "Optimize and Defragment Drive".

Migrate Windows 10 to an SSD

The most effective, but most disruptive way to improve the speed of Windows 10 is to move the operating system or your entire hard drive onto a brand-new SSD.

SSDs are much larger and more sophisticated versions of a standard USB stick. Unlike hard drives which use a moving arm to read and write onto a physical disk, SSDs don't contain any moving parts, and as a result, can process data far faster than their older counterparts.

It's common for PC users to have both an SSD and hard drive running side by side, with the operating system running on the much faster hardware. However, with falling prices and larger capacities entering the market, it's now relatively cost-effective to migrate the entirety of your data, including software, onto an SSD.

Importantly, Windows 10, or any operating system for that matter, performs wonderfully on an SSD, drastically reducing load times and boot times to mere seconds. If you're buying a new laptop or PC, you'll want to cast an eye over the spec sheets to make sure they have an SSD installed.

Windows 10 can be migrated over to an SSD on an existing system, although the process is a little fiddly. We've put together a guide on how best to transfer the OS to an SSD, including some tips to ensure data isn't lost in the process.

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