Introduction: How to Optimize Your Slow Windows Computer

This tutorial will show you some ways to optimize the performance of your Windows computer, especially if it is running very slowly. We all know how frustrating it can be for a computer to take what seems like an eternity to perform a seemingly simple task.  A slow computer can cost you time and even money over the long run.  For many computers, there is a cure, and I don’t mean a flashy new computer.  If you have a slow computer, a few hours to spare, and a basic understanding of Windows and a web browser, then this tutorial is for you.

First things first, some notes and disclaimers:
- The order in which I discuss the following optimizations, maintenance operations, etc. in this tutorial is not required. It is simply the order that I recommend.
- All steps in this tutorial are optional.
- I try to indicate when a particular optimization is a little more advanced, and leave it to you to decide whether you want to venture down that path.
- I will sometimes use the term “mechanical hard drive” (as opposed to an SSD, or solid state drive). If you don’t know what a solid state drive is, you probably don’t have one.
- These optimizations are intended for Windows XP up through Windows 7, though some of them will work with older versions of Windows.
- If you run into any technical issues during this tutorial (you really shouldn’t), Google is your best friend for troubleshooting them. I simply cannot cover every possible issue you may encounter on your particular computer.
- It is highly recommended that you perform a thorough backup of all important files before beginning this tutorial.
- If you follow this tutorial incorrectly, I am not liable for any damages.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Remove Malware, Spyware, and Adware

Malware, spyware, and adware can slow down your computer tremendously. Though there are many free utilities out there that can scan your computer and remove these nasty critters, I personally recommend Microsoft Security Essentials because it is a free antivirus, malware scanner, keylogger scanner, and much more.

Download it here:
Now install it, and run the Quick or Full Scan (recommended). Quarantine or remove any issues it finds.

For advanced users: I also recommend installing Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. It helps you take fighting malware to the next level.

You can download it here:

Step 2: Run Error Checking

From time to time, it is a good idea to check your mechanical hard drive(s) for errors; that is damaged files that can slow down drive access speeds.

To access the error checking utility, open up My Computer, right-click a drive icon, and select "Properties" and then “Tools". Now press “Check now” in the “Error-checking” section. The utility will then scan the drive. This process can take several minutes to complete.

I recommend running the error check periodically (every few months) on any mechanical drives that are in use regularly.

Step 3: Clean Up Unnecessary Files

Removing unnecessary files from your computer can boost its performance. To do this, I recommend using CCleaner. CCleaner (short for Crap Cleaner originally, I believe) is a free, easy to use maintenance utility for Windows. I’ve used it for years to remove “junk” files from my computer without any troubles.

Download it here:

Once downloaded and installed, launch the application. You should be on the "Cleaner" tab. Press the "Analyze" button. After a few minutes, CCleaner will display a list of files (Temporary Internet Files, Cookies, Windows Log Files, etc.) that it can remove to free up disk space.  Now press "Run Cleaner". When the cleaning is finished, close the application.

For advanced users: CCleaner also has a built-in registry cleaner (on the Registry tab), and the ability to control which applications are launched automatically when Windows is started (Tools | Startup), both of which can speed up the boot time of your computer. This is not recommended for beginners.

Step 4: Uninstall Unused Programs

Removing programs you don’t need can free up disk space and speed up your computer’s boot time. To do this, open the Start menu, select Control Panel, then select "Add/Remove Programs" or" Programs and Features" (depending on your version of Windows).

Uninstall any applications that you know for sure you don’t use/need. For beginners, I recommend you play it safe. If you’re not absolutely sure what a specific program is/does, do not uninstall it. Uninstalling some programs may require a reboot.

Step 5: Disable Visual Effects

Disabling Windows visual effects like window animations, fades and slides, etc. will lessen the visual appeal of Windows, but can boost the performance of your computer a bit, especially if your computer is a few (6+) years old. To do this, follow the instructions for your version of Windows below:

Windows XP - Right click on “My Computer”, select “Properties”, then select the “Advanced” tab. Now click the “Settings” button under the “Performance” section. In the “Performance Options” window, go to the “Visual Effects” tab, choose "Adjust for best performance", then press OK.

Windows Vista - Click the Start button, and then select “Control Panel”. Now select “System and Maintenance” and then “Performance Information and Tools”. Now click “Adjust visual effects”. Finally, click the “Visual Effects” tab, and then choose "Adjust for best performance".

Windows 7 - Click the Start button, and then select “Control Panel”. Now select “System” (or “System and Security”), and then “Advanced system settings” on the left. On the Advanced tab, click on “Settings” under the “Performance” section. Now choose “Adjust for best performance” and press OK.

Note: You can also select the "Custom" option and try turning on/off the different settings to see which visual/performance options you can live without, and which ones seem to improve your Windows experience in terms of speed and responsiveness.

Step 6: Set Energy Settings to High Performance

Windows has Power/Energy settings that can be configured to allow your computer to favor performance over energy savings, or vice versa. To access these settings, go to your Control Panel and select Power Options. Select the “High Performance” option to squeeze a little more juice out of your computer.

Step 7: Make Sure Windows Is Up to Date

In general, it is a good idea to keep Windows and your most commonly used applications up to date so that they can run optimally. To keep Windows up to date, use Windows Update, usually located in your Start menu under "All Programs". You can also set Windows to download and install updates automatically through this same interface (pictured above).

As for other software applications you use regularly, you have at least two basic options:

* Some applications have a built-in feature to update themselves. If so, use this feature.
* Periodically, download and install the latest version of the application from the developer’s official website.

Step 8: Disk Defragmenter

With mechanical drives, it is recommended that you defragment the hard drive from time to time, so that files can be accessed faster.  If the computer is frequently in use, I recommend defragmentation every month or two, and less often if not used very frequently.

To open the Disk Defragmenter, go to “My Computer”, right-click a drive icon, and select "Properties". On the “Tools” tab, press “Defragment now”.

The utility will then clean up fragmented files and free up some space on the drive. This process could take several hours depending on the size of the drive and number of files on the drive, so I recommend starting this process before you go to bed or plan to be away from the computer for a while.

Step 9: Consider Using Open-Source Software

Open-source software is often faster and more lightweight than bulky, expensive commercial software applications/suites. The list below displays just a few of the open source alternatives to commonly used Windows applications.

Commercial                              Open-source alternative
Microsoft Office                          OpenOffice
Microsoft Outlook                       Thunderbird
Adobe Illustrator                         Inkscape
Adobe Acrobat                           PDFCreator
Adobe Photoshop                      GIMP
Skype                                         QuteCom
iTunes                                        Songbird
McAfee VirusScan                      ClamWin

Switching to open-source software is easy. Simply bring up in your favorite browser and search for “open source alternatives”. You will find thousands of websites that provide information about open-source alternatives as well as links to download them.

Step 10: Clean Install

If the previous steps haven’t left your computer feeling any faster, you may want to consider reinstalling Windows and starting fresh. I usually consider this a last resort, but it can help to get that “new computer feel” back. In fact, many advanced users do this routinely (every 6 months to a year) so their computers are running in tip-top shape.

If you’re open to the idea of reinstalling Windows, here is how it’s typically done:

1. Back up all of your important files (documents, images, music, etc.). This is important.
2. Insert your Windows disk (Restore CD or Full Installation disk) into the CD/DVD drive of your computer, reboot your computer, and then follow the prompts to create a new partition and install a fresh copy of Windows. If you don’t know where your Windows disk is, you should contact the person or company that sold you the computer.
3. Once Windows is installed, reinstall any additional software that you plan to use, and restore the files from your backup.

Step 11: Consider More Memory (RAM) or a Solid State Drive (SSD)

If you still don’t notice a significant performance increase in your computer after following this tutorial, it may be that your hardware needs a little upgrade as well. Increasing the memory (RAM) in the computer is one upgrade that can improve your Windows experience, particularly when it comes to multitasking.

Swapping out your mechanical primary drive for an SSD (solid state drive) can also boost performance significantly because data can be read and written to your hard disk much faster.

If you decide you want to purchase more RAM or upgrade to an SSD, I recommend consulting with a PC specialist before purchasing and installing the parts. New parts need to be compatible with your computer, and installed properly.

Step 12: Finished

Congratulations! You’ve completed this tutorial on how to optimize the performance of your Windows computer. I sincerely hope that you were able to do just that! If you have any comments or questions about this tutorial, please post them below.