Benchmark Your PC
If you're serious about improving your PC's performance, it helps to measure how fast (or how slow) it is to begin with.
Here at PC World, we've been developing our own powerful benchmark tool for years. WorldBench 6, the latest version, tests all facets of a PC's performance on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows. At $249 for a single-user license, WorldBench isn't cheap, but it's a proven benchmark that's trusted by industry leaders ranging from Intel and HP to Microsoft and McAfee.
If you're on a tighter budget, you can find cheaper benchmarks that can give you an indication of your computer's speed. OpenSourceMark is, as its name implies, an open-source tool that you can download for free. This simple utility runs your PC through assorted operations, from spreadsheets to image editing. Armed with a starting score, you can then compare it with a post-upgrade score or see how much of an effect some of our Windows tweaks have on your machine's overall performance.
While a variety of products on the market claim to boost your broadband Internet performance, none have proven effective enough for us to recommend them. If you're not getting the Internet speeds you're paying for, you can try a couple of basic fixes.
First, measure your connection speed at Speedtest.net. This quick assessment will give you a fairly accurate picture of your download and upload speeds. After the test, if the results are well below the advertised speeds for your service plan, you can call your carrier to complain. This is the single most effective thing you can do.
Second, ask your carrier whether a newer broadband modem is available, and try to get the provider to send you one. ISPs frequently upgrade their base equipment, and existing customers almost never receive notification. But if you ask for the latest model, many ISPs will send one out free of charge (especially if your contract has expired).
For a complete guide to troubleshooting slowdowns, see "Six Steps to a Faster Broadband Connection."