How to Tune Up Your PC

It doesn’t matter how powerful or secure your computer is or how large the hard drive – eventually your computer will start to slow down, a simple side effect of time and the way that Windows works.

Tuning up your computer isn’t difficult, but depending on how slow it’s become, it can take time. But rest assured, no matter how bogged down your PC has become you can always restore it to its former glory.

Here’s how.

Consider the hardware

There’s no point in tuning up a PC if its specs just aren’t up to snuff any more. If your computer was originally sold with Windows XP and you’re now running Windows 7, it might be time to upgrade some of the internals before you get started. Typically the place to start is with RAM: If your computer has 1GB or 2GB of RAM, it will likely benefit from an upgrade to 4GB – an inexpensive purchase and one of the easiest upgrades to perform on both desktops and laptops. Is your hard drive full and unlikely to benefit from deleting data? Think about upgrading to a larger hard drive. If you have a little extra cash, moving to an SSD can seriously improve performance, especially if coupled with a RAM upgrade.

Delete unnecessary files

There’s no sense tuning up files you no longer need, so start by cleaning house. Delete old emails and spam, remove files you no longer require, and uninstall programs that you don’t intend to use ever again. (How many browser toolbars do you really need?) Empty the Recycle Bin, then run the built-in Disk Cleanup utility. (Type “disk cleanup” at the Start menu to launch the application.) This will scour your system for other temporary, setup, and error log files and give you the option to get rid of them with one click. Getting rid of these files can often free up several gigabytes of space! When this is finished, consider offloading non-essential files to an external hard drive or cloud-based storage system in order to free up even more disk space.

Run anti-malware utilities

A common cause of computer slowdowns is malware hiding out on the PC. Install a quality anti-malware application, update to the latest anti-malware definitions, and run it on its most thorough setting. This could take all night, but it’s worth it, as even the most diligent computer user is likely to contract a malware infection at some point. Follow the instructions to remove any infections that are encountered.

Check your hard drive for errors

Run the Windows Check Disk application by opening Windows Explorer or the Computer window, right-clicking on your C drive, and selecting Properties. Click Tools, then “Check Now” within the Error-checking section. Check both of the options presented then hit Start. If your hard drive is large, this application can take hours to complete, but at the end of the process it will have cleaned up your hard drive and fixed (or routed around) any bum spots on your hard drive.

Optional: Defragment your hard drive

Over time, hard drives become fragmented, with files being scattered in pieces all over your drive. Windows 7 automatically defragments drives, but defragmentation could be failing or the scheduling turned off. You’ll find the manual defragmenter in the same menu as the Check Disk application explained above. Just click “Defragment now” to see what fragmentation levels look like. If you’re above about 5%, it’s worth running the tool: Select your C drive and then choose “Defragment disk.” Again, this process can be lengthy, so be patient.

Update Windows

Most users set Windows to automatically update itself, but that surprisingly doesn’t get all update files. Most notably it excludes critical driver updates, which can often help improve performance. Run Windows Update manually by typing “windows update” at the start menu. Click “Check for updates,” then click on the link for both any “important” or “optional” updates that show up. Select them all, then click OK to install. A reboot is usually required.

Last resort: reinstall Windows

After you’ve completed all of the above, reassess how fast your computer. If you don’t have an immediate sense of it, open the System Control Panel and re-run the Windows Experience Index by clicking the text next to your rating. Take note of all the sub-ratings, then click “Re-run the assessment.” If things don’t go up appropriately, a re-installation of Windows may be in order. This usually isn’t as troublesome as it sounds, since most computers are now sold with Recovery partitions and applications, letting you return your PC to its original factory state with just a few clicks. (Just make sure you back up first!) After this process is done, run Windows Update again, re-install your applications, and copy your data back to where you want it. Boom, instant performance upgrade!

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