It’s not just you—everyone’s laptop slows down after a few months of use. You can blame modern operating systems, you can blame applications and software developers, and you can blame malware creators and even end users. But you can also take things into your own hands and use the tricks described in this article to make your laptop faster and more reliable.
Get Rid of Software Garbage and Baggage
If there’s one thing guaranteed to slow down any laptop, it’s the presence of dozens and dozens of installed applications. Each installed application occupies valuable storage space, stores its settings in the Registry, and some even come with background processes that check for new updates and send usage data back to the developer.
Once in a while, open Settings and go to the Apps & features section. You’ll see a list of all installed applications on your computer along with the installation data, the application size, and the name of the developer. Click on an application to reveal more details and the Uninstall button. When you want to uninstall an application, simply click on the button and follow the instructions.
Don’t be too surprised if you see a strange application on the list. It’s a common practice of shady download websites and dishonest software developers to bundle third-party software, known as bundleware, with applications. The option to install bundleware can be easily missed during installation, and sometimes it’s not present at all so you have no way how to opt out.
If you feel like you can’t live without any application that you have installed, at least consider disabling automatic application startups. You can see which applications start automatically after every boot by opening the Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Delete) and going to the Startup panel. Windows assigns each startup process a startup impact rating value ranging from Low to High. Highlight any startup process you want and click on the Disable button in the right bottom corner to disable it.
While you’re at it, you may want to consider replacing heavyweight applications with lightweight alternatives. The website AlternativeTo is an invaluable source of crowdsourced software recommendations. If you’re currently using, let’s say, Adobe Acrobat to read PDF files, you can look it up on the website and discover that one of the most popular lightweight alternatives is Sumatra PDF, a free and open-source document viewer with support for many document formats.
Upgrade Hardware Components
Yes, it’s true that laptops aren’t nearly as upgradeable as desktop computers, with some laptops not being upgradable at all, but you can usually at least add more RAM and swap the hard disk for a solid-state drive (SSD).
Before you go to Amazon and order parts for your laptop, we recommend you install Speccy, a comprehensive, lightweight, advanced system information tool for Windows computers. With Speccy, you can see the exact hardware specifications of your laptop so you know exactly what you should upgrade and which parts you should order.
If your laptop has less than 8 GB of RAM, that should be the first thing on your upgrade list. RAM is relatively inexpensive and adding more RAM is just a matter of inserting a new RAM module to the slot on the motherboard or swapping an existing module for a larger one. Owners of laptops with a service hatch won’t probably need more than two minutes, and those who’ll need to remove the entire back cover can still most likely upgrade RAM in under an hour.
Apart from RAM, the second most impactful hardware upgrade is the switch to a solid-state drive. SSDs have no moving parts so they’re noiseless, but, what’s most important, they’re mind-bogglingly faster than hard drives. The average SSD can copy files at an average rate of around 200 megabytes per second. The average hard drive can only average around 30 megabytes per second. When you launch the latest version of Microsoft Word from an SSD, it launches in just 2 seconds. Launch it from a regular hard drive, and you can wait for up to 30 seconds before it loads and becomes responsive. A laptop with an SSD cold-boots in less than 5 seconds, while a laptop with a hard drive often takes more than a minute to boot from a complete shutdown.
Prevent Your Laptop from Overheating
Excessive heat can kill the performance of your laptop. Not because the components inside work worse when they’re hot, but because your laptop automatically throttles CPU and GPU performance to avoid overheating. In an ideal world, all laptops would come with cooling components so effective that overheating would happen only in the most extreme cases. Sadly, some laptops throttle performance even during regular tasks such as web browsing, music listening, and document editing.
If your laptop tends to overheat or if the cooling fan spins loudly all the time, consider taking your laptop apart and cleaning it. Often, it’s enough to remove the back cover and use a can of compressed air to blow out dust from inside the laptop. Avoid blowing air directly at the cooling fan. You could cause the fan to spin too fast, which might fry the small bearings inside.
A cooling mat is the best solution for cooling down laptops that overheat even when sparkling clean. Cooling mats are available in every size, shape, color, and type. Most are powered from a USB port on the laptop, and some even feature additional ports for peripherals. Metal cooling mats tend to be more effective than plastic mats, but it’s the performance of the cooling fans that makes the biggest difference.
Change Your Usage Habits
While you can make your laptop slightly faster using the tips and tricks described in this article, sometimes it’s easier and more effective to change your usage habits instead. This means, for the most part, avoiding running multiple applications at the same time and closing unnecessary browser tabs.
Modern applications and websites can eat up a lot of memory. Even with 8 GB of RAM at your disposal, the available RAM can become full quickly. When you run out of RAM, your operating system starts writing temporary files onto the hard drive, which can cause your laptop to come to a crawl.
Memory leaks can also quickly eat up all available memory. A memory leak is a type of resource leak that occurs when a computer program incorrectly manages memory allocations, failing to release discarded memory. Memory leaks happen because of software bugs. Because old, unpatched software usually contains more bugs than patched software, you should frequently update both your operating system and all applications installed on your laptop.
To update the Windows operating system, open the Start menu and click on Settings. Go to Update and Security and then select Windows Update. Click on the Check for Updates option and wait for Windows to download and install all available updates. Some applications will alert you whenever a new update is available, but others won’t. You may want to consider using a dedicated software updater, such as FileHippo App Manager, to always keep your system up to date.
Last but not least, give your laptop a break from time to time and turn it completely off at the end of the day, instead of just putting it to sleep by closing the lid. It’s true that the latest version of Windows can run for weeks without slowing down, but only a complete shutdown or reboot allows some updates and software installations to finish properly. It also cleans out any leaked memory and closes misbehaving applications that might be left running in the background.
Start from Scratch
If you keep your data properly backed up (and you absolutely should), a complete reinstall of the operating system shouldn’t be a huge deal for you. Sure, you may need to install a few applications and configure a few settings, but the performance benefits of using a freshly installed operating system are tremendous. A fresh installation gives you a chance to avoid your past mistakes, only install the applications you really need, and keep everything tidy right from the beginning.