posted by Becca Thomas

to speed up a slow computer

Get your computer running like new again with our beginners' guide to PC spring cleaning

Messy PC desktop

Things can only get better

You probably don't remember the exact moment you fell out of love with your computer. Over time, it's gone from being zippy and responsive to sluggish and frustrating.

You might even have found yourself absent-mindedly browsing the Apple website, wondering if your credit card could take the hit.

But, what if there was a way to get that new computer feeling back without ruining your bank manager's week? As long as your computer's not too far gone, it's actually quite easy to restore it to its former glory without needing lots of advanced skills or a visit to the repair shop.

So here's 10 simple things that you can do to make your computer run faster and last longer:

  1. Back it up!
    Before you dive in, it’s important to create a backup copy of all your most important data, such as pictures, music and work. This way, you’ll be prepared in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. 
  2. Unclutter your hard drive
    First, use the disk cleanup tool that's pre-installed on Windows to do a first sweep of the really redundant stuff. Click Start, type 'Disk Cleanup' into the search box and click the icon that pops up. It'll allow you to delete temporary Internet Files, Offline Files, the recycling bin, and other types of unnecessary files. After that, use WinDirStat to map your hard drive and hunt down the giant files you don't need any more.
  3. Uninstall programs you don't use
    From the Control Panel, go to Programs. Remove programs that you know you are not using. This can be a daunting task since some programs affect others. If in doubt, check out Microsoft’s guide on ‘How to delete unwanted files and programs.’ 
  4. Defragment your hard disk
    The defragmenter shuffles your data around on the disk to make sure it's using it as efficiently as possible. You can access this the same way you would a disk cleanup – just search for 'disk defragmenter' instead. You can schedule a regular time to run this application, as it can take several minutes or several hours depending on how much work needs to be done.
  5. Clean your registry
    One of the most important parts of Windows is the registry. Problems here confuse your computer no end, so it makes sense to keep it in good shape. The most common cause of registry problems is buggy software installation, so consider getting and running a good registry cleaner from time to time.
  6. Get good virus protection
    Malware or spyware are often to blame for PC slowdown (and much more besides!). Installing an anti-virus program, keeping it up to date and running it regularly will often make a tremendous difference – brands like AVG even offer basic cover for free. PC Magazine runs regular features comparing the newest programs on the market, so you can easily find the one that's best for you.
  7. Empty the recycle bin regularly
    Right click on the recycle bin icon on your desktop and click empty recycle bin. Easy!
  8. Get rid of unnecessary startup programs
    Although these programs may not always be visible on your desktop, they start running as soon as you boot up your computer and suck up valuable processing power. This time go through the Control Panel and go to Systems & Maintenance. Click Performance Information & Tools and finally Manage StartUp Programs. You won’t be removing them from your computer, just preventing them from launching on startup.
  9. Upgrade your RAM
    If your computer's a few years old, it might benefit from a bit more RAM – the special kind of memory that lets computers do lots of things at once. Prices are very reasonable, and it’s a cost-effective way to increase the speed and efficiency of your laptop. Any computer repair shop will fit the new RAM for you, but it's actually a fairly straightforward DIY job. Check out this Lifehacker article for a step-by-step run through.
  10. Use an external hard drive
    If you've got lots of films or other large files saved on your hard disk, consider shifting them over to an external drive. This should free up space for files you use every day. It can be unplugged and used with multiple computers, and will save valuable space, when wanting to store things like music, photos and games.

If you've done all that and your computer is still misbehaving, it might be time to consider the nuclear option: reinstalling your operating system. This isn't actually as scary as it seems, but you do need to do it carefully. If you're tempted, there's an in-depth guide here.

Calling in the experts

If your computer's in a really terrible state, or if you don't feel confident messing around with its inner workings, it's worth getting an expert to help out.

You can find a local repair company by tapping in your postcode at, but Londoners and Edinburghians should check out their local Remade projects – Remade in Brixton and Remade in Edinburgh – whose free drop-in repair sessions often have a computer expert on hand.

If you do decide to call in the cavalry, see if you can pick up some skills in the process – get your expert to talk you through what they're doing and give you some tips for keeping your computer running well. The more you can absorb, the easier (and cheaper) it'll be next time!

Big thanks to Andrew Gillett, John Headstrong, Tim Brennan, Tim Hewison and Gabriel Mills for their feedback and suggestions.


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