16 ways to speed up your laptop
The software tweaks and hardware upgrades that will speed up your new or ageing laptop
Even the latest laptops are prone to lag once in a while, and in these circumstances, many seek to speed up their laptop to better suit their needs.
This can be traced back to a number of issues, ranging in seriousness from unwanted background programs or low disk space, to insufficient RAM, or malware having infected your device.
Although problems could be solved by simply purchasing new hardware, this could be expensive if applied to an entire workforce. There’s not necessarily a need to invest in a new laptop if a few simple tricks can make a system run much faster. In order to help you win back lost time, we’ve compiled 16 easy ways to speed up a Windows 10 laptop.
1. Delete unused programs
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Over the course of your device’s life, you are likely to install a range of programs on it. Although software and web extensions might be individually useful when installed, over time downloaded programs can build up into a big problem. If it’s been a while since you stopped to check which applications you need, and which can be uninstalled, it’s a good idea to start here.
Some small programs can actually hog system resources, particularly desktop customisation programs, virus scanners, and file optimisation tools. Utility software like this can hang around in the system tray, subtly chipping away at the effectiveness of your device.
To easily take stock of installed programs on Windows 11, open the Settings app. From here, select ‘Apps’ and ‘Apps’ then ‘Apps & Features’ to see a full list of installed applications, which can be uninstalled within the same menu. As a positive practice, it’s good to do this every once in a while — even if you don’t end up uninstalling any applications, it is good to keep a mental checklist of what you have installed.
2. Limit startup programs
Many programs are designed to open automatically just after you boot up your device. Although this can be helpful for productivity apps like Slack or Teams, which are handy to have open as soon as you open up your work laptop, enabling too many programs to do this can lead to overwhelming your laptop’s memory on launch.
Luckily, controlling which applications open on Windows 10 or 11 startup is very easy. All you have to do is navigate to the settings menu, click ‘Apps’ then ‘Startup’ to see a comprehensive breakdown of apps that can open on startup. Here, this behaviour by apps can be disabled or enabled, along with a descriptor of the app’s impact on system performance, out of ‘no impact’, ‘low impact’, ‘medium impact, or ‘high impact’.
3. Get rid of 'bloatware'
It’s not just old devices that can slow down, as factory-fresh laptops can arrive with pre-installed programs. Although this can sometimes be helpful, or have been included as part of a software bundle, it’s more often a slew of unneeded utility tools. In the worst cases, manufacturers do deals with software vendors and include trials of paid software that the user may have never intended on buying or even trying out.
‘Bloatware’, as it’s called, can have a detrimental effect on system performance, taking up valuable memory and disk space. Following the same steps taken to delete unwanted programs, it’s worth assessing what programs have always been on your laptop, but don’t add anything to your user experience.
4. Remove malware
In some cases, bad system performance can be a result of malware present on your device. The best antivirus software can greatly reduce the risk to your device, but if it’s already present, there are also a number of free malware removal tools that will do an effective job of detecting and removing whatever’s on your system.
Cryptocurrency miners are one kind of malware that is incredibly detrimental to system performance. These secretly use system resources to run the calculations necessary to mine cryptocurrency, which can be especially hard on less powerful laptops that didn’t have much performance to sacrifice in the first place.
It’s good practice to regularly scan your system for viruses or other threats, and security software can be configured to scan on a rota for those who might otherwise forget.
5. Delete unnecessary system resources
A simple but effective way of making things run a little smoother is to delete any unused resources. You can do this fairly easily using a file scanner tool, which will tell you whether there are any old folders or files you haven’t accessed in some time. This might come in the form of older documents, or maybe even data stored on your laptop, including temporary files and cookies that could be affecting your PC’s performance.
A number of tools exist to help you with this. One of the most widely used is CCleaner, developed by Avast, which can clean potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries from a computer. In 2017, the app made headlines after hackers managed to breach the company and use the software to spread malware. However, Avast claimed to have fully recovered from this incident, and today CCleaner remains an incredibly useful tool.
The tool will scan your PC’s hard drive and search for folders or files that haven’t been accessed in some time. It will then delete anything within a criteria that you set out, while also taking a look at any problems that may exist in the registry that could be slowing down your laptop. The tool also has a tab that allows you to uninstall programs directly through the utility, instead of having to go through the Control Panel, as well as a function for turning off startup programs. It is also able to locate hidden files that may be using up too much storage.
To get started follow these steps:
- Download and install CCleaner
- Once installed, start the application
- It will start on the ‘Health Check’ tab, which runs an overall system scan for a variety of problems, but a custom clean to get a little more granularity.
- In the ‘Custom Clean’ tab, click on ‘Analyse’ to scan the selected components, followed by ‘Run Cleaner’ to perform the actual operation.
This will scan the drive looking for items such as temporary internet files, memory dumps, and more advanced stuff like cleaning out cache prefetch data. You can choose what items you want to scan for, such as specific applications or system components. The Registry tab can also help you clean up any unnecessary registry entries that could slow down your laptop.
You can also use the Tools tab to explore various other features offered by CCleaner, including disk analysis and application removal. You may also want to head into CCleaner’s settings menu and disable the update notifications, as these may become irritating if you’re only planning on using the application every couple of months.
6. Defrag your hard disk
Old mechanical hard drives can often suffer from fragmentation. This happens when the various bits that make up a complete file are scattered across the physical surface of the drive platter. Because the drive head has to travel further across the surface of the disk to read all the separate portions, this has the effect of slowing down the machine. Defragmentation, which is often referred to as defragging, restructures the disk to ensure that bits are grouped in the same physical area, with the intention of increasing the speed of hard drive access.
Note, however, because solid-state drives (SSDs) do not use spinning-platter disks, they do not experience fragmentation. On the one hand, that’s a bonus for businesses using SSDs, as it is one less step to take to speed up laptops; on the other, if your laptop with an SSD is experiencing slowdown, this is not a step that will help.
It’s simple to check whether a physical disk needs defragging. To do so, head to the storage tab in Windows 10’s system settings menu, and select the option labelled ‘Optimise drives’. This opens the optimisation wizard, which allows you to analyse all of your machine’s drives individually, then presents you with a percentage value for how fragmented each one is. From there, you can defrag the drive of choice, which should result in more stability and faster performance.
7. Use ReadyBoost to increase your memory
ReadyBoost is a clever feature that was introduced by Microsoft as part of Windows Vista. In short, it allows you to boost your system memory by using a flash drive as additional capacity.
Although it’s not as effective as swapping a hard drive for an SSD, ReadyBoost can provide a little uptick to the performance of your system, particularly if you’re using a low-powered laptop with limited random access memory (RAM). It puts aside a part of the flash drive memory for things such as caching, helping regularly-used apps to open quicker, and increasing random read access speeds of the hard disk.
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To use ReadyBoost, first insert a USB memory stick into an empty USB slot on your chosen laptop. A dialogue box will open, asking you what you want to do with the flash drive. Select ‘Speed up my system using Windows ReadyBoost'. Another window will open, and here you can select how much of the drive you wish to give over for boosting. It’s generally a good idea to use as much of the drive as possible.
Once that’s done, accept the settings listed and the window will close. The drive will be automatically detected and used whenever it’s plugged in.
One last note: if your machine is fast enough already, Windows will prevent you from using ReadyBoost so as not to waste time on a process that won’t measurably improve performance.
8. Switch off unnecessary animations
Ever since Windows Vista (and some would argue Windows XP), each new iteration of Microsoft’s operating system has become more animated with artistic graphics, crafted effects, and even icon drop shadows. Perhaps the most egregious era for this was that of Windows 7, with its cheery glow effects that did nothing for productivity.
By default, Windows will automatically disable some of these based on how powerful your system is, but if you’re ready to trade in a bit more aesthetic appeal in the name of speed, it’s easy to switch all of the graphics off and run on the bare essentials.
- To do this, open that Start Menu and start typing in 'Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows'
- Click on the system app to open it
- From the scroll menu, untick everything you don't wish to see on the desktop (such as shadows, smooth fonts, et cetera)
- Click OK and this will change the desktop to something more basic looking.
On systems other than Windows 10, switching everything off gives the desktop a Windows 95-style look and feel. It’s surprising to note how much of the so-called 'flat look' of Windows 10 relies on graphical flourishes once everything is switched off.
9. Disable automatic updates
Normally, we wouldn’t advise you to disable automatic software updates, as they’re the simplest way to keep your machine safe and secure from an array of cyber attacks and compatibility issues. After all, turning off the automatic updates has the potential to cause your device to become plagued with serious security holes.
Despite this, if you know the risks, this practice can be excused in the pursuit of improved performance.
For example, if your work laptop doubles as a gaming device, there’s a high possibility that game-distribution platforms such as Steam and the Epic Games Store are often installing multiple large updates and patches in the background. The Adobe Creative Cloud is also prone to significant background updates that can impact network performance in addition to system speeds. By disabling this option and updating only when you actually want to use the software, you can ensure that these updates aren’t getting in the way when you would rather be doing something else.
We would still advise that any critical software or frequently-used services - such as Windows or antivirus updates - are left on automatic, but if you’re really pushed for processing headroom, you can set these to download and install at a specific time when you’re unlikely to be using the device, such as late at night or at the weekend.
10. Remove web results from Windows 10 search
Search indexing in Windows 10 has evolved much since its beginnings in older versions of Windows. This feature creates an index of files and folders across your system, combined with their metadata, to find them more efficiently when you try and look them up using the operating system’s built-in search function. In recent years, the way Windows handles search indexing has improved much, but optimising it can still add to making your system more efficient.
First of all, you can disable the web results that appear in Windows 10’s search menu because, let’s be honest, it is unlikely that you’re using Windows search for web searches instead of a web browser. Simply hit the Windows key, type ‘gpedit.msc’ and hit enter to bring up the Group Policy Editor. Once this has opened, click on Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Search.
Find the policies labelled 'Do not allow web search', 'Don't search the web or display web results in Search' and 'Don't search the web or display web results in Search over metered connections', then double-click to edit them and set preference for each one to ‘enabled’. At this point, it will be necessary to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. Once they do, you should no longer see web results and suggestions appearing in your system search bar.
11. Optimise Windows search
If you want to further improve the speed of your machine’s search function, it is also possible to alter the locations that Windows Search indexes to exclude things you know you don't need to find. This can include locations such as the Appdata folder that contains web browser cache and cookies, or other such folders that it is unlikely you will need to access. If you don't use Internet Explorer, support for which ended in June 2022, or Edge, you may not want these indexed either.
To manage this:
- Open the system’s Control Panel
- Next, click on 'All control panel items' in the location bar at the top
- Find and click on Indexing Options
This will open a window that shows all the locations that are included in Windows 10's search indexer. From here, you are able to manually choose which locations to include, or exclude, to speed up this search function.
12. Improve your cooling
Have you ever experienced your laptop becoming unnervingly hot during the summer months, often accompanied by what sounds like a jet engine? Unfortunately, this means that your laptop has reached its maximum safe operating temperature, and is trying to cool down by ramping up the fan speed and reducing the heat output of its processors through suppressed performance.
A lot of laptops come with built-in cooling systems, such as fans or heatsinks that aim to regulate temperature and prevent internal components from hitting their maximum temperatures. However, even on some of the best laptops, the cooling systems may not be powerful enough for you to experience the full potential of your processor’s capabilities.
Fortunately, the market offers a number of solutions for this in which it is worth spending a little more, such as an external cooling pad. This piece of kit is placed underneath your laptop, blowing cool air into its underside in an attempt to keep the internal components from overheating. These are optimal when used with laptops that have airflow vents situated at the bottom of their chassis, and can be acquired for as little as £10.
13. Add more RAM
Many of the tweaks we’ve listed already are tips and tricks for freeing up additional system memory to be used for daily tasks. However, adding some additional capacity is a great way of eking out extra performance, particularly if your laptop is an older model containing 2GB of memory or less. This does, however, come with some points of clarification.
If you’re running a 32-bit version of Windows, the maximum amount of RAM you can have in one system is 3GB. It means that if you have 2GB and you add in another 2GB, Windows will only actually utilise 3GB of RAM. This is because 32-bit operating systems have certain limits when it comes to addressing memory.
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More importantly, for many laptops this simply won’t be an option. In the past, laptops featured removable RAM sticks, meaning they could be swapped out for repairs or upgrades. However, the drive for an ever-thinner chassis has led to many manufacturers soldering their RAM directly to the motherboard, which makes upgrading memory a foolhardy and nigh-on impossible task. If you're lucky, it will be just a simple task of finding the RAM slots and replacing the sticks.
Even if your laptop does use replaceable SODIMMs for its RAM, actually opening up and tinkering with the chassis is likely to be a fiddly and involved process, and is almost certain to void the warranty of the device. That being said, if your laptop is slow enough that you’re considering a RAM upgrade, chances are that it’s already old enough to be out of warranty, but this is a factor to keep in mind all the same.
14. Swap out your hard drive for an SSD
If your laptop has a mechanical hard drive, then swapping it for a solid-state drive (SSD) could represent a huge improvement in read and write speeds, and result in massively improved overall performance. This is possible because SSDs contain no moving parts, which also means they are more reliable, and can revitalise an ailing system. If your laptop already uses an SSD, it might also be worth considering an upgrade to a faster SSD.
Over the past few years, SSD prices have gone down and capacities up, so putting one in your laptop shouldn’t mean breaking the bank. However, as with RAM, many laptop hard drives won’t be replaceable or will use specialised form factors which bar the use of third-party drives.
Assuming your laptop is capable of being upgraded, you can use a cloning tool to copy Windows from your old disk to an SSD rather than reinstalling Windows from scratch. There are a number of freeware tools for accomplishing this, such as Todo Backup Free 9.0. Some SSD manufacturers also include a licence key for disk imaging tools with the purchase of your new drive.
15. Switch to Linux
If nothing seems to be working well, you might be tempted to switch to a Linux-based OS. Of course, this is not the ideal choice for everyone, but it is definitely one worth considering - particularly for developers and programmers, who are more likely to be comfortable with the Linux environment. Taking the leap to Linux can mean a significantly less resource-intensive operating system for your computer, with numerous versions designed with the sole purpose of being gentle on your old hardware. Gentler than Windows, at least.
However, one downside to this option is that trading in your Windows OS for Linux isn’t the most straightforward journey. In fact, it’s a task that will require you to come prepared with time, patience, a USB stick, as well as copious amounts of troubleshooting.
On the other hand, the challenging installation process might be worth it. Linux is, after all, a truly impressive and useful operating system and you’re likely to find it easier to use than it at first seems.
16. Bite the bullet and buy a new laptop
Even though buying a laptop is no small thing - especially for smaller businesses - it is still worth considering as a last resort, especially if none of the other steps have produced the desired results. There are a number of high-performance, affordable laptops available for business use, which could prove instant fixes to the problems an old laptop is causing.
Researching new laptops is also a good time to assess your hardware needs, and plan out what exactly you want your laptop to achieve. For example, if you are a remote worker, or an employer seeking to provide remote employees with reliable hardware, you might want to consider the best laptops for working from home.
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