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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 due to myriad reasons, from simple fixes such as too many different programs running in the background, to more serious issues, like running out of RAM or disk drive space, and even a fragmented hard drive.

Although problems could be solved by simply purchasing new hardware, this could be expensive if applied to an entire workforce, and this is especially true for smaller businesses. 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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If you’ve had your laptop for some time, it’s almost guaranteed that you have installed numerous applications, programs, and web extensions. While each one was no doubt needed at the time, it’s also likely that you haven’t recently taken stock of which ones are still useful, or what is running in the background. A lot of smaller programs can use up a lot of system resources, so your first port of call with speeding up a laptop should be to check what it’s running and properly assess whether it needs to be.

Programs like file managers, desktop customisation tools, and virus scanners fall into this broad family of forgotten software that lingers in the system tray, acting as a drain on computer performance. Luckily, removing these applications is quite easy, and Microsoft has its own tips for keeping Windows laptops tidy.

An easy way of keeping track of these unwelcome guests is to check through the list of installed programs in the Windows Control Panel, removing any that you don’t have any further use for. This could become a habitual process if you like, but even checking once every few months should be ample to keep your laptop free of old, burdensome programs. In general, it can be a good idea to add and remove programs only for as long as you need them.

2. Limit startup programs

A lot of software is programmed to open automatically when you start your laptop, almost as soon as Windows boots up. Manufacturers often do this with the assumption that you’ll need to be using their programs immediately, and this can be helpful for productivity apps such as Slack or a business communication platform like Teams. But for software that you rarely or never use, there is simply no reason for it to be launched on boot, particularly when this can cause a noticeable drain on overall system performance, and unnecessarily use memory.

Thankfully, it’s now easier than ever in Windows 10 to adjust what applications are allowed to run on startup. Simply head to the settings menu, click on ‘Apps’, followed by the ‘Startup’ tab; this will show you a list of every program or service that has the option of running at startup, a label showing the impact on system resources and performance, and a toggle switch to block or allow it from running on boot. Simply flip the switch on any services that you don’t want running all the time, and you should start to see an improvement in performance and boot times.

3. Get rid of 'bloatware'

Latency is a problem on many types of device, regardless of their age. This includes new machines, which often ship with lots of pre-installed software as part of its sale. In most cases, this software is unnecessary, and usually only offering extra utility supplied by third-parties that you may never use. The most egregious types of so-called bloatware can be found when hardware vendors make commercial distribution deals with software vendors, which usually results in a bunch of extra programs being installed on a trial basis.

Regardless of their purpose, these are all potentially unwanted programs that will slow down your system, hog memory, and take up valuable storage space. It's worth taking a look at the Apps page in the settings menu and  removing any application that looks like it could have been pre-installed. Anti-virus suites, storage management tools, and collaboration software are the usual suspects.

4. ​Remove malware

Malware in code

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By its very nature, malware hides from detection and is on more systems than people think. Without suitable antivirus software, and if you don’t know the best ways to avoid computer viruses, your laptop can quickly become infected. A very common side effect of malware is reduced system performance — in fact, if that’s the worst you experience with malware on your operating system, you’ve got off light.

Of all malware, cryptocurrency miners are some of the most damaging for performance. They run in the background, undetected, using up system resources to mine crypto for threat actors. Cryptocurrency miners can be particularly destructive to laptops that don’t already have the best performance metrics and might be more easily detected on such devices.

Luckily, removing malware is usually a straightforward process, and there are quite a few fantastic security suites available for free. These can be quick to detect and remove malware. Regularly scanning your system for viruses or threats using security software is a good practice to avoid losing performance or worse to threats such as these.

5. Delete unnecessary system resources

The Ccleaner app as seen on a smartphone

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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 older folders or files you haven’t accessed or used 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 will clean potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries from a computer. In 2019, the app made headlines after hackers managed to breach the company and use the software to spread malware to its customers. Avast claims to have fully recovered from this incident, and today CCleaner remains an incredibly useful tool, one that we would recommend using if you're new to PC maintenance.

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 scope that you set out, while also taking a look at any problems that may exist in the registry that could slow down your PC. 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:

  1. Download and install CCleaner 
  2. Once installed, start the application
  3. This will open on the ‘Health Check’ tab, which runs an overall system scan for a variety of problems, but we’d recommend running a custom clean to get a little more granularity.
  4. 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 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 — 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, that 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 and 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 little 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 or adding more RAM, ReadyBoost can provide a little uptick to the performance of your system, particularly if you’re using a low-powered laptop with limited 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, as it won’t offer any material benefit to your system.

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.

  1. To do this, open that Start Menu and start typing in 'Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows'
  2. Click on the system app to open it
  3. From the scroll menu, untick everything you don't wish to see on the desktop (such as shadows, smooth fonts, et cetera)
  4. 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 App Data 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:

  1. Open the system’s Control Panel
  2. Next, click on 'All control panel items' in the location bar at the top
  3. 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 the sound of 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, your last resort in laptop revivification might be 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

A Lenovo laptop's keyboard and stylus pen

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It is worth considering this as an option, although it might be seen as a last resort. Buying a new laptop, of course, isn’t some frivolous purchase. It can be, in fact, quite expensive to do so. However, if you’re already spending more than you’d like on repair costs, it could actually be better, and more financially sustainable, to invest in a brand-new device. After all, most devices come with at least a year of warranty, which means that some issues will be eligible for repairs, like faulty hardware or operating system malfunctions.

Furthermore, there are plenty of good quality, affordable laptops on the market. Even though some may find it difficult to let go of their beloved hardware, there are still lots of good options available to purchase, and you might find some to be just as good, if not better, than your legacy device.

It is worth doing some research if you decide to get a new laptop. It’s the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your hardware needs, whether they are business-related or personal, as well as any other requirements you’d like to see in your new device.

Many manufacturers have reimagined their offerings following the shift to remote working, by adapting devices to better suit the new work style, and we have a comprehensive list of some of the best laptops for working from home.

Buying a new device is also a great time to think outside the box. Would you get more benefit from a PC? What about a tablet or even a 2-in-1? Now is your best time to take all the options into account.

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