Speed Up My Laptop

Category: Laptops

An AskBob reader with a need for speed asks: “How can I speed up my laptop? It's so much slower than my desktop for most tasks, and it bogs down when I try to open more than one program. Should I replace the hard drive, add more memory, or just buy a newer model?” Check out my advice on how to improve the performance of your trusty laptop. Most of these tips will help if you have a desktop, too! Read on...

Speed Up Your Laptop

Before we begin, here's the bad news: laptop computers are generally slower overall than desktops, unless you spend thousands of dollars on one of the highest-performance "desktop replacement" laptop models. Portability is lovely but speed definitely matters, too. The good news is that there ARE some things you can do to speed up your laptop, even if it's fairly new.

As you guessed, you may need to spend a few bucks on a new hard drive, add some RAM memory, do some cleanup, or tweak some system settings. Let's start by taking inventory of your hardware. For that, see my article Should You X-Ray Your Computer?. As the name implies, it will show you the inside of your machine -- what kind of hard drive, the amount of memory, the speed of the CPU, and other facts about your laptop. And you don't even have to pop the hood -- it's all done with free software programs. Even if you have a desktop, it's worth your time to do this. You'll learn something interesting about your computer.

Many laptops, especially the lower-cost models, come standard with a 5400 rpm magnetic hard drive. They're reliable and have sufficient storage, but not very fast when it comes to launching programs, opening large files, or managing resources when multiple programs are open. Replacing a standard 5400 rpm hard drive with a faster drive is one of the best investments you can make to speed up your laptop.

Disk read/write operations are the biggest bottleneck in all but the cheapest, underpowered laptops. Replacing a laptop's hard drive is much easier than the same upgrade on a desktop machine. A 7200 or 10,000 rpm drive will be 33 to 50% faster, and an SSD (solid-state drive) will give an even bigger boost, albeit with a higher cost.

Speed up laptop

There's usually just one screw to remove the bottom of the laptop. Then you pull of the drive bay cover; pull out the hard drive; slip in the new one; format the new drive and install all your software and data. The restoration of programs and data is easier if you made a disk image copy before removing the old drive. See my article Here's How to Upgrade or Replace Your Hard Drive for some additional information on replacing a hard drive.

Adding more RAM memory will improve laptop speed, up to a point. Going beyond 8 GB yields only small performance increases so it's seldom worthwhile. However, if you use your laptop to manipulate large databases, video files, or graphic files, you may want additional RAM to avoid "paging." That happens when your computer is low on memory, and needs to swap information between memory and disk. The combination of low memory and a slow hard drive can result in frustrating delays. See Adding Memory: A Silver Bullet for Your Computer? to assess your memory needs, find out what kind of memory you need, and where to buy it.

Defragmenting your traditional magnetic hard drive can provide noticeable laptop speed increases, particularly if your hard drive is running 75 per cent full or more. A file that is all in one piece can be read much faster than one that lies scattered all over the drive in several fragments. Windows has a built-in defragger that runs automatically, but there are third-party tools that promise to do a better job of optimizing your drive's performance. You'll find links to some of those in my article Need a PC Tuneup? Free PC Maintenance Tools. (SSD drives don't need to be defragmented -- another good reason to upgrade.)

Maybe the problem isn't your slow laptop. If the slowdowns are most noticeable when accessing websites, downloading files, or streaming video content, your Internet connection might be the cause of poor performance. See my article How to Get a Faster Internet Connection for some tips and tools that can help you go faster on the information highway.

Keep your hard drive free of unneeded files, so that the operating system has fewer files to index and search when one is needed. Empty your Recycle Bin and delete temporary files regularly. Uninstall programs and delete old pictures and videos that you haven't used in a long time. Don't be a packrat. See Here's How to Clean Computer Clutter for help cleaning digital clutter. That article also covers how to get rid of "bloatware," the trial software that comes pre-installed on new computers.

By default, Windows uses the power conservation features built into modern laptops to save battery life at the expense of some performance. You can change these settings in Control Panel > Power Options to use maximum performance all the time, but you should be prepared for shorter battery life. This may not matter if your laptop is plugged into an electrical outlet most of the time.

Hidden processes and startup programs can steal resources and make your laptop run slower. You can use the Windows utility MSCONFIG to control which programs load at startup. My article on Startup Programs will help you tune your startup settings, and improve the laptop startup time as well as overall performance.

Don't Try THESE at Home...

Overclocking a laptop is not advisable. Overclocking involves setting the computer's CPU to a higher frequency than its factory default setting. Overclocking does speed up some operations but it makes the CPU generate more heat. Desktop computers can be equipped with supplemental cooling systems to compensate for overclocking, but laptops have just one fan and it is not up to the job. You are likely to experience sudden shutdowns and data loss with an overclocked laptop, as the computer turns itself off to prevent overheating from damaging the CPU.

You might be wondering why I didn't address the issue of replacing the CPU with a faster model. That's an option, but in most cases, it's just not cost effective. And as far as do-it-yourself projects go, replacing the "brain" of a laptop can be tricky, because it's not always easy to gain access to the innards of the machine. If you have an old clunker of a laptop, and these tips don't get you into the fast lane on the Internet, your best bet for better performance may be to replace it.

Do you have something to say about speeding up a laptop? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Speed Up My Laptop"

Posted by:

Nigel A
12 Dec 2023

A few years ago I installed the accounting program for a voluntary organisation in my laptop, I was treasurer at the time. The program turned out to be a resource hog and my laptop bogged down and almost stopped. I replaced the HDD with a SSD and increased the RAM to 8Gb which is the maximum the motherboard can use. The difference was amazing, it was just as fast as my PC and faster than me. This was using Windows 10. In my experience replacing the HDD with a SSD and increasing the RAM to the motherboard limit will transform a laptop. Now with my 12+ year old laptop, it's physical issues, like USB ports physically breaking, they still work if I can very carefully insert a peripheral. It may be time to replace it.....

Posted by:

Cold City
12 Dec 2023

And with Windows 10 support ending in October 2025, buying a new laptop may be the only solution...
I will be sad to abandon my 15 years old HP18X laptop which has been running as well today as it was on the first day.
(On a side note Windows 8 was the fastest Windows ever, on a very limited laptop that came with Vista which could not stream a video live from the Internet, Windows 8 did it flawlessly!)

Posted by:

Paul Nelson
12 Dec 2023

The easiest and cheapest way to speed up your (old) laptop is to dump Windows and switch to a Linux distribution. There are thousands of "distros" and one will be just right for you. Lots of free software too. Learning curve is getting lower. What's not to like? Try it.

Posted by:

12 Dec 2023

Let me second the suggestion for Linux!

For several years now I have used Ubuntu on my desktop here. When I updated my motherboard I found the Microsoft had leaned on the BIOS people to block the Win 7 that I was happy with, so I put up Ubuntu.

I now have this desktop set for being able to boot into Win 10, Win 11, and Ubuntu. Maybe once a month I will let it boot into the Win 10, and 11, so it can do it's updates, but other than that everything I need is available in Linux, and without any cost.

Posted by:

12 Dec 2023

== There are thousands of "distros" === This is one of the challenges for a new user to select and evaluate a Linux distro. So many choices, and so many of them claiming to be "lightweight", and Windows-like. How many hours would it take a newbie to find a distro site, download an image, install to their computer, and then spend enough time with it so be able say, "Yeah, this is the one I will invest my time in." Or, to do this download, install, evaluate, repeat process multiple times?

Having said that, I recently revived a sluggish Toshiba "netbook", which originally had a hard drive with Windows 7 "Starter". I bought a cheap SSD, and installed Linux Mint 19.3. No, it's not as speedy as a desktop, but a noticeable improvement from Win 7 Starter.

Posted by:

12 Dec 2023

You said that it is easier to replace a hard drive in a laptop than in a desktop machine. That is true for very old laptops. On newer machines, you might have to take off the bottom of the laptop, which can be easy in some cases and difficult in others. Or even newer laptops, they seem to be glued together, with no screws, and impossible for non-experts to open. Fortunately, the newest laptops come with SSDs, so that upgrade is not needed. I have found that the cost of SSDs continues to drop, almost down to the cost of spinning drives, so that is no longer a big issue. I have replaced HDDs with SSDs on laptops and desktops for acquaintances, and the improvements have been outstanding. I recommend that upgrade if one can open the machine.

Posted by:

James M Orpin
12 Dec 2023

In the search box ... type ... command prompt and select RUN AS ADMINISTRATOR. In the window that pops up type In the following command:

powercfg -duplicatescheme e9a42b02-d5df-448d-aa00-03f14749eb61

This will allow ULTIMATE POWER in power options found in control panel

Posted by:

13 Dec 2023

Connecting my laptop to my CAT6 wired gig Ethernet speeds it up making it faster than when it is on the WiFi. Not for everyone but as a retired communications technician I wired the entire house with CAT6 cabling years ago and that made that possible.

Posted by:

13 Dec 2023

I have yet to find a laptop with just one screw to remove to open it up - most have 12 or more and some require removing the keyboard to remove more screws

Posted by:

14 Dec 2023

Every laptop I've worked on had one screw on the small cover for the drive and one screw on the small cover for the memory. Ymmv! I've done some dual booting with a few Linux distros and settled on Zorin some years ago. It's very windows-like but I will say this about ALL Linux distros: They are NOT and never will be Windows! There is a learning curve and that has improved a lot in recent years. Just my 2 cents and I don't think everyone out there will see it the same way! Good day to all.

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