Turbocharge Your Laptop (speed tips)

Category: Laptops

A frustrated AskBob reader says: “How can I make my laptop faster? It is 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 take some other actions?” Read on for my advice on how to improve the performance of your trusty laptop (even if it's new).

Tips For Speeding Up a 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.

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 A Look INSIDE Your Computer (no tools required). As the name implies, it will show you 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.

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 in a 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 improves 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 Will Adding Memory Speed Up 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 speed increases, particularly if your laptop's 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 Try These Ten+ Free PC Maintenance Tools. (SSD drives don't need to be defragmented -- another good reason to upgrade.)

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 Up Your Hard Drive 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.

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 mention just 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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This article was posted by on 13 Apr 2021

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Most recent comments on "Turbocharge Your Laptop (speed tips)"

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
13 Apr 2021

Bigger hard disk is only needed if the present one is filled up, but addin RAM, or replacing the existing RAM with a bigger one, is a winner every time (if the machine can accept the increase).
It is my standard advice when friends ask for help with their lpa- or deask- top, and they are always pleased with the result.
For desktops, replacing the CPU with a faster one, and/or one with more cores, can also help; alas more difficult to do on laptops...

Posted by:

Ron Pollitt
13 Apr 2021

One of the first things I do is to install Ccleaner. I clean everything except passwords and disk wipe. I also clean the registry Afterthat I stop everything except the antivirus from running at startup.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

I don't see many laptops with easily removable HDD's these days. Download a service manual or user guide for instructions specific to your laptop, before deciding to upgrade disk or RAM yourself.
As Bob has said before, excess heat causes slow performance. Blow out the dust, possibly after opening the case.
Never buy a laptop with a spinning HDD or 4GB RAM and expect it to be fast.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

Whenever I buy a computer - desktop or laptop - I research the specs and cram in as much memory as the BIOS will handle. I have never regretted the extra expense; I believe my machines last longer and run cooler and quicker with maximum RAM.

Don't forget BIOS updates on older models. I recently refurbished a stack of 7-year-old Dells that were underperforming, and I was amazed at the difference a new BIOS made. Faster, and also cooler - Dell had apparently tweaked some settings internally.

Switching from a platter drive to an SSD is also worthwhile if speed still disappoints, though that usually involves sacrificing some internal storage. On older laptops that have a camera card slot, I have simply left a card in the slot as an extra "hard" drive for useful files that weren't needed every day.

As Bob hints, the paging file can cause serious problems - especially on recent W10 upgrades, where paging can start "thrashing" and eating up CPU/Disk C: usage. (And also wearing out the disk!) I have turned off paging on my main system - watching it carefully, but the thrashing disappeared, 16 GB RAM usage has not exceeded 81%, and the system is working much MUCH more smoothly. Task Manager has a handy Performance tab that will let you monitor CPU, RAM, and disk usage levels.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

I had this slowdown, not seriously slow but enough to bother me, on my NEW laptop.
I researched and realized when I transferred to the new laptop I had also transferred the cache.
Simple, but true, deleting all but the last two months of browsing history sped it up exponentially.
Try the simple stuff first .. I know a lot of Bob's readers will know to try this first, but I did not, so maybe others will be helped by trying this simple fix first.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

Isn't there a problem with Windows not recognizing the computer as the original computer that is linked to the Windows license when the CPU is changed?

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

I found that the easiest way to speed up my laptop was to substitute Linux for Windows. I used Mint but other Linux distributions would probably work as well.

Posted by:

Henry Peck
13 Apr 2021

You didn't mention installing software to improve the CPU's performance. Go to https://bitsum.com/portfolio/cpubalance/ and download and install the cpu balance program. I have used it on several PC's and in 90% of the time, it improves the CPU perormance.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

Windows 10 Disk CleanUp
Perhaps Bob might want to cover this useful Win 10 tool, but its quite simple with a couple of useful tricks:
Search for Disk Cleanup, then click on the tool.
Near the bottom select the box to CleanUp System Files- select items you want removed. This can remove ability to undo a Windows Update, so beware.
ALSO, I always select the tab at the top - MORE OPTIONS, Then select the box to CLEANUP System Restore and then OK removal of all but last restore point.
This will remove a LOT of disk bloat.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

Replacing the hard drive with an SSD will make a huge difference. You can pick up a 250 GB SSD drive for around $40 these days making it a very worthwhile investment. Ideally, you should have at least 8 GB of RAM also as this is what Windows 10 needs to run efficiently.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

One way to speed any computer is to minimize the number of browser tabs/windows that are open.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2021

Forgot to mention that I normally turn off Windows indexing - a function that really slows the system down because I work mainly with documents and files on my primary system. The Explorer search function is ridiculously inept; I use Agent Ransack when I need to find something.

Posted by:

Steve Gordon
14 Apr 2021

If you have a really old laptop, put an open source operating system on it and watch it fly. There are ubutu systems that look and act just like windows.

Posted by:

Larry Etheridge
16 Apr 2021

Bob. I have not seen a new laptop in maybe two years where you can flip it over, take out a couple of screws and access the hard drive and RAM. Go to WM, Target, Best Buy, and flip them over and look. The case is closed up tight and even the battery is inside the closed laptop case. It takes research and skill to crack the cases without damaging them to get inside and add a new SSD and more RAM. I have cloned about a dozen laptops and then cracked the cases carefully, replaced the older HD with a SSD and sometimes added RAM. It ain't as easy as it used to be I am telling you.

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