All the time that you are using your computer it is slowing down. You might not notice it but each time you save a document or spreadsheet, surf the Internet or play a game; your computer is doing things which make it very slightly slower each time. It's not just software that will make things slower, as you continually use your computer the hard drives themselves will start to slow down as they reach an end-of-life (something everything will do from manufacture anyway), RAM memory will slowly deteriorate and CD's get old and scratched. Eventually you will notice and it will be time to speed up your desktop computer.

There comes the time to give your desktop computer a spring clean it can be one or many of these things that are the problem, from the installing of browser toolbars to the installing of new RAM, we will look at the more common and easy to achieve methods of giving your desktop computer or laptop that much needed boost.

By following the steps in this order, we can start with the relatively easy and continue to the more expensive. There is a logical train of thought to doing things in this order as it promotes good computer housekeeping and using the tools you already have is always step one.

When we're cleaning Windows (or Making Windows Last Longer)

Microsoft Windows as a desktop computer's operating system is not designed to require re-installation on a regular basis. For the majority of users it should not require re-installation at all as long your computer's anti-virus is up to date and experimental fiddling is kept to a minimum; yet some computer experts always profess to stating that a re-installation is the first and only step you can things go wrong.

Admittedly there are times when this is the case; complete hard drive failure, infection due to no anti-virus being installed for a number of years, the standard range of world ending scenarios for your desktop computer; but before we consider this extreme action we will first try to clean it up a little bit.

Microsoft Windows actually offers a lot of software to help you maintain and update your desktop computer but in many cases it is either not known or ignored. There is usually paid or freeware software available that will do an equal or better job, so even if you use all of this software for an immediate quick fix, it is wise to shop around as well.


Always take the time to back up your data. Even if you simply back up your windows installation using Microsoft Windows Backup to a collection of blank CD's it will help you get running again if your computer gets infected with a virus. It is installable from your Windows XP CD or installed automatically with Windows 7. In the majority of instances the program will be found from the start menu; All Programs > Accessories > System Tools.

Even if you are going to be doing Windows based maintenance on your Windows desktop computer; I suggest doing a back up FIRST before your first attempts at using the software in case anything untoward happens. After that, regular back-ups will mean that although you might lose some of your more recent files, can still be replaced.

Windows Update

If you have not got this set up automatically to run in the background then you are always losing ground. Whether it's a driver update or patching a hold in the operating system; Windows Updates are the most important thing to keeping your desktop computer and its Windows installation in any form of shape. Windows Update is installed as a matter of course on Windows XP and Windows 7 systems. You may be asked to install Microsoft Update; this was a change made a few years ago to encompass Microsoft Office and other products in the update process and if this happens when you have started the Update application then it is generally safe to install.

Windows Updates are usually on the second Tuesday every month unless they are urgently required to protect a vulnerability in the Microsoft Windows software. It is usually recommended to allow automated updates of releases listed as critical by Microsoft and good housekeeping might suggest that automating the whole process, or at least authorising Windows Update to automatically do it, is a good idea.

Windows occasionally issue a "service pack" for all its updates. These offer a one-install update of everything either to date, or since the last service pack. These are generally quite large files so if you have download caps on your Internet service; you may wish to download them from the Microsoft website manually and burn them onto a CD in case of any future re-installation.


If you have a Windows desktop computer or laptop you MUST install a defence against virus attacks. Unlike Apple's OSX software or Linux installations; Windows is heavily targeted by hackers with a variety of hidden agendas from the political to the criminal. There are plenty of paid for examples of anti-virus software from the likes of Norton and McAfee, but in general the need for all the extra packages that paid software vendors often have on their installations, the balance of resources used can offset the benefits.

There are many freeware anti-virus offerings on the internet as well. By using a reputable review site such as CNET or ComputerActive you can ensure that you are installing a genuine anti-virus software which is proven to work. There are hidden pitfalls in downloading any software from the Internet that it may not be what it promises on the download page; with unsuspecting users installing "anti-virus software" that they are actually trying to prevent being on their desktop computer in the first place.

The most basic way of getting free anti-virus onto your PC or laptop is through Microsoft and their recently developed Microsoft Security Essentials. This anti-virus suite offers the basic protection that MOST users can use to protect a desktop computer and can automate the update process or allow you to do so via the Microsoft Update service. 

File Cleaning

Although useful, there are many programs and files found on the average computer that the user no longer wants, needs or even remembers is there. Depending on how the file appeared will indicate how it can be removed; freeing up space and speeding up your desktop computer. 

* Disk Cleanup can remove the hoards of temporary files that are accumulated by your computer on a daily basis. Temporary Internet Files, bug and status reports and pages saved for offline browsing can mount up and the easiest way to remove these is through the built in feature on Windows.

To access this, open your "My Computer" screen (or Computer from the start menu on Windows 7), right click on the drive you want to maintain and follow the options. This program can only run on one hard disk at a time, so if you have many it might be easier to schedule scans automatically.

* Uninstalling programs is often more tricky. The built in uninstaller installed with Windows is accessed via the Control Panel and Add/Remove Programs. To be honest though it is fairly easy at giving up with the moderately stubborn files it encounters and I would suggest installing a freeware program such as Revo.

* Registry Cleaning is something for the more confident user. As programs and applications are installed and uninstalled the registry can end up being cluttered with redundant entries which store things such as licence keys, settings or configurations; CCleaner can help you, but unless you are confident I would suggest the benefits are not as much as the risks to your installation.

Defrag - Or Not To Defrag.... do you have XP?

The Disk Defragment program is one of those applications built into Windows that is on its turning point. Looking back to Windows 98 and its generation the 'Defrag' was important to do because it did indeed keep your system in good shape, but as the Windows software developed, so did its disk management and now that we are at windows 7, it is almost redundant. Users of Microsoft Windows XP might find some benefit of doing a disk defrag, but its not guaranteed. 

If you have a Solid State Drive (SSD) then do not, for the love of God, touch the disk defragment program. The reason for this is that the hard drives do not need it because they are based on Flash memory technology; and this can lead to damage through excessive moving of files.

Trash Old Apps

Removing old applications from your desktop computer is another way to speed up your Microsoft Windows system up in many instances. This is not necessarily a case that your application is even one that is set to load when your desktop or laptop first boots, but can slow down other programs as a result.

When you install a program, it will be written to the first accessible sections of your hard disk drive and then makes connections to other programs, applications and tells Windows what files it can be associated with. Each time your computer might need to know what this program is capable of it will read the sectors of the hard disk so that it knows if it is needed, but quite often if you never use it then it will be unnecessary. If you have installed the application early on in your hard drives use then it will be installed towards the edge of the hard drives plates; forcing other programs and applications that you might use more often towards the slower centre of the drive.[2381]

Your application might also set itself to start-up on booting which for the user will be located in one of two places (the start-up folder on your start menu; or msconfig) which will mean that this never used program will load every time. By uninstalling these programs, we would be able to speed up your computer, even if its just a tiny fraction.

Removing the start-up, but leaving the program

If your application starts at every boot of your computer then you have the option of stopping it doing this, but leaving the application itself if you need it. There are two places that your program or application might be located; both of which are relatively easy to reach and safe to change.

The Start-Up Folder is found via by accessing your start menu; then "All Programs" (or "Programs" on Microsoft Windows XP); then Startup. 

Here you will be able to see few programs that will start at boot. These are sometimes because they are user specific or created by the users themselves and to remove them is simply a case of right clicking the file and selecting delete, sending it to the recycle bin.

MSConfigCredit: AuthorMSConfig is more involved and takes slightly longer to deal with. To access the Windows program, go to your start menu and click on "Run" ( Microsoft Windows XP) or use the search box (Microsoft Windows 7) and type in "MSConfig". You need access to an administrators account to do this.

The menu that we want is the StartUp tab, by selecting this you will find that there will be a long list of programs that have at some point been listed to startup automatically on your desktop computers Windows installation.

MSConfig StartUp menuCredit: AuthorFrom the image on the right, you can see that I already have a number of applications listed to start-up when the computer is switched on (ticked) and other that will not (unticked) from a variety of sources. In order to change the status of the program, you simply need to click on the tick box - multiple boxes if necessary - and then click on apply on the bottom right hand corner.

This will allow your computer to load into a state that it is ready to use much quicker, loading only the applications that you know that you will use. You might find that the first screen that loads on MSConfig changes slightly from "load normally" to "load selected"; this is entirely normal and no further action is necessary to correct this.

Break out the duster

The next action to speed up your Windows desktop computer is to physically remove any dust and debris from the inside of your computer. This will involve opening the computer case and therefore we need to: 

  1. Turn off the computer via the start menu
  2. Switch off any switches on the power supply (at the back of the case) and on the wall socket
  3. leave the tower plugged in - this helps provide an easy earth and work against any danger of static. If you are moving the tower to do this, make sure you plug it in wherever you are doing this.

You also need to have handy:

  1. A hoover - preferably lower wattage
  2. A can of compressed air - I actually buy mine in a supermarket here in the UK for around £3 to £4 a can
  3. Whatever you need to open your computer case

Firstly I always hover around the outside of the computer. Every computer case will have air holes around it and these will be clogged with dust which is just as easy to suck out now than later. When I buy a new computer case I always try to get one with some air filtration across these to reduce the dust in the computer system.

Next we want to access the inside of your desktop computer which varies depending on which case you have as to whether this needs a screwdriver or not, you only need to open the side that gives you access to all the components. If you have not cleaned the computer before there might be considerable dust build up which will be obvious to you.

A can of compressed air is just that. We are going to use the conpressed air to blow the dust away from the nooks and crevises of the computer components and use the hoover to suck up the displaced dust. We do not want the head of the hoover inside the computer as there is a change that the sucking motion of the hoover at the hose will cause static electricity which could be fatal if discharged into your computer. You might need a second pair of hands to hold the head of the hoover were the side you have just removed should be, aiming the head to wherever you are blasting your compressed air.

The reason we are doing this is because the computer needs to run at temperatures that are optimal around 40 to 50 degrees C. The presense of dust can cause the filters to blok and the components to overheat, causing them to work more at keeping cool and less at providing you computing power.

RAM it home

The last action in this article is to install more RAM memory. I have placed it as the last consideration here because it is the most expensive and requires you to install computer hardware to increase performance. If you are considering upgrading more than just your RAM then you may want to read my article on building a new desktop computer as this covers computer components in more detail, however in this instance installing RAM on a software cleaned, dust free computer is the next logical step.

If you are considering adding RAM to your desktop computer you have to be aware of a number of factors:

  • If your computer is running a 32-Bit version of Microsoft Windows you can not use more than about 3.5GB of RAM, even you have more physically installed.

    To check if you have a 32-Bit or 64-Bit operating system you can check in the computers information screens:

    Windows 7 or Vista: Click on your Start Menu and in the search box type (and load) "system". On the first window that pops up, there should be a listing of System Type where it will say what operating system you are running. 

    Windows XP: Click on your start menu and Run; asking the pop-up prompt for "sysdm.cpl" . In the pop up window, select the General tab and look for the operating system name. If it says Windows XP Professional (or home)  x64 Edition Version then it is a 64-Bit version; if there is no x64 shown then you are using a 32-Bit version.

  • There are different physical variants of RAM in circulation. Laptops and desktop computers often have physically different RAM chips to cater for the environments that they are mounted in; similarly as technology advances so does the RAM that runs it, the most modern now being Double Data Rate type 3 (DDR3) however computers could be running its type 2 predecessor (DDR2) or less likely DDR or SDRAM. Some computer memory retailers offer automated services to do all the working out for you such as Crucial Memory  and tell you what memory you need to install for your computer.

    There are also different speeds of RAM on the market within each type of memory. These are indicated by the notation "PC-" and then a number. DDR2 RAM for example comes as PC2-5300, PC2-6400 or PC2-8500. The higher the number is generally the faster memory, however some motherboards will not accept it all and you should check using the Cruicial Memory checker above, or your motherboard manual to make sure.

    You could buy two RAM modules of 2 different sizes, but I would recommend buying 2 identical modules (or a matched pair offered by retailers) to make the most of your new memory.

  • Know how many RAM slots you have. Most come with 2 slots for one type of memory, some will come with 4 slots for a single type or a combination of 2 slots for 2 different types. NOTE Unless you have a specialist motherboard you can not use more than one type of memory (ie DDR2 and DDR3) if both are present on your motherboard.

    If you have 2 RAM slots and both have RAM in them then they will each be half the RAM you use (ie 512MB and 512MB for 1GB total) not mis-matched (256MB and 768MB) If you want to increase this to 4GB of RAM then you would need to buy 2 modules of 2GB and not just 3GB to increase it.
  • Are you using memory intensive applications? Unless you are heavily involved in video editing, rendering or other system intensive project then 4GB is usually enough for everyday use. Unless you multi-tasking high-end gaming with watching a movie on a separate screen there is very little reason to go above this in normal circumstances.  

Installing new RAM is really easy. If you have two memory modules already in place that you are replacing, simply release them by opening the two retaining clips, lift them out, put the new ones in - gold pins first - and push firmly and evenly to insert. The retaining clips will 99.9% of the time lock themselves onto your RAM modules as you insert them.

If your RAM is not inserting correctly, or pivoting on a fixed point; it is possible that your RAM is the wrong way around, or you have bought the wrong type of memory that we talked about above.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

If you have the need for even more speed then there are more extreme measures you can take. Changing your motherboard and processor is very easy and many retailers offer pre-built bundles for those that do not feel confident. The best place to look at what you can upgrade is by looking at an article at building a new computer because in most cases the principle is exactly the same, its just your replacing rather than building completely from scratch.

Feel free to also leave a comment if you need any help. I am sure that betwen us, the community can help.