5 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your Old Computer (...and save you money!) UPDATED 2018

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By Ed

Depending on who you ask, a computer "should" last anywhere from 18 months to 5 years.

The bottom end of that scale shocks me, and I assume it was from a teenage gamer messing up the curve. But truth be told, I find the top end of the scale a little low, too.

We have two desktops in our house. One was just recently retired from front line duty; it was the one we used for the first 6-8 months of writing this blog. It was 7 years old.  Its replacement is only newer by virtue of the hardware upgrades it received before we got it (as a hand-me-down). Much of it is 5 years old.  Both are still doing just fine, thank you.

Today, I'm talking about how you can get your computer to last for as long as possible.  The longer you can stretch out the life of your computer, the more you save, right?  

My tips range from the simple to the moderately-skilled geek. You can likely do most of this with stuff you have laying around the house/toolbox.

In my experience, computer problems are rarely hardware ones. Certainly there are cases of hard drives crashing (we've had that happen) and processors melting, (Heck - our first laptop caught fire!)  That aside, most issues are software based (especially if you computer is Windows/Microsoft).

Probably none of what I have to say applies to Apple computers. They are pretty well built and have an operating system that just keeps running.  They may even be more Frugal in the long term (future question to be answered?), but we don't own them.

Both Robin and I have public sector jobs - both of our offices are hosts to Windows based everything.  We both have times we need to work from home, so making the switch to Apple was a non-starter for us.  It made no sense.  I've grown up using and teaching Windows computers and so has most of the world, so my tips will be restricted to them.

Most of these tips will focus on 'Speed' - that mythical standard that most people use to decide when to get a new computer, but some tips are just general good PC housekeeping. 

Here goes:

1. Give your desktop* a spring cleaning. 

If you have never opened up your computer, you should do this (it is similar to Toto pulling back the curtain on the great and powerful Oz). Shut down and unplug your PC. Label all the cables, so you can plug them in again (most are pretty easy to recognize, but not a bad idea if you are worried). Look for a couple screws holding the case on, undo them and pop it open.

This isn't hacking the Matrix, so don't worry about voiding your warranty - cases are designed to be opened. You should see a mess of things that look like C3PO's tummy. That mess will likely be covered in dust.

Using an air-spray can (they sell them at Office Supply stores - you may have used one to clean your keyboard) or a vacuum with a careful hand, clean off what dust you can.  Be careful not to actually brush, touch or dislodge anything while doing this. You computer may actually run quieter when this is done, as the fan will be working more efficiently. It definitely will run longer and happier (but not likely faster, so don't get too excited).

* Note: Desktop only - don't open up your laptop; it will void your warranty.

My case opens with one screw and a slide of a side panel. The processor fan is starting to show some dust.

2. Move your files (documents, photos, movies) onto a separate, external Hard Drive (or the cloud).

This has many purposes - First it frees up your computer's hard drive to just run the operating system and programs.

Second, it allows you to have all your files in one (external) place if your computer ever does actually die. This allows you to move easily to a new computer without paying someone to transfer the files for you.

Finally, most of us can fit all the important files we have on a USB drive in the $20 price range.  If you have photos/music (who doesn't) consider a separate, powered external drive. You'll see why in a moment...

3. Uninstall any program you don't use anymore (or ever)

Most of us have many, many things we have installed(either by choice or by mistake) and these things are making our computer run slowly.

Go to your Start menu, click on Control Panel, then select Add/Remove Programs or Uninstall Programs (depending on your version of Windows).  Spend some time scrolling through this list and trying to remember the last time you used any of the things on it. Windows does conveniently provide details showing "how often" or "the last time" you used a program.

My suggestion: slash and burn any "Toolbar" that isn't Google, any "Ad, Deal or Bargain Hunter" program and any expired Anti-virus program that came with your new computer (because I know you are Frugal and are using Avast! or AVG now).

Leave files from Microsoft or any hardware provider. If you share your computer, ask around to make sure you aren't uninstalling someone else's productivity program, but in any event, there should be some space savings there.

Hmmm. Do I really need all these Garmin programs if I never plug the GPS into this particular computer? No.

4.  Use a Registry Cleaner

A registry cleaner looks for files and pieces of code that your computer no longer needs.  These can be things that are making the internet (cookies) or Windows (registry files) run slowly. You don't need to run a cleaner daily, but anytime you start to notice some slowness, and a reboot doesn't help, a registry cleaner might.

Here is a whole list, but I have had success with his #1 choice, CCleaner.

CCleaner works faster than many registry cleaners I have tried. It looks all professional too. Free!

5. Re-install or Update Windows

You can do it.  I am still a fan of Windows 7 - which we have at work - and if you ask around among new (Windows 8/10) computer owners, they may have old copies of 7 floating around. This isn't, strictly speaking, legal, but old copies of Windows 7, I feel, are like old couches sitting on the curb - if you're willing to do the heavy lifting and clean-up, they're yours for the taking.**

Insert whatever recent Windows disk you have and it should give you a repair/reinstall option. If you have all your files backed up/copied to an External Drive, this should be choice #1.

Have a little more skill? Format your hard drive and start from scratch.  I have done this to very old computers and they run like new when you give them a fresh copy of Windows to work with.

I know someone out there (possibly my brother) is saying, "Or you could use Linux".  I have tried several Linux (Ubuntu, Legacy) installs over the years and each one has been non-user friendly in some way. I am a guy who has built computers and done dozens of operating system installs, too. For an average person, Linux is probably not where you want to be.

** Note: Not an actual, legal argument - don't use operating systems you don't own.

If you have a Windows disk, it will do all the heavy lifting for you.  Be sure and read all the prompts and don't commit to full hard disk format if you don't have your files backed up externally (see tip #2)

 OK, so there is my top 5 simple ways to speed up your computer.  You can do most of these without spending any money, so consider giving them a shot before you head out to buy a new computer.

You could also opt for a Chromebook - they are cheap (about the price of an actual operating system disk), well built and because they don't really have installed programs or files, they are very fast.  They do rely on having an internet connection and if you want to do any high-end work, you'll probably find them limiting too, but many blog posts here have been written on one.

A little learning and tinkering will allow you to get more mileage out of you computer and keep more money in your bank. And, as an added bonus, you'll be able to carry on conversations with the I.T. person at work. Something you've been hoping to do, right?

How old is your PC?  Anyone regularly using a computer more than 8 years old?


  1. I love this conversation- I'd heard a program on CBC radio on Wed about how disposable tech is. They spoke of the problem with recycling and non-repairability (that's a word, right?), planned obsolescence, avoiding the lure of the latest & greatest and how to choose tech that will last and is repairable. (apparently, Wirecutter is a great tech review site for the best products- do you know of it?)
    Anyhow, we are budget-conscience tech consumers and my hubby is pretty handy in the tech dept. Our main computer is a mac mini (we went that route so that we could use our existing screen & keyboard). It is currently 3 years old or more but it did replace the first mac mini after 2 yrs. That seems to run way too hot and my hubs thinks that was the cause- it seems it was an anomaly. This one doesn't run hot and has been remarkably reliable. We mainly use it for web browsing, itunes and downloading movies and the odd menu plan/chore chart. But it is wired directly into our stereo receiver and serves as our media hub.
    We also have a dinosaur of a pc that my husband built over 15 yrs ago but he has replaced a hard drive and mother board at one point and additional cards for specific tasks (this is his dept, I may or may be spitballing; ). This PC is also hooked up to our tv and when we download a movie with the mac, we wifi it to the PC (or transfer via usb) to play through our TV.
    My hub also does some design work and needs a PC for his design software, so the old PC is getting a bit old for all that but for serves it's purpose for it's main job.
    My 13 yo has dual booted Ubuntu on her laptop. She's not a super geek (but like most kids, knew more than me by the time she was 8) but absolutely prefers it to windows. I know my husband had used Linux on his pc for awhile some time ago but the ubuntu version she's using looks different- it may be more user friendly than when you tried it out.
    sorry for the length but appreciate the ideas for extending computer longevity.

    1. My brother loves his Mac mini and I confess to coveting them in the past too. They are right around the price point I feel is fair for a computer, but with all the Windows in our life, the Apple switch has been hard.

      15 years is an awesome life for a computer - even with parts upgrades. I am thinking of doing some similar tinkering on our oldest PC, but the need hasn't presented itself. It acts as media server in our house and in that role it doesn't need much power.

      I tried it with a fairly recent Ubuntu, and I can see why your daughter digs it. Every version I have seen seems more and more App-store, Apple-like in nature and it certainly ran well as a stand alone, internet/word processing only type machine. Where it feel down for me was additional hardware support and getting some other productivity software that we use regularly (Robin is a Publisher fan). It came down to me choosing (yet again) the devil I know - Microsoft.

      Long response right back at you.

  2. I will be showing this post to my husband, because our computer can use some speed. Thanks!


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