How Can I Speed Up My Aging Laptop?

Dear Lifehacker,
My laptop is only two years old, but it’s running really slowly. I’ve upgraded the memory already, but what else can I do to speed things up? Signed, Crawling in Crawford

Photo remixed from an original found on 2black.

Dear Crawling,

One of the most common complaints about laptops is about how slow they seem after a year or two of use. So how can you effectively speed up your laptop without buying an entirely new one?

Clean Up the Cruft

The first thing a lot of us try involves completely reinstalling your operating system. After a number of years you start to aggregate no-longer-used programs, files and other riff-raff on your system which all work to slow things down. However, you really shouldn’t need to regularly re-install Windows and addressing the root problems (like bad apps) can be just as effective as reinstalling.

Upgrade Your RAM

If you’ve already cleaned up your machine, upgrading your RAM (your computer’s memory) is a great step. A lot of us have already upgraded RAM (you mentioned you’ve already done so), and most of us really don’t need more than 4GB of RAM.

The Best Upgrade for 2011: Get an SSD

So what’s left? You may be able to get a few more years out of your laptop by upgrading your hard drive to an SSD.

Many laptops ship with tiny, slow-spinning hard drives, running at 5400rpm because of power and overheating concerns. While these drives can work fine, and they’re certainly cheaper than faster options, they slow down data access on your laptop considerably, and you can feel it across the board: when booting up, running programs, gaming and general web browsing.

SSDs, or Solid State Drives, both run cooler and much faster than the old style platter/disk based hard drives, and they’re easily one of the best upgrades you can make to your laptop. The big holdup for mass adoption has been the high prices of SSD drives, but 2011 is the year when they will hit mainstream, and we’ve already seen some low sale prices. Photo by liyanage.

We’re all big fans of SSDs around Lifehacker HQ for the speed boost they can bring to any hardware, and Whitson has a great tutorial on installing one in your MacBook, though an SSD will work just as well in any laptop. You may have to purchase a 2.5-inch SATA to USB adaptor if your laptop only has one spot for a hard drive. Once you get it installed, you can do a fresh install of your operating system or clone your existing drive using a program such as CloneZilla.

After you are up and running, installing previously mentioned SSDLife on a Windows computer or following our other tips for taking full advantage of your SSD will help you keep tabs on the health of your SSD and make sure you are running it to its fullest capacity.

If your computer’s hardware is more than a few years old, you may be better off just upgrading your laptop. But an SSD can breath new life into relatively new laptops and even add a few years of usability. The change in speed from a 5400rpm hard drive to an SSD drive is astonishing.


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