Top 10 Ways To Make The Best Of An Old PC

Despite everyone’s assumptions, we geeks are not always privy to the latest and greatest technology. If you’re stuck with an old, slow, crappy computer, there are a few things you can do to make the best of a bad situation. Here are our top 10 favourites.

10. Upgrade Your Hardware (If You Can)

Obviously, the best way to speed up an old, slow computer is to upgrade the hardware. This isn’t always possible in laptops or certain desktops, but you should always be able to upgrade the RAM and hard drive. RAM can give you a helpful boost in certain areas, but upgrading your hard drive to solid state is the best improvement you can make to an old machine. It’ll boot up and launch apps faster — and it’ll almost feel like a new computer. Check out our guide to upgrading your computer for more.

9. Overclock What You Can’t Upgrade

Your processor and video card aren’t always upgradeable (whether because of physical limitations or financial). However, if you’re particularly adventurous, you can get the most out of your hardware by overclocking it. We’ve run through how to overclock a Core i-series Intel processor as well as the Intel Atom, but you should be able to find guide on the internet for all models of CPU. If you’re a gamer, overclocking your video card is dead simple with a program like MSI Afterburner, and it’s the best free way to get more performance out of your games.

8. Perform Regular Maintenance

Before you do anything drastic, you’ll want to troubleshoot your machine and make sure it isn’t being slowed down by something. If you find that its ailment is just plain old age, make sure you do regular maintenance on your machine (whether you’re using Windows, Mac, or Linux). It won’t make it run super fast, but it will make sure that it’s running in tip top shape all the time. Every little bit counts when a computer is particularly old and crappy. You can try reinstalling your OS from scratch, but its worth noting that with the proper care, you shouldn’t have to.

7. Use Less Crappy Programs

If you’re still using bloated behemoths like Adobe Reader, Norton Antivirus, or (shudder) iTunes, switch to something less crappy and you’ll notice a world of difference in how your computer runs. We’ve rounded up the most crappy Windows and Mac software as well as the superior alternatives that replace them. In almost every case, you should wind up with not only a better product, but something that runs much faster on your machine, too. When you have a choice of alternatives — in the case of iTunes, for example — go for the one that’s lighter weight (say, foobar2000 for music). The less you strain your machine with bloated programs, the better.

6. Speed Up The Programs You Use The Most

Sometimes, the good programs just aren’t optimised to run their fastest. If your browser’s running slowly, for example, make sure you pick one built for speed, then make it even faster by limiting its history size moving its cache to a RAM disk (which should be easy if you’ve upgraded your RAM to the maximum capacity). Of course, also make sure you haven’t slowed it down with lots of extensions and plugins.

5. Use Older Programs

If less crappy alternatives and speed-optimised programs just aren’t an option, there’s nothing wrong with using an older program to get the job done. Don’t have the minimum system requirements for Photoshop CS5? See if you can find a copy of CS4 on eBay and use that instead. Don’t have the power to run an expansive game like Skyrim? I hear Morrowind is still pretty damn good (not to mention cheaper than blazes). Running old programs isn’t always the best idea — if your computer meets the minimum requirements, new programs are usually faster and more secure — but in some cases, especially games, using something a bit older can make your life less frustrating.

4. Upgrade Your External Hardware

New computers offer more than just speed — they offer better external hardware, whether its a trackpad that doesn’t suck, speakers that you can actually hear, or a built-in SD card reader. Sometimes, all you need to make a computer feel nicer is to get better external hardware. If you hate your trackpad or keyboard so much, find a better one and use it instead (I’ve found using a mouse instead of my netbook’s trackpad makes a world of difference). Don’t like the speakers? Get a nice set of headphones. Upgrade your CD burner from that old, slow model, or get an external drive to free up some space on your internal. External hardware won’t necessarily make your computer run faster, but it can make you want to pull out your hair a bit less — and that’s what making the best of a bad situation is all about.

3. Get Next Year’s Features Now

If your computer isn’t going to be supported by next year’s shiny new operating system, don’t despair — you can still get a lot of those features now. If you’re using a Mac, we’ve run down how to get all of Mountain Lion’s features right now and Windows users can easily recreate Windows 8 with a ribbon add-on for Windows Explorer, a better file copier like Teracopy and one of the many Metro clones out there, whether it be a separate program like Mosaic or a desktop overlay like Rainmeter.

2. Install A Lightweight Operating System

If none of the above tricks are helping, one of the best things you can do is install a new operating system altogether. It’ll definitely shake up your workflow a bit, but with enough commitment, you can use one of the many flavours of Linux to give your computer a major speed boost. If you’re already familiar with Linux, I can’t recommend ArchBang enough, while newbies might be more suited to something like Lubuntu or even Chrome OS.

1. Repurpose Or Recycle It

If all else fails, you might just have to bit the bullet and decide it’s time to buy a new computer. If you do, see if there’s at least some way you can put that old computer to work — we’ve got lots of suggestions for repurposing old computers for any room in the house. Alternatively, it could make a good networked FreeNAS box, storing files, backing up your other machines and torrenting 24/7. If you decide you just want to get rid of it, make sure you recycle it properly.

Do you have a crappy computer you’ve been forced to live with? How have you made it more bearable? Share your wisdom with us in the comments below.

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