It's a sad fact of life that over time, all of our computers get a little bit slower. Before you start shelling out for a new machine, take some time this weekend to perform some maintenance tasks, upgrade a single piece of hardware, or even overclock your machine for a little speed boost.
Do Some Maintenance
Before you start mucking with your hardware, it's a good idea to perform a bit of maintenance and make sure it isn't just bad software that's slowing your machine down. If you're using a Windows machine, you'll have quite a few things to do: keep it updated, run your antivirus software, clean temporary files and uninstall any apps you don't want. Remember, too, that you shouldn't have to reinstall Windows regularly -- if your computer has slowed down, it's most likely due to crappy apps, so you should make sure you uninstall anything fishy. And of course, any program marketed as something that will speed up your computer -- with a few exceptions -- is likely garbage (though you can speed up your boot time with some pretty handy tricks). Lastly, take a good look at your web browser. You can probably uninstall some of those add-ons, change your DNS servers and update your plugins to give it a nice speed boost.
Mac and Linux users have it much easier. Mac users just need to stay up-to-date and make sure your hard drive is free of errors, while Linux users might need to clean up some temporary files as well. Both users can also perform the aforementioned browser cleanup tasks, too. Other than that, you don't have to do a lot of maintenance, so you can skip on over to the next section to see how you can speed up your machine.
Upgrade Your Hardware
By far the best way to speed up your machine is to upgrade the hardware. You can check out our computer building tutorial to see how to upgrade certain pieces of hardware, but we also have upgrade-specific guides linked below. As you're choosing your upgrades, you might also want to check out our guide to choosing computer parts.
The cheapest upgrade you can make is to your RAM, though this won't speed up your computer for single tasks -- it's more advantageous for running multiple apps at once. Make sure your RAM is compatible before you upgrade. If you already have 4GB, upgrading probably won't help unless you're running RAM-intensive things like virtual machines. If you do upgrade over 4GB though, make sure you're using a 64-bit version of Windows so it can actually use it all.
Upgrading your hard drive is probably the best upgrade you can make right now, as long as you upgrade to a solid state drive (SSD) -- it can do wonders for boosting your computer's speed. Figure out the best time to buy one (after all, they're pretty expensive) and install it in your computer like a normal hard drive. Laptop users with a lot of data may want to install it in place of their optical drive, since they can also be pretty small. If you don't want to lose your data, we've also shown you how to migrate Windows to a solid state drive without losing your current installation. Lastly, SSDs require some slightly different maintenance than regular hard drives do, so you'll want to read up on that too.
Lastly, if you're a gamer, getting a new video card is by far the best upgrade you can make to improve gaming performance. It's dead simple, too -- just check out Anandtech's benchmarks, pick one out that fits your price range, and replace your current video card with the new one.
Overclock Your Processor And Video Card
If you don't have the money to upgrade your system, you can always eke out a bit of extra speed by overclocking some of your components. We've talked about overclocking the Intel Core series before, as well as overclocking the Intel Atom processors found on netbooks and other low-powered machines. And, if it's gaming performance you're looking for, you can also overclock your video card with a program like MSI Afterburner to get a few extra frames per second in your universe-saving adventures.
These certainly aren't the only ways to speed up your machine, but they're some of the methods we've found most reliable (and with the biggest speed bumps). Got any speed-boosting tips of your own that you couldn't live without? Share them with us in the comments.