Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

Chances are right now, you aren’t using your PC to its absolute fullest potential. Maybe it’s a little slow, maybe your monitor’s colours aren’t quite right, or maybe it’s just dusty and loud. You may not even realise these things are happening. But with a free afternoon, you can improve it from top to bottom without spending a cent. Here are 10 ways to do just that.

Note: Most of these tips are completely free, though they do depend on what you have lying around — and how nice you want things to look. You can elevate your monitors with a few books, but if you want something nicer, you may want to buy or build a cheap stand. Keep that in mind when going through the tips, and enjoy your newly upgraded computer.

Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

10. Clean Your Hardware, Inside and Out

If your PC didn’t come out of the box yesterday, it’s probably gotten a little dirty over time. Dirt and dust not only makes things look gross on the outside, but can cause heat problems on the inside of your computer (and thus make your fans run really loudly). Take a little time to give your hardware a good cleaning. If you have a laptop or desktop, give it a little TLC with some compressed air and clean off your keyboard and mouse with some rubbing alcohol. Once everything’s all cleaned up, your computer will feel a lot nicer (and like new!). Photo by nathanmac87.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

9. Calibrate Your Monitor(s)

If you haven’t calibrated your monitor since you bought it, chances are its colours are a little off. You can seriously improve the image quality by taking it through the built-in monitor calibration tool that comes with Windows or OS X. You’ll find Windows’ tool in Display Control Panel, and OS X’s in the Display section of System Preferences. Check out our monitor calibration guide for more info (and while you’re at it, you might as well do the same for your HDTV).


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

8. Remap Your Unused Keys

Can you remember the last time you actually used the Print Screen key? Or Caps Lock, or Insert, or, Pause Break? Most of us can’t, so why not turn those keys into something more useful? You can remap any key to another one with a tool like SharpKeys, or give them new functions altogether with programs like AutoHotkey (which, coupled with Nircmd, can do some pretty useful stuff) And if you want to label those keys, a few stickers will do the trick nicely. Photo by Neil T.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

7. Improve Your Speaker Setup

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be an audiophile — in fact, you can probably improve on the setup you already have for $0. If your speakers aren’t at ear level, try to raise them so they are, or at least angle them toward your ears — you really will hear a difference. If you have a subwoofer, make sure it’s balanced properly with your speakers. Turn your subwoofer all the way down, start playing music, then slowly turn it up until you just start to hear it.

That’ll fill out the sound nicely without overpowering it (unless you prefer drowning out your music with bass, in which case, go nuts!). And if your subwoofer has a crossfade setting, try to set it to the frequency at which your speakers start to drop off — which may require a little research (for example, my speakers drop off at around 80Hz). You can often upgrade your headphones for free, too — or at least make them more comfortable.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

6. Make Your Workspace More Ergonomic

While it may not improve your PC per se, having an ergonomic setup can make your PC easier to use and really improve your experience at the desk. For example, raising your monitor to eye level means you don’t have to look down at them, and having your chair at the correct level can make your keyboard and mouse much more comfortable (and by the way, those keyboard feet are actually supposed to be left folded in). Check out our guide to a more ergonomic workspace for more. Photo by Joe Loong.


5. Ditch Unreliable Wireless and Go Wired

Wireless internet and peripherals are convenient, but convenient doesn’t always equal “best”. If your computer’s on a wireless network, chances are you’ll get slower file transfers between machines and a less reliable connection to the internet (which can cause problems with gaming, streaming, or video chat). Your internet speeds won’t necessarily be slower, but you may experience lag or occasional dropouts. So if you do any of these things, try wiring your computers up with ethernet instead — if you already have a cable lying around, it’s a free upgrade that can make a big difference. Check out the video to the right from NCIX Tech Tips for a demonstration.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

4. Keep It Running Quietly

Cleaning the dust out of your computer will help it run quieter, but with a few software tweaks, you can take it even further. Check out a program like SpeedFan (for Windows) or smcFanControl (for Mac) to control your computer’s fan speeds. That way you can have them ramp up when you need them, but keep them running on low, quiet power when you don’t. They’re both free, but if you’re willing to spend a bit of money on making your computer silent, you have some other options too. Photo remixed from Jon Ross.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

3. Overclock Your Processor and Graphics Card

If you’re willing to do some serious tweaking, you can get more bang for your buck by overclocking your computer’s processor and (if you’re a gamer) graphics card (if you have a netbook or Atom-based PC, we’ve got a guide for that too). It can harm your computer if done improperly, so be sure to do lots of research before you jump in, but it can really help speed up high-power processes like video encoding or gaming. Of course, if you’re gaming, you may also want to familiarise yourself with graphics settings — tweaking them to the right sweet spot is a great way to get better performance for free.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

2. Perform a Little Maintenance

A little maintenance can go a long way in making your computer feel like new. If you haven’t done it in a while, you might want to clear out some old files, uninstall programs you don’t use, and so on — check out our guides to Windows, Mac, and Linux maintenance for more.


Top 10 Free Upgrades To Make Your PC Better

1. Install Better, Free Software

Still using Adobe Reader to read PDFs? Still using a bloated, expensive antivirus suite? You can probably improve your experience (not to mention make things run a little faster) with a better program — and often, the better alternatives are free! Check out our App Directory for Windowsand OS X for more. Photo by Perfect Vectors (Shutterstock) and Litz (Shutterstock).


  • I’m all for the last one, with the exception of the antivirus advice. Unless you know what you’re doing with your computer, stick to something that’s not free. As a computer technician, I’m forever seeing machines with free avg and avira and the likes, that are FULL of malware and such. And when I say full, I don’t mean one or two.. I’m talking thousands. Unless you’re really competent with computers, just don’t risk a free AV package.

    • I used to educate my customers, and made sure they had suitable AV protection, whether it was free or not. Education is the issue, not the free AV software which do in fact have world class protection if you google that.

      • yeah education is the key, but the problem is, they don’t get educated until after they fall victim for the most part. I always make sure I tell my customers what kind of things to look out for, but it’s the poor saps who go and buy their computer from places like Hardly Normal and the likes, that get terrible advice from the sales people, who fail to be educated in the proper manner.
        Also, sure they say free AV offers world class protection, but it’s a load of rubbish for the most part. It all depends on which one you’re using. AVG for instance, paid or free, is terrible at actually keeping stuff out, let alone getting rid of things once they get in. That’s just my experience though. I’m sure everyone has seen different scenarios, but over my many years of being a tech, it always seems to be the machines that have their software that people bring in to be disinfected. The machines I service that have bitdefender or kaspersky rarely seem to get anything too nasty, and if they do, it’s only one or two at a time instead of hundreds or thousands. Of course, I’m not going to try and force the world to stop using others, as it’d probably take away a lot of my work, but I just wanted to point out that just because there are free alternatives out there, doesn’t always mean it’s the best option 🙂

        • I’ve used and sold Kaspersky, Norton, Trend Micro and Mcaffee over the years, I don’t see what the big deal is, one is no better than the other. No antivirus will keep your computer 100% safe.
          AVG terrible at keeping stuff out? That’s entirely your opinion, it’s like any other AV, designed to keep the bad stuff out.
          You seeing customers who have AVG free and viruses is because its free, and any dumb bunny can get it and install it. Somebody willing to pay is probably aware enough they are less likely to get themselves in trouble.
          AVG and Spybot and a little education have kept myself and many of my customers out of trouble.

          • Yes it’s my opinion, but one from many years of experience in running side by side tests as well as amounts of customers who bring in infected machines, complaining that they paid money for the full version of AVG, and still managed to get infected. There are definitely some better than others though. If they were all the same, there would be no need for AV tests.

            I’m not trying to convert anyone to a particular product, or give the impression it’s my way or the highway, I’m merely providing some extra information. It’s often advice from articles like these that make people think paid AV is a waste of time, when really it’s not. You do get what you pay for. Free/cheap AV’s will generally offer a minimum level of protection, and people who aren’t very tech savvy, are often happy to read an article like this and think everything will be ok. If AVG works for you, then great! More power to them and you!
            I’m just trying to let other not so technically minded people know, that free AV’s are not going to make you invulnerable, and in most cases, even offer anywhere near close to good protection. Paid AV’s, even good ones like Kaspersky and Bitdefender aren’t going to make you invulnerable either, but you’re less likely to get infected in the first place if you have a decent one. Prevention is always better than cure.

            As doggie015 points out below, even paid ones are sometimes worse than free ones, but a little research will help you reach a decision on what system is right for you.
            The reason I tend to bash AVG though, is when you have a customer who comes in with a paid version, and has over 2000 infections (in a machine they’ve only had for 6 months,) after cleaning their machine, and setting them up with a good protection system, having them bring in the machine a year later with 0 infections, pretty much speaks for itself. They didn’t change their browsing/downloading habits, (or rather their kids didn’t, as all the programs I removed like limewire etc were all back on the computer after it came back) yet they had nowhere near as many nasties to deal with, as they were getting warnings about files being infected before they had even opened them.

      • There are some paid AV’s that are worse than free! The October 2013 AV test showed that in real-world tests showed that Avast free antivirus had a higher detection rate than McAfee – a paid antivirus!

        While you can get some decent protection for free which will be good enough for most users (I used Avast! free antivirus + Threatfire + ZoneAlarm firewall until ThreatFire was discontinued), a good paid option will provide better protection (I switched to Kaspersky which got a 100% detection rate in the latest real-world tests!)

        • It’s definitely worthwhile doing a bit of research before you commit to paying for AV! Both Kaspersky and bitdefender are continuously ranked at the top in terms of detection rates. Always worth a look at the stats before renewing though!

          • Yeah; I’m not really that loyal to AV brands. If Kaspersky starts consistently slipping then I’ll move to another with consistently high detection rates

    • At the same time, a lot of commercial anti-virus software packages are heavily bloated to the extent where they might even slow down the PC more than the malware that it blocks. Not to mention how annoying some of the constant nagging from them are, case in point: Norton 360. I’ve personally used Windows Security Essentials for the last few years and I’ve found it pretty good. I haven’t had anything serious happen to me and the software is quite lightweight and free.

      • Totally agree with Norton being bloated. It’s definitely not something I would recommend. I too used Microsoft security essentials for a while, but they have unfortunately slipped in their detection rates this year :\ It’s a bit sad really as it really was a great program. Hopefully they can pull themselves back up the ranks again!

        • I hear Norton has picked up its game and is less resource-intensive now (I wouldn’t know as I haven’t used it for 6 years now). Kaspersky has never let me down, however, so I’m happy to keep using it.

          • Norton is certainly much less resource intensive as it was a year or two ago. A lot of issues seemed to be experienced during its background scanning sessions.

    • Even if they use paid AV software, if they click “ignore” when given an alert, it won’t stop them getting infected

  • Heartily endorse going wired. Went back to a wired keyboard and mouse after years of wireless kb and mice and haven’t looked back. So much better.

    • I’ve never had a wireless keyboard, but wireless mice for the most part are pretty decent. Wired internet is annoying though. Only time I leave things unwired, is if they have no ethernet port!

  • Can you remember the last time you actually used the Print Screen key? Or Caps Lock, or Insert, or, Pause Break?

    I use these keys daily. What world are you living in?

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