What's The Fastest Way To Speed Up An Old PC?

I’m always thrilled to get “help me out with a tech problem” letters in my inbox, and I’ve had quite a few lately related to PC upkeep—likely prompted by this question I answered last month. I’m back with another one today, and it’s a twist on the ol’ “How do I make something old feel fresh” dilemma any would-be upgrader faces.

Lifehacker reader Michele writes:

“Just read your article regarding keeping your old desktop running smoothly. I have a 5 year old Lenovo AIO and wondered how to keep it running smoothly? There is nothing to take off and blow out, etc. I would like to upgrade from the Windows 8 I have as a pre-install to Windows 10 but am not sure how this is done either. Can you help a 69 year old with limited technical skills?”

I was all set to tell you that you can, in fact, disassemble some all-in-one systems and upgrade them. It’s not the worst process in the world, depending on how kind your manufacturer has been to you, but it’s not impossible.

However, since you self-admitted that you have limited technical skills, I suspect busting out the screwdrivers is probably not something you’re looking to do. (In case you want that challenge, look on Lenovo’s site—likely its support site—for a “hardware maintenance manual” for your specific all-in-one.)

Were you looking to give your system’s hardware a boost, my guess is that you’d want to bump up its memory, if possible, to the fastest and largest amount your system supports. I won’t get too technical here, since you probably won’t go this route, but I’d opt for 8GB at minimum (if possible) if you don’t already have it—which you can check by pulling up System from your Windows Control Panel. You can then use a simple site like Crucial to see what memory fits your system, as well as how much you’ll actually be able to install in your system. (In other words, you might not even be able to make it to 8GB.)

I’d also slap a solid-state drive in your system if it doesn’t have one already, but this would be a trickier upgrade—you’d have to clone your current drive to a new one, back up and restore all your data, or simply reinstall Windows and start from scratch. It’s not the most fun process to undertake, especially if you’ve never done it before, and this all assumes you even have space in your system for a 2.5" drive (or feel like purchasing a converter to fit a 3.5" bay).

Now, let’s take all that advice and brush it aside, since hardware upgrades sound like they’re not in your cards.

Make that big move to Windows 10

What I would do, in your case, is make the jump to Windows 10. You won’t see huge performance gains by doing so—assuming your system can even handle Windows 10 to begin with. (I’m guessing it can.) What should make your system feel speedier is that you’ll be giving it a good spring cleaning of-sorts. You’ll be ditching all the crappy programs and other junk data you’ve accumulated on your system; resetting any settings that might be slowing down your PC; and, if nothing else, giving you even stronger protections (in the form of Windows Defender) to protect from any potential performance-inhibiting malware infections.

We’ve talked about how to install Windows 10 before—reinstall it, really—and the same tips apply. Make sure you’ve backed up your critical data, which includes anything important in your Documents, Pictures, or Desktop folders, for example (or wherever else you keep your key files). You might also want to write down a list of key programs you’ll want to make sure to reinstall later, if you’re forgetful, and make sure you’ve saved your browser bookmarks (ideally to the cloud) as well as any open tabs you’re still meaning to get to.

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, check to see if there’s a way to get Windows 10 for free (or cheap). Otherwise, insert the installation media into your system—whether you purchased a CD, burnt one yourself, or are using a flash drive to install Windows 10—and let ‘er rip. I’m glossing over the process a bit for the sake of brevity, but installing Windows 10 isn’t all that difficult. My recommendation is to go for a clean installation when prompted, rather than an upgrade, as that’ll give you the basic, barebones Windows 10 experience that you can then tweak to your liking.

(For example, I find that if I forget to reinstall a program after a clean installation, it probably wasn’t that important to begin with, and I probably should have uninstalled it from my system some time ago.)

You can also use a tool like Ninite to quickly download and install apps you probably use pretty regularly. And if you’re running into any trouble, try checking out Windows 10's new “Recommended Troubleshooting” feature. It won’t solve every problem, but it’s something.

Oh, and don’t forget to copy all of your data back from wherever you previously backed it up. That’s pretty important—that, and make sure you set up whatever service it is to back up your stuff pretty quickly, because that’s a step that can be easily forgotten (to disastrous consequences).


Comments

    Upgrading to an SSD makes a huge difference. Before adding RAM check in Task Manager how much you are using when you have all the programmes that you normally use at once. If you aren't using at least 75% you are not going to get any performance increase with more unused RAM. If you are running 32-bit Windows don't put more than 4GB of RAM in it either. If you are running 64-bit Windows 8GB is plenty for most users.

    Installing Linux will breathe life into most older hardware.

    I think it's worth adding that you need to view (most) AIO PCs the same way as you do a laptop. ie: they're not super upgradeable. And even if you can upgrade more major stuff (like a video card for example) you need to bear in mind heat and power constraints.

    The space in the case will be very limited, as such cooling is a major issue. With a regular case you can always get better fans or more fans. And if the power supply isn't big enough it's easy to get a new, bigger one. This may not be feasible in an AIO. Heck even a RAM upgrade requires more power and produces more heat. Not a huge amount, but more. Even SSDs may consume more power than your old HDD (depending on models and usage).

    Anyway, TL:DR version if it comes to upgrading components on a 5+ year old AIO I'd seriously consider just replacing the whole thing.

    As for cloning HDDs with limited case space. Assuming the case has a USB slot (if it doesn't WTF?) you can always buy an external USB HDD enclosure and connect the new drive that way. You can get an enclosure super cheap or pay a heap for them. My personal preference is a $20(ish) Kingston enclosure which strikes a good balance between price and reliability.

    As for the cloning process there are a bunch of apps that can do it. I've tried both EaseUS partition master and Aomei Partition Assistant (which has a free version). Both tools are windows based and really easy to follow.

    The one caveat I'll mention if you take this approach is be aware that there are size limits to partitions on drives. If you buy a large drive (over 2TB basically) you need to make sure you initalize it to GPT and format it as NTFS when you hook it up in the USB enclosure. I made the mistake of initialising a 4TB SSD as MBR and formatting it FAT32 and while I cloned files to it successfully the moment I switched it into my PC it became a GPT Protective partition that was impossible to read or write to.

    SSD for sure. I have a mate with a core 2 quad PC with 4GB of RAM, chucking in a 250GB WD Blue SATA SSD made all the difference.

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