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Q: How do I fix a slow laptop?

Memory, Storage Speed, Software, Upgrade

Speed problems in laptops boil down to three main fixes, and one nuclear option
NOTE: Always have a complete and current backup of your data before starting any work!

1) Do you have enough memory? If you have a lower amount of RAM memory than you are commonly using forthe programs and data you are running, then the machine if forced to copy memory locations off to the hard drive to make room in RAM for new info, and read it back again when it is needed, this is called Virtual Memory or “swap” file use. Drives are thousands of times slower than real memory, so this creates waiting time. You see this when you have several programs open, or many browser tabs, and your machine makes you wait when you switch between programs or windows.

By upgrading your laptop to the highest amount of RAM memory you can budget, the machine will be able to keep running at full speed for longer (of course, if you do a large amount of multitasking, you can eventually open enough programs to force it into Virtual Memory swapping again.)

2) If your hard drive is nearly full, it could be slowing down by as much as half of its potential speed. Keeping at least 30 % of your drive space free is recommended. A larger capacity drive will run faster given the same data load. Installing a faster Solid State Drive (SSD) in place of a hard drive is an excellent way to extend the useful life of a laptop. SSD drives are three to five times faster to respond than hard drives, so booting the machine, loading programs and saving files will be faster. As well, if you do have to use Virtual Memory (1, above) then the faster SSD drive will reduce the waiting time for the swap files to read and write.

Most laptops with a hard drive use a 2.5 inch SATA mechanism, so a 2.5 inch SATA SSD is a direct replacement. Some newer laptops have a M.2 PCI-e SSD socket. If check the specifications, if yours has an M.2 PCI-e NVMe socket, then that is the way to go for an upgrade, as M.2 PCI-e NVMe SSD drives are much faster yet than SATA SSD drives. If you’re in luck you may have both a SATA hard drive and a M.2 socket, so you can use the hard drive for mass storage, and the M.2 SSD as your boot drive for speed.

3) What you load in software has a bearing on the overall performance.

First, make sure that your software and your laptop’s drivers are all at the latest updates appropriate for your machine (follow the directions for installation).

Then, scan your machine with an up to date antimalware program to guard against malware infection.

The key to software performance is to run only the software you need, and no more. Multitasking is not your friend here, so resist the temptation to keep many programs open at once. Quit from programs when you are not going to need them for the immediate task. Close Web browser tabs when you are not using them – Chrome is notorious for consuming a large amount of memory for each tab you have open.

Startup and background items: Your machine has a batch of software that it loads on startup, which continued to run in the background, taking away memory and processor power from your main tasks. These can be program ‘updaters’, which nag you to purchase newer versions, they can be cloud services that stay running like Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, they can be printer, camera or scanner software for a device you have long since retired, they can be ‘assistants’ that allow you to launch programs faster – exept they consume computing power even if you seldom open their host program. Stopping these programs from launching when you start your computer can make boot up faster, and performance smoother. It’s not one size fits all, you’ll need to do some investigation to determine what you actually do need and what you can dispense with. For Windows, useful programs for controlling Startup items are Autoruns from Microsoft, or CCleaner from Piriform. For Mac you can check the Startup Items under your User Preferences, CCleaner Mac or the utility OnyX from Titanium (its a powerful program, use judiciously)

4) Hardware upgrades are often asked about. In general, outside of RAM and drives, almost all laptops do not permit upgrades to the CPU chip or the internal graphics processing unit (GPU). Some laptops don’t even give access to upgradeable memory or SSD. So in most cases, the answer to speeding up a notebook machine after you have addressed 1, 2 and 3 above, is to buy a new, more powerful machine, and sell or donate your old one.

Note: If all you are after is faster video performance for gaming, and you notebook has a high speed external port like Thunderbolt, then you can possibly get an external chassis that you can install a desktop gaming-class GPU card in. But this is an expensive and complex option that ties you to an AC outlet and an external monitor.

One outside option for an older laptop is to abandon Windows entirely and go with a lightweight Linux operating system install. The lower demands of the Linux OS can make running on elderly CPUs with limited RAM workable. But there is a complexity to setting it up with compatible drivers for your machinery, so this is best tackled by enthusiasts with time and access to the knowledge.

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