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How to Boost PC Performance

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/19/2011

Over time, PCs seem to feel slower. Part of this is due to new applications and technologies, which always seem to be more demanding than the old ones. But a lack of proper maintenance can also sap performance from your PC. Luckily, there are numerous ways to restore your PC's former glory.

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    Reviving Your PC

    So, your PC is running slowly. It's been a trusty companion, but for some reason it no longer seems as spry as it used to be. Using it has become a slow, tiresome affair, which often leaves you feeling like throwing your PC out the window. You're considering buying a new one, or at least installing a few upgrades, but the price-tag has kept you away from those options. What can be done?

    A lot, as it turns out. There is a reason why there are entire comic strips devoted to making fun of how annoying PCs can be to use. Virtually all PCs will eventually begin to run more slowly than when they are new, and in hindsight, this makes sense. Most complex technology needs some form of regular maintenance in order to keep equipment in top shape and a PC is no different. There are many ways of maintaining your PC, but unlike a brand new car, a new computer doesn't typically come with a service manual detailing when you need to perform regular maintenance.

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    Clean Up The Hard Drive

    Over time, regular use of your hard drive will cause file fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs because of the way mechanical hard drives work. They consist of a read/write head, which reads data from the disc and writes data onto the disk, and the disk itself, which spins at a very high speed. The disk itself is a physical media, which means that each piece of data has a physical location on the disk, and the data can be read only if the read/write head is put in the correct place. Your hard drive does its best to place related bits of data together, but as the disk fills up and files are moved, deleted, and created, this becomes harder and harder. And the further apart two related bits of data are, the more time it will take for your drive to find everything it needs to play a movie or show you a picture.

    Thankfully, de-fragmentation is very easy. All modern versions of Windows have a de-fragmentation tool which can be accessed by right-clicking on the hard drive icon, going to properties, and navigating to the tools tab. The de-fragmentation tool will have the hard drive reorganize everything, so that data can be accessed easily. Doing a de-fragmentation on a one or two year old computer can dramatically increase speed, even when doing simple tasks like web-browsing or organizing photographs.

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    Clean Up Unwanted Applications

    Many programs attempt to launch themselves when your computer starts. Anti-virus programs, instant messengers, video drivers, mouse drivers - the list goes on. Individually, these programs are usually very easy on system resources, but when put together, they can sap a great deal of your PC's performance. By cleaning them out, you can free up RAM for use in other tasks, and also reduce the burden on your CPU.

    To clean out unwanted applications, first take a tally of what unneeded programs are currently running on your computer. Anything that does not provide a vital service can be cleaned out. For example, it is probably a good idea to keep your anti-virus and firewall programs running at all times, but having instant messengers running when you don't plan on using them will only sap your system resources.

    Once you have your list made, open up MsConfig. You can do this by navigating to the Run application on your Windows menu, typing in msconfig.exe, and hitting the Run button. If you have a Vista machine, you can simply type msconfig into your search bar in the Windows menu. Once you have MsConfig up, choose "Selective Startup" in the general tab. Then navigate to the startup tab. Here you'll find a list of programs that start when your computer boots. Uncheck anything that you have determined you don't need. Then click Okay to exit MsConfig and save your changes. You can choose to reboot immediately, but you don't have to.

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    Download a Free Maintenance Program

    A more comprehensive way to boost your PC is to download an automatic PC maintenance utility. There are many of these available, but be careful, because many free maintenance programs actually installed unwanted malware onto your computer. When you get a hold of one you can trust - Advanced SystemCare Free is a good example - you can use the program as an all-in-one headquarters for maintaining your PC.

    Free maintenance programs can handle most of the tasks I listed above, but they can also perform more difficult clean-ups, such as getting rid of old registry files or guarding against performance-sucking malware and spyware programs. These tasks are difficult for the average user to perform without assistance. More importantly, they take care of the problems in a fraction of the time that would be required to get rid of such problems manually. Most free maintenance programs have a "1-click" feature, which allows you to automatically perform all required maintenance with a single mouse-click.

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    A Time To Upgrade

    It should be noted that when trying to increase your PC's performance, maintenance can only go so far. Even perfect maintenance will never allow your PC to run faster than when it was originally built, because there will always be limitations on hardware. Maintaining your PC can increase its lifespan substantially, but there will come a time when an upgrade is necessary to make use of the latest applications.

    Should you decide that you need an upgrade, Bright Hub offers articles about how to install upgrades and how to research and purchase the best upgrades. Upgrading your PC is actually an extremely inexpensive prospect, providing that you spend your money wisely.

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