Slow laptop? How to make it faster (for free)

Looking to speed up a slow laptop or PC? We reveal the key simple and free steps that anyone can take make a laptop running Windows 10, 8, or 7 faster.

Don’t throw out your slow laptop just yet. Try these free fixes to make your laptop faster!

Working with a slow computer can be seriously frustrating, gradually over time or suddenly. Even if you’re fairly diligent with maintaining your laptop or PC, it’s surprising how quickly things slow down. If you’re running Windows 10, 8, or 7 and asking yourself, “Why is my laptop so slow?” this post is for you!

Thankfully, you don’t have to trade in your computer just yet. You can take several steps to give it a bit of a boost in the performance department. With some simple decluttering and a few more technical operations, even the slowest computer can return to its old self.

This post reveals 14 things you can do to speed up a slow laptop or PC using Windows 10, 8, or 7. For this article, in particular, we’ll focus on system performance issues rather than those related to your network. We’re running Windows 10, so we’ll use this version for the directions and screenshots. However, any adjustments for Windows 11, 8, and 7 will be noted below, if applicable.

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  • Works in real-time to optimize CPU, RAM, and hard drive performance
  • Removes junk files to free up space
  • Identifies unwanted programs which slow down start-up
  • Monitors for and fixes over 30,000 known problems that can cause errors or performance issues
  • Patches known Windows security vulnerabilities

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Here’s how to make your laptop faster:

Close system tray programs

If your computer is off to a slow start, then you may have too many programs starting up simultaneously as Windows itself. Items in the system tray often launch at startup and stay running while you use your computer.

To access these items, click the upwards arrow toward the right side of your taskbar.

A desktop with the system tray open.

If there are any programs you don’t need to have running, right-click them and close them.

Stop programs running on startup.

Similar to programs running in the tray, other programs that automatically run on startup can slow down your computer. Some you may want to run, such as antivirus software, but others may be unnecessary.

Right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager or hit Ctrl-Shift-Escape to launch. Head to the Startup tab, and you’ll be able to view each item that runs on startup and its impact.

The Task Manager screen.

Go through these and decide which ones don’t need to start automatically. This process is especially beneficial to performance if you can disable some high-impact ones. But note that some of these programs are vital for Windows to operate. For example, the ones with Microsoft listed as the publisher are probably best left alone. If you aren’t sure, leave it, or try a Google search to find out more.

To disable, right-click and hit Disable. Remember, you’re not disabling the program just because it runs on startup.

Windows 7: Instead of accessing Task Manager, you’ll need to search for System Configuration.

Update Windows, drivers, and apps

You’ve probably heard that keeping your software up to date is a good idea for security. This is true, and it can help performance too. Windows will automatically send you a notification when an update is available. You need to make sure you don’t keep putting it off.

If you think you might have missed an update, you can always check. Go to Start and click Settings or the settings icon. Then go to Updates & Security Windows Updates.

A Windows Update screen.

Aside from your Windows operating system, drivers and apps should also be kept up to date. Again, this is good for both security and performance. If you think you might have missed an update, a quick online search should tell you which version you should use.

Delete unnecessary files

Just like our closets and drawers, our computers get cluttered. While you can’t see it, you know it’s there and could negatively impact your computer’s performance. This is especially true if you deal with many large files, such as high-resolution images, audio files, and videos, daily.

Free up space by making a habit of deleting files and folders each week and emptying the recycle bin afterward. Doing this regularly means it’s more likely you’ll remember exactly what’s in the files and folders and won’t be so concerned about mistakenly deleting something important.

Handy tip: HDDs usually run at peak speed until they reach roughly 90 percent capacity. So if you check how much space is used up and you’re over 90 percent, that’s probably slowing things down. SSDs slow down gradually as they fill up, so staying on top of things is good. It’s recommended not to fill an SSD to more than 75 percent of its capacity.

  1. Find programs that eat up resources.

If you find that your computer is suddenly running significantly slower, chances are there is a particular program to blame. One way to identify the culprit is to go into your task manager and find out what’s eating up your resources.

Right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager. Click More details to find out about the programs currently running on your computer. It should show you the Processes tab by default.

The Processes tab within the Task Manager screen.

You can click each header to sort the list according to which applications use most of that resource. If you need to close something, try closing the actual application first. If it won’t close, come back to the Task Manager screen, right-click the application, and hit End task.

Windows 7: Instead of accessing Task Manager, you’ll need to search for System Configuration.

Adjust your power options

Windows comes with several preset ‘power plans’ to suit your needs. The default is set to Balanced, which considers performance and energy consumption. But the latter is only a concern if you’re running off battery or trying to keep the electricity bills down. As such, you may want to change your plan.

As its name suggests, the High-performance plan is a better option if your PC is running slow. Although this option uses more energy, it favors performance, so it should help speed up your machine.

Aside from the standard options, you could choose to create your custom plan. Go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Power Options > Create a power plan. Choose which existing plan you would like to start with, enter a new one, and select Next.

Power plan options.

Basic options include how long the display stays on when you’re inactive and how long before the computer goes into sleep mode. These won’t affect your computer’s speed, but if you go into Change advanced power settings, you can make more adjustments that will have an impact.

Uninstall programs you don’t use

We often install huge programs without realizing how much space they take up. If you think that might be the case, you can easily uninstall any programs you don’t use. Even if it’s a program you use now and again, if it’s particularly large, it might be worth simply reinstalling each time you need it.

To uninstall a program, head to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features.

The Programs and Features screen.

Go through the programs and decide which ones, if any, you don’t need. If you’re unsure about a particular program, you could use a search engine to find out more. Alternatively, you can also use a tool like the aptly named PC Decrapifier to help you distinguish the good from the bad.

Turn Windows features on or off.

While in the Programs and Features screen, you might want to check to see if there are any Windows components you don’t need. Click Turn Windows features on or off, and you’ll see a list of these components.

A Windows Features screen.

Be careful not to turn off anything you need. So again, searching for anything you’re unsure about is a good idea.

Run a disk cleanup

Windows comes with a built-in tool for cleaning up junk that accumulates over time. To access the Disk Cleanup tool, go to Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tools and select Disk Cleanup from the list.

The Disk Cleanup options.

Here, you can select the types of files you want to get rid of and click OK. Then click Clean up system files and choose any system files you want to remove.

If you’d rather not do this manually, there is the software you can purchase to help. For example, Iolo System Mechanic will detect and remove junk files in real-time, so you don’t have to worry about them.

Iolo system mechanic

It has many other features that boost your computer’s performance, such as cleaning up your browsing history, optimizing settings and application processes, and defragmentation (see below). This software currently costs just $14.98 for a one-year subscription.

  1. Defragment your hard drive

Over time, files on your hard drive become fragmented. As your computer has to check multiple places for the pieces, it can run more slowly. The term ‘defragment’ sounds a little dramatic, but it means putting those files back together so your system can run more efficiently.

It’s something that Windows 10, 8, and 7 do automatically on a set schedule. The default schedule is once per week, but you can manually run it if you suspect there’s an issue.

First, it’s important to note that you only need to do this if your computer uses a traditional mechanical Hard Disk Drive (HDD). A Solid State Drive (SSD) works differently from an HDD, and defragmentation is not needed. If you have both, only defragment the HDD.

Go to My Computer and right-click the hard drive (by default named WINDOWS (C:) (though you may have renamed it). Then go to Properties > Tools and under Optimize and defragment the drive, click Optimize.

The Tools tab of the drive properties screen.

You’ll then get an Optimize Drives screen popup.

A list of the drives to be optimizied.

Note that in the above screenshot, all of the drives are SSD. These do not need to be defragmented. As in the image, Analyze will be grayed out for SSD drives but will be available for hard drives.

Select an HDD drive and click Analyze to see how fragmented it is. A good rule of thumb would be to keep it below five percent. If it’s above, you can click Optimize to defragment the disk.

If you have an SSD, you’ll notice Optimize is an available option. Clicking it will run the TRIM command, which wipes data no longer considered in use.

Windows 7: Look for Disk Defragmenter using the search bar and select an HDD under Current status.

Adjust or disable graphics and animations

More recent Windows versions come with many graphics, including animations such as fading effects and flyouts. This help make the application appear more sleek and refined and contributes to a better overall user experience. On the other hand, they can also slow down your computer.

Thankfully, adjusting these settings is simple and hopefully saves a little processing power. Go to Control Panel > System and Security > System > Advanced system settings. Then, in the Performance section, hit Settings, and you’ll have a full list of options.

The Visual Effects tab within Performance Options.

You can select Adjust for best performance (this will remove all visual effects) or opt to remove some individually. It’s a matter of preference, but fade and shadow features are some you could probably live without.

Windows 7:

  • Search for Performance Information and Tools.
  • Select Adjust visual effects.
  • Use the Visual Effects tab.

Check for malware

Malware (malicious software) is a broad term to describe malicious programs that could cause harm to your computer. These may come from various sources, including email links, software downloads, and even ads (malvertisements). Aside from potentially causing permanent damage to your system, some forms of malware can cause your computer to run slowly.

Having good antivirus software installed can help protect against malware and other threats. Some solid free options are available, so you don’t need to spend a penny.

We recommend Avira’s free tool, which scans for and removes malware and includes tuneup tools. This means it will protect your data and speed up your PC at the same time.

If you’re willing to pay a fee for your antivirus software, we recommend NortonTotalAV, or McAfee.

If you suspect malware is already affecting your computer, you can check for it using a scanner such as Zemana AntiMalware. You can then remove it using a removal tool like Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit. We’ve tested both of these products and were very satisfied with the results.

Disable Cortana

While the Windows 10 digital assistant, Cortana, is a handy feature, it uses up many resources and poses a privacy threat. Cortana used to be easily removed, but it’s a little trickier in the up-to-date versions. Nonetheless, it can be done if you’re willing to edit your system’s registry.

Upgrade your hardware

If you’ve tried all the tricks above, it might be time to invest in some new hardware. Here are a couple of things you may want to consider putting some money into:

  • Add an SSD: While HDDs offer more space for a lower price, adding an SSD can make your computer load programs and write files much faster.
  • Add more RAM: If you have an older system, it may have too little memory to run modern applications efficiently. What’s more, if you use a lot of programs simultaneously, you might not have enough Random Access Memory (RAM) to carry you through. Installing more RAM could give you the boost you need.

Restart your browser

If your computer is experiencing particularly slow speeds when you use the internet, it could simply be that your browser has become a bit clogged up. Don’t forget that your browser is your gateway to the internet, so if it starts loading pages very slowly, you could be left scratching your head.

Try closing down your browser and restarting it to solve this issue quickly. This may be enough to give the browser a refresh and get your internet back up to full speed. If pages are loading sluggishly, you may also want to install an adblocker (such as Adblock Plus) and a tracker blocking extensions (such as Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin).

To keep your browser working as efficiently and quickly as possible, you will also want to check that it is up-to-date. If all else fails, you could decide to uninstall and reinstall your browser to give it a fresh start. Alternatively, you may want to try removing the cookies and clearing the cache in your browser to see if this helps to speed things up.

Close your browser tabs

If restarting your browser still doesn’t help to solve the issue, it is possible that you need to close some tabs.

Anybody accustomed to running their browser with ten or more tabs open will likely be experiencing some sluggishness. This is because all those tabs require RAM, and your computer will allocate more resources each time you open a new tab.

If you are staring at your browser and the entire top of your screen is full of tabs, it’s probably time to spend 5 minutes closing any unnecessary tabs that are open.

Also, check for any additional Windows that may be running behind your primary browser window, as these could have multiple tabs in them that are causing your computer to grind to a halt.

Try a different antivirus program.

Everybody needs a solid antivirus program to ensure they do not accidentally download malware or become infected with other malicious infections. A reliable antivirus will run in the background and even scan incoming files in real-time. This will ensure you never let anything nasty onto your laptop, so it is important to use one.

The only potential problem is that some antivirus programs are extremely heavy on CPU and RAM consumption. The antivirus could be sapping away too much raw power if your laptop is a little low on processing power. As a result, you may find that it is causing your laptop to come to a grinding halt.

You may want to try something else if you use an antivirus known to eat up system resources. Check out our antivirus reviews for more information on the best antiviruses to use.

A few more tips

How you use your computer can potentially affect the speed at which your machine is running. This makes it essential to keep an eye on what apps are running and how your system may get clogged, leading to slow speeds. To help you out, we have included a few additional tips below:

  • Keep your computer clean: This may sound obvious, but accumulated dust and grime can slow down your computer. Physically cleaning your computer regularly could help speed it up and prevent overheating.
  • Remove unused browser extensions: These can slow down your browsing experience, so it’s worth regular housekeeping there.
  • Use a memory-saving extension: Some popular options include Auto Tab Discard and New Tab Suspender, which will reduce the memory footprint of open tabs.
  • Restart regularly: Sometimes, all you need is a fresh boot. Restarting your computer can enable updates to take effect and shut down stuck programs. When you’re taking a break, it could be a good time to hit restart while you go and make yourself a cuppa.
  • Run fewer simultaneous programs: Just like multitasking can be detrimental to productivity, running lots of programs simultaneously can dampen your computer’s speed. Make a habit of closing programs instead of just minimizing them, and you should see some improvement.
  • Reinstall the operating system: If you’ve tried everything and you’re still running into problems, the last resort might be a fresh install of Windows.

Can my VPN make my computer slow?

The answer to this question is yes. Unfortunately, not all VPNs are fast, and if you are using a substandard service with slow servers and inferior apps, it could cause your internet speeds to come to a grinding halt. VPNs require system resources to encrypt and decrypt data coming and going from your PC.

Of course, when pages start loading slowly, and it becomes impossible to use the internet, it is easy to blame your computer or assume you have become infected with a virus.

In reality, it is worth checking to see how your VPN is affecting your internet speeds. Some VPNs have been known to slow down their user’s internet by 95 percent. Understandably, that makes the computer feel like it is broken.

If your VPN severely slows down your internet, you may want to try a different VPN protocol. And failing that, it may be time to quit your current VPN and get a subscription with one of the world’s fastest VPNs instead.

Keeping things running smoothly

Once you’ve cleaned up your computer by implementing some of the tips above, no doubt you’ll want to keep it running at top speed. To avoid getting frustrated with lackluster performance, it’s a good idea to schedule a monthly cleanup. Use the above list of tips as a handy checklist, and you’re all set.


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