Computers seem to become slower as they age. Anyone who has kept a PC for more than three years has run into this issue. What once seemed quick begins to feel sluggish and ancient.
There are reasons for this. Operating systems tend to become more resource-hungry over time, hardware ages, and the exuberance felt during the first months of laptop ownership fades. This is why some people buy new laptops frequently, but there are ways to make an older model feel new again.
All computers acquire dust and dirt as they age. In a worst-case scenario your laptop can be slowly choked by invading particles. Internal temperatures rise, reducing the efficiency of your hardware. As the problem worsens some components may have to throttle their performance, slowing your laptop down.
Cleaning a laptop isn’t difficult. All laptops, even Apple’s unibody MacBooks, can have their internals accessed by removing the bottom panel. This usually requires that you take out a number of screws and then use a small, sharp object to pry the panel off.
Once inside, use a compressed air can to blow away dust, swab away dust in corners and fans with cotton Q-tips, and seal the unit back up. You may have to do this many times over the course of your laptop ownership, but it will keep your laptop running like new.
Re-Install Or Change The Operating System
Operating systems can go wonky over time. Ideally, you should be able to fix any problems by uninstalling software, deleting bad registry entries and the like. In reality, it seems like there is a point where this becomes futile or the effort required is less than reinstalling the operating system.
While you’re thinking about reinstalling the operating system you should also think about changing it. If you’re running an older version of Windows, particularly Vista, going to Windows 7 is worthwhile (though also expensive, and again, you may feel spending so much on an old laptop is unwise).
Or you can go the other direction and install an alternative operating system. Windows users are sometimes tempted to try OS X, but I don’t recommend it. Getting a Hackintosh to work is a real pain, OS X isn’t more forgiving to old hardware, and it’s not free.
Something Linux based is your best bet. Ubuntu is an old standby that is now quite mature. Lightweight versions of Linux are worth consideration if your laptop is over five years old. And don’t forget about Google Chrome OS, which can be installed on a broad range of hardware using the Lime build.
Install More RAM
RAM is the default hardware upgrade recommendation for old laptops, and for good reason. New operating systems often feel slow not because there’s insufficient processing power but instead because there’s insufficient memory.
This upgrade is also easy to recommend because it’s (usually) easy to install. Most PC laptops have a small panel, usually secured with one or two screws, that covers the RAM. Remove that panel and you can upgrade without disassembling the entire laptop. There may even be instructions in your laptop’s manual.
I recommend moving to 4GB of RAM (no more, no less). You should be able to buy this for between $60 and $80 dollars. Before making a purchase do some research in to the RAM your laptop needs or just look at the RAM currently installed. It’s usually labeled.
Buy A New Wireless Adapter
This is a frequently overlooked upgrade. If you have an older laptop it probably uses the 802.11g standard, and if it is really old, it may use 802.11a/b. These standards are inferior to the new 802.11n standard and upgrading will improve your web browsing experience.
You can buy an 802.11n USB 2.0 adapter for just $20 bucks. This is for a 150 Mbps version, which isn’t top-of-the-line, but is as fast as most users will need. Faster dual-band adapters cost a bit more on average, but are still reasonable.
A wireless router that can handle 802.11n will be required. Factor in the cost of a new router (about $50) if you don’t already have one that can support the standard.
Install A Solid State Drive
Hard drive speed is a common issue. Most laptops ship with 5400 RPM drives, which have a slow spindle speed and low data transfer rates. Worse, the cheap drives found in many laptops typically have lethargic access times. This can make it appear as if your computer is hanging or processing something when you open a new file. It’s often not the processor’s fault – it’s the hard drive, which is slowly swinging its mechanical read/write head and the disc into a position where the correct data can be read.
Solid state drives have no mechanical parts. Even those made a few years back had access times under ten milliseconds. Today, most SSDs have access times of just a couple milliseconds. Data transfer speeds are far better, as well, so large applications will load more quickly.
There’s only one problem, and that’s the price. A decent mid-range 128GB model, like the Crucial M4, is going to set you back $150 dollars. A 256GB model can be $300. This makes it the most expensive recommendation by far and some users may feel that they’re better off purchasing a new laptop instead of dropping so much money on one that’s out of date. Personally, I don’t recommend this upgrade for laptops that are over 3 years old.
The tips here can help put your laptop back on its feet. I suggest trying them in order. If you aren’t happy with cleaning the laptop, reinstall the operating system. And if that still feels sluggish, upgrade the RAM.
Do you have any tips that aren’t listed here? We’d love to know about them, so leave a comment.
Image Credit: Iwan Gabovitch, Alex Gorzen