How to Clean Your Slow Windows PCDonna Marie Padua
Why is my computer so slow?! If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place. It’s normal for your computer to be running slower as it ages — but here, we’ll show you how to speed up your sluggish PC with our expert tips and advice. Or, speed up your PC automatically with Iolo System Mechanic.
Usually, your PC slows down because it’s not using its finite resources efficiently. There’s only so much processing power, memory, and storage space available, and the key to speeding up your computer is to optimize all three.
If you’ve already tried shutting down your PC and restarting it, and that didn’t speed things up, then you’ll need to take a more active approach. So, if you’re wondering why your PC gets slower over time, it’s likely because of one of the following reasons:
- It’s too hot. Your computer will self-regulate its performance to compensate for excessive heat. A cool computer is a fast computer.
- Your software is old. If you’re behind on your Windows and driver updates, you might suffer performance losses.
- It’s doing too much. If your computer is running too many programs at once, it won’t be able to optimize performance for the things that really matter. Excessive startup and background programs are the usual culprits here.
- You’re running low on memory. Your PC uses RAM (random access memory) to run all its active programs. Maxing out your RAM can lead to a sluggish PC.
- You’re running low on disk space. As your hard drive fills up, your PC has less room to hold temporary files. And without enough free space, your PC won’t be as easily able to prevent hard drive fragmentation.
- You’ve got malware. Many types of malware, such as viruses and worms, chew through your PC’s resources and slow it down.
But whatever’s causing your machine to perform sluggishly, Iolo System Mechanic is your PC performance booster that will whip your machine right back into shape so you can enjoy a smoother, speedier PC experience.
Cleaning Your PC System
1. Work and browse faster: Upgrade computer RAM & get a fast SSD
There are two major limiting factors to any office PC or laptop: its RAM and hard drive.
Your first limitation is your PC’s available physical memory (the RAM) where your computer holds the programs that you’re using. Think of RAM as your PC’s short-term memory.
These days, 4 GB of RAM should be the minimum to run a PC. That’s mostly because of two types of applications:
- Resource-intensive applications like video editing, gaming, Photoshop, or programming.
- Browsers. Fire up Google Chrome and load up 10 of your most popular sites: You’ll likely see RAM usage skyrocket to more than 2 or 3 GB. That leaves barely enough room for Windows itself, let alone any other program.
The result: Without sufficient RAM, your PC needs to shuffle things in and out of its short-term memory, and performance suffers. This is where all the annoying load times and freezes come from.
Our advice: Upgrade your memory if you’ve got anything less than 4 GB of RAM.
Unless you’re playing games or working with insanely large files, 8 GB should be fine. RAM comes cheap these days, with prices starting as low as $30 for a 4 GB module. If you’ve got a laptop, make sure it’s upgradeable (in many cases, it’s difficult or even impossible to upgrade laptop RAM).
Desktop owners are a little luckier here: Open up the case and locate your memory slots. Check the specifications of your PC to make sure your new RAM module fits (or ask a knowledgeable friend to help you).
Upgrading to an SSD
Your second-biggest limiting factor is your PC’s long-term memory: the hard disk! This is where Windows, your programs, and all your personal files are stored. Any time you load or open something — say, Spotify or your favorite photos — the hard disk needs to look for those bits and bytes. Then it transfers them to your RAM (see, it all plays together!).
More than 80% of PCs still have a mechanical hard disk drive (HDD). It’s essentially a rotating platter accessed by a moving read/write head — like a turntable playing a vinyl record, or a laser head reading a DVD. In contrast to all other PC components that process data, this mechanical approach is painfully slow. Your RAM or CPU (central processing unit) might be idling while the disk is still busy spinning.
Our advice: If you can, invest in an SSD (solid state drive). It’s a digital successor to your hard disk — no moving parts and instant access to all the bits. An SSD should increase your read and write speeds by a factor of at least 10. Windows will load faster, your files will open instantly, and your programs will run significantly smoother.
While SSD prices are still a bit higher than those of mechanical hard disks, you won’t regret the investment. A 250 GB SSD can be had for as little as $100. Even the more economically priced disks will breathe new life into an aging PC. Trust us on that — but, again, make sure your laptop or PC is upgradeable before you buy one.
Neat side effect: Going from a mechanical disk to an SSD also results in less power consumption and more battery life for laptops.
2. Play & edit faster: Get a great GPU
Are you a gamer, designer, or video editor? In that case, RAM, hard disks, and even your computer’s processor (the CPU) aren’t your top concern. Your graphics card is responsible for how well your PC handles video editing and gaming. So, if Grand Theft Auto 5, Ark: Survival Evolved, or Dark Souls 3 aren’t running as fast or looking as gorgeous as they do in their trailers, your graphics card is to blame.
On laptops, you’re completely out of luck, as the GPU (graphics processing unit) is soldered to the mainboard. No chance of upgrading that. Desktop PCs, however, can be easily upgraded with new GPUs.
If you’re looking to upgrade your GPU, market leaders NVIDIA and AMD have a wide range of options.
- Full HD gaming and rendering: Starting at $100–$150, the GeForce 1050/1060 series or Radeon 460/470 series offer great gaming experiences at Full HD resolutions (1920 x 1080).
- 1440p higher-end gaming and rendering: If you want to play at Full HD with the graphical settings in your games completely maxed out, or if you’re playing on a screen with WHQD resolution (2560 x 1440), you’d better get a Radeon 480 or a GeForce 1070/1080 (in the $300–$500 price range).
- 4K ultra-high-end gaming and rendering: These days, 4K is where it’s at. Only NVIDIA offers something for hardcore gamers who want to run games at a stunning 4096 x 2160 resolution. The only cards capable of hitting 4K gaming at a smooth framerate are the 1080 Ti (starting at $700), or the Titan X(p), if you’re willing to pay $1,300 to get the absolute best (even if it offers only an extra 5%–10% performance bump).
Just to be safe, deep-pocketed hardcore gamers should probably get two 1080 Ti or Titan X units to play every game at a buttery smooth 60 FPS.
We’ve explained the differences between the slower HDD and lightning-fast SSD above. Mechanical disks, in addition to being painfully slow, will also suffer from a phenomenon called “fragmentation.” The more programs and files you use, copy, and move, the more cluttered your disk becomes — and the harder the read/write head has to work to open or store your data.
The solution: Defrag your disk by opening up your Start menu, typing in Defrag and hitting the Enter key.
Click Optimize to start the process — and be patient, this might take a while.
4. Optimize startup by disabling startup items in Windows Task Manager
Is your PC taking a bit too long to boot up? It might be loading up too many programs that you don’t need. Use Windows Task Manager to review the list of programs that run automatically at startup.
To go through the list, right-click on your Windows taskbar (the bar along the bottom of your screen with all your app icons) and select Task Manager. Go to Startup and look at the items listed.
5. Use a patented method to reduce daily slowdown
Many programs like iTunes or Photoshop install software components that run every time your computer is turned on — even when you’re not using them. These are:
Services: They provide basic functionality like keeping products updated. For example, Adobe Reader installs “Adobe Updater,” which frequently checks for updates.
Scheduled Tasks: Background applications that come with Windows or other software you install. These tasks are mostly used to perform actions at specific times or in certain situations. For example, Dropbox uses a scheduled task on your PC that checks for updates every day at 5:50 pm.
Startup items: As mentioned above, startup items are additional programs that launch every time you turn on your PC. But while services and scheduled tasks run mostly in the background, startup items tend to be more visible — most of them show up on your taskbar.
There are many reasons why your PC gets slower over time, but these programs are among the most significant. They can put a high degree of stress on your computer and lead to undesirable outcomes.
- Less memory is available for active processes, making your PC sluggish.
- Higher stress causes more heat and increased energy consumption. Your PC runs slower to prevent overheating, and your laptop’s battery drains more quickly.
- Windows prioritizes these background tasks instead of your current programs and activities, such as a video game you’re playing or work you’re actually doing.
Now that we’ve established the causes and the effects of a typical PC slowdown, what can you do about it?
Well, you could turn off all startup applications (which is quite safe). But in order to catch everything on this list and return your PC to like-new performance, you’d need to uninstall programs (even those you might like or need). And you’d need to dig deep into your system and manually turn off services, scheduled tasks, and more — and then turn them back on again in case something goes wrong. That’s not exactly an ideal situation.
6. Overclock your CPU or GPU
Your processor and graphics card work at specific “clock” frequencies, which determine how many operations per second your hardware performs. For example, a Core i7 6700HQ clocks from a base rate of 2.6 GHz and boosts up to 3.5 GHz. The GeForce Titan X(p) runs at just over 1500 MHz. Overclocking increases these frequencies in order to get more processing power.
Overclocking also increases the stress and heat put on your PC’s hardware, though it’s not as dangerous as it used to be. In most cases, your CPU or GPU simply turns off when overstressed or overheated, and Windows freezes before any real damage occurs. Still, due to these effects, overclocking is considered an advanced process that requires you to carefully monitor CPU temperature. In other words, don’t overclock your hardware unless you know what you’re doing.
Overclocking the CPU
Unless you’re doing a lot of CPU-intensive tasks like multimedia editing or running lots of applications at the same time, you won’t feel the difference of an overclock. But for those who want absolutely optimal performance, try Intel’s own Extreme Tuning Utility.
With this tool, you can easily adjust the CPU clock speed, but we advise you to increase it only in increments of 50 MHz — and then test your system’s stability under various high-stress scenarios (editing, gaming, or rendering) — before increasing it further.
Overclocking the GPU (only for gamers)
Gaming performance depends mainly on the power of your graphics chip — even more so than on how much memory you have or on how fast your processor is. In almost all cases, your graphics chip is the bottleneck that causes jittery or laggy gameplay. To improve performance, you may want to overclock your GPU to run it beyond its factory speed setting.
7. Update your drivers
Your PC comes with more than 100 built-in components. You’ve got the Wi-Fi chip, the processor, the graphics card, the power button, and loads of other bits and pieces that make things happen. It’s a complex system that miraculously works.
All those components are controlled by device drivers. Drivers are small, complex pieces of software that control the way different components work. And just like any piece of software, drivers can be faulty (especially early versions). They can also fail to deliver the full potential from your hardware.
That’s why it’s crucial to update your drivers to keep your PC performing at top speed. You can also use dedicated driver updater software such as Iolo GetMyDrivers to automatically scan and update your drivers.
8. Update your OS
Microsoft constantly makes adjustments to Windows OS. While many of these updates patch up security holes like 2019’s BlueKeep vulnerability, others are performance-based.
If you’re not yet using Windows 10, consider upgrading if you can. It’s not going to be free, but because Microsoft has stopped issuing security updates for Windows 7, moving to Windows 10 will give you a far greater degree of protection.
But regardless of which edition of Windows you’re running, be sure to use the most current version. You can check which version of Windows you have by opening your Windows menu and navigating to Settings > System > About.
9. Should you use a registry cleaner?
The registry is a crucial part of your Windows operating system. In many cases, it contains hundreds of thousands of entries, out of which probably thousands might be invalid or just empty. And the web is full of so-called “registry cleaners” and tips on how to clean up a registry to speed up PCs. Registry cleaners find these problematic entries and delete them or fix them as needed.
But 99.999% of the time, using a registry cleaner has no impact on PC performance. Sure, Windows constantly accesses the registry, but the size of that database is about 100 to 200 MB, which even a 10-year-old PC can process in a fraction of a second. Deleting a few entries from the registry does not impact speed whatsoever.
Nevertheless, cleaning the registry is a bit like hygiene, as even some Microsoft employees have said in the past. In rare instances, some missing keys might cause error messages upon startup. But unless you’re experiencing these errors, there’s no need to run a registry cleaner.
Our advice: Leave the database alone. Windows does a good job of taking care of it. And if you do have an error, make sure you go with a professional registry cleaning tool.
10. How viruses, Trojans, adware, or any form of malware affect performance
Viruses, adware, malware, spyware, and Trojans aren’t just a major security risk. Some of them can seriously affect your PC’s performance. If your PC is running slow despite all your noble efforts, you might need to consider getting rid of malware with a dedicated antivirus and anti-malware tool. Go ahead and download our award-winning antivirus protection today.
11. Physically clean your computer
With your PC or laptop fans blowing air in and out of the system for years, there’s likely entire families of dust bunnies thriving inside your machine. These slow down or even stop your fans, which traps heat and leads to poor performance and frequent crashes.
That’s why I frequently open up my PC case and laptops to catapult dust bunnies out of the system with a gas duster (keep a vacuum handy). And while you’re at it, you might as well make your computer screen and keyboard shine, too. There are many cleaners designed specifically for this.
When you’re done, be sure to position your computer so that cool air can reach the vents. Place both laptops and desktops on hard, flat surfaces — no carpets, and don’t use your laptop in bed if you don’t have to. Also, don’t leave your desktop inside a cabinet where air can’t circulate freely.
12. Prevent programs from running in the background
RAM is a finite resource, and even computers with a lot of it still can handle only so many tasks at once. If you have a lot of programs that operate in the background — when you’re not actually using them — they’ll drain memory from more important tasks.
You can prevent programs from running in the background so that they’ll only consume memory when you’re actively using them. Here’s how to do that in Windows 10:
- Open your Settings and select Privacy.
- Select Background apps from the menu on the left.
To prevent all apps from running in the background, flip the toggle next to Let apps run in the background to Off. To prevent individual apps from running in the background, flip their respective toggles to Off.
13. Try Windows troubleshooters
Windows includes built-in optimization tools in the form of its troubleshooters. These utilities analyze your system and offer recommendations for how you can optimize performance with a few simple tweaks.
- Open your Settings and select Update & Security.
- Select Troubleshoot from the menu on the left. The troubleshooting utilities will evaluate your system’s performance based on the respective issues they’re designed to address.
14. Adjust your visual effects
Windows features a whole range of stylish visual effects, but if you don’t mind going without them, you can improve performance by turning them off. You’ll need to open the Performance Options section of your Control Panel.
- To find this setting, type adjust appearance into your Cortana search bar, or directly into the Start menu. Then, press the Enter key to open the Performance Options.
- Select Adjust for best performance to let Windows optimize its visual effects automatically. You can also enable or disable individual effects.
15. Increase virtual memory (advanced)
Virtual memory is a sort of halfway zone between RAM and the long-term storage of your hard drive. With virtual memory, your computer allocates part of your hard drive to handle less-active processes, freeing up your RAM for whatever you’re doing right now.
If you’re getting an error message that warns, “Your system is low on virtual memory,” or if you need to increase it for other reasons, you can give this a try. However, we recommend a virtual memory increase as a solution only for advanced users who know their way around a computer.
Additionally, your hard drive isn’t meant to switch between tasks at rapid speed — that’s why you have RAM. If you rely too heavily on virtual memory, your machine’s performance may suffer even more severely than before.
Here’s how to increase virtual memory in Windows 10:
- Open your Settings and select System.
- Select About from the menu on the left. Then, select System info from the Related settings on the right. If you don’t see the Related settings, expand your window horizontally until you do.
- This opens the System settings in your Control Panel. Select Advanced system settings from the options on the left to open the System Properties window.
- Click the Settings button in the Performance section to open the Performance Options window.
- Select the Advanced tab. Then, click Change.
- Uncheck the box next to Automatically manage paging file size for all drives. Instead, select Custom size.
- At the bottom of the window, note the Recommended and Currently allocated memory amounts. If the latter is smaller than the former, set the Recommended amount as the new Initial size. Set a Maximum size that is larger than this value. You can also use the following formula to calculate your Initial and Maximum virtual memory: Set the Initial size as 1.5 times your current RAM, and your Maximum as triple your current RAM. As an example, 4 GB of RAM works out to 4,096 MB. With that amount of RAM, you’d set the Initial size as 6,144 MB, and the Maximum size as 18,432 MB.
- When you’re done, click Set, and then confirm by clicking OK. Finally, restart your computer.
Now that we’ve covered the most important tuning and cleaning steps, it’s good to repeat them on a monthly basis. But if regularly cleaning and tuning your machine sounds like a hassle, then here are a few tips to reduce this upkeep for a healthy PC:
- Before you install any software, consider whether you actually need it and plan on using it regularly. If you just need it once, remember to uninstall it after you’re done.
- Go through the list of all your installed programs and decide if you still need any of them.
- Finally, create full PC backups after I clean-install and configure my PC. Then if something goes wrong, I go back to that previous state.
Iolo System Mechanic handles many of the above processes automatically. After installing it, it’ll automatically clear our junk files, update your software, uninstall unwanted programs, and perform a whole suite of regular maintenance tasks — all without you having to do a thing.