Easy tips to fix a slow computer for non-techies

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I have been asked a number of times by friends who are non-techies to “fix” their slow or buggy computers. Many of the tasks that I do to fix a slow computer require little effort, and are software based. Since they’re software based, they’re free to do and just require you to know where to look.

While these tips will help your computer run faster, it’s important to remember that they’re not hardware based improvements. If your computer is relatively old, it might be time to consider a new one. In my experience of personal laptops and desktops, I would say about 4 years for a laptop and 6 years for a desktop is relatively old. These times can vary by a couple of years depending on how good the hardware is, and the level of care you provide.

Tip #1 – Disable start up applications

Your computer can feel slow if you have a lot of apps starting automatically when you start your computer. This impact is both on time to start up your computer, as well as the actual usage of the computer. Since your computer has limited space for running programs, having programs running that you don’t need will slow it down. So, to improve your computer start up time and regular usage, preventing apps from starting will make it feel faster.

Searching from the windows start menu, you can search for the Startup Apps system setting:

Windows search results for "Startup Apps", displaying the Startup Apps system setting
The best match System Setting “Startup Apps” is the one you want

In this setting, you can configure what applications start when you start your computer.

Startup Apps system setting, showing Realtek HD Audio Manager set to on, Skype set to off, Slack set to on, Spotify set to off
A subset of my startup apps

In the above example, I explicitly do want Slack to auto start, but I don’t need Spotify or Skype the second I start my computer. While not showed in the above example, rebooting can measure the impact to the startup each app causes. Measuring this impact can help you decide if you want to take the hit and have the app auto-started or not.

Tip #2 – Update your computer (seriously)

Updating your computer is a pain, especially for Feature Updates. These are updates released twice a year and are often a few GB in size. Feature updates are usually the most annoying ones, because they can use a lot of network traffic when downloading in the background and take a long time to install.

Here’s the thing though, having an up-to-date computer will generally make in faster, more secure, and more feature packed. It’s like sharpening a knife – a dull knife can cut, but a sharp knife cuts better. So sharpen your knives and update your computers when updates are available.

To update, search for “Check for updates”

Windows search results for "Check for updates", displaying the Check for updates system setting
The best match System Setting “Check for updates” is the one you want
Screenshot of Windows Update System Setting, currently showing as up to date
Windows update system setting, already up to date with an optional quality update to download and install

Since downloading and installing system updates can be time consuming, it helps to plan around it. Starting update installation before doing chores or even going to bed can help make the process much more tolerable. System updates are usually incremental, so if you haven’t updated your computer in quite a while, you may have to update multiple times. You’ll have to recheck for updates after you finish installing one of your updates.

Tip #3 – Run Virus Scans

I won’t go too deep into anti-virus software here, but I will say that it’s good to do a full system virus scan. If you don’t have third party anti-virus software, you can still use Windows’ built-in virus scanner. Search for your Security Center app, go to the Virus & threat protection tab, and select Scan Options. From there you can select a Full scan or even a Microsoft Defender Offline Scan and trigger a scan. These scans can take some time, but it’s good to be free of any virus.

Windows search results for "Virus & threat protection", displaying the Virus & threat protection system setting
The best match System Setting “Virus & threat protection” is the one you want
Virus & threat protection tab. Shows options for Quick scan, Scan options, Allowed threats, and Protection history
From the Virus & threat protection tab, click the Scan options link
Scan options page to allow selection of a Full scan or Microsoft Defender Offline scan
Select Full scan or Microsoft Defender Offline scan before hitting the Scan now button

Tip #4 – When all else fails, do a fresh start

As a last ditch effort, you can do a fresh start. In newer computers, it’s called “Reset this PC”, but the behavior is the same. It’s basically a factory reset, with the option to save your personal files.

Fresh Start lets you perform a clean reinstallation and update of Windows while keeping your personal data and most Windows settings intact. In some cases, a clean installation may improve your device’s startup and shutdown experience, memory usage, Microsoft Store apps performance, browsing experience, and battery life.

Windows search results for "Reset this PC", displaying the Reset this PC system setting
The best match System Setting “Reset this PC” is the one you want
Reset this PC dialog on top of Recovery system settings
Click the Get Started button under Reset this PC to begin the reset

Computer running too slow to load the System Setting app? You can force this with the shortcut Win+R, and entering systemreset -cleanpc

Windows run with command systemreset -cleanpc
Windows run with command systemreset -cleanpc

Final Thoughts on how to fix a slow computer

Another option that you could consider is upgrading part of your computer. This also costs money, but can have an enormous impact on the longevity of your computer. I’m currently typing this on a 5 year old laptop that I installed an SSD (higher cost and faster hard drive), and doubled the RAM (memory for running programs). Doing things like this are a bit of an investment, and not every computer can be upgraded like this, but it’s another option to consider (a professional can help you with this).

I hope that this guide can help you to fix your slow computer. These are relatively simple tips that can have a big impact, and are usually my go-to for helping a friend. If you’re skiddish about trying these tips, you can always take your computer to a professional. A professional will be much more thorough and accommodating, but you have to pay for it. While this guide is far from comprehensive, everything should be doable yourself, for free!

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