If you’ve started noticing that your formerly speedy and efficient PC is beginning to lag, if you’re experiencing unexpected shutdowns or freezes, or if you just want to make your beloved PC as grunty as it can be, there are ways to make sure you’re getting the best performance from your old faithful.
The good news is that it’s not even really that hard. Take a look at the options below– while not every computer is capable of being restored to its former glory, if anything is going to make your computer behave like you just took it out of the box, it’s here.
First things first
A good old hard disk spring-clean is a great place to start your upgrade.
The hard disk of your computer is the place where all its information is stored. Pictures, music, programs and pretty much everything that you’ve saved has been stored here. But if you’re using an older computer, there’s a really good chance that your hard drive is beginning to look a little full. If you find your computer getting ‘hung up’ when it’s trying to boot up or unacceptably slow when trying access particular programs, it’s likely that your hard drive is nearing capacity, not leaving enough system space for the tasks at hand.
The first step is to take a thorough stock-take and delete old and unwanted files. Take those massive folders full of photo and music files and burn them off to a DVD or memory card.
Next, click the ‘start’ button, click ‘control’ panel, then ‘uninstall a program’. (Your system may differ slightly – click around until you find the ‘add or remove programs’ button). Go through the list and delete programs you no longer use. However, if you don’t recognise the program ,it might be a good idea to err on the side of caution and let it stand. If you delete something you want later, you’ll have problems getting it back.
Now is a good time to do a defrag, too. Click ‘start’, ‘all programs’ and find ‘disk defragmenter’. Click it and wait for the task to complete. This is a good one to leave running overnight.
Now it’s time to make your PC all it can be.
1. Refresh your memory
One of the easiest ways to upgrade your PC is by installing extra memory. Most new personal computers will come with a fair amount of memory installed. If you’re a casual PC user or just checking emails, this will probably serve you well for a good while. If your computer use is specialised or you’re saving a lot of material however, that memory will slip through your fingers quicker than you can say "I think I’ll download this DVD”.
File sizes are forever increasing. Every new video format uses more data than the last. Every new camera promises higher-resolution pictures than the one that came before. All this takes a toll on your PC’s memory. Luckily, solving the problem of data creep is a fairly painless procedure. Expansion desktop drives are relatively inexpensive and are a great option if you’re a heavy downloader or a data hoarder. If you shop around you can usually pick up an extra terabyte (1000 GB) of memory for about $NZ100. Installation is easy, and once installed you’ll be able to go years without ever having to delete a single file. Not only that, but certain programs can use the external drive as a ‘scratch disk’, speeding up performance when working with large files.
If you want to get really fancy, check out a ‘black box’ hard drive. Like their namesakes, these hard drives can withstand fire and flood and all other sorts of abuse, meaning that no matter what act of God occurs, your photos of your cats are forever safe.
2. Have a backup plan
Of course, simply backing up to your hard drive is so last year. If you haven’t heard, ‘the cloud’ is where it’s at these days. That’s right – you can back up all those important documents online.
There are plenty of services that will let you do this, each with its own pros and cons.
Mozy.com is a free backup service that’s great for protecting important files on the fly. Just install the program on your computer and check which files you want backed up. Mozy will send a copy to an online data bank, so that even if your computer goes ‘kaboom’ there’s forever a copy at hand. You can synchronise files that you’re updating frequently, so that you’ve always got a backed up copy of the latest version of a document. The downside of Mozy is that it only offers 2GB of space (although you can get an extra 1GB for every friend that you refer). You can also use the unlimited paid-for version of Mozy of $US4.95 per month.
Another great option is Dropbox.com. After you’ve installed Dropbox on your computer, simply drag and drop any folder you want to back up into the Dropbox folder (found in your My Documents folder), and you’ve got an instant backup copy. Easy as pie. The best part about Dropbox, however, is the fact that those same files will be available on any computer with the same Dropbox account installed, so not only can you protect precious documents; you can also use Dropbox as an alternative to emailing large items to yourself or ripping information to a memory stick. Like Mozy, Dropbox offers a free 2GB of space with paid-for options if you require more space.
But if 2GB just doesn’t cut the mustard, don’t despair. There are plenty of alternatives offering more generous backup space. If you have a Windows Live account, you’re already eligible to use Windows Live SkyDrive, a backup service boasting a full 25GB of data space. SkyDrive is compatible with Windows Office and there’s a range of options for deciding who you want to share your content with, making it a great backup solution for businesses.
3. Anti-virus for all
Facts are facts: your computer is not going to perform at its best if it’s riddled with spyware, viruses and adware. Not only do computer infections hamper performance, but they also pose a threat to your personal information and identity. Most free anti-virus programs have small footprints and won’t slow down your computer noticeably, but they will keep you safe (common sense prevailing) when you’re online. One (or more) of the below should do the trick.
Many readers will be running Microsoft Security Essentials already. The great thing about Microsoft Security Essentials is that is works very effectively behind the scenes, requiring only occasional user interaction. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for in an anti-virus program, Security Essentials provides comprehensive protection without the need for tinkering on your part. It runs quietly in the background and protects users from viruses, spyware and other malicious software.
AVG is considered the king of free anti-virus software by many, due to its high profile and comprehensive protection. The latest version (2011) provides not only virus and malware protection, but also covers threats that may be encountered while surfing, gaming, chatting and social networking. It also checks files during file exchanges and downloading.
Avira Free Edition is a great anti-virus tool if you want an all-in-one solution that’s easy to use. It has a very good detection rate and it’s light on resources. Avira offers heaps of scan options and a one-click removal tool, plus there’s also an expert mode that allows you to set Avira to quarantine any threats detected before taking action. You can then decide what action to take on a case-by-case basis,
or automate whatever action you think appropriate.
Avast! is another popular piece of security software that performs superbly, even in the free version. Avast! blocks all of the common threats to your PC but also includes web, email, IM, P2P and network shields, and boot-time scanning as well, making it a great option to use in addition to other, better known, systems. With a sleek interface and wide-ranging features, Avast! may just be the comprehensive free anti-virus software available.
4. Get more RAM
Though it’s not the sexiest of upgrades, upgrading your RAM can make a huge impact on the performance of your computer. RAM (or Random Access Memory) gives your computer a larger ‘workspace’ to work with, and the more workspace your computer has, the more work it can do and the faster it can do it.
Not only that, but it’s a fairly inexpensive task and if you’re handy with a screwdriver you may even be able to do it yourself (be sure to check your computer’s warranty information before opening your computer’s case, however).
RAM memory cards come in various sizes and shapes depending on your computer. The best way to find which RAM is right for you is by conducting an online search. Search for the brand and model of your computer to find exactly the product you need, then whip out that screwdriver.
For a full tutorial on installing RAM yourself, visit tinyurl.com/installram
5. Just browsing
Sometimes PCs get a bad rap. If things start to slow down or crashes occur, often the first thing people think is that their hard drive is failing or they’ve contracted a virus. However, this is not always the case. For example, if you find that your internet browsing speed is crawling along, it might be your RAM that’s the problem. It might be your internet connection. Or it might be the browser you’re using. That’s right – not all browsers are created equal.
When it comes to browsers however, there are no hard and fast rules. There are as many opinions about which browser is best as there are browsers. Here are four of the best for high-speed browsing performance.
Chrome While it’s for Windows only, Chrome is a very popular browser and rightfully so. When it comes to rendering web pages, Chrome is lightning fast. Not only that, but it’s been proven to be highly resistant to malicious attacks despite its popularity. It also launches quickly, and you search the web right in the address bar (without having to open a Google page first).
Get it here: www.google.com/chrome
Firefox Firefox, on the other hand, is not so picky about its operating system – it works on Windows, Mac and Linux. The real strength of Firefox, however, is its ability to handle extensions. You can customise the way web pages are displayed, download YouTube videos right in your browser and get rid of annoying pop-ups, all with an easy download or two. If you’re picky about the way you surf the net, Firefox is the browser for you.
Get extensions here: tinyurl.com/4q7hqzu
Get the browser here: www.mozilla.com
Opera Also compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux, Opera is a feature-packed and very secure internet browser. Opera widgets make it a highly customisable option, and its snappy browsing speed makes it popular with click-happy browsers everywhere. In addition to swift rendering,
Opera boasts sophisticated compression technology, claiming to reduce data usage by up to 90%. It also has a sleek, classy-looking interface to take the edge off those garish web pages. If you’re on a particularly expensive internet plan, try Opera.
Get it here: www.opera.com
By no means though, is that all. If you’re looking for something a little unique, take a punt on one (or more) of the following:
6. (Just like) starting over
Sometimes you’ve got to take one step back before you can take two steps forward. If you think it’s time to wind back the clock and scrub your hard drive clean, here’s how.
CAUTION: Reformatting your hard drive is not for the faint of heart. Make sure you understand the process completely before attempting a reformat, and especially make sure you’re clear on which drive you’re reformatting. If you reformat your only working drive, you’ll create the most expensive paper weight you’ll ever own.
To reformat your (Windows) drive, visit tinyurl.com/reformatwindows