How to make a slow laptop faster

Your old laptop may be slow, but that doesn't mean you need to replace it. Through heavy use, your notebook will collect a ton of excess files and programs, not to mention some literal dust. The parts will age, and software updates will become more demanding. But don't worry, we're here to help speed things up.

But before you go shopping for a new workstation, there are a few hardware and software fixes you should try. A little time, a screwdriver and a few tweaks in the settings can have your laptop running like new. Here are 12 ways to speed up your system.

1. Upgrade your hard drive to an SSD

Adding a solid-state drive (SSD) is the single biggest hardware change you can make to speed up a laptop. It makes everything faster; booting up, shutting down and launching apps will all occur in the blink of any eye when compared to traditional hard drives. More and more laptops are coming with built-in SSDs, but not all of them do. And if your old laptop has a traditional hard drive inside, you can crack it open for a significant speed boost at a reasonable price. 

2. Upgrade Your RAM

Your laptop should have at least 8GB of RAM. These days, your best bet is to buy your laptop with that much memory, as more and more manufacturers are soldering it to the motherboard, making it impossible to add more. A number of laptops still let you open them up, however, and RAM is relatively cheap. If you have 4GB, upgrade to 8GB, as the additional memory will probably cost you less than $25. 16GB, 32GB, and even 64GB upgrades are on the table, depending on your laptop.

3. Update your startup programs

Anything running in the background will slow your computer's boot-up time and devote resources to programs you may not even be using. Luckily, it's simple to turn these off:

In Windows 10, go to Task Manager > Startup to see the list of programs you have running when you turn on your computer.

On a MacBook, go to System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items to adjust which programs launch when you turn on the computer.

4. Uninstall unused apps

Unused programs take up storage on your hard drive and can suck resources from the CPU. Delete the junk to free up space and processing power for a faster computer. Be sure to check your library files for any junk that may stick around. 

Here's how to uninstall programs on Windows 10, and how to uninstall apps on a MacBook.

5. Run regular malware scans

It's possible that something you didn't install intentionally — like malicious software — could be the reason your laptop is slow. Run regular virus and malware scans to prevent something malicious from slowing down your laptop — or worse. Being vigilant can help you avoid and eliminate threats that are hoarding resources or filling your laptop with junk files.

6. Kill animations

The animations in your OS might look cool, but they take up precious resources that could be going elsewhere.

In Windows:
1. Search for "View advanced system settings."
2. Choose Settings under Performance.
3. Choose "Adjust for best performance," which will turn off a bunch of special effects and animations.

In OS X:
1. Go to System Preferences > Dock.
2. Check the boxes to turn off magnification and stop the animations in opening applications.

7. Speed up your shutdowns

When you go to shut down Windows, you often have to wait a long time while the computer attempts to close open programs that won't close gracefully on their own. If you're willing to dig into your registry, you can force the shutdown process to kill these rebel apps right away. Be sure you always save your work when you do this, as it will close open programs without prejudice.

Here's how to change your shutdown speed in Windows 10.

8. Disable web results

In Windows 10, Cortana searches the web and your local files when you search. This takes time to download and can be a drag on your system. If you use the Cortana box primarily to find files and apps that live on your hard drive, Windows 10 makes it easy to turn off web results.

Here's how to disable web results in Windows 10 search.

9. Speed up your downloads folder

The File Explorer, one of the most-used folders in Windows, can take forever to load if it's chock-full of your downloads. If you're seeing a loading bar every time you open the folder, you'll want to optimize it.

Here's how to fix a slow-opening windows downloads folder.

10. Keep it clean

Don't let your laptop get too dusty, or you'll risk letting it overheat. When that happens, the processor and graphics card have to work harder to perform well. Get a can of compressed air, and clean out the vents to give your processor and graphics card a breather.

11. Change your browser

Some browsers are faster than others. If you're a heavy user, Chrome can eventually hog your RAM, especially with a whole bunch of tabs open. Microsoft's Edge isn't as full-featured yet, but it has the benefit of being lighter and faster. On Macs, you can try Safari.

12. Update your drivers

Some new drivers can breathe new life into your hardware and fix any issues it may be having. Be sure to check your manufacturer's website to make sure your drivers are up-to-date.

Laptop guide