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We’re a few months into the year and you’re starting to enjoy that new laptop or desktop. Your new computer glides like a dream, but in a few months it’s going to slow down; after all, there are only three things certain in life: death, taxes, and sluggish computers after hours of Internet browsing.

With all the new software, pictures, music, videos, and games you’re going to tack on to that computer this year, now is the best time to pick up a few habits that will keep your Windows computer as fast as the day you bought it, with tools already present on your PC!

1. Keep Temporary Files Temporary

Although the world of Windows caches 7 Hidden Windows Caches & How to Clear Them 7 Hidden Windows Caches & How to Clear Them Cached files can take up a lot of bytes. While dedicated tools can help you free up disk space, they might not clear it all. We show you how to manually release storage space. Read More is extensive and mysterious, there is one Windows file cache which reigns over them all as the largest nuisance — the local temp cache. This cache stores files downloaded through your web browser when loading websites.

You can delete your Windows temp cache using the Disk Cleanup: go to Start and type Disk Cleanup. For the Windows XP user, access this program under Start > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup.

disk_cleanup

Disk Cleanup will analyze the storage of your system drive (often named C:/ by default) and prompt you to delete some files. Click on the Temporary Internet Files selection and your Disk Cleanup tool will delete your temp files automatically. For the hands on Windows aficionado, you may remove these temp files manually: go to Start and type %temp%. For Windows XP users, the same file can be found by pressing Windows key + R to launch the Run menu, type %temp% and hit Enter.

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Doing this once a month will:

  1. reduce computer sluggishness brought on by continual Internet use,
  2. reduce the risk of insidious computer viruses nesting themselves within your local machine, and
  3. instill basic knowledge concerning what cleaning software does regularly.

2. Fragmentation Is Not Your Friend

This advice applies to hard drives only and is particularly helpful to people who save, edit, and store different file types onto their computers often. Your Windows machine does not simply write over your original file when saving a document (e.g. a Word or Excel document). The file is instead saved onto a different part of your drive. After extended use How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer Sometimes an early death is the fault of the manufacturer, but more often than not, hard drives fail earlier than they should because we don't take care of them. Read More , these chunks of information become scattered, or fragmented, which can slow down the computer’s ability to open files quickly.

At first sight of sluggishness, Disk Defragmenter programs (otherwise known in Windows 10 as the Defragment and Optimize Drives application) become essential. Although you can choose from many third party defragmenters 3 Excellent Defrag Utilities & Why You Still Need to Defragment In 2012 3 Excellent Defrag Utilities & Why You Still Need to Defragment In 2012 Accessing files from the hard drive is a speed limiting step in operating a computer. Hard drives used to be a major bottle neck and fragmentation of data slowed them down even further. With the... Read More  to sort out your hard drive, the simplest option is already present on your Windows computer.

To access the tool, go to Start and type Disk Defragmenter. In Windows XP you’ll find it under Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter.

optimize_drives

The window will display disk drives located on your computer and will automatically choose the main drive present (often named C:/ by default). You can analyze the drive, which will display the percentage of fragmentation present on your hard drive, or optimize right away to begin the process.

Defragmenting a hard drive is resource- and time-intensive, so it is advised that you begin the process when your computer is in a relatively low state of use. After optimization has finished, which may take up to an hour depending on the size of your hard drive and your computer’s processing power, restart your computer. Do this monthly and you will find a noticeable difference in speed when opening and accessing files, along with gaming and editing applications.

CAUTION: If you have a solid state drive How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few decades, there has been a considerable amount of work in the field of computer hardware. While computer technology is constantly improving and evolving, rarely do we experience moments where we simply... Read More (SSD), Disk Defragmenter will do more harm than good. The easiest way to check whether you are using a SSD or a HDD is through Windows 10’s Optimize Drives application (see screenshot above), which lists your disk type under the Media type menu.

For other Windows versions, you can find this information under Start > Program > Accessories > System Tools > System Information > + Components > + Storage > Disks. Do not mistake a Standard Disk Drive for a Solid State Drive; if your drive is listed as a Disk drive, you are using a HDD. If so, disk defragment away.

system_information

3. Adjust Your GUI

This is by far the easiest and most productive method to speed up your computer — adjusting your GUI (graphical user interface) for best performance.

To access these settings in Windows XP, go to Start, right-click My Computer, select Properties > Advanced Tab > Performance. In Windows 10 open the File Explorer, right click This PC and go to  Properties > Advanced System Settings > Advanced Tab > Performance > OK.

performance_options

Out of the three radio buttons, choose the button labeled Best Performance > OK. By default, the Visual Effects option in Windows is set to Best Appearance, so your new operating system has that bright, fresh out the box look. Unfortunately, it does so at the cost of your computer’s performance

This is the first tweak I use when I receive a new Windows computer or set up a virtual Windows image What Is a Virtual Machine? What Is a Virtual Machine? Virtual machines allow you to run other operating systems within your current operating system, but why does that matter? What are the pros and cons? Read More . It’s simple, one time only, and a sure way to minimize background processing on your computer.

4. Change Up Your Startup

Recently downloaded software can slither its way into your startup programs, drastically reducing the wake time of your Windows computer. Under Startup, you can find a list of services which initiate when you first turn on your device. Some of these programs are necessary computer functions, while others are unnecessary services which slow down your computer’s wake time.

To open the startup list in Windows 10, right click the Taskbar, select Task Manager, and switch to the Startup tab. In Windows XP press Windows key + R to launch the Run menu, type msconfig, and click OK. This command opens the System Configuration Tools panel. Click on the Startup tab and you’ll be free to configure your startup as you see fit.

task_manager

To ease the process, click the Status listing to order programs by their enabled or disabled status. Check whether any given program is a necessary Windows program or some pesky annoyance (or worse yet, a Trojan virus or spyware) by accessing an online startup registry Make Windows Start Faster: 10 Non-Essential Startup Items You Can Safely Remove Make Windows Start Faster: 10 Non-Essential Startup Items You Can Safely Remove So your computer has been booting slowly lately? You probably have too many programs and services trying to start up all at once. Are you wondering how they got there and how to remove them? Read More to gauge the program’s necessity.

Although adjusting startup programs is a careful procedure, checking the startup list once a month can mean the difference between seconds or minutes of waiting for your computer to boot.

5. Defend Your Windows with Windows Defender

While there are a slew of antivirus options What Security Software Should You Be Using in Windows 10? What Security Software Should You Be Using in Windows 10? Despite being bundled with its own security tool, Windows 10 needs additional software to keep your data secure and make your online experiences safe. But which security software should you choose for WIndows 10? Read More you can choose from, the most trusted option has long been Windows Defender How to Use Windows Defender Malware Protection on Windows 10 How to Use Windows Defender Malware Protection on Windows 10 Like any Windows operating system, Windows 10 is open to abuse and vulnerable to online threats. Security software is mandatory. Windows Defender is a good place to start and we guide you through the setup. Read More . Because of its simplicity, low processing usage, and constantly updated virus listing, Windows Defender is the premiere choice for users that want an effective and no fill anti-virus software.

If you are using Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1, and Windows 10, Windows Defender is already installed Windows Defender: 7 Things You Must Know About Microsoft's Antivirus Solution Windows Defender: 7 Things You Must Know About Microsoft's Antivirus Solution Is Microsoft's built-in security good enough? Microsoft continuously improves its security tools. We'll show you the upsides and downsides of Windows Defender in Windows 8, Read More onto your computer. For older Windows versions, you can download Microsoft Security Essentials Why You Should Replace Microsoft Security Essentials With A Proper Antivirus Why You Should Replace Microsoft Security Essentials With A Proper Antivirus Read More , but we recommend a third-party antivirus The Best Of: Windows Software The Best Of: Windows Software Read More  software.

windows_defender

Install it, run it, and choose between the Quick or Full Scan option to scan your computer. For full time protection, click on the Settings tab and enable the option to keep Windows Defender running in the background. A full scan once a month will keep your Windows computer free of viruses and other malware lurking in the shadows, which is necessary for an optimal Windows performance.

Side Note — Please don’t.

If you’re like me, you once tried every trick in the book to run that new World of Warcraft expansion on 1 GB of RAM. Allow me to impart some wisdom on where exactly to limit your desperate search.

  • DO NOT delete any files located in your System or System32 folder, unless you are sure of what you’re doing.
  • DO NOT rely on system optimization software to increase the performance of your computer, when you can achieve the same speed through simple tweaking options.
  • DO NOT expect software tweaks to match the speed gained by upgrading your hardware Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? If you need a faster computer but aren't sure which component would be most beneficial to upgrade, then here are the guidelines you should follow. Read More .
  • DO NOT rely on one time optimizations to keep your computer in optimal conditions. Your computer requires continual upkeep for optimal performance.
  • DO NOT begin adjusting your BIOS settings or overclocking your computers hardware, unless you are well aware of what setting you are changing. Although there are plenty of lists online which promise unreal computer speeds, none are as effective as relying on your own computer knowledge.

What Windows habits would you like to share to keep your Windows machine running at peak performance all year round? Let us know in the comments below!

  1. Mont3000
    July 14, 2016 at 4:51 am

    Thanks for reminding me about the defrag. I have an SSD and it is on by default.

  2. Manu Gond
    April 22, 2016 at 6:50 am

    I hate those bloody Windows animations so i always turn those off.

  3. Doc
    March 2, 2016 at 1:53 am

    "...(often named C:/ by default)..."
    Windows never uses forward slashes as directory separators, although every other operating system does (at least those based on *nix). Forward slashes were reserved for DOS switches ("DIR /S /P" for example), and allowed in DOS filenames, so DOS 3.0 used the backslash instead.

    No one recommends Windows Defender...including Microsoft! Microsoft has said Windows Defender is useful for those without the means or ability to choose an antivirus program, and Defender actually **failed** repeatedly in AV-Comparatives testing until recently (it has now moved to the middle of the pack). Grab Avast or Avira instead, or a paid antivirus like Kaspersky. Also install Malwarebytes Anti-Malware in its "free" mode for a once-a-month "second opinion."

    • Christian Bonilla
      March 9, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Thank you for your comment; you're absolutely correct concerning the forward slashes.

      As for Windows Defender, we also recommend a third-party software for your anti-virus needs. A lot of anti-virus software on the market, however, is a bit difficult to manage. For example, I've never had to deal with advertisement popups, third party notifications and high disk usage while using Windows Defender. In any case, few would recommend using only one layer of malware protection for daily PC use.

  4. Marty Monroe
    March 1, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Step 1 - Install an operating system without a GUI.
    Step 2 - errr there is no step 2, as your machine is as fast as it can possibly be!

    • Christian Bonilla
      March 9, 2016 at 7:25 pm

      Can you give an example of your favorite? I run a Linux print server using only the command line and I can't agree any more; it's not only fast, but as safe an OS as you can use.

  5. Mr.Know-It-All
    February 28, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Hello, all.
    Fragmentation problems?
    Best solution; get a SSD!
    2ND best; get Puran Defragger.
    BTW, the SSD is The BEST way to "speed up" a slow or older computer.

    Have a GREAT day, Neighbors!

    • Doc
      March 2, 2016 at 1:58 am

      Adding RAM is also a good way to "speed up" any computer.

    • Christian Bonilla
      March 9, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Agreed! The day SSDs are as large and cheap as HDDs is the day we alleviate the world of slow PCs.

    • Mont3000
      July 14, 2016 at 4:54 am

      Late last year until today SSD took a HUGE dive in prices. Todays home PC shouldn't even be sold without it.

  6. lt
    February 26, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Why are some of the examples given in Windows XP? That's like 5 operating systems ago.

    • Christian Bonilla
      February 26, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Although the advent of modern Windows Operating Systems do call into question the validity of daily Windows XP use (making cleaning and optimization essential), the familiarity of the OS still attracts a fairly large - and thereby important - user base.

  7. Mark
    February 26, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Referring to #3 above: Adjust Your UI:

    I recently went back to the old way of running my computer, that is to say I went back to using User Accounts instead of only having the default admin account to do everything. So I have the default admin account you get when you first install Windows and now I have a normal local account for running my programs and using my browser.

    For whatever reason, Windows 10 is not saving my configuration for my local account. In the System Properties/Advanced/Settings/Visual Effects area I uncheck everything except four items. I then click "OK" to save the settings and everything takes affect immediately. When I sign out of my local user account and sign back in again, the settings I changed revert to something else.

    My default like everyone else's begins as "Let Windows choose what's best for my computer". As soon as I start unchecking boxes it changes to "Custom" - as it should. But after I make my changes and sign out and or reboot my computer most everything I unchecked, gets rechecked again. It's still on "Custom" but only a couple of items remain unchecked. Windows is not allowing me to decide for myself. Again this is happening on my local user account and yes, when the Control Panel opens and I click on the "Advanced system settings" link I entered my admin password to elevate my privileges.

    When I am on my default admin account and I make the changes, they stay as I set them but my local user account seems to be policed by Windows and not letting me keep my choices.

    Here are two screenshots on Flickr. I hope these links work for you.

    How I Want It
    https://flic.kr/p/Et6KRC

    What Windows Lets Me Have
    https://flic.kr/p/EvqmZz

    ~Mark

    • Christian Bonilla
      March 14, 2016 at 3:30 am

      Hey Mark, you mentioned that you started a new local accounts on your Windows 10 machine but you didn't specify the type of account. Is the local account type "Administrator" or "Standard". Even if you allow your local account administrative privileges, you may run into registry issues (as the registry is ultimately in control of your account settings). I would change the account type to "Administrator" to begin troubleshooting your issue. I'll link an imgur album to guide you.

      Here's the walk though: https://imgur.com/a/80E5K

      I'd already changed the account type beforehand, so the tag under Local Account reads "Administrator".

  8. fcd76218
    February 26, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    The problem I've had with Windows Disk Defragmenter since Win 95 is that it lies. I would run the Analyzer and it comes back and tells me "0% Fragmentation" "No defragmentation needed". Then I look at the chart created and it looks like a picket fence, indicating that the drive is definitely in need of a defrag. No matter what the Analyzer told me, I would runa defrag on a weekly basis.

    "5. Defend Your Windows with Windows Defender"
    Sorry, but I will always use third-party security products instead of Microsoft's.

    "premiere choice for users that want an effective and no 'fill' anti-virus software."
    Shouldn't that be "no FRILL anti-virus"?

    • Maryon Jeane
      February 26, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      Just what I was about to comment, fcd! I always used a third party defragmenter for this reason, and one that worked in the background when the computer was idle for more than a set period of time. (I no longer defragment because I'm on SSDs now.)

      I also agree about using other (anything other...) than MS products for antimalware etc. Microsoft tries to do everything and as a consequence does nothing well. Third party specialist software is always better, often spectacularly so. Even where MS takes over a good piece of kit, and incorporates it into the OS or its offering, it usually manages to make a pig's ear of maintaining it (look what it did to DOS...).

      One thing I would mention, hot off the telephone line from a call with my telephone line provider after the resolution of a fault (voltage leak along the line between here and the exchange), is that if you are puzzled by a massive slowdown and you've tried all the fixes on your computer without success, don't forget that the line is part of the mix. I had a massive slowdown recently and it was interfering with everything I did, but nothing was reporting back to me with any problems as far as my desktop (particularly) was concerned and all seemed to be running well. Then, when helping a neighbour with a set-up (installation of a trueCall), I discovered that she too was having problems and I was unable to get the trueCall to register properly; it was the line. Today the voltage leak on the line's been fixed and my computers (touch wood) are running like cream again.

      Just a note, too: the primary partition is always (not "often") designated as C: by default - and followed by a backslash (\) not a forward slash!

    • Christian Bonilla
      February 26, 2016 at 5:55 pm

      I agree. After analyzing my disk drive, I always end up defragmenting regardless of what the program recommends. The "0% Fragmentation" and "No defragmentation needed" indications, along with the "picket fence" chart you mentioned, might suggest that, although your drive is fragmented (as most drives are), the file sizes may be too low to be regarded. Different programs use different considerations concerning how fragmented a drive is. Defragment at your own discretion.

      As to your comment about using third-party security products, I use different security clients myself. We even recommend using third-party clients for your PC's protection; the worst possible choice, however, is not scanning at all!

      I'd also like to add, nice eye!

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