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How to speed up a slow or sluggish computer?

My computer has become slow/sluggish. What should I do?

The following are some of the ways to improve the performance of your Windows computer:

1. Disable unneeded services

Click Start and then click Run (or Search, in Vista and 7), then type the following command and press the Enter key: services.msc

services.msc

services.msc

If you have a standalone desktop computer at home (i.e., not networked to other computers and not an office desktop), you can safely set the following services to “manual” or “disabled”, as mentioned below. Depending on whether you have a Windows service pack installed, you may or may not see all of these services listed. Ignore the ones that you don’t see in the services list.

For each of the following services, right click it and then click Properties. In the Startup drop down menu, click “manual” and then click “OK.”

Services Control Panel

Services Control Panel Applet

Disable a Service

Disable a Service

a. Set the following services to manual:

  • Fast User Switching Compatibility Service
  • Application Layer Gateway Service
  • Background Intelligent Transfer Service
  • COM+ Event System Service
  • COM+ System Application Service
  • Cryptographic Services Service
  • Distributed Link Tracking Client Service
  • Indexing Service
  • IPSEC Services Service
  • Network Location Awareness (NLA)
  • Service Portable Media Serial Number
  • Service Print Spooler Service (You may set it to automatic, if you have a printer attached and print frequently.)
  • TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper Service
  • Telephony Service
  • Terminal Services Service
  • WebClient Service

b. Set the following services to disabled:

  • Alerter Service
  • ClipBook Service
  • Distributed Transaction Coordinator Service
  • DNS Client Service
  • Error Reporting Service
  • Messenger Service
  • MS Software Shadow Copy Provider Service (Set it to manual, if you use the MS Backup utility)
  • Net Logon Service
  • NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing Service
  • Network DDE Service
  • Network DDE DSDM Service
  • NT LM Security Support Provider Service
  • Performance Logs and Alerts Service
  • QoS RSVP Service
  • Remote Desktop Help Session Manager Service (Set this to manual, if you use remote desktop)
  • Remote Registry Service
  • Routing and Remote Access Service
  • Server Service (If you’re on a network, don’t disable it )
  • Smart Card Service
  • Smart Card Helper Service
  • SSDP Discovery Service
  • Telnet Service
  • Upload Manager Service
  • Volume Shadow Copy Service
  • Wireless Zero Configuration Service (Don’t disable it, if using a laptop and a wireless router)

2. Free up Disk Space

Click Start and then click Run. Type cleanmgr and press the Enter key.

Start, Run, cleanmgr

Click Start > Run, then type cleanmgr

Select the Windows drive (usually C) and then click “OK“.

Select Drive to Cleanup

Select Drive to Cleanup

Select the files you don’t want, and click OK to delete them.

Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup

You can free up more disk space by clicking on the More Options tab.

Disk Cleanup "More Options" Tab

Disk Cleanup "More Options" Tab

You’ll have to run the cleanmgr command, once again, to go to the More Options tab. These are the three options on the More Options tab, which would free up more disk space. You should use each of these:

  • Uninstall Windows components
  • Uninstall unused or rarely used programs
  • Delete old restore points except the last one.

In addition to the above, you should delete unneeded files or move them to another partition, drive, or back them up to CD/DVD or USB flash drives. Check your My Documents folder and see how much space it takes!

3. Disable some startup items in MSConfig

Run the command msconfig and click the “startup” tab.

msconfig > Disable Startup Items

msconfig > Disable Startup Items

Uncheck any items that you don’t need at startup. Some apps run their services, which enable them to start fast (like MSOffice, Acrobat Reader, etc). Expand the heading named ‘Command‘ so that you can see what command is being executed for each startup item. To expand the Command heading, hover the cursor near the right end of the Command column. When the cursor becomes a double arrow, double click with the left mouse button to expand it.

This will help you understand which items are not needed at startup.

After clicking OK, if msconfig asks to restart, you may restart, or just click ‘Exit without restart‘, if you are doing some other work. After you reboot, msconfig will show this dialog box. Just check the “Don’t show this message …” checkbox and click on “OK“.

4. Remove some items from the Windows Startup group

Check the startup folder under Start -> All Programs. Remove any items that are not needed or not used often. They are just taking up system memory, because they are running all the time in the background. You can run these programs as and when needed.

5. Clean up your Registry

Clean up your registry regularly.  Use a free program like ccleaner. It also has an option to optimize (compress) the registry, but NT Registry Optimizer is better at compressing and optimizing the registry. You may also download and use the Emergency Recovery Utility from the NT Registry Optimizer page, for backing up your registry regularly and automatically, from the NT Optimizer page.

6. Remove unneeded/unused fonts

Remove unneeded or unused fonts from the Control Panel -> Fonts. Many software applications install their own fonts in addition to the standard Windows fonts. There are too many unused fonts sitting in the fonts folder, which never get used. Each of these fonts takes valuable system memory and Windows loads all the fonts from the \Windows\Fonts folder into the RAM, when it starts.

You can safely remove many of these fonts. When in the Fonts folder, click on the View menu and click ‘Details‘. You can double-click each font to view it, before clicking delete. If you think you might need these fonts in the future, you can move the unneeded fonts  to another folder on your hard drive instead of deleting them.

7. Enable Cleartype for LCD Monitors

If you have an LCD monitor or a laptop, click Start -> Run. Then, type the command, desk.cpl and press the Enter key. Click the Appearance tab on the Display Properties. Click Effects and check to enable the second option (select ClearType if it isn’t already selected).

Enable ClearType

Enable ClearType

You can uncheck the ‘Show shadows under menus‘ and ‘Show menu contents while dragging‘. You may also want to download the cleartype tuner from Microsoft.

8. Defrag the Windows drive

In “My Computer” or Windows Explorer,

  1. Right click Drive C (or whichever drive, Windows is installed on),
  2. Select Properties
  3. Select the Tools Tab.
  4. Click ‘Defragment Now‘.
  5. Then, click the ‘Analyze‘ button.
Defrag Analyze Results

Defrag Analyze Results

If defrag recommends that you defragment the drive, proceed with it. This would make Windows and applications load a little bit faster. You may want to run a disk error check from the same “Tools” tab, before you defrag the drive.

Check Disc

Check Disc

9. Disable short file names to speed up Windows

By default, Windows XP and Vista create 8.3 format filenames for all files. This is done to maintain compatibility with 16-bit (old DOS based) programs. These programs need the old filename format. If you don’t use any such DOS-based programs, you can safely turn this feature off. This will speed up Windows to some extent. Run this from a command prompt, by running the command – cmd from the Run box.

The command is:

fsutil behavior set disable8dot3 1

Note: Windows XP environment variables %TEMP% and %TMP% use short filenames. Some programs use these variables. If disabling short filenames causes problems, restore the short name function with the command:

fsutil behavior set disable8dot3 0 

10. Disable timestamp for last access to a file to speed up Windows

Disabling the timestamp for last access time of a file can speed up Windows too, because Windows doesn’t have to keep track of the last access time for each file. Again, run this from the command prompt:

fsutil behavior set disablelastaccess 1 

Some backup programs need to access timestamp. To restore it, use the command:

fsutil behavior set disablelastaccess 0 

11. Disable DLL caching

(NOTE: Use this only if you know how to edit the Registry)

Windows Explorer caches DLLs (Dynamic-Link Libraries) in memory for some time, even after the application using them was closed. This is a waste of memory. To stop Windows XP from always caching DLL files, create a new registry key as detailed below.

Click Start and then click Run. Type regedit and press the Enter key. In the Registry Editor, navigate to the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer

Create a new sub-key named ‘AlwaysUnloadDLL‘ and set the default value to ’1′.

This would disable Windows, caching the DLLs in memory. The change would happen only after you restart Windows.

12. For Windows Vista, disable superfetch

Run the following command from the Search box:

sc config Superfetch start= disabled

(The space after the = sign is intentional)

13. Disable the Windows’ built-in zip feature

It’s common to have many zipped or compressed files in today’s computer world. Windows XP and later have a built-in zip feature, which allows you to view zip files as normal folders, from within Windows Explorer. This can take quite an amount of CPU time in uncompressing the files on the fly. So, you should disable this feature and use a program like Winzip, to open zip files. Since Windows treats zip files as folders, they are also searched, when you search for a file, making the searching extremely slow.

To disable this feature, in the Run box, type the following command and hit the Enter key:

regsvr32 /u %windir%\system32\zipfldr.dll

The above command, without the ” /u ” would again enable the zip feature, if it’s disabled. A reboot is required for the changes to take effect. These commands may not work in Windows 7 or Vista. If you are new to Windows, you may like this feature, and may not want to disable it.

14. Optimize VGA settings

In Display Properties, click the settings tab and then click the ‘Advanced‘ button. Click the ‘Troubleshoot‘ tab and check that the hardware acceleration is set to full.

15. Disable Extra Visual Effects

Right click My Computer and then click Properties. Click the Advanced tab, then click “Settings” under Performance, then select the Visual Effects tab.

Disable Visual Effects

Disable Visual Effects

Uncheck all the settings except for the following:

  • Show shadows under menus
  • Show shadows under mouse pointer
  • Show translucent selection rectangle
  • Smooth edges of screen fonts
  • Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop
  • Use visual styles on windows and buttons

16. Adjust Paging File size

Adjust Paging File Size

Adjust Paging File Size

In My Computer Properties page, click the Advanced tab and under Virtual Memory, make sure that the initial size is at least 1.5 times your computer’s physical memory (RAM). For example, if your computer has 512 MB of RAM, set the initial paging file size to 768 MB. If you are confused, don’t play with the settings and let Windows manage the page file size.

For optimal performance, read Bill’s and Petri’s pages about paging file and Windows performance. You can then use Doug Knox’s page file monitor utility and set the initial page file size accordingly. If you want the best performance, you can buy 2 GB or more RAM, then set the minimum paging file size to 2 MB and maximum, to 50 MB. This can dramatically improve performance.

17. Install good AntiSpyware and Antivirus programs, then run them periodically

Install Malwarebytes’ Antimalware and SuperAntiSpyware. Both are free. Note that Malwarebytes’ Antimalware doesn’t always keep running and you can manually scan files or drives when needed. But SuperAntiSpyware keeps running in the background, scans each file whenever you or the computer accesses it, and sits in the system tray. This slows the computer down, so you should remove it from the startup by using the MSCONFIG utility and then run it manually, whenever needed.

You may also want to install a free antivirus program like AVG or Avast. Both are light on resources and free too. Never install two Antivirus programs on the same computer, although you can install two AntiSpyware programs. You can, however, keep another Antivirus bootable CD or a Virus removal tool, to use once in a while. Any Antivirus program takes away a little of your computer speed because of the on-access and background scans. It’s best to leave the on-access scan enabled.

Kaspersky is one of the best Antivirus programs and even though it is not free, they offer their Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool for free here. Here’s a Kaspersky Bootable Rescue Disk ISO image, which you can download and burn on to a CD and boot the computer from it. After booting, if an Internet connection is available, you can update it online and then scan the computer.

18. Enable DMA / UDMA in Device Manager for each drive

Enable DMA / UDMA for each Drive

Enable DMA / UDMA for each Drive

Click Start -> Run. Then, type devmgmt.msc and hit the Enter key. In Device Manager, expand the IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers. For each device under this category, double click the item and click the Advanced Settings tab. Make sure that DMA if available is selected for each device.

19. Install Microsoft Tweakui Powertoy

Download and install the Microsoft TweakUI Powertoy. It has many Windows tweaks and options that you can enable or disable with a simple mouse click. There are surely some that you’d like to use. To  know more, what it can do for you, click here.

From the Microsoft TweakUI page: “This PowerToy gives you access to system settings that are not exposed in the Windows XP default user interface, including mouse settings, Explorer settings, taskbar settings, and more.”

20. Periodically, reinstall Windows

It’s a good practice to periodically reinstall Windows. Don’t forget to backup your data files before the reinstall. If your system is infected with too many viruses or malware it may be better to format the hard drive and then reinstall Windows.

Here are some Youtube videos about installing Windows:

For installing/reinstalling Windows XP:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_932T4FAAY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSJTgvet9QY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0cop_am1WM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf2Ffm33DhA

For installing/reinstalling Windows Vista:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeBjxHm19pk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puY4vRhAKYo

It can be quite time consuming and a big hassle backing up your data, re-installing Windows, then re-installing the proper drivers and software programs and then restoring the data. You can use a professional disk imaging program like Acronis True Image or Norton‘s Ghost to  “image” your already installed and working copy of Windows, along with drivers and software programs.

These programs are very nice, but not free. However, here’s a link to a similar free disk imaging program from Easeus. Using these programs takes 10 minutes or less to restore the whole Windows partition, with everything installed. There are a dozen such freeware programs listed and detailed here.

21. Upgrade the RAM

The more the amount of RAM, the more the number of simultaneous applications you can run. Nowadays, 1 GB and 2 GB RAM is pretty common.

Here is a youtube video on how to properly install the RAM, if you want to upgrade or add more RAM.

Click here to search for RAM prices.

  1. August 21st, 2010 at 03:29 | #1

    Your article is very good! Helpful to me, I have learned a lot of things, very grateful! indows registry is the heart of each computer. The longer use of computers, the more software installed, registry garbage inside the computer registry will be more. Most of the software will add unnecessary junk to the registry which makes the computer crash or slower and slower, you need to clear your PC using the registry cleaner software

  2. August 29th, 2010 at 05:54 | #2

    This is extremely helpful as I have a dell desktop, which I purchased in 2000 and I defrag it and it’s still slow. I will bookmark this and follow the steps accordingly. Thanks for this.

  3. August 29th, 2010 at 10:56 | #3

    Really comprehensive resource. It’s amazing how many people complain how slow their computer starts but then have a bunch of extra programs launch on start up. There are so many programs and services do this and take almost no extra time to start when these are disabled on start up.

  4. Denis
    September 9th, 2010 at 17:43 | #4

    This list will surely help people speed up computer.

    On your msconfig pointer I actually use Ccleaner for that. Would your recommend it? I also like its registry cleaner that for its doing a great job.

    Thanks for the tools and videos you’ve recommended here. I’ll surely try it.

  5. alif
    November 18th, 2010 at 11:30 | #5

    wow! so nice descriptions!

  6. stavros skandalis
    February 26th, 2011 at 05:02 | #6

    Best advice ever,to my opinion at least.Thank you.

  7. Ben
    March 31st, 2011 at 06:31 | #7

    Better than reinstalling Windows is to take a drive image before any damage has been done and then use the image to restore the PC – much faster.

  1. December 15th, 2010 at 12:00 | #1