Most of us have been frustrated by the lethargic performance of our PCs, one time or another. While newer hardware has solved many of the bottlenecks, the software has also kept up the pace, bringing us to square one.
While newer versions of Windows 10 have advanced to levels where they do a solid enough job of maintaining speed, there is only so much an operating system can do when faced by persistent niggles that arise from minor glitches to major crashes.
If you feel your PC could do with a little checkup, then breathe new life into it with our guide to fixing, cleaning and tweaking your system for optimum performance.
Time for a Cleanup?
I know what you are thinking. Unless it is a hardware component that is giving me a problem, why don’t I blow things up, and start from scratch with a fresh new install? Wouldn’t a reinstall solve many of these issues, get rid of malware and junkware, and keep my computer speedy and free of infections?
After all, Windows works best when it is fresh and free of the fragments that it accumulates while running and installing programs. All operating systems work at their peak when they are freshly installed, it is just a fact or the technology life, right?
Yet at the same time, reaching for the nuclear option is not a solution every time you sense something is wrong. Not when you can just as easily regenerate your existing Windows installation by tidying things up and doing some much-needed spring cleaning.
We are going to help you do exactly that.
This helpful guide is all about you refreshing your PC by fixing its problems and turning your system for optimum performance. We will kick things off by giving your machine a health check, then clear out the junk, free up some space while we are at it, and top it off by streamlining the performance of your computer down to make it go a little faster than before.
Once your system is clean, we will also take a look at how you can keep it that way.
Throughout this feature, we will be using a number of third-party apps. Almost all of these applications are free to download, and some can even be grabbed from the Microsoft Store. These programs and system utilities offer unmatched features that you don’t get by default on the operating system.
Let’s begin our adventure to give your Windows installation a factory fresh feel.
Perform a Health check
Let’s kick thing off by giving your computer a once over to make sure that everything is fit behind the scenes. This is doubly important if you are suffering from performance-related issues, or your PC is constantly falling over.
Start with a physical examination of the hardware.
For this, you will need to perform a power reset. Power down your PC, then unplugging it from the mains. Now simply press the power button a few times to ensure that all power has been discharged from your system. If you have a laptop, you will need to disconnect the battery too before pressing the power button so that no current is flowing through your device.
Next step, is checking whether the vents of your PC are clogged with dust. Overheating not only shortens the life of your computer components, it can also lead to random and unexpected shutdowns, particularly on mobile hardware like notebooks, ultrabooks and tablets that get moved around a lot.
With your PC switched off, clear off the vents completely.
It is a good idea now to open up your PC to check the fans inside too. Make sure the machine switched off at the power socket and earth yourself before touching the insides of your PC. Start with the fan that is attached to your processor, and the one next to your power supply, along with any other case fans that are installed.
If the fans check out, you should spend a few minutes checking for faulty memory and failing hard drives. These are problems that manifest at random, so no better time than now to give these two core components a look.
For the RAM, you can simply use the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool. Search for it from the Start Menu and start the utility. It will perform the check outside Windows, so you can run either run it straight away or opt to run it the next time you reboot. Take note of any failures, and if you have more than one sticks of RAM, test each one, in turn, to find the faulty module and replace it.
The Speccy tool mentioned above is excellent when it comes to monitoring the physical health of your hard drive. It displays the SMART status of drives, rating multiple factors in an easy to decipher manner. Anything that is not rated good is a surefire warning alarm — an indication that your drive is on its way out. Back up its content at first opportunity so you don’t lose your files if the drive goes south, and then replace it as soon as you can.
And finally, another excellent tool that not many people know about is built into Windows itself.
Search for View Reliability History and fire up that module. It will quickly provide you with a glace view of the health of your PC, as well as a list of any critical errors that the operating system has taken note of. You also get a handy overview of informational events like drivers and Windows updates.
The lower the score here, the more help your PC needs. Proceed accordingly and run the system diagnostic tools that the OS suggests.
Take out the Junk
Don’t you wish for a virtual vacuum cleaner that you can take to your PC and suck up all the unwanted and unnecessary trash to free up system resources? Well, good thing, then, that there are a few powerful software programs that can double up for a vacuum cleaner and do the deed.
Junk on your computer is often in form of malware and adware that accumulates as you use it.
That, and potentially unwanted programs, known as PUPs.
The first stop, then, is to make sure that your PC is free of malware. Fire up which security tool you are using, ensure that it is updated, then run a full system scan. If malware is found, use the security solution to clean it, then reboot your device and scan it again to be doubly sure.
Not all malware will budge this way — some of the more sinister and malicious programs will require you to restart your PC in Safe Mode and then run your antimalware tool from there. This usually settles it for the more pestering threats.
Of course, security experts will always recommend getting a second opinion and never relying on a single security tool. We recommend you install MalwareFox alongside your existing security package, as it often finds threats that the more traditional tools ignore.
With malware taken care of, time to shift attention towards banishing the PUPs.
For this, we suggest the aptly named PC Decrapifier tool that has made a name for itself when it comes to identifying programs you should consider removing. Install and run this application, and then see what it suggests. The only caveat is that you will not want to rely on the uninstall tool that PC Decrapifier comes with. It is terribly hit and miss, and that is putting it charitably.
Use the default uninstall routines included with your programs to clean up the mess, and you will be a happy camper.
And what about registry cleaning? This is a question that is often asked, and the short answer is that you should avoid it. There is a good reason for that, and that is the fact that cleaning registry entries have zero effect on the performance of your computer. Yes, it can clear out some entries that are still residing in the registry. But the thing is, one false misstep and it has the potential to cause major problems and bring your PC installation crashing down.
This is all the truer when using random and relatively unknown registry cleaners, of which there is no shortage of on the web — programs that promise the world by cleaning your Windows registry.
If you really do want to clean your registry, then always stick with reliable tools. And be sure to make a System Restore point before you begin the process. This way you can get back to the way things were in case something goes wrong. Restoring a registry back is always preferred, as opposed to reinstalling your operating system altogether.
The only exception to this is when using a tool like IObit Uninstaller to uninstall programs on your PC. Software like these take a measured approach to cleaning the registry of unwanted entries, and you can usually proceed without any worries with whatever suggestions they display.
So far, we have used cleaned out the junk with the help of some of the more commonly used programs. Things like uninstalling applications, toolbars and plugins is a good way to keep your machine running lean and mean, and should actually be done at regular intervals.
But what if you want to dig a little deeper?
If you want to clean out other parts of your PC easily and automatically, then there are a couple of really powerful programs? CCleaner is the obvious leader in this space, but PrivaZer is an equally capable alternative.
You can grab the portable version of it, and it works just as well as the regular one.
Start it up, and then define its scope. You can click on Advanced to work through the possible options, all of which are aptly detailed and explained. What you are doing here is basically telling PrivaZer how far you want it to go and clean your system, as well as the various software configurations for applications like Office.
Set your custom preferences or stay with the recommended options, and then start the cleanup process.
There are just a couple of caveats. First is the question mark with disabling hibernation on Windows 10 PCs, as this may cause problems if you suffer a power cut during the shutdown. And secondly, if you have doubts about something then don’t delete it. The reason for this is PrivaZer securely overwrites any and all data that it removes, making recovery impossible.
Want to go even further?
You can also lighten the load on your system by removing fonts that you don’t use. Removing unused typefaces not only means a more manageable fonts menu, but you also free up additional system resources, particularly on older and less powerful PCs.
Grab AMP Font Viewer, run it as an administrator, and then go through the list to identify fonts that you don’t use. Uninstall them right from the program to remove them completely. Fonts are moved to your location of choice, meaning you can then add them back in when you need them. There is also the option of installing a font temporarily that enables you to use it until you restart Windows.
Consolidate your files
Reorganizing and consolidating your files is imperative for proper cleanup of your PC. Not only does good file management free up storage space by removing duplicates, but it also makes backing up all your important data a whole lot easier.
How you consolidating your files depends on your usage habits.
Whether you are a power user or not, the fact is that over time, the drive of your machine clutters up with data files of all shapes, sizes and types. Not only does this data accumulation slows things down, but duplicate files can also swallow up storage space. Having five copies of the photos you took on your phone or digital camera during your last summer trip is not fun. More so, because the longer this process goes on, the harder it can be to face up to the problem.
Ideally, you want to prevent issues like this from happening. But if you have scattered data like this, now is the perfect time to consolidate your files properly. And free up space in the process.
It does require some proper planning beforehand, though.
You need to work out where you are going to store everything, for this process to work. Once that is defined, start by taking an inventory of all your available drives, whether they are the internal drives that are installed on your PC or external ones that you have available like a USB or network location that you possess. Using a spreadsheet or a note-taking application to visualize how you are organizing your storage is a good idea.
If you have a lot of files and want to save yourself the trouble of manually comparing the content of all your drives, then deploy the trial version of WinCatalog 2019 to help you with this.
Launch the program and you will be prompted to create a catalog file. Select your first drive, and then choose from the options provided to choose exactly what you want to add to the catalog. Perhaps you want to provide a list of folders, or restrict the cataloging to cover a specific type of files? Doing so will speed up the scanning process considerably, though of course, you will be limited to what exactly gets added to the database.
Indexing your drives can take a fair while. But once done, you can easily visualize how your data is spread across your drives. If you cataloged everything, you can also use the search tool in WinCatalog to track down all your files, even those that may have been buried deep inside your file system.
The time now to weed out duplicates.
Getting rid of duplicate files not only frees up acres of storage space on your system. You will also have an easier time managing your backups via a streamlined backup routine.
WinCatalog is a fine option here, and its search tool can locate duplicates by details like filename, size, date modified, as well as the CRC32 checksum. And since you are only working within its catalog, not the physical files themselves, everything is lightning fast, with results returned instantly. Obviously, this means that you will have to right-click and open the file in Explorer to manually delete duplicate files.
And this can be a lot of hassle.
Enter Duplicate Cleaner Free, which can target, locate and remove exact duplicates. An excellent choice if you know your storage drive is stuffed full of similar files, like photos and songs that are almost identical. On the free side of things, AntiDupl is also a highly capable solution that can be configured to match both similar as well as identical files.
The process of removing unnecessary files from your system can be a lengthy one. But once done, the ones that remain will be the ones that you can easily manage going forward.
A worthy suggestion is to store these on a separate partition so that the next time you reinstall Windows you don’t have to worry about backing and restoring your data first. Of course, file consolidation is not a substitute for a proper backup. You should still ensure that you have backed up your important files to yet another drive for safekeeping. Or upload them to the cloud, if you like to roll that way. Best to be prepared, as you never know when you may encounter a problem with your PC down the road.
Streamline your PC
Windows may look simple enough. But beneath its surface is a lumbering mass of programs, services and system files that compete for your system resources. Resources that are finite, as no matter what processor you are using, or how much RAM and storage space you have — they all get consumed.
The solution to this is to streamline your PC and get Windows back to the shape it was when you performed your last reinstalled.
Or something close.
To do that, we will first deal with the startup issue. That is because problems usually appear the moment Windows finishes loading. Programs and applications start demanding attention right after the operating system loads. Many even begin gobbling up system resources before you have actually managed to log into your user account.
The solution to this to monitor and manage the boot times of your PC.
No better software than BootRacer for this, which can not only be used to improve the boot times of your computer but also delay startup items until Windows has finished loading itself. You can then use the program to see exactly how long each item takes to load, and then modify them accordingly. It is possible to disable and delete startup items from here, and you can even swap the order in which they run as well.
If you have a lot of startup programs and want even more control over them, then go ahead and download Autoruns from Microsoft. Use it to view hidden parts of your startup process. Simply unzip the file and run it as administrator and you will see a bewildering number of tabs appear on your screen. Focus your eyes on Scheduled Tasks and Explorer, and look for items marked in red or yellow. These are the entries you can try and disable first by unticking. If all is well with your system after rebooting, you can delete them.
With the startup programs taken care of, time to shift attention to the hardware side of things. There are not a whole lot of ways can tweak your PC hardware, at least not for novice users. You need to have a complete handle on the inner working of your machine to overclock or extract the maximum amount of juice from key components like your processor and your graphic card.
However, a simpler way to do that is to ensure that you have the latest drivers for all your hardware devices. Newer firmware usually contains optimizations and improvements, many of which are noticeable.
If you have been relying on Windows Update to deliver these driver updates until now, try visiting the manufacturer websites directly to confirm whether a newer driver is available. Alternatively, there is no shortage of tools that source these drivers for you, like IObit Driver Booster. These programs are very capable and can do all the grunt work for you.
Moving on, let us see if we can improve what is one of the biggest bottlenecks in your PC, which is the hard drive. You are probably already aware just how slow those traditional hard disks are. And if you have got one of these in your system, then the best course of action is to defragment it to streamline its performance.
Type defrag into the Search box and open the Defragment and Optimize Drives tool. This will let help you find out if your SSD drives are optimized and whether your traditional platter drives are defragged.
Ultimately, if you have an SSD drive, there is little you can do to improve its performance. It should be fast enough for daily operations already. Besides, most optimizations on solid-state drives have a barely negligible effect. However, if you have a regular, spinning hard disk, then you might want to look into a specialized defragmentation tool to get its performance up to speed, instead of relying on the default Windows utility. The default one is good, but there are great options out there.
The best of which probably is Defraggler.
It offers a number of unique advantages, including the ability to defrag individual files and folders on demand. This is a great way to optimize certain files if you deal with them on a daily basis, like photos and large documents. Plus, this very popular tool can also defrag system files and move larger files to the end of the drive to help boost performance further.
Straighten up services
Just like real life, Windows is filled to the brim with services. These services are what keep the party going, and ensure that the various components of the operating system work as intended. These system programs mostly run in the background, and while most are linked to Windows, not all are.
Time to take a look at them, and bring them into line.
If you have installed Autoruns, you will notice a dedicated tab for services. It essentially mirrors the widely used Services panel in Windows, the one that is shown when you type services.msc into the Run box and hit the Enter key. You can, obviously, turn many of these services off for a quick and dirty speed boost, as not all necessary for the functioning of Windows. However, finding out which one is needed and which one is a little superfluous is no easy task for beginners.
For this, install Easy Service Optimizer.
This handy little program enables you to choose one of four presets for your services, depending on which ones you want to sacrifice in the name of performance. Play around with it, and see which services you can safely turn off to eke out a little more oomph from your system.
Speaking of oomph, you can also temporarily suspend services that you think are not essential when you are performing resource-heavy tasks like playing a game or ripping and converting HD video on your computer. JetBoost is what you need for this, as this program will disable services and only keep the ones that are necessary, while you carry on with your performance heavy task.
As you have noticed, services compete for resources like everything else on your system. And this means that just as you can turn them on and off individually, you can also allocate different priorities to certain services and programs to give your favored applications better access to those precious resources.
This can be done via Task Manager easily, but the only major problem with it is that your custom priority settings last only as long as that particular process is running. The next time you launch it, the priorities are reset. But we will get to that in a bit. First, let’s see how you can set the priority of your programs and services using this default Windows tool.
Fire up the Task Manager by right-clicking the Taskbar, and then switch to the More Details view. Locate your target application under Processes, right-click and choose Go to Details. Now, choose Set Priority to see your options.
Whatever you do, avoid the Realtime option, as this is a surefire way to bring Windows to a grinding halt. This option is best reserved for certain, extreme cases. Instead, nudge your processes up or down a single notch to set their priority levels above or below the regular Normal option. Setting certain background process to Below normal and your primary ones to Above normal is a good compromise to hand system resources to other programs without unduly affecting the overall performance.
Of course, the thing, as mentioned above, is that these choices are not permanent and reset to Normal the next time a particular process starts up again.
To solve this, and permanently raise or lower a process, you will need the help of a program that goes by the name of Prio. Download the 32-bit or 64-bit version as required, run it and you will find a handy new Save Priority option added to the Set Priority submenu. Make sure that it is ticked, and any changes you make to the priority of a process will be stored and reapplied the next time it is run.
All this is well and good, but what about when you are running a low powered PC that hangs for periods of time. Say, a budget tablet or an old laptop? For this, Process Lasso is your friend. It basically balances the demands made by the running processes, automatically lowering the priority of any that threaten to overwhelm the limited resources available on your PC.
Simply install it, and leave this program to its own, and it will automatically manage the process traffic.
A true delight in using a PC is only when it is running as it should, smooth and streamlined. No matter whether you use it for work or play, a properly optimized computer always provides joy. The good news is that you don’t need to reinstall Windows every time you want to get this feeling.
The steps, programs and resources outlined above are all you need to detox your PC from the bane of slow and listless performance. Cleaning up your system and files, while tweaking a few settings along the way to keep your PC free of malware and junkware goes a long way in ensuring that your machine goes as fast as it can, no matter how old or new its internal circuitry is.
This extra burst of speed you get from your newly cleaned up system will go a long way in improving your computing experience.
Shawn is a WindowsChimp Staff writer, who is a fan of making lists and does the same on this site. He has a Contemporary Writing degree and been in technology niche since last 3 years.