5 ways to keep your computer from slowing down

Don’t let your machine succumb to old age.

Neither you nor your gadgets can escape the passage of time. But when it comes to your computer, you can at least make sure it has a long and full life by minimizing some of the creeping effects of old age.

Some regular maintenance can work wonders, so don’t just sit back and accept the gradual slowdown of your desktop or laptop.

Regularly audit your installed apps

The main difference between the bright and shiny new computer you unboxed on day one and the sluggish, wheezing beast you might find yourself with after five years, is all the applications you’ve loaded on to it.

Regularly review your list of installed programs, and keep in mind that just because you’ve installed something, it doesn’t mean it has a right to sit on your hard drive until the end of time. The only apps you should have are those you’re using frequently, so take note of what those are and get rid of the rest. Remember you can always download and reinstall a program should you change your mind.

[Related: A system slowdown isn’t something you have to settle for]

On Windows, open Settings via the cog icon on the Start menu, then choose Apps and Apps & features. You can sort programs by size, or by when they were installed, so you’ll be able to see tools you may have forgotten about. To remove an app, select it from the list and then choose Uninstall.

On macOS, open the Applications tab in Finder, then drag the app down to the Trash icon on the dock. If you downloaded the program from the Mac App Store, you can also remove it from the Launchpad window—press and hold the Option key until the icons start jiggling, then click the small x button next to the application you want to remove.

Keep an eye on free storage space

One certain way to slow down your machine is to not give it enough space to work with. Along with removing apps you don’t use, you should always make sure that there’s a good chunk of storage available on the local hard drive—around 20 percent at least, if you can manage it.

[Related: Hot computers are slow and dangerous—here’s how to cool yours down]

In File Explorer on Windows, you can click This PC on the left to see how much room is left on your local drives. On macOS, open the Apple menu and choose About This Mac, then open the Storage tab.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to freeing up disk space on your computer. It’s just a question of monitoring what you have on your disk and deleting what you don’t need—from old documents, to installation packages. You should also consider moving files you don’t access regularly to the cloud or an external hard drive. Just make sure you always have two copies of your most important files for backup purposes.

Don’t let programs overstep their mark

The default settings in plenty of programs allow them to do whatever they want as soon as they’re installed in your system, including running in the background whenever your computer is on. Allowing your favorite programs to do this means they can jump into action without you having to launch them manually each time. However, it’s best to keep the number of applications that do this down to a minimum, as the more apps you have running in the background, the slower your machine will become.

To see which apps are overstepping their mark on Windows, right-click on a blank part of the taskbar and choose Task Manager then More details. On macOS, use Spotlight by typing Cmd + Space and launch Activity Monitor.

If there are apps that shouldn’t be in these lists, there are two things you can do. First, check inside the applications themselves to see if there’s a setting you can disable to prevent them from running automatically. If you can’t find any, stop them from starting up with your operating system—on Windows, switch to the Start-up tab in Task Manager, and on macOS go to Users & Groups then Login items in System Preferences.

Keep your programs trim and healthy

Keeping your apps up to date will fix bugs and security vulnerabilities, but most importantly it’ll help them stay speedy. Most programs will handle this automatically for you, but it’s worth double-checking that there aren’t any outstanding updates you’ve missed.

You should also make sure that your programs aren’t collecting any bloat as well—by this we mean add-ons that you might no longer need, older versions of a software still hanging around, or installation packages that you haven’t deleted.

[Related: Five simple tricks to speed up your browser]

This is especially important for your web browser. Every once in a while check in on the extensions you’ve got installed, and remove the ones you no longer need, as having too many of these can seriously slow down this type of program.

Run a reset every now and again

Just like your programs, you should also keep Windows and macOS up to date at all times. Microsoft and Apple make this difficult to avoid, but you can make sure you’re on the latest version of your operating system through Update & Security in Windows Settings, or Software Update in macOS System Preferences.

Something else to consider is regularly resetting your computer and returning it to its factory fresh state. This process is easy, but it’ll eat up some of your time—it wipes out all but the bare bones of your operating system, so you’ll need to backup all your files and reinstall all your programs afterward. But In doing that, a full reset also clears out redundant data, gets programs back to their original state, and removes all bloat and clutter from your machine. It may sound like an extreme alternative, but it’s often worth an hour or two of inconvenience just to get a clean slate.

On your Windows computer, head to Update & Security, then Recovery. Microsoft has full instructions you can refer to if you get lost along the way. Apple also has a complete guide to help you in this process, which starts by rebooting your Mac while holding down Cmd+R, then run the Disk Utility from the list that appears.

David Nield
David Nield

David Nield is a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.