Computer Upgrades on a Budget

by Jonathan Moeller

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Like so many other things, computers get slower as they get older. Perhaps you want a new one, but you just can't see yourself spending that kind of money. Fortunately, this doesn't mean that you have to put up with a slow computer. There are a number of cheap and easy ways to put new vigor into a tired old computer.

If your computer takes a long time to start up, you might consider reducing the number of startup programs. "Startup Programs" are programs that start automatically when Windows boots up. A few won't make much difference, but twenty or thirty programs fighting to start at the same time will grind your computer to a halt. By using the Windows System Configuration Utility (go to the Start menu, then to Run, and type "msconfig"), you can view and disable unnecessary startup applications. Your computer should then boot faster.

If your computer has a sudden slowdown in performance, viruses or spyware might be to blame. These malicious programs can run unnoticed in the background, causing serious problems with your computer. Fortunately, there are many high-quality, free antispyware utilities available on the Internet. SpyBot Search & Destroy and Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware are the two best currently available. With these programs, you can locate and remove many spyware infections.

Ironically, it's also possible for your antivirus program itself to seriously slow down your computer. As new viruses and worms have appeared on the Internet, antivirus programs have responded by getting bulkier, especially full-featured "security suites." They can easily gobble up available system resources, especially on an older computer. If your antivirus program is dragging down your computer, you can consider changing to a lightweight alternative, such as AVG Antivirus. As an added bonus, you won't have to pay the subscription fee, as AVG offers a free edition.

Windows Vista is notorious for running slowly, but it does have a feature that allows it to run faster, a built-in program called ReadyBoost. ReadyBoost uses a USB flash drive to cache frequently accessed data from the hard drive. Since a USB flash drive runs much faster than a hard drive, ReadyBoost speeds up the computer's overall performance. If you happen to have an old USB flash drive lying around, it would serve you well as a ReadyBoost drive. Or, since flash drives have become so cheap, you could simply buy a new one at minimal cost.

The surest way to speed up your computer is to buy and install more memory, called RAM (for Random Access Memory). RAM typically comes in 256, 512, and 1024 megabyte modules, and you upgrade by replacing your current modules for larger ones. Every single version of Windows loves RAM, and the more you have the faster it runs. Even better, RAM prices have reached record lows, and you can often install the RAM yourself with nothing more than a screwdriver. The important thing is to get the correct speed of RAM for your computer. For instance, if your computer uses PC2700 RAM, it is important that you buy PC27000 RAM, since any other speed won't work.

Finally, the most drastic way to improve your computer's performance is to reinstall Windows from scratch. It is a lot of work and you should only do it if you know what you're doing, but it can significantly speed up your computer. Windows accumulates unnecessary programs and data over its lifespan, which gradually slows down the computer. Reinstalling Windows from scratch will give you a clean installation, with the added bonus of clearing away any viruses or unnecessary programs. However, you'll need the Windows disc that came with your computer to attempt this. Also, reinstalling Windows will wipe out all the data on your computer, so you'll need to first make backup copies of your documents, pictures, and music files.

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