How to speed up an old computer

One of the most frustrating things we encounter in our daily work are slow computers. People have owned the computer for years and haven’t taken a shred of care over routine maintenance or upgrades.

Some laptops have taken ages to boot up and most of this is down to the sheer amount of stuff it’s trying to run and load as Windows starts.

There are many useless background tasks that sap a lot of a computers speed, include cloud drives/cloud storage/updaters and office launch gadgets. Often a background task attached to a cloud drive or messaging app will be continually pinging the main source to see if there is anything new. When you have 10 apps running and pinging each second that is 600 processors calls per minute taking up ram and valuable resources.

Use your computers task manager to show the startup programs and disable any you don’t need running all the time, for me this was Skype, Dropbox, Media player, office tasks (the programs may take a second or so longer to load without the task running but the computer runs much much better overall.)

Anti virus is a big cause of a slow computer, each year as computers get faster more and more features are added to antivirus which older machines just can’t cope with. Some are more respectful of resources than others.

If you are running windows 10 then you don’t need anti virus, the built in anti virus and firewall do a stunning job and work well. As a backup you could run a periodic anti malware scan manually but don’t set this running all the time.

We often find multiple antivirus programs installed which just makes the problem much worse. If you need antivirus then the 360 Security from Quihoo is very good and does a great job of cleaning up a system.

What about mechanical upgrades and practical things you can do?

The top of our list is to upgrade to an SSD drive, because they are much much faster. Computer boot times under an SSD have reduced for me from 3 minutes to around 40 seconds. Even laptops can be upgraded in this way and experience a massive performance boost.

If you bought a budget machine then you might have the option of installing a new CPU. I usually buy a modern computer with a low end processor. Then in 3 to 5 years time I can drop in the high end processor option for around £100, which saves £100’s on buying it new and is just like having a nearly new system.

My main work machine went from an Core i3 540 which was overclocked* to 4.2mhz to an i7 870. (Still quite old first generation technology but is a very capable machine) The base processor speed of my new i7 was the same as the i3 at 2.9mhz but the i7 offers 4 cores and 8 threads so it more than Quadrouples the power.

The i7 was also overclocked but not by too much. Adding the water cooling from my i3 meant I could push more volts into the CPU and get more power so it now runs at 3.6mhz and boosts to 4.2 when required. The whole thing feels much faster than the i3 and it is completely stable, the i3 was starting to blue screen on me and was acting slowly when I ran modern programs on it.

*To overclock a processor you increase the clock which in my case was from the 133mhz default. You take it up in steps testing all the way. If you get errors increase the voltage a little and retest. You’ll find a sweet spot that gives no errors and is fully stable. Then run the Intel burn test keeping an eye on temperature, each processor has a different max temp but you should see around 70-80 degrees maximum. If the temperature increase too much then you have a problem and need to decrease the speed and voltage or improve the cooling. Your CPU cooling choice really does make all the difference with water usually giving a 10 degree cooling bonus.

I got my i7 870 to 145bclk (from 133mhz) and it now takes about 1.3 to 1.41 volts, with a VTT of 1.27. Ram voltage is now 1.66 rather than 1.65 as I was getting some memory errors at lower ram voltages. This gives a nice stable system and the i7 turbo boost function still works really well keeping the power consumption down and giving me performance when I need it the most.

If I wanted more I could remove the turbo boost, speed step option and lock all the cores to around 4.2 mhz but I quite like the power saving and it’s plenty quick at the moment and pushes up to 4.2 when it gets busy.

I then added more RAM to my system going from 4gb to 16gb, to be honest I rarely use over 8gb but RAM was quite cheap from ebay, and it gives me space to breathe.

So to make your computer faster…

  • Install a superfast SSD hard drive, this is the single biggest performance boost you can do
  • Remove anti virus if you are running windows 10 – you simply don’t need it.
  • Stop background programs from running on startup
  • Defrag and optimise your hard drive (ssd drives just need an occasional trim)
  • Upgrade the CPU
  • Add more RAM
  • Overclock the processor

I was looking at a new motherboard and processor which would have cost around £400 and taken me up to the latest generations of Skylake and Kaby lake processors. The plan was to drop in a basic i3 and then get an i7 in 4 or 5 years time. However benchmark wise there has not been very much progress in CPU speed considering the cost, and to be honest my current system now tuned up works really well doing everything I need it to.

The new Ryzen processors from AMD look amazing and will probably push Intel to innovate and boost their performance or will cause a drop in prices. At the moment I would get a Ryzen 1500 at first and then drop an 1800X or 1900X in when it comes time to upgrade and keep my system up to spec. With the right cooling I should hit some impressive speeds from these CPU’s.

So when I next raise the money in a couple of years I’ll invest in a new system which again will hopefully last me another 10 years if I use my upgrade strategy.

FYI I was getting my parts used from ebay, the i7 870 cost me £70 and the Ram another £60 so for £130 I have got another 4 or 5 years out of my computer. A 750ti Nvidea graphics card cost me another £70 and added support for up to 4 monitors and seems to run the latest games at acceptable speeds.

If you play games then you should invest in a really good graphics card. This makes more difference to a system than the main processor. Just make sure your CPU is fast enough to supply the data to the graphics card. Usually 2 year old graphics cards have dropped significantly in price but still offer fantastic value to upgraders.

Posted in Gadgets, PC.