Hello there! This is the first article in my Tech It Yourself column, so I’m going to start with something a lot of us probably experienced a lot in the past: slow and lagging computers.
I’ll say right away, that the following guide won’t work for all laggy computers. There is a wide range of severity with computer lag. Some people just experience a few performance hiccups in file opening and bootup times, while others deal with computers processing so slowly that it’s indistinguishable from a slideshow presentation.
Due to that varying severity, I always recommend bringing your computer or laptop to a repair center so the experts can take a look and decide how big of a repair it’s going to be. But, sometimes repair shops take advantage of customers by doing way more than your computer really needs just to milk you for fees.
The goal of Tech It Yourself is to try and solve your tech-related problems without resorting to a visit to a computer store or a repair shop. So, I’m going to list some easy and safe procedures you can try on your computer to solve lagging issues before you pack it in and call a professional.
Task Manager Is Your Best Friend in Troubleshooting
The task manager is your starting place to figure out the cause and solution to many computer problems. It’s the program that manages all the tasks (or programs) you’re currently running. It’ll also show how hard your hardware is working, including your CPU, GPU, RAM, and Network.
If you’re using a Windows 10 system (or any modern Windows system) there are many ways to open the task manager. The easiest way is to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and then click on task manager. If you can’t do that for some reason, here are seven other ways to open the task manager.
Once you do, you’ll likely be greeted by this minimized version of Task Manager:
Just click more details to open up everything you can see with the task manager.
Once you got that open, there are seven tabs that you can access, but the one I want you to check is Performance and Processes, which looks like this:
Here you can see if your CPU, GPU, Memory, or Disk is hitting 100%. If any of these are hitting 100%, then that component might be the one that’s slowing your computer down. That’s where you’ll want to start troubleshooting.
GPUs don’t usually cause much trouble, so for now, let’s start with what to do when you see your CPU, RAM, or Disk getting overutilized.
If Your CPU or Memory Is Overutilized:
Shut Down Resource Intensive Apps
Your CPU or Memory will hit 100% from time to time, and it’s probably a good thing, it shows that your components are trying to work hard. But there’s only so much that your components can take.
The most common reasons your CPU or Memory is hitting 100% are large resource-intensive apps like video editing software, 3D designing software, games, or even your Google Chrome Browser.
The simplest fix here is to right-click that power-hungry app and click “End Task.” Processes that are highlighted with orange or red (like you can see below) indicate the most resource-intensive processes running right now.
Sometimes, you’ll see some built-in programs running that are hogging a lot of resources. You can’t just “End Task” these apps to oblivion as some of them are a part of your Windows system, and closing them might cause your computer to crash.
If shutting down the power-intensive apps (that aren’t vital to the Windows system itself) didn’t do anything, then you’ll need to try out some of the other tips in this article.
If Your Disk Is Overutilized:
Defragment Your Hard Disk Drive
Despite many computers having solid-state drives (SSDs) now, there are still a lot of people using hard disk drives (HDDs) since they tend to be cheaper for the same storage capacity compared to SSDs. I’m also guessing that most of the people experiencing lag are the ones that have an HDD on their computers.
A quick reminder: DON’T try to defragment an SSD. The following tip is only for computers with an HDD.
Fragmentation is what happens when the data for each and every file on your computer is scattered across your hard drive. As a result, your HDD needs to do extra work to open files and programs since it first has to find and compile all the data that’s scattered in different locations. Think of it as building a jigsaw puzzle but your puzzle pieces are scattered farther apart.
Defragmentation will relocate and reorganize your data so that the data needed for the same file are closer to each other, that way, the HDD doesn’t have to work as hard to find and compile them. This should result in being able to load files faster.
Luckily for Windows 10 users, Defragmentation software is already included in the settings menu. This software can scan your HDD to see if it needs to be defragmented and, if it does, it’ll do it for you. You can even set it to automatically run at regular intervals, like once a week or once a month to keep your HDD organized. Here’s a quick and easy video showing how to defrag your HDD:
If your system is older (as is the case with my old laptop), defragmenting your HDD might not make much of an improvement on your computer speed:
Upgrade to SSD
If defragmentation doesn’t make a difference, then your HDD might just be too old. Or maybe you just aren’t satisfied with an HDD’s speed even when it’s brand new. In either case, it’s probably time for an upgrade. And if you’re going to upgrade, I recommend opting for an SSD. It might be the single best upgrade that you could get for a slow computer.
Installing an SSD can be unsafe to do on your own, so, I won’t go into detail here about how to install one. But I will recommend some of the best SSDs you can get for your computer, either for a laptop or for a desktop build.
There are three common types of SSDs used across most computers: 2.5” SATA, M.2 NVME, and mSATA. There’s also the PCIe SSD, but that’s strictly for PC builds.
If you’re coming from an old HDD, I’ll recommend getting a 2.5” SATA SSD. It has the same form factor and connectors as an old 2.5-inch HDD. They’re also fairly budget-friendly. Micro Center even gives away SSDs for free! (It’s not the top of the line, but it’s still free).
If your laptop or desktop’s motherboard can support it, I highly recommend spending the extra cash for an M.2 NVME SSD or a PCIe SSD since those are the fastest ones you can get right now.
If you really want to stick to HDD because of how cheap they are for their higher storage, then you could just keep using your old HDD for storage and combine it with a separate, lower-cost SSD for your system files and apps.
You can also get a Hybrid Drive, known as an SSHD. It’s exactly what it sounds like: an HDD with an SSD built into a single unit. I can’t find a good deal on these right now, so just keep your eyes peeled for SSHDs if you want to snag one.
Again, whatever drive you might pick to upgrade to, I don’t recommend doing it yourself. Just buy the drive and take it to your nearest repair shop to have it professionally installed. If you really want to try doing it yourself, though, you can read this detailed guide about drive cloning and the procedures to actually make the upgrade.
Other Things That Can Improve Computer Speeds
Use a Light Browser
Yup, that might mean leaving Google Chrome. But, would you rather have a browser that has all the features you like, or have a browser that can actually run on your computer? If you’re on Windows, I think it’s best to use the Edge browser, it has more or less the same features as Chrome (it’s even chromium-based). But, it only uses about half the RAM that Chrome consumes.
If you want to see the lightest browsers out there, check this article out.
Run Computer at Max Performance
Windows 10 has a feature that lets you control your PC’s performance, especially if you’re on a laptop. You can find it in the lower right corner of the taskbar. Just click your battery icon and you’ll see a slider that you can slide between Best Battery Life and Best Performance.
Just flick that all the way up to “Best Performance.” Sure, you’ll have to say goodbye to battery life, but with how slow computers can get, switching it to Performance mode can often save you more time than you would be persevering by staying on the low power mode.
Turn Off Window Transparency and Special Effects
Windows 10 can be a power-hungry OS because of all the visual effects put into it. And sure, it might only save you a bit of RAM and CPU power here and there, but if you’re working on a lot of tabs, it adds up. Turning them off right away will help for sure. Here’s how to do it:
- Click the Start button.
- Click on Control Panel.
- Search for Advanced System Settings.
- On the System Properties window, make sure you are on the Advanced tab and click “Settings…” on the Performance box.
- If you want do this quickly, just click “Adjust for best performance.”
- If you want to take it a step further, click “custom” and then tick all the boxes except for “Show thumbnail instead of icons.”
Stop Apps From Opening on Startup
It might not be a solution that’ll improve your PC’s speed once it’s on, but it will speed up the boot time when you’re turning it on. From my experience, having too many auto startup apps can even lead to blue screens so this is a step you should take regardless.
It’s easy to do. Start by opening up your trusty Task Manager. Go to the “Startup” tab. There, you’ll see all the apps that automatically open on startup. Just right-click on an app that you want to disable or enable and click the setting you want. The fewer auto startup apps you have, the better. So disable everything but the ones you absolutely need.
Remove Unused Programs
I’m sure there are a lot of people like me, who like to install and try out a ton of apps, but forget to uninstall them even if they don’t use the app anymore. All those unused programs take up space and can cause your computer to lag.
Lucky for you, it’s an easy fix. Just open up your Control Panel and type “Programs and Features” into the search bar. You could also just click on “Programs” on the control panel and then “Programs and Features” from the menu.
Once you’re there, scroll through the list of apps, right-clicking and uninstalling all of the ones you don’t need or want anymore. There might be prompts that appear for some apps when being uninstalled. If there are, just make sure to tick the “remove app files” box if they have one.
In my case, my old laptop has a pretty old HDD but I just can’t see the point in upgrading to an SSD since that laptop is mostly just for browsing the internet at this point. So the biggest thing that improved that laptop’s speed is turning off all the visual effects that Windows 10 has. Granted, it still lags sometimes, but at the very least, it’s a bit more manageable for my brother who’s using this for watching YouTube and TikTok.
Have you tried any of these strategies? Did it work on your PC? Let us know in the comments!