Why Your Laptop Is Running So Slowly

Tips to speed up your laptop so that it runs like new again

This article lists the most common causes of slow laptop computer performance, along with a few remedies that can help speed things up.

Malware, Viruses, and Antivirus Apps

Although viruses, adware, Trojans, and spyware have unique elements, they all fall under the malware umbrella. To prevent infection and the resulting slowdown, consider installing an anti-malware app.

For Windows and Linux users, an active anti-malware app that scans your laptop both in the background and on demand is a good choice. For Mac users, an on-demand malware scanner is sufficient, and because it doesn't run continuously in the background, it doesn't use as much memory.

Running more than one anti-malware app at any one time slows down your computer. Stick with one effective program rather than multiple partial solutions.

Close Unused Apps and Tabs

Every open app uses system resources, including RAM, disk space (in the form of temporary files), and CPU and GPU power. Even apps that run in the background can be resource hogs.

How you use an open app matters, too. A good example is your web browser. How many tabs do you have open? Most browsers use a sandboxing technique to isolate each open window and tab from the others. When you look at each open tab and window as an open browser app, it's easy to see how this gums up the works.

Get in the habit of closing unused apps and limiting open browser tabs.

Limit Startup Items

Limit how many apps start automatically when you boot up your computer. Too many means slow startups and lackluster performance. It's easy to overlook startup items that run quietly in the background and use lots of resources.

Check out our guide to removing login items you don't need on a Mac or preventing programs from loading startup in Windows.

Free Up Some Disk Space

If there isn't enough free space on your startup drive, the laptop must work harder to find space for temporary files used by the system and by apps. The system also sets aside disk space for virtual memory, a way for the operating system to squeeze out additional RAM performance by moving older data from RAM to the slower disk. When space gets tight, your laptop can slow down as its operating system tries to manage these storage tasks.

You can ease the overhead by ensuring your laptop always has plenty of free space. As a general guideline, keeping a minimum of 10 to 15 percent of the space free should prevent your laptop from slowing down because of storage issues. The more space you can keep free, the better.

Should you defrag your disks? In general, no. Both Mac and Windows laptops are able to defrag drive space on the fly, as long as enough free space is available.

Never defrag an SSD (solid-state drive).

Nix Unnecessary Visual Effects

Eliminating some of the operating system's visual effects can help increase overall performance by ensuring the CPU and GPU aren't busy with useless eye candy. In most cases, toning down the visual effects produces a more responsive user interface.

Mac users can manage many visual effects in various system preference panes, such as those for the Dock and Accessibility. Windows has its own system properties settings that affect performance. You can learn how to access and control the visual properties in our guide to adjusting visual effects to improve PC speed.

Upgrade the Components

You might be able to increase overall performance by upping the amount of RAM in your computer, switching to a faster or larger disk, or upgrading a CPU or GPU. These kinds of upgrades can bring significant improvements, usually at a lower cost than replacing a laptop. For example:

  • More RAM equals "gas in the tank" to run apps smoothly and simultaneously.
  • A larger, faster drive allows apps to open and work faster.
  • An upgraded graphics engine can help graphics-intensive apps perform better.

Research your options for your particular model, and then shop around for the best prices on upgrade components and the labor to install them (if you're not doing the upgrades yourself).

Keep Software Up to Date

Always run the latest version of your computer's operating system and apps. This alleviates and prevents slowdowns caused by bugs; it also helps by replacing system and program files that may have become corrupt over time. Use Windows Update or the Mac App Store, as appropriate, to keep your system current. Better yet, enable automatic updates so you never have to worry about checking.

Sometimes, It's Not the Computer

If none of these tips help, consider looking at other options, such as using these strategies for improving internet performance and swapping memory-hog programs for lighter alternatives.

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