Welcome to Product Support, a column devoted to helping you get the most out of the gadgets and software you already use.
That fresh-out-of-the-box performance you get from your laptop when you boot it up for the first few times doesn’t last, unfortunately: as programs and files start to clutter up the system, and more and more software updates roll down the pipe, as the years go by you can start to see some serious slowdowns.
You don’t have to just sit back and accept this gradual slide into obsolescence though. We've rounded up the most effective tricks for making your laptop feel like its younger self again. Give some (or all) of these a try and it’ll be like having a brand new machine…. almost.
1. Clear out the clutter
What’s the difference between your computer when you got it and your computer now? A whole host of programs and apps, many of which you probably don’t even need any more. Uninstalling as many of them as you can should give your laptop a bit more room to breathe.
Stick to the essentials: get rid of games you haven’t played in an age, and applications you tried for a bit but then abandoned. You can easily install this software again, if needed.
The same principle goes for the extensions and add-ons weighing down your browser too — get rid of the ones you don’t really need or have completely forgotten about, and your web browsing should speed up (fewer extensions mean fewer potential threats to your security as well). Both Apple and Microsoft have extensive guides on how to scrub your system of unwanted apps.
2. Lighten the startup load
As your laptop gets older, more and more of the applications you install will want to start up at the same time as the operating system. As this list grows, and includes more things that you don't actually need, it can seriously impact the time it takes for your computer to wake up.
On Windows, open Settings (via the cog icon on the Start menu), then choose Apps and Start-up to see a list of programs starting up with the OS. You can also launch Task Manager (search for it from the taskbar), then open the Start-up tab to disable more low-level processes. On macOS, from System Preferences (in the Apple menu), choose Users & Groups and then Login items.
Don’t go too crazy here and start removing things that could be essential services. Just take out the programs you recognize that you know don’t need to be launching alongside Windows or macOS.
3. Make sure your hard drive has breathing room
Whether your laptop uses an old mechanical hard disk drive or a more modern SSD, it will suffer if its drive is close to full.
It’s not just that you’ve got nowhere to install apps and save files. Spare hard drive space is often used as an overflow for system memory. So when you’ve got too many programs or files open at once, Windows or macOS will temporarily park some of the data on disk until it’s needed again.
As this available overflow space runs out, the system has to do more juggling, and can start acting sluggish if you’re trying to do a lot at once. Really, the more space disk space you’ve got, the better. A portable SSD like Samsung’s 500 GB T5 can go a long way to making sure you always having breathing room.
4. Enlist some outside help
Various laptop-cleaning applications are out there, if you know where to look, which can give you a hand with tidying up the cluttered mess that your computer has become. Wise Duplicate Finder (Windows) and Duplicate File Finder Remover (macOS), for example, can spot and erase duplicate files for you—both are free to use with paid-for upgrades available in the app.
As an all-in-one system cleaner, IObit Advanced SystemCare works well for Windows: it cleans out temporary and junk files that you don’t need, and even tidies up the Windows registry settings file that can often become bloated. The software is free to use, with a paid-for pro upgrade available for more features.
On macOS, CleanMyMac is well worth a look if you want to boost the performance of your MacBook. It can free up space on your disk drive, optimize the performance of your apps, get rid of programs you’re no longer using. The software will set you back $35, but it’s very comprehensive, and a free trial is available.
That’s not a comprehensive list, but those are some of the best options out there—be wary of installing anything from developers who aren’t well known and don’t have a solid bank of user reviews to their name.
5. Use your operating system’s built-in tools
Both Windows and macOS come with a handful of built-in utilities that can put a bit more zip back in your laptop. For example, run the Defragment and Optimize Drive tool in Windows (search for it from the taskbar), and you can get Windows to tidy up the local hard drive and make it easier for applications to use.
Another Windows app you can search for from the taskbar is Disk Clean-up. This particular tool removes files on disk that you don’t actually need—temporary files, old system update files, cached files from the web, and so on. As you select each category you can see how much space you can free up.
Over on the macOS side, open the Apple menu, click About This Mac, and then switch to the Storage tab. If you then click Manage, you’ll see a host of clean-up options for your Mac, from deleting temporary files to wiping downloaded movies you’ve watched (you can always download them from Apple again).
On both macOS and Windows, make sure all the latest software updates are downloaded and installed (either Update & Security from Settings in Windows, or Software Update from the About This Mac dialog). This makes sure you’re running all the latest optimizations and bug fixes for your operating system.
6. The nuclear option
This one is not for the faint of heart, but it is the most effective: go right back to the beginning and start again with a fresh install of Windows or macOS. Before you do this, you should make sure all your files are safely backed up somewhere else, and that you can easily reinstall all your applications and games, because everything is going to be wiped.
The process is actually very straightforward on Windows. If you open up Settings (via the cog icon on the Start menu), then click Update & Security, then click Recovery, you can reset your PC. You’ll be left with a brand new version of Windows, and your laptop should run as well as it originally did.
The process on macOS is a little more involved. You need to restart your Mac, then hold down Command+R as it reboots. When the macOS Utilities window appears, choose Reinstall macOS, and follow the instructions on screen. When everything is done, your laptop will restart again.
Reinstalling Windows or macOS is so effective at making your laptop feel like new, you might want to think about doing it regularly—every few months or so. Just make sure your important files can be quickly restored afterwards (tools like OneDrive on Windows and iCloud on macOS are making this easier all the time).