There are plenty of reasons that a computer can run slow, each of which can require a different fix. Some of the more common issues include slow boot-up and loading times, slow performance when switching between tasks, and poor performance in games.
Note: Not all of the following advice will apply to all situations. You should identify the performance issues your computer has and what causes them, to prioritise what components you should replace.
Replace the HDD with an SSD
One of the main components that you can replace to get a big performance boost, especially in booting and loading times is your hard drive. Old HDD hard drives are notoriously slow because they read and write data to a spinning disk. A modern SSD can read and write data more than three times faster than an HDD while using the same SATA connector. If your computer is modern enough to support an M.2 or U.2 connector, this read and write speed improvement over an HDD can be as much as 20 times.
In the real world upgrading from an HDD to an SSD can see your boot-up times change from two or more minutes to nearer 15 seconds. You’ll also find that large files and programs are quicker to copy or open.
SSDs are still somewhat expensive in comparison to HDDs but if you stick to a capacity of one terabyte or less, prices can be reasonable. As you’ll be replacing your operating system drive, this upgrade will require you to reinstall Windows.
Upgrade your RAM
If you run into issues where switching between tasks is slow, or your web browser slows down with only a few open tabs, you may not have enough RAM in your computer. RAM is a type of fast memory used to store data for the currently running programs. By using the high-speed RAM, data can be accessed much quicker than if it was accessed from the hard drive, it also leaves the hard drive available for other tasks.
If you only have a small amount of RAM and you open too many programs, your computer will start to slow down as some of the data in the RAM is offloaded to the slower hard drive. If your computer is running slow and you can see that your RAM is at or near 100% usage, this will be your problem.
The absolute minimum RAM requirement for a computer running Windows 10 is 2GB. Realistically, however, this will not run well at all. Even with 4GB of RAM, you will likely regularly run into RAM related performance issues. In the real world, it’s recommended that you have at least 6 or 8GB of RAM in your computer.
Thankfully, most computers are designed to support RAM upgrades. Before purchasing new RAM though, you need to check what you already have and what your system supports. Most computers will have two, four, or eight RAM slots, you should ensure you don’t buy more sticks of RAM than you can use.
RAM comes in four different shapes. DDR3, and DDR4 RAM are used in desktop computers. While the connectors may look very similar, they are not the same, and you will need to get the version your motherboard supports. Laptops tend to use a smaller form-factor called LPDDR3 and LPDDR4, these types are also not compatible.
If you’ve got free RAM slots, you need to choose if you’re going to supplement or replace your existing RAM. Be aware, that is highly recommended that you do not mix different speeds or capacities of RAM; in fact, it’s best you ensure that all sticks of RAM are of the same brand and model.
Upgrade your graphics card
This one mainly affects gamers, but some professional workstations may also be limited by an old and weak graphics card. If you’re playing games but struggling with low frame-rates or not being able to enable the graphics options you want, then it’s likely time to upgrade your graphics card.
In computer games, the GPU or Graphics Processing Unit is almost always the limiting factor in performance. Upgrading a GPU can be somewhat expensive but modern mid-tier graphics cards are very capable – if your resolution requirements aren’t too high.
Obviously, gaming at 4K or even 1440p is much more processor intensive than at 1080p. To game at higher resolutions you will need to be prepared to spend more money on a stronger graphics card.
Laptop gamers should be aware that it is impossible to upgrade the GPU built into almost all laptops. This is because the GPU processor is built into the laptop’s motherboard itself for space reasons. In desktop computers, however, graphics cards come as a separate expansion card that can be replaced and upgraded with relative ease.
For professional workstations, graphics cards can also be useful for applications such as rendering or neural network training. Having a more powerful graphics card will speed up your workflow. Performance benchmarks are often available so you can compare the rough performance advantage you’d receive in your workloads before you buy.
Upgrading device peripherals such as your keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, headphones, or even your chair, can have a positive impact on your computer usage. The effect of some of these upgrades when using your computer for a long time each day can be quite significant and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Upgrading your CPU cooler can help your computer run a fair bit cooler, but the process is fiddly and time-consuming. Running cooler may help your computer be a little faster too if it was previously overheating under heavy load.
Unfortunately, upgrading the rest of the components in your computer, such as your CPU and motherboard can be a complex and time-consuming process, requiring you to rebuild most or all of your computer.