How to Fix an Old Slow Computer

Computer running really slow? Here are some of the most common causes of an old slow computer, why they cause it to slow down, and how to fix it.

A reader asked on Facebook

My daughter has Mac and it’s approximately 6 years old.  She says it’s so slow that she can no longer do any updates.  Is it fixable, or should she just get another one? -Debra

Well, Debra, I get this kind of question a lot.  It really comes down to what it is that is slowing down the computer.  Here are some of the most common causes of an old slow computer, why they cause it to slow down, and how to fix it.

High CPU Usage

One possible cause of a slow computer is bogging down the CPU (central processing unit).  If you have too much stuff installed and running, that could possibly take a toll on the CPU usage.  Most often, there is one program that might randomly start eating up your CPU.  This could be caused by a coding but that puts the program into a loop of some kind.

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your CPU usage.  You can use the operating system’s task manager to see the running processes and check if any of them are higher than normal.

I like to have a resource monitor widget that I can always see.  That way, abnormal CPU usage catches my eye before it get goes on for too long.

Startup Programs and Processes

Since one cause of high CPU usage is having too many programs open, a good way to prevent them from opening is to go through your startup programs and processes.

I’m not sure how to do this on a Mac, but in Windows, you can search for “msconfig” in the start menu or start screen to open the System Configuration window.  Go through the “Startup” tab and “Services” tab (checking “Hide all Microsoft services”).  Uncheck programs that you don’t want to open when you boot up your computer.  Do some Google searching for the ones you are not sure about.  You can always check it again later if something stops working.

This is also a good way of preventing malware from opening when you boot your computer.

Power Saving Settings

Another thing to check that is related to CPU usage is the power settings.  Windows has a preset setting called “Power Saver”.  If you chose that setting because your battery was running low, but then you forgot to change it back later, this could be the culprit.

If your computer is set on power saver, it will feel like you’re using 100% CPU, but you’ll check your task manager and see that everything looks normal.  That’s because “Power Saver” sets the maximum CPU % down low to help save battery.  That causes normal CPU usage to make your computer feel like it’s pegged at 100%.

Not Enough RAM

This one is very common, especially with older computers that have low amounts of memory or RAM (random access memory).  RAM is used by all programs that are open (or running in the background).

Programs store data to the RAM that it needs to be readily available for running the application.  If your computer doesn’t have enough RAM and you have a lot of programs or browser tabs open at the same time, your computer detects that you are running out of available memory, so it takes some data in the RAM that you haven’t used that recently, and stashes it away on your hard drive it what’s called “swap” or “pagefile”.  Then, if you bring up the program that had data swapped to the hard drive, your computer scrambles to swap some other data in order to get the needed data back into RAM.

That process of scrambling to transferring data between the RAM and the hard drive causes your computer act slow, jittery, and even hang, lock up, or freeze for a moment.

Check your RAM usage in the Task Manager, but keep in mind, it will only show you what’s actually in RAM and you have to dig a bit deeper to see how much has been swapped to the hard drive.

Keep in mind that sometimes, it can help to close and reopen program that may have been growing in RAM usage as time goes on.  For instance, modern browsers tend to hog more and more RAM as you leave tabs open.  It’s a good idea to close and reopen your browser once a day.

If RAM usages is still a problem, check to see if you can upgrade your computer’s RAM.  I recommend having at least 8 GB.

Old Hard Drive? Upgrade to SSD

I believe the hard drive is the most often overlooked culprit in old computers that start running slow.

I had one computer that was running like a champ without any issues, and then suddenly, one day, it started taking twice as long to boot up, open programs, and just about anything I would try to do on it.  I kept my task manager open to make sure CPU and RAM usage was normal, but things would still go very slow.

It turns out that the hard drive just decided that it was too old and so everything that used the hard drive a lot (like booting up or opening big programs) would take forever.

My solution was to upgrade to a solid state drive (SSD).  Solid state drives are tremendously faster and last a lot longer than hard drives because SSDs don’t have any moving parts in them, while hard drives are magnetic metal discs that spin while data is read and written by an arm that pivots across the discs.

SSDs are a bit more expensive and are typically smaller in storage space, but in my opinion, they are one of the best PC upgrades you can possibly make.

Keep in mind, though, that upgrading to a SSD means you will have to reinstall your operating system from scratch.

Tip: If you have a lot of data and want to save money by getting a smaller SSD, only install your operating system on the SSD and keep all of your files on the hard drive mounted as a second drive on your computer.  This option would only apply to desktops, since laptops usually only have one slot for a drive.

Questions, Comments, Snide Remarks?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Be sure to share this article with someone you know who has a slow computer!

2 thoughts on “How to Fix an Old Slow Computer

  1. Hi I’ve a asus laptop brought in 2016 there’s not a lot on it but recently I’ve started using excel for spreadsheets for my business but my laptop is really slow and jumps to different pages do i need Windows 11 or is my laptop passed it help please

    1. While some would say that Windows 11 feels snappier, it does have higher system requirements. So, if your computer is already running slow, upgrading to Windows 11 probably won’t help.

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