Posts Tagged ‘getting the most out of an aging PC’

Tech Tuesdays: Getting every bit of performance out of an aging PC


Not an aging computer…but imagine if it was…

As a computer nerd, this is probably the most commonly asked question I get: “Hey, my computer is running really slow.  What can I do to speed it up?”

The absolute best thing you can do is clean your PC.  Unplug it, open the case, and use a dry, soft cloth to wipe the dust out of it.  If you plan on using compressed air, make sure to put a pen or pencil in the fans to keep the blades from spinning.  You can easily burn out the bearings by spinning the fan with compressed air.

Speaking of fans, while you have the case open, give each of the fans a little spin by hand.  It should spin easily and stop quickly with a little bit of spring to the bearings.  If it stops flatly or is difficult to spin, you should replace the fan.  If it’s screaming at you and takes a lot of effort to turn at all, you should have replaced it long ago.  You monster.

If you’re feeling froggy and know what you’re doing (or aren’t afraid of potentially ruining your hardware) you can take your CPU and video fans off and replace the thermal compound.  Oftentimes the manufacturer has trouble putting the right amount of goop on a heat sink.  You either end up with too little, which can eventually burn up the goop (it becomes crusty and doesn’t move heat as well as it should) or too much, which can cause poor heat exchange.  The trick to getting the right amount is to put a pea-sized drop on the heat sink, then spread it around with a piece of cardboard or plastic.  Get it as thin and smooth as you possibly can, then put the heat sink back on the CPU or video card.  *NOTE* For video cards, make sure there’s some goop for each chip touched by the heat sink.  A good rule of thumb there is to put the goop everywhere that had it before.  Again, you don’t want a lot.  Very thin layer.  You literally just need enough to fill the imperfections between the heat sink and CPU, and it shouldn’t be much at all.  If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, find a reputable mom & pop shop and ask them to do it for you.  It shouldn’t be too expensive.

If you’re running out of memory while gaming, adding more RAM may help speed things up.  If you’re running a 32-bit operating system, you’re limited at 3.2 GB of usable RAM.  To go higher, you have to have a 64-bit CPU and a 64-bit operating system.  8 GB is good for most people.  16 GB is good for someone like me.  32 GB is what I put in servers running several VMs.  16 GB will probably be more than enough for the things anyone reading this article will do.

If your hard drive is getting old (2+ years) it might be starting to have errors you don’t notice.  Modern hard drives have a thing called SMART that helps diagnose and prevent errors.  A run of chkdsk and a defrag should be enough for SMART to get a peek at things on your drive and figure out any bad sectors.  Drives come with some extra space that isn’t used so that a few bad sectors can be handled without reducing your available space.  One day, when you turn on your computer, you may see a SMART warning.  You probably don’t have long when you see that message.  Back up your data and replace the drive immediately.  If you see slow performance copying files from one folder to another, run the chkdsk and defrag.  If it’s still slow after that, you might want to consider replacing the drive.  *NOTE* If you have a SSD hard drive, don’t run defrag.  It doesn’t help on a SSD and can actually reduce the life of the drive.

Ok, so your hardware is purring like a well tuned kitten.  Your temps look good and all your fans are in working order.  Now what?  Well, how old is that Windows install?

Windows is much better about this than it used to be, but you still, over time, get operating system bloat where Windows itself is running slower.  You can clear all of the temporary files, reinstall all of your drivers, clear out your startup items, and everything can still just be dragging.  If you can, a wipe and Windows reinstall will probably do more to speed things up than anything else.  If you can’t for any reason, there’s still a lot you can do to speed things up.  Use msconfig to check your startup programs and disable anything you don’t need.  Some network devices, audio devices, and video devices have programs that startup automatically that you want to keep running.  Some just have a lot of bloatware that slows things down.  Google will be your friend for this part.  Use a tool like CCleaner to clean out temporary files.  Clear those temporary internet files and your profile’s temp folder.  Run a tool like Malwarebytes Antimalware to make sure you don’t have any kind of spyware or adware.  Keep your video drivers up to date.  Use the release drivers, not beta drivers.  Beta drivers may have bugs or strange performance issues.  Finally, uninstall any programs you aren’t actually using.  If you haven’t played something in 6 months and don’t plan to fire it up tonight, go ahead and uninstall it.  The more free HD space you have, the easier it is for the drive to find empty space to write to.

Ok, so you’ve done everything recommended so far.  You’ve cleaned your PC, you upgraded your RAM, you replaced your old hard drive, you reinstalled Windows, updated your drivers, and have plenty of free space, but things are still chugging a bit in your favorite game.  You have to tune your game settings for your hardware.  Not everyone gets to run games on high graphics settings.  This is something where you have to work with the settings to find what works for you.  Most commonly, water and shadow settings tend to be the greatest performance hogs.  If you have an anti-aliasing or ansiotropic filtering option in your game, turning that down or off entirely can greatly improve performance but textures will look worse and you’ll have jagged edges to things.  Play with the settings until you find something that performs well enough for you and looks pretty enough.

So… you’ve done everything and it’s still not enough?  It’s time for an upgrade!  I’ll cover that down the road soon.


Copyright 2012 Beazley Entertainment
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