Hey There My Noob Alliance!

So you have an old faithful laptop that you would like to breathe some new life into?

The good news is that in most cases it’s very possible! And of course if you are a computer newbie, fear not! I write all my posts specifically to help you out. In fact, this topic is very good practice to get those newbie geek skills flowing. So let’s dive into 5 easy ways to make an old laptop run like new!

1. A Fresh Start

There’s a reason us geeks love wiping our drives and installing a fresh copy of Windows on our computers every now and then – and that reason is because a clean install of any operating system runs a lot smoother and faster than one that’s been in use for a while.

That’s because as we install programs and games, accumulate videos, photos and files and browse the web (perhaps pick up a virus or spyware here and there that we then luckily get removed…) it all adds up and slows the system down.

Eventually your relationship with your laptop sounds something like this:

“You can go make a cup of coffee and even a whole meal waiting for it to start up…

You wonder if you imagined double clicking on your program’s shortcut or on that word document you need to work on because minutes pass with no signs of life….

You can hear your hard drive clacking away furiously as it tries desperately to keep up with your clicking….”

I could go into detail here about how it all led up to this point but my aim is not to bore you with TMI!

laptop displaying clean install with the windows logo

Now before anyone freaks out at the thought of reinstalling everything give me a chance and allow me to say that it is actually pretty easy nowadays to “refresh” your computer if it is running Windows 8 or Windows 10. You don’t need to be a professional do attempt this!

As long as all your files are backed up onto an external hard drive and you have the installation discs (with their license keys) for any special software you own then you’re set to attempt this!

If you have an older version of Windows, then I highly recommend you move over to Windows 10. That in itself will create the feel of a brand new laptop. Note that Windows 10 does take a bit of getting used to, but doing new things keeps the brain sharp!

Here are some reasons I would not go back to older versions of Windows (even though I did love Windows 7 and XP very much!):

  • Security – Windows 10 is the least likely out of all the versions of Windows to get infected or hacked.
  • Access to the Windows app store (if you are still using Windows 7 or XP then this is a huge difference) – the app store has all sorts of fun free and paid stuff to explore, from games to journal apps to music apps.
  • Easier and faster for me to navigate and get to where I want to be – whether it is to get to a webpage, program, setting, a photo or a document – it is as simple as clicking the start button and typing in a search term.
  • Better scope of support for device and component drivers – when I install Windows 10 fresh on a computer it usually already has built-in support for the drivers I need or just goes to download them for me without much intervention from me – that makes my life a lot easier because I don’t have to go fish for drivers online.
  • All the new software and apps out there are made to work on Windows 10 so I don’t have to worry about compatibility.
  • Updates – The older versions of Windows do not get updates anymore. Despite them being annoying they do help fix compatibility issues as well as patch security holes that hackers keep finding and exploiting.

Check out this video showing how to upgrade to Windows 10 for free!

Here are the links you’ll need to follow along:

2. A Tune-Up With Software

With or without the first step a bit of a tune-up can go a long way! Maybe you don’t feel like wiping everything and starting over? (Although that is still my favorite method to get things feelings new again).

I use a utilities program to keep my system from getting to the point where it needs a serious re-do in the first place. I love the simple but powerful features packed within so much that I will never go back to not having it as my “wing-man”.

smiling laptop being swept with a broom

It takes care of the usual things like startup programs, defragmenting, cleaning registry errors and clearing temporary files but it also has cool features like AcceleWrite that optimizes the way your computer saves data onto its hard drive – thus preventing fragmentation and like Opticore that improves your computer’s responsiveness by optimizing the way the processor (aka the brain) allocates its resources to power hungry programs and apps.

This is a controversial subject because many tech pros feel like a maintenance program isn’t necessary and caution against it. On the other hand others like me swear by it.

Mind you, I used to feel the same distrust towards the idea because I had a bad experience many years ago with another software package but as a geek who likes to keep up with the times and who likes to discover cool software, test theories and push boundaries I realize that things change and not everything that sucks means something else will too.

Whether your laptop is ancient or new I highly recommend giving System Mechanic a try.

There’s a free version available to try out which will give you the basic idea of how it works but it has limited features which means you won’t get the full benefit.

For information on where to get it and more about why I love it, check my post here.

3. Some Tweaking Goes A Long Way

Even with System Mechanic installed covering your back, there are all sorts of little manual hacks any laptop or Windows user should know to help make and keep things running as smooth and as fast as they can. And by hacks I mean a simple setting here or there that can make a noticeable difference.

laptop with cogs

Don’t worry – most of the hacks are newbie-friendly and it’s a good way to become familiar with what’s going on behind the scenes of your computer!

Here’s an article I wrote about some of these free hacks you should give a try!

4. A Minor Hardware Upgrade = A Major Difference

This is the one that will show the most obvious results – and if you use it in combination with all the other suggestions I listed then boy, are you in for a treat!

Laptops are not generally considered “upgradable” like their desktop counterparts are but there are two parts that a person can in fact upgrade in most cases and that actually makes a big impact on how “snappy” the system feels.

RAM (aka Memory)

Simply explained, RAM can be compared with desk space. Think of it this way – when we are studying/working at our desks, we usually have the things we are busy working on out on our desk. The bigger our desk, the more things we can have out to work on – we don’t have to keep running to the bookshelf or drawer to get stuff out and to put things back to try keep our workspace “uncluttered”.

sketch of a cluttered desk

RAM works in much the same way – a computer keeps all the windows, apps and programs it has open in RAM. It fetches those programs, files and apps from the hard drive and holds it in RAM. When we “save and close” then it puts it back on the hard drive for us to access later.

The more RAM it has, the bigger its capacity and the more things can be open at the same time without causing slowdowns. Browsers, especially Google Chrome, can take up a lot of “desk space”. When the RAM capacity is filled up things tend to feel really laggy and unresponsive. The Operating System (aka Windows) takes up a sizable chunk of that RAM too – leaving very little room to play with.

These days 1 or 2 Gigabytes of RAM isn’t really good enough for the latest programs – but if you work on one thing at a time it should be okay-ish. To give you an idea, the norm these days is no less than 4GB and 8GB for best results.

Laptop RAM being held

In a lot of cases it’s possible that your laptop can support more RAM – usually you can double the capacity and it is relatively easy to install in most cases.

In this screenshot I am using Task Manager (a program that comes with all versions of Windows) to see how much memory is being used versus my computer’s RAM capacity: In the “Performance” tab under “Memory” it tells me I have 16 Gigabytes to work with and my computer is using 4.5 Gigabytes at the time I took the screenshot.

Windows 10 task manager performance tab

The graph in the middle gives us a nice idea of how much room we have left to work with.

Give it a shot and open up your Task Manager to see what your RAM usage is – if it is on the full side that’s a strong indication that adding more RAM will give your computer a boost!

To open Task Manager:

  • Right click on the task bar at the bottom of your screen
  • On the menu that pops up, select Task Manager
  • Click on the tab that says Performance
  • in Windows XP the block that says “PF Usage” refers to RAM
  • All other versions of Windows use the the term “Memory” – you should be able to find it on this screen without a problem

The Hard Drive

Folks, listen up – if there is one suggestion or part on this list that’s going to make the MOST of a difference it is without a doubt this one.

9 out of 10 times it is possible to upgrade the hard drive and as easy as unscrewing a little cover in the back, taking out the old one and putting in the new one. YouTube or Google your laptop brand and model followed by “disassembly” or “hard drive replacement” to see how to do the installation. If it looks too scary then you’ll know it’s a job for your local PC shop.

Most laptops, especially older ones have regular hard drives called mechanical drives – these have a data-reading arm on the inside and disks that spin which is how the information on the drive is accessed.

The speed at which your files can be accessed directly relates to how fast the disks can spin – they refer to it as RPM (revolutions per minute). There are other details that also affect read and write speed like the version of the socket the hard drive plugs into – but we keep things simple here so I won’t go into too much detail.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, so that you can better understand the next part…

Enter the miracle cure for slowness – the Solid State Drive or SSD. This drive cures slowness because it has zero moving parts on the inside. (Much like a USB flash drive – only faster). Your files and programs can be read in a flash and also written (aka saved) in a flash using this technology.

Here is a cool video that demonstrates the increased performance after an SSD upgrade!

In terms of cost, they are a bit more expensive than a regular hard drive but nowhere near the cost of replacing an entire laptop. The sizes are slightly different from what most people are used to seeing – prices vary from $20 for a 120 Gigabyte drive to $70 for a 512 Gigabyte drive. There are bigger sizes but then the price jumps considerably.

Noob Tip: If you are considering this, most laptops take a 2.5 inch SATA drive. It is always good to make sure what size and type of hard drive your laptop supports before buying anything – Google your laptop’s model number to get to its official product support page and then download its user manual. This will contain all the info about your laptop including what hard drive it supports and sometimes even how to install it. 

If you buy from Amazon you can also leave a question that other helpful folks will respond to – just state your laptop brand and model and ask if the SSD you want to buy will work in that laptop.

Remember that you will have to install Windows (preferably Windows 10) onto this new drive because it comes with nothing on it – a blank slate. Therefore you will need:

  • A Windows installation disc or a bootable USB flash drive that contains the installation files required to put Windows onto your new hard drive. You can buy these on Amazon or make them yourself if you have patience to learn how.
  • To back up all your important files onto a portable USB hard drive (or a flash drive if you don’t have a lot of data) before you remove and replace it! 

A note on upgrading:

illustration of ssd and ram making a computer faster

Upgrading is great if you don’t have the bucks to fork out on a brand new laptop.

In some cases like if your laptop is really ancient and possibly dying, saving up for a new one might be a better option. There are really affordable options available nowadays – it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg if you’re working on a budget.

Here are some laptops that are good for web-surfing that I picked out for those who dread laptop shopping!

One con about upgrading very old computers is the possibility that by fluke something like the motherboard or screen dies from age.

It wouldn’t be viable to repair in a situation like that due to the costs involved and then you would have lost money on upgrades. It doesn’t happen very often but it can.

On the plus side – your SSD drive can be used in your new computer or laptop because they are compatible with new and old systems. The RAM however, would probably not be compatible with a brand new laptop.

You could always ask a geek friend or a PC shop to do the upgrades for you if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of doing it yourself.

5. Update Those Old Crusty Drivers

What are drivers you ask?

Have you ever tried to get help from or help someone who speaks a different language and neither of you could make out a darn thing the other was saying? Then someone comes along and translates and suddenly it all becomes clear?

Think of a driver as the translator – every component inside your computer and every device attached to your computer speaks its own language – a unique set of instructions governing how those components and devices work.

A driver is a small program that tells the Operating System (eg. Windows, Mac, Linux) how those drivers work and can then communicate successfully with them to make them perform their functions.

The smart people who invent these devices regularly release updated drivers available for download on the manufacturers’ websites. Sometimes the updates sort out a glitch or an issue old drivers had and sometimes they include general improvements that make the devices function better.

illustration showing how computer drivers work

Often updates are about improving compatibility with different systems – making sure everything plays and works nicely together! There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we aren’t even aware of most of the time!

I’m sure you can see now how keeping all the drivers up to date can help things to run smoothly.

Three Ways To Update Drivers

1. Manually

I don’t really advise beginners to do this because it involves a lot of work and understanding of all the different insides of a computer. 

We would have to find out the exact model, get to the device’s website, find the driver section, choose the right operating system from the list and finally select the correct version of the driver – and we would have to do it for each and every system component and device.

Sometimes the drivers on laptop manufacturers’ websites are not the lastest ones which is a pain in the ***,

This process leaves a lot of room for error and a lot of opportunities to download things from the wrong places that contain viruses and malware.

2. Through Windows Update

You know all those pesky updates that Windows insists on giving us?

A lot of them contain driver updates specifically for our computers. Windows can detect exactly which drivers our system needs and then fetches it from its vast resource repository online. This way is a good way to keep both your operating system as well as your drivers up to date.

If you have a limited internet data plan be careful of enabling system updates at it can deplete your monthly data allowance very quickly! With Windows 10 they pretty much force updates on us so you should have this enabled by default unless your internet connections are set as “metered”.

Also makes sure that your computer remains on and that nothing disrupts the process while updates are being installed – if the power is cut or battery runs out while updating the results could be catastrophic.

You can also ask Windows to find drivers for specific devices manually by using Device Manager – a utility that comes with every version of Windows.

3. By Using Driver Update Software

I was always pretty skeptical about these because these types of programs didn’t deliver their promises and often wanted me to pay to get the job done.

Things have changed since then and there are quite a few these days that are available but there is only one that converted me and that I feel comfortable recommending – it is called Driver Booster. It’s free and does a pretty good job at fetching drivers that sometimes even Windows fails to get.

If you decide to try it, makes sure to deselect all the other programs it suggests during the installation process.

You can get Driver Booster from their website by clicking here.

Notes about updating drivers

No matter which way you go here, there is always a small risk that the wrong driver is installed – and this can cause things like slowness or perhaps a device that doesn’t work properly. In a case such as that you will need to uninstall the driver causing the issue and try again to find the correct one.

I know I keep harping on about this but I will continue to do so because I care my NoobAlliance! Please makes sure to do a back-up of all your files before updating drivers! If you do your backups, you’re free to tinker and explore as much as you want to when it comes to your computer! 😉

If you reckon you might just need to take the plunge and buy a new laptop here’s a guide on how to choose the best fit for you!

The Result?

If you do every single suggestion on this list I can guarantee you that your laptop will be even better than what it was when it was new – how do I know? Because I’ve had the geeky pleasure of restoring really old laptops for friends, family and clients with much success!

And even if you do just one or two of them you will no doubt see an improvement – it all depends on you now my friends!

Now I think I’ve babbled on long enough in this post and I hope that you’ve found some gold nuggets in my doing so!

How about you let me know if you find these posts helpful by leaving a comment below? It is always a joy to hear your thoughts and to answer any questions you may have!

10 Comments

  1. Joe

    Reply

    What a great post, jam packed with geeky information which is actually really useful! These steps have been made really simple, so thank you for posting. I have been guilty of just giving my laptop to a repair shop and paying them to deal with it, rather than actually trying out anything myself. So if I need to spruce up a slow laptop again, im definitely coming back to this post!

    • Nadia

      Reply

      Hey there Joe, I definitely encourage you to poke and prod, tweak and set your own laptop lol! I need to convert moreee geeks! 😉

      It’s my pleasure to be able to help – and remember to shout if you ever need a geek hand! 

  2. Denis

    Reply

    Wow, this is all great advice on tuning up an old laptop.  I am getting really fed up with the slowness of my laptop and wondered what I could do to make it go faster.  Your article has a lot of choices, almost too much for a “noob” like me.

    I was wondering about the hard drive part of your article.  You say that a SSD drive will improve considerably the performance, and that is what I heard also.  I do have a problem though, how can I transfer data from a 1TB regular hard drive to a 512 GB SSD hard drive.  Should I be getting another one of those “external” hard drive and plug it in the USB port and transfer there first? 

    • Nadia

      Reply

      Hey there Denis – I sure hope I haven’t given too much info! 

      Indeed, copying the data over onto a portable USB hard drive is one way of doing it. It is also recommended to have one for backing up purposes – so it is a good investment!

      The other way is little more unconventional but is still cool. You can use a device called a hard drive docking station. It lets you plug in your internal hard drives and access them as if they were attached like a USB drive. A benefit to using this is that you’ll only have to copy the data over to your new drive instead of coping it to a portable drive and then copying that again over to the new drive.  

      It basically makes internal drives “portable”. Here’s a video showing how it works:

      If your 512GB SDD can’t hold all your data from your 1TB, this dock together with your old hard drive or owning a portable USB drive can help give you storage space for things that take up a lot of space like videos, music and photos. Leaving the SSD space for the Operating System and installed apps/software.

      I hope this help! 😉

  3. Chris

    Reply

    I actually have a old laptop left to me by my sister, and it’s been dormant now for about 2 years. I used to use Ableton on it for audio engineering purposes, but I now use Logic on the mac. 

    It’s one of those laptops that hasn’t been treated well by the person before me, and things take an age to work on it. How do I move onto windows 10 with it now – can I get that platform for free?

  4. bigbux1

    Reply

    Waooh!! Honestly this article has really answered my questions.

    I was planning to get rid of my old laptop with Windows 7 on it due to some incompatibility challenges with some app installations. 

    I never knew Windows 10 is of great value until I found out on this website. Most especially the security features which is very paramount to every internet business person.. Also the compatibility level has really made me fall in love with Window 10.

    I need to wipe clean my system and install Window 10 to see if it runs faster..Thanks for this amazing article.

    • Nadia

      Reply

      Hello there, I’m glad you found this helpful! 

      I hope that Windows 10 sorts out the compatibility issues that you mention and I’m sure the fresh install will make things run faster – keep in mind though that if you are having problems with older apps that you can always run them in “compatibility mode” which is a built-in Windows feature designed to help with compatibility issues. Windows 7, 8 and 10 all have this feature which is awesome.

      Here is a YouTube video showing how to use compatibility mode: 

  5. Evald

    Reply

    Hello there,

    these are very helpful steps which you cover in great clarity and detail, thanks a lot! I found them to be very helpful and informative. I recently upgraded my RAM in my laptop from 4Gb DDR3 1333Hz to 10Gb and the difference is drastic, especially in demanding games where higher RAM truly makes a world of a difference! 

    I also upgraded my HDD to SSD which makes my PC boot and operate faster. Games also load significantly faster with an SSD. Thankfully, my laptop also allows to upgrade to second generation Intel core CPUs. therefore I upgraded from 2nd gen i5 to 2nd gen i7. I will also be sure to follow your advice and disable ”superfetch” and some other start up programs which I don’t use that often. And I will definitely make sure that everything is up to date in terms of the latest drivers.

    Which windows system requires the least amount of resources from your pc/laptop, or uses them in the most efficient way? Because windows 7 can be pretty heavy on the RAM usage side.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Nadia

      Reply

      Hey there Evald! That is super awesome that you were also able to upgrade your CPU on top everything else! Thank you for confirming to folks that the SSD and the RAM upgrades made a huge difference – sometimes folks need that extra bit or reassurance before diving into getting upgrades 🙂 

      I have heard that so far Windows 10 is the most efficient OS in the Windows line to date. It implements a different way of allocating RAM which makes it superior over the other versions of Windows. So far my gaming experience has been excellent on Windows 10!

      I’m happy to hear that you found this helpful, do visit again for more helpful info and tips!

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