How to Clean and Speed Up Your Laptop

By Business.com Contributor,
business.com writer
| Updated
Aug 06, 2020
Image Credit: nortonrsx / Getty Images

Make your laptop run faster with these seven quick fixes.

When it comes to laptops, it usually seems that newer means faster. Everyone remembers the day they brought home their laptop, cracked it open and enjoyed lightning-fast speeds. Since that day, your laptop's speed and performance has probably waned, and it can feel like your computer has been slogging along for months or even years.

Depending on where your laptop is in its lifecycle, trying to decide the best option for restoring your computer to its original performance can be overwhelming. If you've only had your computer for a few years, does installing more RAM really help? If you've had your laptop for ages, will uninstalling unused apps make any difference?

By learning how to speed up your laptop's performance, you can save a lot of time and stress. Annoyances such as long delays and your laptop operating system or apps freezing can be heavily reduced or a thing of the past.

Knowing how to speed up your laptop is extremely helpful and requires little to no time. We've broken down the best ways to speed up your laptop into two sections: quick speed boosts and revamping your computer's performance.

With this guide, you can take the right steps to freeing your laptop from performance burdens that have plagued it for months.

Follow these steps to restore or improve your computer's performance.

Quick ways to boost your laptop's speed

1. Limit startup tasks and programs.

Were you ever in a situation where you needed to print a document quickly for your boss or client, you turn on your laptop, sign in … and then wait?

Nothing is worse than your laptop performance lagging at a stressful time. This is a simple task that can quickly become a headache within a matter of minutes. Why would this happen though, especially when you've only had your laptop for a couple of years?

When you turn your laptop on, multiple programs automatically open and start running. The programs operating in the background can drain CPU usage and slow your startup times.

By taking a few minutes and making a few clicks, you can increase your laptop's performance and save hours of waiting time.

For Windows 10 users, this involves opening your task manager, clicking on Settings, clicking on Apps, and then clicking the Startup tab. Here you will find a list of programs ranked by startup impact. You can enable and disable whichever ones you feel necessary. You also can sort the list either by impact level, name of the application and status.

If the Startup tab is not visible in your settings, right-click on the Start button, select the Task Manager option, and then click on Startup. (Sometimes the Startup button can be located under More Details.)

For MacOS users, specifically with Catalina 10.15, click on the Apple menu icon, Systems Preferences, and then Users and Groups. Next, select your user account for the operating system, and then click on Login Items.

This will then present a list of all the programs that are running when turning on your laptop as well as three tasks that you execute: Add a Login Item, Remove a Login Item and Hide a Login Item.

To improve your laptop's performance, select the apps that you want to stop loading on startup by clicking on the application to highlight it and then clicking on the minus (-) symbol located on the center bottom of the window.

If an application or program that used to be on your laptop shows up, then click on the empty box that says Hide, and it will remove it from your Login Item list.

2. Uninstall unused apps.

There are a lot of free apps that we think we will need and use, but they often take up memory that we don't have to spare. Liberate your laptop from the unused apps to free up space and provide a quick speed boost. This is especially applicable for games, movies and other large, unused files.

By removing unnecessary programs, your laptop's performance can increase dramatically, as more processing power and storage will be available for more important programs and tasks.

On Windows, removing unused apps is as easy as selecting Uninstall a Program in the control panel. This can be done in a couple of different ways.

The most common approach is to click the Start button and then the Settings icon. Once you are in Settings, click on Apps on the right-hand side of the list, then on Apps and Features.

This will present a list of all the programs on your laptop. You can sort all of the items by name, size and installation date. There is also another option to arrange each item list by their drive location.

Once you have determined which applications and tasks you want to remove from your laptop, click on the item, highlighting it, and then click on Uninstall. The app is then removed.

Another easy process is to type in "control panel" in the search bar located on the bottom of the screen. Next, click on Control Panel, which opens a new window. There, click on Uninstall a Program under the Programs heading.

This will provide you with another list of all the programs on your computer. To uninstall a particular program, right-click on the item and select Uninstall. A dialogue box will appear. Click Yes to allow your laptop to make changes. You will then be asked if you want to continue with uninstallation. Click Yes again to finish the process.

To make this process even quicker, create a shortcut to the Uninstall page on your desktop or your task bar. (Some programs may have additional dialogue boxes; read all the information before choosing an option.)

Either process takes about 2 minutes, depending on how many applications you intend on removing from your laptop.

Apple's operating system is much easier. Mac users can uninstall programs by moving them to the trash icon on the desktop or by right-clicking on the app and selecting Move To Trash. Sometimes the operating system may ask you to enter in your username and password to continue with the uninstall process. Empty your trash before you continue.

To ensure that everything associated with the program is being uninstalled, Mac users can drag the programs into a third-party application – such as AppDelete – which presents all folders associated with that program while giving the option to remove individual folders within the application itself. This can be useful since some files associated with an application may not get deleted when performing an uninstall.

Mac users have an advantage over Windows users in this regard because the uninstall process of an application – much like their phone counterparts – takes seconds to perform.

3. Use disk cleanup.

The disk cleanup utility is a program featured on Windows that assesses and removes unneeded programs and files from your computer. This is a great tool to scrub your computer of erroneous files that you otherwise wouldn't have known existed. You can access it by typing "disk cleanup" in your search bar.

A dialogue box will appear that has a dropdown menu, allowing you to select a driver that you want to perform the disk cleanup on. Click OK to begin the process.

Once it scans through, it will show you a list with all the files and how much disc space you have left. Click on all of the boxes located to the left-hand side of the files and click on Clean Up System Files.

The program then runs an intensive scan and produces another window similar to the previous one, but will also provide information on how much space is saved. Select the options again and click on OK to permanently delete the files.

Microsoft's disk clean-up process can take anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of hours depending on the number of files stored on your hard drive and how often you clean it. Regardless of time length, this will improve your laptop's performance in the long run.

Mac offers a similar feature. It's easy to view and manage your storage by clicking the apple in the top left corner of your screen and then selecting About This Mac.

A dialogue box will appear with the option of Storage highlight. This will show you a bar telling you how much storage space you have on your hard drive (and other details too). Then click on the Manage button to open up the Storage Management window.

In this window, you can click on storage and get an overview of how your hard drive is being used. From this screen, you can reduce clutter by clicking Review Files, Optimize Storage or Move Files to iCloud. You can also get rid of the individual files permanently by right-clicking on the item and selecting Delete.

There is an opportunity for users to download both free and paid applications that perform a disk cleanup automatically that can be accessed through the app store.

It may be more feasible in the long run, however, to spend a few minutes every couple of weeks deleting applications and files that are just taking space.

By treating disk cleanup as a regular maintenance responsibility, your laptop performance will increase, providing less stress for you in the long run while at work.

 

4. Clear all your internet cache.

Much like those pesky files clogging your hard drive, there are even more hidden items taking up space through your internet cache. Clearing them out regularly can free up a couple of gig's worth of storage, speeding up your laptop.

The easiest way to clear temporary files from your internet cache is to go through your individual browsers and access the Settings tab.

Regardless of the browser, finding Clear History, Clear Data and Clear Cache will take moments. Follow the directions presented, which is usually a click or two of a button commanding the deletion of all the data. Once that is done, you'll have freed more space through your cache, increasing your laptop's performance.

It's slightly different for Safari users. With Apple's browser, all you need to do is click on Preferences and then click the Privacy tab. Keep in mind that Apple deletes all cookie caches after you visit a website.

However, once you are on the Privacy tab, you have three options to help you maintain a clear cache: Preventing Trackers From Using Cookies and Website Data to Track You, Always Block Cookies, and Remove Stored Cookies and Data. Select whichever option suits you.

There is also an option for Managing Website Data. When you click on that, you receive an itemized list of all the data stored, which can either be deleted individually or all at once.  

There are also numerous options for applications that can be used to clear out your internet cache, such as CC Cleaner. However, a manual delete takes less than a minute or two, with a couple of easy steps.

For Windows users, this can be easily done by opening up the Run program, which is located on the Start menu or is accessible by clicking on the Windows symbol. Once that happens, the Run dialogue box opens. In the search bar, you have an option to type in one of three paths that will allow you to delete temporary files from your computer: %temp%, temp, or prefetch. Then click OK.

Typing in one of those terms takes you to the respective folder. After clicking OK, a dialogue box may appear asking for permission to enter the folders. Click OK to receive an itemized list in the folders.

Once you are in either the %temp%, temp, or prefetch folders, highlight all the items with your mouse, or by pressing Ctrl A, and then delete them by either right-clicking and selecting Delete or pressing the Delete button located on the top right-hand corner of your keyboard.

When that is done, delete all the folders in the recycle bin on your desktop to ensure they are permanently deleted.

Some files will not be erased as they are in use when you are running a specific program. Those can be removed at a later time.

For MacOS users, your cache can be cleared in two different ways, both allowing you to remove unnecessary files taking up space on your laptop for better performance.

First, click on Go, then select Go To Folder. A shorter way to get there is to press Command-Shift-G. This will provide you a small dialogue box where you can type in the following path: ~/Library and press Enter. You'll then see a list of folders, of which you will click on Caches. It's even quicker if you type in ~/Library/Caches as your pathway, ultimately skipping a step.

You'll then receive a window containing an itemized list of data, all of which can be deleted by highlighting all of the data through your mouse, or Command-A on your keyboard and dragging it to the trash bin to permanently delete them.

Next, click on Macintosh HD. If you cannot find Macintosh HD, open up your finder preferences, verify that Hard Disk is selected as an option under Devices. This will make Macintosh HD appear on your original window.

Click on Macintosh HD, the Library folder and then on Caches folder. Here, you will find additional data caches to delete from your Mac laptop. If any of the files have a red label on them, this means that it requires permission, and you may need to enter your password before continuing on with the deletion process.

Whether on your HD or Mac laptop, these are quick processes that take less than a couple of minutes to execute. By doing this as routine maintenance from time to time, you'll be able to keep your laptop performing to the best of its ability.   

How to revamp computer performance

1. Add an SSD.

An SSD, or solid-state drive, is different from a traditional hard drive because it stores data in memory chips without having to use mechanical components. SSDs are a great way to immediately boost your computer's speed and performance. They're relatively inexpensive – a 256GB SSD can cost around $75.

SSDs require installation, so if you're unfamiliar with the intricacies of laptop design, it may be better to pay someone to install it for you.

2. Upgrade RAM.

RAM, or random access memory, is a form of memory storage that allows laptops to feature games and store other large files. Adding RAM, and thus more memory, can help speed up a computer that has a lot of large files on it.

Generally, 8GB is the minimum amount of RAM you should have on computers, but not all laptops are upgradeable. Adding RAM also requires installation, and many newer laptops may come with RAM coupled with the computer's motherboard, meaning it cannot be adjusted.

3. Reinstall your OS.

Windows offers the option to reinstall an operating system without losing all the files on your computer. Reinstalling Windows is like hitting the reset button on your computer – by removing and reinstalling, only your essential files will remain. You can do this by selecting Recovery in the Update and Security tab of the Settings window.

In addition to updating your computer and keeping your files, you can download your files onto an external hard drive, reinstall Windows and then load your information back onto the laptop.

For Mac, restart your computer, then hold down Command + R. This will open the macOS Recovery window. From there, reinstall the OS without erasing your files.

Bottom line

Your computer accumulates a lot of files and data over time. It's crucial to regularly clean out your laptop so that as your computer ages, it doesn't significantly slow down. By taking preventative measures, you can avoid bigger projects such as installing an SSD or reinstalling your OS to maintain decent operating speeds.

Prolonging the performance of your laptop is like taking care of a car – if you don't service it and make sure it's running properly every now and then, it will break down or, in the case of the laptop, slow down.

Additional Reporting by Matt D'Angelo

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