How to Optimize Your Computer for Faster Startup and Performance

Computer optimization is the process of modifying a computer to make it work more efficiently and use fewer resources. As you use your computer over time it can become less efficient and slower as configuration settings are changed and new software and files are stored to the disk drives.

Software might be installed but used rarely, or partially uninstalled leaving files behind. Your Internet browser will make temporary copies of web pages you visit. Files you download can cause clutter and reduce storage space. Most operating system need a minimum amount of storage space on the disk to operate efficiently and if resources drop below the recommended level a computer can slow to a crawl or fail to work at all.

Another reason your computer is slow could be the presence of computer viruses or other malware that have found their way onto your system without your knowledge. Not all malware makes itself obvious by destroying data or locking machines. Some viruses or unwanted software lurk quietly in the background hijacking computer resources for malicious activities like sending spam email or attacking other computers on your network or the Internet. These programs use up resources to perform their malicious work and so your computer slows down due to the extra load.

For peak computer performance it is advisable to perform a “spring clean” on a regular basis to remove all the software and files that are no longer required, restore configuration settings to their optimal states and free up disk space and other system resources. You might be surprised at the performance improvements that can be gained from performing a computer clean up, especially if you haven’t done so since buying the computer.

If this process is too difficult then consider a membership with HelpCloud Tech Support. With your initial activation you receive a computer clean and optimization. Additionally, a clean four times a year is part of your month-to-month membership with HelpCloud. You also have 24/7 support for any device or technical issue.

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DIY Optimization…

If you are moderately familiar with the basic operations of a computer you can try some of the simpler optimization tasks yourself and, indeed, most operating system have built-in software to assist you. Otherwise there are software solutions and online services that can help you, although you have to be careful what you choose. Be wary of claims that are too good to be true. Your computer will never run faster than the day you unboxed it, that’s its maximum speed limit and the best you can achieve thorough standard optimization.

Be particularly careful of optimization tools you download from the Internet. While good tools exist, hackers and cyber criminals often modify these tools by including malware or security exploits so they can gain access to your computer when you install the modified software. Always download software from an established and reputable web site and check each download with your antivirus or security software before you install it.

…Or Leave it to the Experts

If you prefer to let experts keep your computer in good running order you can sign up with one of the online optimization services for a modest monthly fee. These companies will regularly inspect your computer and clean out the unwanted and unnecessary settings and files that accumulate during daily usage. They may also monitor you computer to detect problems as they occur.

Again, do your research before signing up with a third party service. Check the company web site and ensure it has a real address and full contact details. Select a service that is based in your country, or at least in a country that speaks your language. The ability to quickly contact your support company and communicate efficiently is essential. Check online reviews from other customers. Not every company will have a spotless record, but provided the positive reviews significantly outweigh the negatives you should be fine.

However you decide to clean your computer, here are the key operations you should consider. Before proceeding with any modifications to your system make sure you take a complete backup, using Windows Backup and Restore, or Apple Time Machine, or whatever tool you prefer. If anything goes wrong you want to be able to recover to a working computer.

Free Up Space By Removing Files

The first step in reclaiming disk space is to check your downloads and documents folders. Usually, anything you have downloaded from the Internet or as an email attachment, and the files you have saved when using computer programs will be stored in these folders. Over time a lot of files can build up and there’s a strong chance you don’t need all of them any more.

You can find the biggest files by sorting the folder listing. Click on the size column to sort in descending order. Some files, such as videos you have watched and no longer need, photos and other images, disk archives from downloads, can take up megabytes or even gigabytes of disk space. Select the files you no longer need and move them to the trash. You can also sort file lists by date to find older files that may no longer be useful.

Clear Out Temporary Files

Many programs store temporary files to your hard disk in order to improve their own performance. For example, when you browse a web page your web browser might take a snapshot of that page and store it to a temporary location on your hard drive so it can be quickly recovered should you want to view the page again, or if you are viewing the page offline when an Internet connection is not available.

Your temporary files can be stored in several different locations, depending on the operating system or programs you use. The main windows folder in which temporary files are stored can be found by right clicking the Start button and selecting Run. Type %temp% into the search box and press enter. Generally it’s safe to delete everything in your temp folder as programs relying on the data will simply recreate the files as needed. Windows won’t let you delete any files that are in use by running programs, so you may need to shut down these programs if you want to clear out their temporary files.

Apple computers do this maintenance for you, regularly cleaning up the temp folder. But of you ever need to clear the folder yourself you can find it by opening Terminal and typing open /tmp then pressing enter. The temp folder should open and you can start deleting as required.

Other temporary files are stored by programs in potentially many different locations and it is usually better to use specialized software to find these folders and clear them out.

CCleaner is a well known maintenance tool that has many functions designed to clean up your computer’s settings and hard disks. There’s a free version which does a good job of finding and clearing temporary and redundant files. This tool is powerful and can modify many settings on your computer, so use wisely. Don’t just select everything for cleaning, that could result in critical files being modified or removed. Read the on-screen instructions carefully before you commit any changes or delete any files.

Remove Unwanted Software

One of the easiest and quickest optimisations is to uninstall (remove) any software you don’t use and no longer need. Good software will have an uninstall script you can activate with a single click. On the latest versions of Windows the uninstall process is very simple. Go to the Start menu and select All apps. Find the program you want to uninstall. Right click on the program, a menu pops up and all you need to do is click Uninstall. Some programs may not have an uninstall option directly accessible from the Start menu, instead you may need to go to the Control Panel and select Programs and Features then choose your program and check for an uninstall option. On a Mac it’s even easier, just drag the program’s icon from the Applications folder to the trash.

However, not all uninstall scripts are completely efficient. Some will leave data behind or fail to clean up settings and temporary files. You may need to go to the program’s data folder and manually remove files. Of course, be careful what you delete. Have you backup handy in case anything goes wrong.

Unfortunately, programs that have found their way onto your computer without your knowledge, such as adware and malware, will probably not show up using normal methods. In fact this type of malicious software will take special steps to remain undetected, so removing it can be difficult. You can use additional methods, detailed below, to try to find and remove these unwanted programs.

Run Antivirus Scan

Browsing the Internet and downloading files and email attachments can leave your computer open to many threats if you do not take adequate precautions. Aside from the many viruses designed to destroy your data, some malicious and nuisance programs will hijack your computer without your knowledge and perform unwanted operations like displaying spam advertising or sending bulk spam mail. These programs can leave a lot of junk behind and can in turn download other programs that make the mess larger.

It’s worth running a full system antivirus scan on a regular basis, maybe once a month. Users are deterred because these scans can take many hours. So run them overnight. Removing hidden malware will certainly increase the security of your computer (and other computers you connect to) and can often give performance a boost.

Antivirus and security packages may not detect all adware and spam software, sometimes you need additional help for full detection. You can get a free scanner called MalwareBytes that does a good job of detecting what other scanners miss. In fact the premium version of MalwareBytes might be all you need as it now rolls wider antivirus and anti-ransomware protection into its arsenal.

Keep Your Computer Updated

Operating system and software vendors regularly release updates for their products to fix bugs, plug security holes or generally make their programs operate more efficiently. Provided you haven’t switched them off, operating systems automatically keep themselves and installed software regularly updated. Ensure your auto-updates are enabled or, at the very least, you have notifications switched on to alert you when new updates become available.

For Windows, click Start, type “Windows update” in the search box, and then select Windows Update in the Programs list. This will allow you to change your update method. For security reasons it’s a smart move to leave auto-updates switched on.

On a Mac, launch the App Store application and click Preferences in the system menu. Or you can click the Updates button in the main window to check for any pending updates if you have auto-updates disabled.

Defragment Your Hard Drives

Disk fragmentation is a process that occurs over time as you save and delete files on your hard drives. Larger files can be split into pieces to fit on the disk. Deleted files can leave gaps between the data stored to a disk. When a file is split and parts stored in different locations on the disk, it takes longer to read and write these files. This can result in slower computer performance, longer startup times, random freezes or crashes and rarely the inability to boot up the computer if key files are heavily fragmented.

To optimize your disks you can run a defragmentation tool. The Windows operating system defragments your disks automatically by default and runs on schedule so, provided you haven’t changed your settings and switched it off, you can generally let Windows take care of the process. However, if you want to check the disks yourself, open the disk optimization tool by searching for “optimize” or “defrag” in the taskbar.

Macs store files differently to Windows machines and don’t require disk defragmentation, except in rare cases where very large files are often saved and deleted. In almost all cases, let your Mac take care of your disk drives and it will do a good job.

More recently SSD (solid state drives) have become a popular alternative to mechanical drives. These drives have in-built maintenance procedures and attempting to defragment them can make performance worse and could reduce the lifespan of the drive. So leave SSD drives well alone.

In most cases then, you don’t need to worry about disk defragmentation as the operating system or the drive itself takes care of the process. It is mentioned here because you will see many offers for programs that claim to speed up the performance of your disk drives. While these tools may be useful on older computers running older operating systems, on newer machines you don’t need them. Resist the claims of blazing fast speeds and magic improvements.

Empty Your Trash Can

Once you have removed all the temporary and unwanted files, removed unwanted programs, checked for viruses and other malware, don’t forget to empty the trash can. When you delete a file it is not immediately removed from your disk. It is placed in the trash can ready for permanent removal after a period of time. This is so you can recover files you have accidentally deleted.

To free up space on your disk you need to empty the trash can so the unwanted files are physically removed. Of course make sure you have made a backup before you do any maintenance work on your computer. If you permanently remove files by accident that the computer or programs rely on to operate you’ll need to be able to roll back the system to fix these issues.

Paid Computer Maintenance Plans

If all of this seems like a lot of work, or if you are not sufficiently technical to tackle these tasks with confidence, you can find many companies that offer computer cleans and optimization, either as a one time or a regular service.

With HelpCloud Tech Support regular computer cleans are included in our membership plans. You get the benefit of an expert using all the best tools to get the most thorough result. To get a similar result yourself you’d likely end up spending more on the premium tools required to do the job than paying for somebody to do it for you.

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About the author

Photo of Erik Fullmer

Erik Fullmer

Erik was raised in many places but has long since called Utah home. Rooted in mountains, he spends a lot of time with his dogs in the mountains and in the winter he skis… a lot.

Erik is actively earning the necessary certifications and training to become a certified AMGA Ski Guide.

With over a decade of content writing experience, Erik finds passion when writing for the tech and outdoor recreation industries.