How to Make Your PC Run Faster and Smoother for Free

Want to make your PC run a little faster? Here are a bunch of easy, low-tech ways to squeeze a little more performance out of your PC.

Review by Cassandra Khaw, .

My Fenris is a bit of a beast.

Whenever I heave him out of my backpack, I unfailingly elicit at least one incredulous, "Holy carp! How do you carry that thing?!" Similar to his mythological counterpart, Fenris is a hulking, black brute; a gaming laptop who shares more commonalities with Big Blue than the anorexic Macbooks patronizing coffee shops and conventions everywhere. Over the years, he's done amazingly at providing the power necessary to operate many a review game but lately, Fenris's withers have begun to grey. After an especially dismal performance with The Wolf Among Us, I decided enough was enough. It was time to teach the old dog new tricks.

What you're about to read is the result of a long, obsessive afternoon spent attempting to revitalize a growingly phlegmatic system. It's not a guide to end all guides but I hope will be an informative account on optimizing your PC for better gaming experience. I skipped over some of the more familiar answers - overclocking is homicide in the sweltering tropics and I like Fenris too much to put him to pasture - so don't be too surprised about their absence. As always, if you have anything you'd like to contribute to the discussion (Want to teach me how to install a DIY liquid coolant system into my Asus G74S? Totally game!), please do drop us a note in the comments!

Back to the Basics

Defragging is your friend

One of my oldest memories involves hours spent staring at a CRT monitor as the associated PC primly rearranged its metaphorical file cabinets. To 'defrag' your computer is to do exactly that: it's a maintenance chore that puts any out-of-place data 'blocks' back into sequential order so as to ensure that your hard disk's read head doesn't have to run about like a headless chicken.

Before you start wailing and gnashing your teeth over how you've failed to routinely defrag your hard disks, you can relax. These days, unless your hard disk's platter is of the same organizational level as a spilled box of Lego bricks, not defragging your computer is no longer the crime it used to be. Still, defragging helps. So do it. Unless you own a solid-state drive in which case this section was completely irrelevant and should be ignored for your SSD's sake.

For a more detailed explanation about disk defragmentation, check out this guide from HowStuffWorks. If you're not happy with your computer's in-built defragmentation tool, this list of third party programs offer a handy replacement.

Check, check, check (disk) body

Depending on who you ask, the 'check disk' (CHKDSK) system tool is either a relic of a by-gone era or a monthly must-do. I like running it because I'm a stickler for tradition and because anything that systematically undermines the impact of bad sectors is okay by me. Time-consuming and easily the least interesting thing you can do with your computer, CHKDSK is not dissimilar from an army medic with no bed manners. The utility forgoes an interesting GUI and user-friendliness in favor of the ability to find an drepair problems related to lost clusters, bad sectors, directory errors and cross-linked files.

Running CHKDSK isn't hard either.

  • First, you double-click My Computer before right-clicking the hard disk that you want to check.
  • Then, go to Properties and select Tools.
  • Once you've found the bit that says error-checking, hit check Now.
  • Before you go off to watch Breaking Bad re-runs, be sure to take a moment to decide if you want to have your system repaired without scanning for bad sectors (choose the 'automatically fix file system error' option) or the whole nine yards (check the 'scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors' box).
  • Go watch Breaking Bad re-run.

(You may have to reboot your computer to get the party started)

Stop watching porn!

Or, at least, stop watching it on disreputable websites. Possibly incriminating jokes aside, malware, which is short for malicious software, is often treated as the usual suspect behind lethargic computers for good reason. They're, well, malicious. And evil. And rather buggery. On top of making it absolutely lethal to check your bank statement online, malware can also slow your PC to a crawl as they have a tendency to quietly piggy-back on your system's resources, thereafter increasing the load exponentially. Buggery, see?

Luckily, antivirus tools are nowhere near in short supply. There are so many of them I occasionally want to make paranoid grumblings about how unscrupulous parties may be engineering their own business, if you know what I mean. (No, I don't really think so.) As is often the case with such things, the best products are those you fork out money for. According to PC Mag, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014), Norton Antivirus (2014) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013, all of which will set you back $39.99 or so, are heading the pack this year. Can't afford to pay the piper? Arguably less effective solutions can be found in the free versions of software like Avast (My go-to antivirus!), Panda Cloud and AVG. Techradar has a pretty good list for you to sort through over here.

Long story short: always have malware protection on hand. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Community member weevilo adds,

"And another point worth mentioning that can help performance simply by limiting the scope of problems adware/malware can bring is to always set up a non-administrator account to do your daily computing in. In particular, games are pretty bad about making system changes with administrative privileges. If you run as a non-admin, you can usually deny it from making any changes and the game will run fine."

Clean up in Aisle One!

You know how your more domestically-inclined parent/friend/significant other used to always tell you that there's nothing quite like a spotless domicile? Clean house, clean mind? Well, guess what? They're right. Improving your frame rate in Battlefield can be as simple as removing the casing of your PC and blowing the dust out. Over the years, gunk and grime will naturally accumulate in the bowels of your system, thereafter reducing overall efficiency by virtue of simply being there. Even if you don't really care about making life easier for your PC's fans, you may want to clean it out, anyway as such static-loving grossness can jeopardize the lifespan of your system..

Cleaning out your desktop or laptop is going to be require some technical know-how, however. It's simple, yes, but it's a procedure fraught with hazards. (Hint: Disconnect it from its power source before beginning) Laptops will require more delicacy than PCs. By and large, those aren't generally supposed to be tampered with by the general public. Either way, if you have never picked up a screwdriver and worked with electronics before, I recommend you sit down and read up before attempting any DIY work under the hood.

(It's not that hard, though, as you can see from these videos.)

Updating the drive(r)through

The old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" functions as a good rule of thumb when it comes to drivers. Not every update is necessarily useful. Heck, some of them can possibly damage your hardware; Nvidia 320.18's WHQL display driver famously killed a few GPUs. To be fair, not all of the problems associated with drivers are quite this dramatic. Most of the time, they just introduce stability issues but that's reason enough to be cautious, no?

Still, don't do like some people and keep to factory settings forever. You should always check to see if there's been a particularly large update before dismissing news about a new driver being rolled out. And while many claim that video driver updates are the exception to the rule, I'm personally a little leery. By and large, keeping that video game driver of yours up to date is a great idea but you should always research, research, research. Google is your friend. If you hear stories about how the latest update has been causing computers to crash everywhere, do yourself a favor and, uh, don't install it.

This comment thread on Lifehacker, for those interested in learning more, is a good read on the subject.

Cut the fat

You don't need Windows to be that pretty. You don't need all those games you haven't played in months. You don't need to have all your programs launch at the same time when you boot the computer. Really, you don't. You might think you do but really, all that prettiness, much like the new Calvin Klein line-up, is about as useful as the designer in an abattoir.

Cut them out.

Feed them to the wheels of efficiency. Sacrifice them to the gods of high performance. You get the idea. There's one one-size-fits-all guide to streamlining content on your computer. What you remove is entirely your perogative. If you're still using Windows 7 like me, you might want to consider this guide from Computing Unleashed which discusses everything from basic moves like disabling the Aero theme to ways to tweak your registry.

(Or check out this video guide instead.)

While the jury is out on whether or not a full hard disk weighs down performance (Spoiler: Only very occasionally), there's no denying the fact that you can most certainly do without bloatware. Common examples include the silly toolbars that Yahoo keep demanding you download and the random junk which many laptops ship with. I won't go into sordid details. Mostly because there is just so much bloatware in the world, you're going to want to research to see what is unique to your system. Either way, if you're keen on removing that sort of crap (and not inclined towards gingerly removing the miscreants yourself), try the PC Decrapifier.

Computer slow to boot up? It may have something to do with all the programs jostling for resources from the onset. Run MSConfig in your command line and check on the list of software under the startup tab. Do you really need Adobe Updater or Spotify to be there from the get go? Most likely not. Disabling these will help. Similarly, you're probably going to want to keep Adobe Updater from humming placidly in the background. It's nibbling on your rather finite resources. Not sure what to use? Try one of those hand-dandy startup managers.

Defy the Laws of Common Sense

Before we get into specifics, be advised that you should really, really proceed with caution. Plenty of folk have gone down the soon-to-be-mentioned rabbit holes without suffering a bruise but circumstances can and will vary. Always be aware. Only you can fight motherboard fires. Disclaimer aside, here are some less-than-orthodox methods for boosting performance:

ThrottleStop: Many laptops come packaged with Intel processors. Intel, and the people using these Intel chips, tend to be wary people. As such, their systems will generally throttle performance the moment temperatures rise above a certain level. ThrottleStop, well, throttles the stoppage. Needless to say, you should only be running ThrottleStop if you have a great cooling system available. While many claim that ThrottleStop won't cause your hardware to combust thanks to the presence of in-built thermal protection, others have expressed anxiety. If you'd pardon my French, shit happens. Throttlestop alone may not be sufficient to cause your PC's temperature to spike dangerously but coupled with poor ventilation or terrible weather? Who knows?

Game Booster: Razer's Game Booster is pretty neat. What it does is it shuts down unnecessary system processes in order to funnel more resources in the direction of your game. Can it hurt your computer? Most likely not. But, you never know. Feedback for Game Booster is somewhat varied so it may be a risk you could possibly skip taking. (You could also just toggle 'Turbo' mode on your PC.)

Feeling particularly reckless today? You could try tinkering with your registry (but not before backing it up, for goodness sake!). PvP junkies from various online games have been doing it for ages. For example, here's a tip from ArenaJunkies that purportedly helped reduce latency from 90 to 150ms to a perky 50ms:

  • Determine your IP (ipconfig or similar) : Start->All Programs->Accessories->Command Prompt, type in "ipconfig" and push enter.
  • Run Regedit :Start->Run, type "regedit", click ok
  • Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Servic es\Tcpip\Parameters\Interfaces : In this directory, there are going to be several folders with seemingly random letters and/or numbers as names. You're going to have the find the correct one to edit, which is done by doing the next step.
  • Determine which interface is for your IP. The correct interface will have a DhcpIPAddress set to your current IP.: This is displayed to the right after clicking one of the directories mentioned earlier, and should be the fifth or sixth entry down.
  • Right-click on the interface and select New->DWORD: Right click anywhere in the area that has your IP displayed nexted to the DhcpIPAddress entry.
  • Set the name to TcpAckFrequency (case sensitive): Right click->rename.
  • Set to a decimal value of "1" Right click->modify, type "1" in the value field, select "decimal," and click OK.
  • Save There's no save function, just close out of RegEdit.

If you survived attempting the aforementioned procedure and have somehow acquired a taste for fine-tuning the registry, you may be interested to know there's a wealth of other tweaks you can execute. To start you off, here are a few guides to doing exactly such:

Let someone else do your job for you.

Two words, guys: System Mechanic

Community member weevilo adds:

I've been using Black Viper's Services Configuration Guides to disable unnecessary services and processes that can open up security holes and waste processor and memory resources. Good start when setting up a fresh install. Just make sure you have a restore point and document the changes you make.

Next week, we're going to check out ways to optimize both your video card and your games themselves. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions you'd like to share with the general public, don't be afraid to drop a note in the comments.

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for monty_79 #1 monty_79 3 years ago
    I did a reformat back to factory settings on my Windows 7 Asus N55SL, as the thing was riddled with viruses. God knows where they came from [ahem].

    Anyway, it seems to be running slower than ever so am going to remove the considerable bloatware first and see if that sorts anything out.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for weevilo #2 weevilo 3 years ago
    Great article! I have a few rambling points to add.

    I've been using Black Viper's Services Configuration Guides to disable unnecessary services and processes that can open up security holes and waste processor and memory resources.
    Good start when setting up a fresh install. Just make sure you have a restore point and document the changes you make.

    Also, everyone should be browsing with several precautions like running your browswer in a sandbox environment like Sandboxie or a virtual machine in something like Virtual Box or VMWare. I also run with Noscript and HTTPS everywhere.

    And another point worth mentioning that can help performance simply by limiting the scope of problems adware/malware can bring is to always set up a non-administrator account to do your daily computing in. In particular, games are pretty bad about making system changes with administrative priviledges. If you run as a non-admin, you can usually deny it from making any changes and the game will run fine.

    And for games in particular you can check out to get some good optimization tips for games that you're having trouble getting to run well or at all.Edited 2 times. Last edited October 2013 by weevilo
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  • Avatar for artrexdenthur #3 artrexdenthur 3 years ago
    Nice article! Very useful, with something for every skill level. Power User FTW!
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  • Avatar for kayman63 #4 kayman63 3 years ago
    I laughed at the STOP PORN comment. I also use Krojam Cleaner to keep my laptop running fast.
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  • Avatar for davidgalbraith27 #5 davidgalbraith27 2 years ago
    That network speed guide doesn't specify if we should use hexadecimal or decimal entries. The numbers are RADICALLY different! GlobalAMaxTCPWindow Size--hexadecimal 65535, decimal 415029 MaxFreeTcbs--hexadecimal 65536 decimal 415030. Now imagine inputting those higher values in the decimal portion, you'd be WAAAAAAY off!
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  • Avatar for davidgalbraith27 #6 davidgalbraith27 2 years ago
    System Mechanic is absolute garbage. It doesn't tell you WHY it thinks some setting are incorrect, it thinks healthy hard drives have errors (when serious testing tools say otherwise) even after supposedly fixing them, I could go on and on.
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