How to speed up an ageing laptop

Laptop running slow? Here’s how to give your computer a new lease of life.

20nov how to speed up an ageing laptop hero

Don’t give up on your laptop just because it’s slowing down. Some simple maintenance and a new part or two could give your computer a second chance at life.

Here are some easy fixes that don’t cost a cent:

  • Uninstall old programs: Remove apps you don’t use anymore. They take up a lot of storage space and could be using processing power in the background.

  • Tidy up storage: Take stock of all your files – it probably won’t take as long as you think. Keep the files you use a lot, delete anything you don’t need and move the rest to external storage, such as the cloud (services like Google Drive and iCloud give you a certain amount of free storage, then cost as little as $2 to $3 a month).

  • Disable programs launching on start-up: Check which programs automatically launch when your computer turns on. We recommend disabling most of them, with the exception of system processes and security software including antivirus and firewalls. To see which programs launch at start-up:

    • On Windows, open Task Manager (press Ctrl+Alt+Del, select “Task Manager”) and choose the Startup tab.
    • On macOS, go to System Preferences –> Users & Groups, select your account and choose Login Items.
  • Install the latest OS updates: Updates can speed up your laptop with performance fixes. They also plug critical security holes.

Upgrade your hardware

If you bought your laptop several years ago, you can likely replace some of its components yourself (though you may have to do some homework). The main ones are:

  • RAM (read-only memory): Adding RAM can speed up daily tasks, especially when running several programs at once. Some laptops have RAM fixed to the motherboard, making upgrading impossible, but otherwise it’s fairly easy. Often, laptops have an empty slot for an additional RAM card. If there isn’t a spare slot, you’ll have to remove the current cards and replace them with larger-capacity ones. Computers have an upper limit to how much RAM they can recognise and often require a certain type, so do your research beforehand.

  • Battery: Laptop batteries gradually lose capacity, like all rechargeable batteries. Buying a replacement can breathe new life into your laptop.

  • Storage: Replacing your storage drive with a faster SSD (solid state drive) can improve start-up speed and everyday performance. However, “cloning” your old drive across to the new one is quite a technical process, so read up online or call in an expert.

Many laptops sold today have their cases glued shut or parts soldered together, making upgrades much more difficult. Before you get out the screwdrivers, make sure your laptop can be upgraded and consider the difficulty. If in doubt, search the internet for a step-by-step guide or video of someone renovating the same model.

Online stores are the easiest places to find replacement parts, but you need to be careful about compatibility with your computer. If you’re unsure, it may be better to visit a computer repair store.

Look after your elderly laptop

Don’t let it overheat: When using your laptop, make sure its exhaust vents are clear so it can expel hot air. If they’re not, the inside of the machine heats up, which can damage internal components and hurt performance. The best way to keep the fan working well is to use the computer on a desk or other hard surface when possible. You can also rest it on a cooling mat or stand.

Be wary online: Give your laptop the best shot at success by keeping it free from malware and bloatware. That means keeping your security software up to date, avoiding dodgy websites and not blindly clicking on ads or links. You could also consider installing an ad-blocker.

Minimise multitasking: Close apps when you’re done with them. Even if you’re not actively using them, they can keep your processor from putting all its power towards the task at hand.

Restart often: Old laptops need a chance to start fresh every now and again. A restart forces all programs to close, including those that might be frozen or leaking memory.

Staff stories: Upgrades and repairs

Staff stories: Upgrades and repairs

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Staff stories: Upgrades and repairs

Some DIY work could rescue a faulty or under-performing laptop. Consumer NZ Head of Testing Paul Smith and Technical Writer Erin Bennett share their experiences with upgrading and repairing their laptops.

Read their stories

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John C.
07 Nov 2020
SSD - replace your hard drive

As per Anthony's comments.

Even if you get a technician to replace it (some laptop hard drives are in awkward to get at places) it's not an expensive upgrade option. And you can request that all your data/programs get transferred too.

This is the single best way to get years more life out of an aging laptop. My (originally top-of-the-line/spec) 5 year old Asus laptop was taking minutes to boot up and log in. Replaced the drive with an SSD and it's now mere seconds!! It's like having a new machine, for just a couple of hundred dollars....

David M.
07 Nov 2020

RAM = Random Access Memory
ROM = Read Only Memory

Also try Linux on an old laptop. It will likely perform better than Windows on the same hardware.

roy p.
07 Nov 2020
dual processor

I would add to this good article - before upgrading check the laptop has at least a dual processor or even quad core . For example one with a single pocessor will have dissapointing results no matter what you add.
My dual processor Toshiba is great. Every few years I reload the win7 OS.
Roy Purvis

07 Nov 2020
Replace the hard drive is the best improvement for an older Laptop.

Replacing the old HDD drive with a solid state drive (SSD) at around $100 to $200 (depending on make of SSD) for 1 terabyte, transforms an old laptop (mine is 5 years old) to performing better than when it was new. It doesn’t boot up quite as quickly as an iPad, but not far off, and so much faster than before the upgrade. Some tech expertise is necessary, but the upgrade SSD comes with instructions. Even if using a technician to do the job (about an hour) it could be cost effective.