Speed needed: How to make your Windows 8.1 laptop faster

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Should you have the misfortune of working for a cheap-ass company that doesn’t believe in spending money on decent laptops for its staff, you may face the frustration of waiting for Windows to do anything on a daily basis.

It’s the type of problem that isn’t so bad initially, but has the potential to be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back on a very stressful day, and as such it’s one that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Some of these tips will cost you some money, but they are absolutely, positively worth every cent. You could always try passing the invoice on to work later, citing the massive productivity increase you are getting from the outlay.

Get a solid-state hard drive


A solid-state hard drive, or SSD, is by its very nature incredibly fast. It stores your data like a regular hard drive does, but it’s made up of memory chips. That means it has no moving parts, so the time it takes for commands to arrive execute is very short, and therefore everything works a lot faster.

And because Windows relies quite heavily on your system’s hard drive, a faster one will make a huge difference to how fast your laptop does anything.

We recommend buying one and having it professionally installed by IT companies that offer such services; a quick Google search should point you in the right direction.

Just be sure to back up your personal data first- you don’t want to lose those vital documents or emails in the switch.

Once it’s installed, you’ll see a huge improvement in how fast your PC switches on in the morning and how quickly your programs load.

Estimated Cost: R1 000 for a 128GB SSD, R300/hr for 3 hours to do the physical upgrade and back up and restore your data.

Buy more RAM


This trick is cheaper than buying an SSD, and less complicated to the point where even the most inexperienced laptop user can actually perform the upgrade themselves.

It involves adding more system RAM; while you probably have 4GB already, that’s just “okay”, and adding another 4GB is a sure-fire way to improve your laptop’s responsiveness as it gives Windows more leeway to put frequently-used data into memory, ready to be used at less than a moment’s notice.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy a 4GB stick of RAM; if you have an older laptop it’s probably DDR3-1333, with laptops built in the last few years using DDR3-1600. To be safe, double-check the type your particular laptop uses with your manufacturer if you’re unsure.
  2. Power your laptop down completely and turn it over so it’s lying on its lid.
  3. Unscrew any screws you see that secure the bottom panel to the laptop’s chassis. Remove the panel entirely.
  4. You’ll see a slot containing your current RAM chip, with a second open slot next to it. Orient your newly-purchased RAM the right way, and insert it into the second slot. If done properly, you’ll hear a “click” when it’s in. If it doesn’t seem to be going in, double-check its orientation.
  5. Close up the laptop by securing the bottom panel with the screws you removed.
  6. Connect your laptop to power, boot it up and enjoy your newfound speed boost.

Estimated cost: R500 for a 4GB stick of RAM, 5 minutes of your time to perform the upgrade yourself.

Trim your startup programs


This tip only affects how fast you get to the Windows desktop by preventing unnecessary programs from running automatically, but it’s helpful all the same.

  1. Open Task Manager. You can do that by right-clicking the taskbar and selecting it, or by pressing Control-Alt-Delete and clicking Task Manager.
  2. Click the Start-Up tab, then on Start-up Impact to order the programs that start automatically when Windows launches from highest to lowest impact.
  3. Click on the programs you don’t think should run when Windows starts, and click the Disable button. If in doubt, disable all high-impact programs.

You won’t be asked to restart your PC; simply close Task Manager, and carry on with your daily activities. The next time you restart Windows you should notice a marked increase in the speed at which your PC reaches the desktop and responds to your inputs.

Estimate cost: Zero rands down, a minute or two to decide what needs to start and what doesn’t.

Disable Indexing


This one’s a little tougher to grasp, but very easy to do. Since XP, Windows has kept an index of all of your files in order to easily and quickly locate data when you search for it. The actual process of indexing, however, takes up valuable processing power and hard drive bandwidth that can be better-used to speed up other functions.

Turning it off will give you an overall speed boost but obviously slow down the speed at which searches return results.

If you have a fairly quick Core i5 or i7 CPU and an SSD, however, rather keep indexing on as you won’t get much of a boost from disabling it. For slower PCs and regular hard drives, though, you should definitely turn it off.

While you can select specific folders not to be indexed, the quickest way to disable it is to do the following:

  1. Right-click on your primary hard drive and select Properties.
  2. Under the General tab, you’ll see an option at the bottom of the window that says “Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed in addition to file properties”. Untick it and click OK.

This will initiate the change, but since that requires adjusting the attributes of every file on the drive individually, it could take some time. If you encounter an error, click “Ignore All” as these are likely system files that are currently in use and can’t be modified, which is perfectly normal.

Estimated cost: Zero rands down and anything from a few minutes to a few hours to set the new “don’t index” attribute, depending on the size of your hard drive. Just a word of caution for Outlook users: Disabling Indexing will slow down the speed at which Outlook returns search results.

Change your security software


Security software has changed over the last few years to be as unobtrusive yet as effective as possible. At least, the mainstream ones from companies like Kaspersky and Symantec have, while other lesser-known ones have lagged behind.

It sounds silly, but your PC’s responsiveness, or lack thereof, could be down to security software doing its best to protect you but using up valuable system resources to do it.

In that case, you’re advised to go for something known to be fast and effective. I use Norton 360 on all my Windows machines, and highly recommend it because of its almost-unbelievable speed and light resource footprint, but Kaspersky Internet Security also does a great job of this, as do BitDefender and WebRoot Secure Anywhere Antivirus.

Estimated Cost: Norton and Kaspersky start at about R299 for protection for 1 year of protection for a single PC.

And there you have it

These five tips should be enough to get your PC over its performance slump.

If you do only one of these, add more RAM to your poor laptop – it’ll only cost a few hundred bucks, it’s very fast but also highly effective, and for the biggest speed bump, an SSD and more RAM is the way to go.

[Featured image – By Paolo Neo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.


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