This article titled “How can I make my five-year-old Windows laptop run faster?” was written by Jack Schofield, for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th May 2015 09.31 UTC
I have a five-year old Toshiba Satellite P500 with Microsoft Windows 7 installed. I like it because it’s got a 17.1in screen, but it’s getting slower and creakier. Could I just replace the existing hard drive with an updated one? Would this get me back to how it was performing when it was new? Hugh
The Toshiba Satellite P500 belongs to a class of high-specification laptops known as “desktop replacements”, and it should still perform well. Without seeing it, I can’t tell whether it’s a hardware or a software issue, but both can be improved. The main issues are whether you can spare the time to fix your laptop, and how much money you’re willing to invest in an old machine. These are the things that drive people to buy new laptops.
Windows includes a number of performance-monitoring tools, so you can run these before and after making changes to see how well they have worked.
Desktop-replacement laptops typically use fast processors that tend to run hot. This can affect performance because the chip will either be throttled back or shut down altogether if it starts to overheat. You can reduce the risk by making sure there’s good airflow under your laptop, perhaps by standing it on a riser or cooler. You can check the internal temperatures (and many other things) using HWMonitor software. Consult the P500 manual for the maximum operating temperature, which is probably about 95F.
Your machine may be overheating because it has five years’ worth of dust and detritus inside, especially if you’ve used it on carpets or fabrics. If you think this might be contributing to the problem, take the case apart and blow away anything that’s clogging the insides – especially, clean the fan. (A local PC shop could do this for you.)
If the hard drive is still in good condition, then replacing it won’t help. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if a hard drive is failing, but running a hard disk checker such as HD Tune or Crystaldiskinfo will help.
Either way, you could give your P500 a boost by upgrading the hardware in two ways. First, you could expand the memory from 4GB to 8GB. System Scanner software from the Crucial website will tell you your options. Second, you could replace the old 500GB hard drive with a 128GB or 256GB SSD (solid-state drive). That will make your machine much more responsive, though you won’t have as much storage space. However, you can stick the hard drive in an external USB enclosure and still access your old data.
With 8GB or memory and an SSD, your Satellite P500 should run faster than it did when it was new, even with today’s bloated websites.
Software spring clean
You can also try giving your laptop’s software a spring clean. You have probably installed lots of programs over the past five years, and you may have left the bundle of free Toshiba software – Service Station, Toshiba Assist etc – in place. Uninstall the ones you don’t need.
The quickest way to spring-clean your hard drive is to run SlimCleaner. (Use the link that says “Download SlimCleaner Now from SlimWare Utilities” not the one for Download.com.) It will list and rate the software you have installed, clear out old log files etc, and remove unwanted registry entries. Under Disk Tools, it also includes utilities to analyse, defrag, wipe and shred hard drives, plus a duplicate file finder.
In the old days of DOS-based Windows and even Windows XP, the operating system tended to slow down under the weight of accumulated crud. Some of us did clean re-installations every 18-24 months. Happily, that’s not a problem with Windows 7, and I’m still using a five-year-old laptop that hasn’t slowed down. However, you could certainly try re-installing Windows 7.
Your Toshiba should still have the original Windows code on a hidden partition, and a Recovery Media Creator utility that will create two DVDs so that you can take your P500 back to “factory condition”. Bear in mind that you will also have to download a few hundred megabytes of Windows updates and security patches, as well as re-installing all your programs and data files.
Windows Update will automatically install all the updates in the required order in the background, so as not to affect what you’re doing. However, it could take two or three days and will probably require half a dozen or more restarts. At least it’s not 60!
Taking your P500 back to “factory condition” will mean that all the original Toshiba drivers will be re-installed. If this restores your laptop’s performance, I’d stick with those for a while. You can update the drivers (one at a time) later, but be ready to roll back a driver update if it hurts performance.
If the software spring clean doesn’t make a significant difference, then installing more memory is the quickest, cheapest upgrade. After that, consider installing an SSD.
What about Windows 10?
At this stage, I wouldn’t bother re-installing Windows 7: I’d wait until you can do a clean installation with Windows 10, which will be free to Windows 7 users.
In most respects, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 are better operating systems than Windows 7: they’re faster, more secure, run in less memory, and have generally been further optimised and debugged. They also provide the opportunity to run “modern” apps, which are securely sandboxed and controlled in ways that are not possible with old Windows desktop programs. Microsoft Edge (formerly Project Spartan), the fast new not-IE browser, shows what can be done.
Of course, not everyone prefers the Windows 8.1 user interface, especially on systems that don’t have touch screens. However, the Windows 10 user interface has been changed fairly dramatically to make apps much easier to handle with just a mouse and keyboard.
While I think Windows 10 is worth a go, you will need to run the compatibility checker first, when it appears. Also, make sure you have working Windows 7 installation DVDs, so that you can go back to Windows 7 if you don’t like it. Alternatively, you can order Recovery Media from Toshiba’s support website by typing in your laptop’s serial number.
Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com
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Tags: Article, Ask Jack, Computing, Jack Schofield, Laptops, Technology, Windows
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