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Speed up your old computer

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

You can drink four cups of coffee and get a shower in the time it takes your computer to start. When it finally boots, trying to get anything done feels like you're moving through molasses.

Try these tricks to speed up your machine. Your wallet will thank you!

• Free up and optimize hard disk space

A hard drive that's nearly full will slow down your computer. First, get rid of temporary Internet and Windows files with the free program CCleaner.

Then, in Start>>Control Panel, run Disk Defragmenter (Optimize Drives in Windows 8) to consolidate fragmented files and folders, and speed up reading and writing to the disk. Also run the Error Checking utility, which scans the drive for bad sectors and file system errors.

If you're still close to your hard drive's storage limit, consider moving your photo, video or music library to an external drive. Use a free disk-visualizing program such as WinDirStat to see what other applications and files are taking up the most space.

Two more free programs help. Grab Revo Uninstaller to thoroughly remove any programs you don't use anymore. Zap trial software and other unwanted bloatware with PC Decrapifier.

• Speed up startup

If you can afford it, installing a solid-state hard drive will make your older PC like new again.

SSDs boot up and launch apps in a flash compared to conventional HDDs. You can install one in a second storage bay. If you can live without an optical DVD/CD drive, that can be removed and replaced with an SSD, too. Of course, it will set you back a bit. A 128GB drive costs about $120.

• Increase RAM

If you only have 1 or 2GB of RAM and do a lot of multitasking, upping your RAM to 4GB is a sensible upgrade.

When programs and files in current use fill up your available RAM, the computer processor has to read data from the much slower hard disk.

• Boost browsing

A slow Internet connection is just as frustrating as a slow computer. The fix for that could be as simple as dumping Internet Explorer for the more nimble Firefox or Chrome.

Getting rid of junky toolbars will streamline your browsing. You do this manually in the browser add-on settings, or use a program such as Toolbar Cleaner.

If you suspect the problem is in your wireless network, first check that the Internet speed you're getting is as fast as what you're paying for. Speedtest.net is a great service will give your Internet connection a quick speed test.

You can tweak your router's settings to eliminate slowdowns and bottlenecks.

• Use faster software

Free, open-source software programs not only save you a bundle of money, they're often leaner and faster than their bloated commercial counterparts.

Dump Adobe Reader for Foxit Reader or Sumatra to breeze through PDF documents. GIMP has most of the features and power of Photoshop without being a resource hog. Replace Microsoft Office and Outlook with LibreOffice and Thunderbird and watch your productivity take flight. Try VLC instead of Windows Media Player.

• Remove pesky spyware, viruses

In addition to compromising your privacy, spyware and viruses will bog down your PC's performance. Combat this by scanning your machine.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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