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How to speed up your aging PC

(MoneyWatch)  With tech budgets shrinking both at work and at home , you might not be getting a new computer as frequently as you used to. That means you're probably experiencing some productivity slowdowns.

A computer that once seemed quite zippy can, after a couple of years, start to drag. It's not because the motherboard is rusting, of course. A variety of factors conspire to make computers slow down over time. Here are some things you can do to restore some of the zing to your PC and stave off the need to replace it with a new "quad-core" wonder.

Disable browser add-ons. Over time, various software packages try to install add-ons on your Web browser. Generally, these add-ons do absolutely nothing of value and make the browser run slower. And slower. And slower. Because you spend so much time online these days, a slow browser can make the entire PC feel slow. In Internet Explorer, click the Settings icon (the one that looks like a gear in the upper right corner) and choose Manage add-ons. Scroll down the list and click Disable for any items you don't recognize or want. In general, you can disable virtually everything.

Uninstall or disable startup apps. If your computer takes 10 minutes to boot (I'm not exaggerating -- even if it seems to boot in a minute or two, Windows might still run start-up tasks for another 10 minutes, making everything run as slow as molasses), you have a serious start-up problem. Click start and type MSCONFIG. Then disable all the apps you see there that don't look critical. Do you need the dashboard for your sound card? I doubt it. How about Apple's Bonjour service? Nope. Heck, you don't even need iTunes in your start-up.

Check for spyware. Now we're getting into "malware" territory. It's entirely possible that you have some malicious processes running on your PC which are slowing things down. Are you running anti-malware software? If not, install something like "Microsoft security essentials" or "AVG antivirus."

Clean it. If you have several years' worth of dust caked inside your PC, it might affect the airflow and temperature. That can cause your processor to run in a lower power mode and slow things down. At least once a year, it'd a good idea to turn off your computer, open it up and de-gunk the various fans and heat sinks.

Defragmenting doesn't help. You probably have heard advice like, "keep your hard drive defragged." That's conventional wisdom that dates back to the 1980s, and the conventional wisdom here is wrong. Tests show that defragmenting a hard drive, or essentially reorganizing files, has little-to-no effect on the speed of the drive. That's especially true given today's huge drives, which are far larger than the amount of data you have to store on them. Moreover, if your computer has an a solid state drive), or SSD, defragmenting it can be counterproductive.The bottom line is that defragging is a waste of time or worse, so don't bother.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Zhao

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