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Can I make my PC faster for free?

My PC was quick when I bought it, but now it crawls. What can I do to make it faster without spending any money?

My PC was fairly quick when I bought it a couple of years ago, but it has since slowed to a crawl. I'm a student, so money is a bit tight at the moment. Is there anything I can do to make it go faster without spending any cash?

Lindsey Bickerton

Assuming you're a Windows PC user, there are several things you can do to make your PC faster without spending a penny. Windows XP is a fantastic operating system, but like everything in life, it needs a little maintenance to keep it in top condition.

The first step you should take is to download the latest software updates for Windows XP from Microsoft Windows Update, as these often contain vital security and performance fixes. Once you've done this, you should remove any unnecessary software. We're all guilty of hoarding applications we don't ever use, and these can put a strain on the speed at which your PC starts or operates.

Use the Add/Remove Applications wizard in the Windows Control Panel to get rid of superfluous programs, then defragment your hard drive, as this can increase the speed at which your PC locates and opens files, and reduces those annoying crunchy hard drive seek noises. To do this, just open My Computer, right click the C: drive, click 'Properties', and hit 'Disk Cleanup'.

Next, you should get rid of any malware (spyware, adware and viruses) that may have accumulated without your knowledge. Grisoft AVG Free Edition is a fantastic virus remover, and it's completely free from our CNET.co.uk Downloads channel. Spyware can be removed by using a tool such as Spyware Interrogator Tech Edition, which is also available from the CNET.co.uk Downloads channel.

Another important consideration is the state of your Windows Registry. This part of XP records information and settings for all the hardware, software and user preferences of your PC. Over time, the registry can gather invalid entries that cause system complications and speed reductions. One way of speeding things up is to clean the registry with an application such as RemoveIT Pro XT - SE, again available from our Downloads channel.

If you can make a cup of tea in the time it takes to boot your PC, you should trim the fat off your Windows startup procedure. Programs that start automatically when you boot your PC are usually a hog on system resources, but they aren't always critical. We suggest you stop them from starting at the same time as your PC. To do this, click the Start button in Windows, followed by Run, then type 'MSCONFIG' into the dialogue box and hit 'OK'.

This will launch the System Configuration Utility. Click the Startup tab to see which programs start at boot time, and uncheck the boxes of applications that aren't essential to you. We recommend you do this in small batches and test your PC to see if any problems are encountered, rather than removing everything in one huge batch. If you're not sure what's what, feel free to disable them anyway -- when you reboot and find something doesn't work as expected, you can always re-enable the offending item.

You can also disable Windows Services from the Services tab of MSCONFIG. Identifying their importance is a lot more difficult than choosing Startup applications, but fewer processes usually means faster performance. Again, ensure you disable services in small batches and test your PC as you go along.

If you've followed our guide and still want more speed, you could consider overclocking your PC. In most cases you'll need to be very confident with a PC to attempt something like this. If you have the expertise, or know someone who has, the results can be worthwhile, but do note that in some cases this voids the warranty of your PC.