Learn what might be ailing your laptop and how to speed it back up.
Matt ElliottSenior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
If your old laptop is starting to show its age, there can be any number of issues affecting its performance. Here are five likely culprits for why your laptop is running so frustratingly slow and five solutions to return it to its former glory.
1. Spinning hard drive
I speak from experience when I say moving from a traditional spinning hard drive to a solid-state drive (SSD) is the best thing you can do to revive an old laptop. Without needing locate data on a spinning platter, an SSD is inherently faster than a mechanical hard drive.
If your laptop has lost a step and uses a spinning hard drive, the first thing I would do is upgrade to an SSD. I replaced my
's hard drive a few years ago with a
Samsung 850 EVO
SSD and my MacBook Pro felt like a brand-new machine. It's a fairly easy procedure (see how to replace a MacBook Pro's hard drive), and SSDs have come down in price and up in capacity over the years. You can get a 256GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD for less than $100, and
now offers the 850 EVO SSD as big as 2TB. Your laptop could conceivably get both better performance and bigger capacity with the addition of an SSD.
2. Crowded hard drive
The more files and applications you collect, the more cluttered your hard drive becomes. The more cluttered your hard drive becomes, the harder it becomes for your laptop to locate the data you request. The harder it becomes for your laptop to locate the data you request, the slower your laptop runs. The slower your laptop runs, the more frustrated you get. The more frustrated you get, you more you turn to
for answers. The more you turn to Google for answers, the more likely you land on this article to help you speed up your slow laptop. Hi, there!
If your laptop already has an SSD or you don't want to replace its spinning drive, you can still speed up your laptop by cleaning up its hard drive, removing files and applications you no longer need.
On a Windows laptop, open Control Panel and click Uninstall a program. You can simply select apps from the list and click Uninstall to remove them and all of their associated files.
Macs lack an uninstaller program, so you'll need to turn to third-party apps such as AppCleaner or AppZapper to uninstall apps and all the installation files that came with them. Dragging an app from the Applications folder to the trash leaves behind these associated files.
After culling your applications, it's a good idea on both Windows and Mac
to go through your Downloads folder and delete the installer packages and files sitting there you no longer need.
3. Short on RAM
Another cheap and easy upgrade to make to a sluggish laptop is the addition of more RAM. Your laptop's CPU can access data faster from its RAM than its hard drive or SSD, so the more more RAM it has, the more data it can store there for quick access.
Adding more RAM is straightforward for both Macs and Windows laptops. In fact, it'll probably take you longer to find the type and amount of RAM that's right for your laptop than it will to open your laptop and physically add the RAM and close your laptop back up.
, go to Apple menu > About This Mac and click the Memory tab to see information about the type of memory your Mac is using and if there are any free memory slots. See how to add RAM to a MacBook Pro.
, open the Task Manager, click the Performance tab and then click Memory. Here, you'll see the speed of your laptop's memory and how many memory slots are in use.
4. Too much multitasking
You can speed up your laptop without opening it up and adding new hardware simply by asking it to do less. If by lunchtime you have multiple apps running and dozens of browser tabs open, then you might be asking your laptop to do more than it can handle. Your laptop's performance will improve (and its cooling fans might stop spinning) if you cut back on multitasking. Quit apps you aren't using and close the tabs you don't need open.
To take out the guesswork about which apps are using the most system resources, both MacOS and Windows offer utilities that show you the amount of strain each app is currently placing your CPU, memory, disk and network. In Windows, open the Task Manager. In MacOS, open the Activity Monitor. Both utilities show the percentage of system resources currently being consumed and offer buttons to quit apps so that your laptop can reallocate those resources.
5. Not staying current
Updates to MacOS and Windows can include new features along with enhancements to improves security and performance. It's a good idea to keep your laptop current by downloading and installing updates as Apple and Microsoft release them.
Windows 10 automatically downloads and installs updates, though you can set active hours so that an update doesn't begin in the middle of your work day. You can also manually check for updates by going to Settings > Windows Update.
You can enable automatic updates on MacOS by going to System Preferences > App Store and checking the box for Automatically check for updates. There is also a check box to automatically install MacOS updates; if you don't check it, you'll be notified when an update has been downloaded and is ready to install. There is also a Check Now button on this App Store panel to manually check for updates.