How to Fix Your Slow Computer

Snail photo by Pascal van de Vendel

Why is My Computer So Forking Slow?

Working on a slow computer sucks. When your computer starts getting sluggish, it can affect every aspect of your life. Working becomes a slog and you start missing deadlines. You dread opening email —even more than usual. You start using salty language around the children. The dog hasn’t been fed, laundry is piled up everywhere…

Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But working on a slow-as-molasses computer really can affect your work and be a major frustration.

Inigo Montoya walking away saying, "I hate waiting."

Before you throw your laptop off of a cliff, let’s explore what you can do to speed things up.

What’s Going On and How to Speed Up Your System

There can be a lot of reasons your computer is lagging. Maybe it’s just old. Before you regale your laptop to the nursing home, there are things you can check on and improve. Go through the sections below and see if you can bump up your speed with some magic tricks.

Working in the Cloud?

If you do a lot of your work in the cloud or over the internet, that’s the first thing you should check. There are free services on the web that will test your connection speed. Try It will even detect if some services have known slowdowns or outages.

screenshot of internet speed test showing 127.4 Mbps download and 10.97 Mbps upload

If your internet speed looks good (anything over 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload is solid), then you need to check the service you’re using. For example, if you’re working in Google Drive or OneDrive, are there known outages or slowdowns?

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to speed up a server you don’t control. You just have to wait. But hey, at least you know it’s not you.

Is it Too Hot?

To run at its best, your computer needs to be cool. The hotter your processor (CPU) gets, the slower it runs. It’s a built-in failsafe to protect itself from getting completely borked. When you hear your computer’s fan get loud, that means the CPU is working hard and needs cool air. That’s fine — it’s supposed to work that way. But there are things you can do to make sure it can get the fresh air it needs.

  • Keep the vents clear! Don’t use your laptop on a blanket where it can sink in and block the vents. You might be cozy, but your laptop can’t breathe. If you must work in bed, use a lap desk or slip a piece of cardboard under your computer.
  • Dust the vents periodically. Even the cleanest person sheds tiny scales of skin. Eww, I know. But those little dust particles build up over time and get sucked into your computer vents. Get a little mini air blower and use it every week or so.
  • Don’t use your computer in the sun or a hot room. This may be hard to avoid, but if you can’t avoid working in a hot place, run a fan pointed at your computer.
Photo of computer vent caked in dust
You’re better than this.

Is Your Drive Too Full?

A full drive can slow down your performance. A good rule of thumb is to stay under 80% of the total space available on the drive. Anything more can cause slowdowns, and sometimes crashes.

How to check your drive space:


Click the folder icon in the Taskbar, or open it using Ctrl+N. In the left sidebar, scroll down to Local Disk (C:). Right click and select Properties. You’ll see your Used space and Free space displayed in a new window. If you like, you can click Disk Cleanup and see how much space you can save. This handy tool will help you clear out unnecessary files.

screenshot of Windows Local Disk storage

Mac OS

Click the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your Mac’s toolbar, then About this Mac. Now click the More Info… button. This will give you all kinds of info about your system. Scroll down to Storage, and look at Macintosh HD. This will show you what’s available and what’s used.

screenshot of Mac About screen

If your drive is too full, delete files you don’t need (check your Recycle Bin and Downloads folders). If you still need more space, move files to cloud storage or get an external drive with lots of room.

Do You Need to Optimize Your Storage?

Even if you remove files and free up storage, you may still need to optimize what’s left on your drive. This can give you a boost as well.

Windows Optimization

In the olden days, it was common to run a defragmentation process on a regular basis. These days you don’t need to do this very often — in fact, if you have a Solid State Drive (SSD), you should never do it. But if you have a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), you can. How to tell if you have a SSD or HDD.

The good news is that if you’re using Windows 10 or 11, the system has a scheduled optimization that works automatically in the background. But it’s possible that your computer hasn’t been running long enough to let it finish the job. You can check this by entering defragment into the Windows Taskbar Search, then opening Optimize Drives. This will tell you if your drive needs any optimization.

Mac OS Optimization

Lucky you! If you have a newer Mac (2002 or later), you don’t have to do anything. Mac OS keeps your system optimized without your help.

Don’t fall into the trap of buying an app that will help you “clean” your Mac. Most of them are a waste of money. However, Clean My Mac X does a great job at removing apps and all the secret files that go along with them. That can help reduce your storage significantly.

Replacing your HDD or SSD

If your drive is too small for your needs and you’ve already extended it, you might consider replacing it. As drives age, the more data they write and erase, and the slower they get. Even an SSD that has no moving parts can “wear out” over time. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you can hire someone to do it for you.

Not Enough RAM

RAM is the thing that determines how many processes you can have running at the same time. The more RAM you have, the more apps you can have open. If you have lots of RAM, you can easily run Spotify, chat in Discord, and play Steam games at the same time. If you have very little RAM, you will wait a while for windows to switch and apps to open.

In the ‘90s, we had 500MB of RAM and thought it was a lot. Today, you will have trouble using any computer with less than 4GB of RAM. The latest computers start out with 16GB of RAM. Still, 8GB of RAM is fine for web browsing, email, word processing, and some graphics apps. Just don’t expect to do any video editing or gaming with 8GB and not be staring at the wall for minutes on end.

Here’s how to check how much RAM you have:


In the Taskbar Search, type RAM. Then click View RAM info. Look for Installed RAM.

Mac OS

As you did with Storage, click the Apple icon, then select About this Mac. You’ll see the amount of RAM you have in the window that pops up.

Can I Get More RAM?

Possibly — it depends on your computer. Computers have an upper limit of how much RAM you can have. If you have an older computer, you might be stuck with 4GB or 8GB.

For newer computers you can buy bigger RAM chips, or modules, and install them. It’s not too difficult, but if you’ve never done it before you should follow a good quality guide, like on ifixit will even help you figure out if you can upgrade your RAM on your particular machine.

If you are thinking, “No way am I cracking open my computer,” then you can always hire someone to upgrade your RAM for you. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

A note about newer Apple laptops: In the last few years, Apple has started soldering RAM to the motherboard. That means that you can no longer upgrade — you have to choose the right amount of RAM when you buy it. It also means tons of electronic waste down the line when they become obsolete and can’t be repaired or upgraded. Isn’t Apple awesome?

Is Your Processor Old?

The processor is like your computer’s brain. It talks to the hardware and runs every process — even the ones you don’t see. The more powerful the processor, the faster it can think, and you can probably guess what that means.

On most machines, the processor is plugged into the motherboard rather than soldered. That means that it can be replaced. However, you may also need a whole new motherboard that’s compatible — not to mention new RAM. If this sounds like a nightmare, then it might be time to spring for a new computer. Sorry.

Want to know what processor your computer has? It’s pretty easy. On many PCs, there’s a sticker that will tell you. For example, on my Dell Latitude 3340 laptop, there’s a sticker by the keyboard that says Intel Core i3. So look for that first.

If there’s no sticker or designation on the outside, you can look up your machine’s information, like you did with your RAM. In Windows under System→About, it verifies I have an Intel Core i3.

On a Mac, under Apple→About this Mac→Chip it says I have an M1 processor.

Your computer will give you all kinds of info about itself, you just have to know where to look.

How do you know if your processor is a newer one or older one? It’s tricky. Manufacturers are coming out with faster CPUs (processors) every year. For example, if you bought a laptop a few years ago and sprung for an Intel Core Duo i7, then it will keep up with the pack longer than if you bought one with an Intel Core i3.

Intel has a great guide on checking their CPUs, and you can compare yours to the latest ones.

Is it Faster Yet?

Even if you do all the things listed above (with the exception of a new processor), your computer might chug along sometimes like it’s got peanut butter in the works (Hmm, maybe that’s another thing to check). As computers get older, they get slower. It’s a fact of life, like old 80s bands playing in casinos.

If you decide it’s time for a whole new computer, please don’t throw away the old one!

Featured Image by Pascal van de Vendel on Unsplash

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