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7. Lots of ways to juice up the old PC

By Mark Alberstat

Dear Mousepad:

I own an older computer system that I was hoping to upgrade. It's a Celeron 433. Aside from going out and buying a whole new system, what are some ways to make my system better?

Laurie Murray,
Lower Sackville

ONE OF THE most common complaints any PC technician or help-desk person hears is: "My PC is too slow."

That same user was amazed at his or her PC's blinding speed just a couple of years before. But as the programs get upgraded and hungrier, the drives fill up and a neighbour gets a newer and faster model, their PC slows down.

There are a few upgrades that almost anyone can do to help speed up a PC without dropping a couple of thousand dollars on a new high-end machine. Upgrading and tweaking is the name of the game.

The following list of strategies and upgrades to increase your PC's performance is by no means exhaustive. These are some of the most straightforward and easy to accomplish methods.

Free up hard drive space. This is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to increase performance on a sluggish machine. When your drive's capacity approaches or surpasses 90 per cent, your machine slows down.

If you have a CD burner, remove personal files from your drive that you don't use on a regular basis. Don't be afraid to go into the add / remove programs application and take out any programs that you once needed but don't anymore. If you see something there you are not familiar with, it is best to practice safe computing and leave it. That program could be integral in the running of your computer.

Windows also has an automated process that works well. Go to the My Computer icon, right-click on the local disk (C:), choose properties, click on the general tab and then click on the disk cleanup button.

As you load and remove programs, the data on your hard drive become disorganized, and it takes your computer longer to find the needed "cluster" of files. Reorganizing these clusters is called defragmenting.

To do this to your drive, go to the My Computer icon, right-click on the local disk (C:), choose properties, click on the tools tab and then click on the defragment now button. In Windows 95, 98 and Me, a problem with this program is that it stops and restarts when it sees disk activity. Be sure to turn off your screen saver before starting this process. If you are still having difficulties you may want to restart your system in safe mode and then defrag the drive.

Defragmenting a hard drive can take up to a few hours so it might be something to do before you leave for the day and not just before you want to bid on an eBay item 10 minutes before the auction ends.

If you find your games or video images are slow, you should consider upgrading the version of DirectX; a Windows component that knows how to make best use of your computer's graphic components. Chances are you are using an older version. The current release is 9 and can be found at You then choose the version that matches your operating system. The download is free and may just help you kill a few space aliens faster than ever before.

Video drivers are also updated regularly for changes, bugs and OS upgrades. If you know what type of video card you have, you should check the manufacturer's site once in a while to find the latest releases for your particular card.

Upgrading the video card is another way to increase speed. Although not free like the previous upgrade solutions, this option will almost always produce some good results. An upgrade, however, might mean going from an on-board video card to one in a slot. Not all users are comfortable in doing this and if you fit into that category, you could get your friendly neighbourhood PC technician to do the job for you.

While that techie has the cover off, you might consider a RAM upgrade, and we're not talking trucks here. RAM is the memory the computer uses for immediate use. The more RAM the better. The problem with RAM, however, is that there are more types and configurations than you can shake a stick at.

To be sure you are purchasing the correct type, it is probably best to take your PC's booklet to the technician, who can then best advise you. RAM prices go up and down like commodities on the TSE, so sometimes this can be an inexpensive upgrade and other times not.

Whether you choose to clean up your disk or have the hood opened for an upgrade or two, tweaking your PC is rarely time wasted and is often time recovered as your PC will boot up faster and launch programs quicker.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, e-mail If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 27 April 2003


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