How to revive an old PC, 5 tricks you need to know

If your old, slow computer makes you want to tear out your hair but your budget won't permit replacing the machine, take heart. Even if you've already upgraded the hardware and performed all maintenance to rule out a malware infection, a few other tweaks may make life with an old PC more bearable.

While the biggest performance boost most often results from hardware upgrades (more RAM and replacing your hard drive with a solid state drive can make a world of difference), bulky software can tax your system's resources. This can lead to slower performance, crashes and errors.

Ditch bloated software: There are some common software culprits that can make even a new PC run slowly. If you're still running anti-virus programs Norton or McAfee, choose a less bulky, free program such as Microsoft Security Essentials. Also, delete toolbars from your browser. More often than not these search "tools" are just malware, tracking your actions and slowing your Web surfing.

Downgrade add-on software: I know -- installing software upgrades usually results in fewer bugs and security holes. While this is definitely the case for most operating system updates, the bulk of software developers design each year's version of their program to be bigger and full of more bells and whistles. Upgrading to the newest version of Photoshop or Microsoft Office, for example, may be more than your system can bear. While it will likely require investing a little time and a few bucks on eBay, downgrading to older software on your old PC can actually result in improved performance. Consider applying this same philosophy to games and entertainment programs -- for example, the original Sims game is a steal and will probably be less frustrating to play than a newer version that crashes and freezes.

Optimize what you use: If you're like most computer users, you probably spend most of your time cruising the Internet. Using a faster browser can make a big difference in your day-to-day ratio of screaming to calm, pleasant Web surfing. Consider exchanging Internet Explorer in favor of Chrome, Firefox or Opera. In addition to weaning off the toolbars, don't get lured in by the shiny personalization promised by plug-ins and extensions. The more stuff your browser has to load when you launch it, the longer it will take for you to get online.

Upgrade your extras: Even if a new computer is out of reach, you may be able to improve the parts that frustrate you the most. Does your DVD drive constantly skip or fail to burn discs? The AmazonBasics USB 2.0 8x DVD Writer is a basic, reliable external drive, available for around $40. Even a few bucks spent to replace your sticky keyboard or mouse can make your computer feel like new, even when your tower hasn't changed a bit.

Take your operating system off the rails: If all else fails and you're desperate to eke another year or two out of your ailing PC, consider replacing your operating system with a leaner, faster, albeit drastically different program. Consider one of the various versions of Linux, like Lubuntu or ArchBang, both of which are known for their snappy performance. Installing a new, radically different OS is a big commitment, but it may allow you to get some more life out of your less spritely machine.

(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair to homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)

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