How to make your computer run faster and smarter

Image: Brand X Pictures + Hemera | Thinkstock

In my last article I wrote about shopping for a new computer.

I’ll bet some of you went right out and got a really cool new system, and some of you decided to stick with your current computer for the moment.

If you’d like hang on to your existing PC or Mac but need to breathe a bit more life into it, this article is for you. Here are some basic and easy-to-do upgrades that will greatly improve your computer experience.

Adding more space

If your current PC or Mac is running great but you’re running out of storage space, you might just need to add a hard drive. They’ve gotten quite inexpensive! If you fear opening your computer’s case, you can get an external drive that simply plugs into a USB port. A one terabyte drive (1,000 megabytes) costs anywhere from $90 to $170 online.

Speeding up a slow computer

If your PC is running a little slowly, I’d first recommend tuning it up with a program like Norton Utilities. It costs about $60 and allows you to install it on up to three computers. This automates repair and maintenance functions; just tell it to start and the program finds errors and fixes them automatically. It will also clean up leftover temp files that are cluttering up your system and taking up space. This is a great way to avoid system crashes and keep your system running smoothly, and you don’t need to be a computer geek to use it. Just tell the program to clean up your system, and it will.

Adding memory is a great way to speed up any computer. There are many types of memory; knowing all the correct specs for your system can be quite challenging. I recommend getting memory online from This site has an app on it that will check your system and see what type of memory you need. If you use it, Crucial guarantees the memory you buy will be the correct type for your system.

I recommend buying memory in 1GB or 2GB sticks; a computer only has two to four slots for holding memory, so adding it in big chunks allows more memory to be installed with fewer slots used. For example, if your computer has four slots for memory inside and one of them holds a 512MB stick of memory (which is half a gigabyte), it would make more sense to add a 1GB stick rather than two more 512MB sticks. You’ll have the same amount of installed memory when you get through, and you’ll still have two slots open for later expansion if needed. You might even get a 1GB stick for nearly the same price as the smaller size!

Note that we’re talking about system memory here. This is the memory the computer uses to complete tasks and run programs. It’s totally different from storage memory (i.e., a hard drive) that is used to store programs.

Upgrading your monitor

Another great upgrade whether you have a PC or a Mac is a bigger monitor, especially if you’re replacing an older, heavier CRT with a light, sleek, flat-screen LCD monitor. I got a Samsung 24-inch wide-screen monitor a few months ago for about $250 online from It even has a TV tuner built in so it doubles as a desktop HDTV!

These upgrades are easy to perform and can really enhance the performance of your existing computer. Keep in mind that if you think you need to do all three of these upgrades, it might be more cost-effective to just get a new computer. Read my last article for tips on how to do that! If you’re in doubt about what you need, consult a PC expert or visit the Genius Bar at your nearest Mac store.

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