Make computer run faster
April 7, 2010 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Please help me make this computer run faster. It's running Windows XP, and I'll tell you everything else I know inside.

This is for my husband's birthday. He built his computer 4-5 years ago and it's running slowly like crap. He's mentioned rebuilding the thing and I'd like to get him some of the component parts. I assume I need to upgrade the CPU and/or RAM. My husband is a hardware expert, but I'd like to keep this a surprise and not ask him for help. He's too busy to read Mefi right now so he won't see this but don't tell him pls kthx.

Here's the current specs:
AMD Sempron (m) 2600+
1.60 GHz, 1 GB RAM

And his video card, if that has anything to do with anything:
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5500

He's not much of a gamer anymore so it doesn't need to be able to support the latest and greatest HALO 5 or whatever. But since he knows exactly what he's looking at, I'd like to get him something decent.

I'll answer any other questions if you tell me where to find the answers. I have the admin password if necessary. I'm extremely reluctant to take it apart.
posted by desjardins to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Lifehacker has links to an article on how to determine what kind of memory does my computer have. Using this information you can buy some more RAM (probably $50-$75).
posted by mmascolino at 6:29 AM on April 7, 2010

When a Windows computer is running like crap, my first instinct is to run malware checks (using Spybot and then a pass with Malwarebytes) and then defrag the C: drive (there are a bunch of utilities that do this well, and for free). should have recommendations on which programs to use, as well. Opening up the case and using canned air to get rid of dust and hair is essential, too.
posted by jtron at 6:36 AM on April 7, 2010

I dunno what you're looking at spending, but new systems that are easily double or triple the spec of that computer start at around $400. You might consider just getting him a new box all the way around, unless you know he wants to spend some "fiddling" time with his old one.

I'll give you my experiences, having modded many a box, and upgrading a few. I'm no expert by any means, but I'm comfortable elbows deep in components. I say that after starting one of those "well...I'll just upgrade the video card" journeys that ended up with me learning how to solder. I'm just saying...upgrades can snowball. Heh.

The thing is, when you try to upgrade boxes that are 4-5 years back, you can run into problems if you don't know core specs like what power supply is in there, how much of it's power is being used for the main circuits, how much power can it shoot to a video card. Modern video cards are power whores.

Upgrading things like the processor is not for the weak at heart, unless you're upgrading the entire board, in which's easy. But you'll need to know chassis size, and where the holes are for ports and whatnot, so you get one that fits.

Upgrading ram is pretty simple, assuming the computer has upgradable slots. However, you'll need to know the size of the PCB, as some are different sizes, whether it's single or double sided, and how many slots it has. But if you have the make and model of the computer, the parts guy at the computer store can look it up for you.

RAM is probably the easiest and cheapest upgrade and one least likely to cause any other hardware issues.
posted by dejah420 at 6:45 AM on April 7, 2010

Seconding the recommendation for more RAM. It's a piece of cake to install if you want to try doing it yourself.

Otherwise, he's due for a new CPU/Motherboard. I just replaced the CPU, Motherboard, and RAM on a very similar system, and spent about $250 for a very nice set of components. Not top-of-the-line, mind you... but definitely enough to get me through another 4 years.

Alternatively, you could just get him a NewEgg gift card. I'd be somewhat apprehensive about dumping more money into this setup.
posted by schmod at 6:46 AM on April 7, 2010

Best answer: I think you'd do best with a Newegg gift card. Honestly. I love to tinker with my machine. If my wife got me new parts, there's a good chance that she wouldn't know about some of the weird requirements (for me, extra PCI express x16 for my RAID scratch disk) that I have, but I'd keep and use the parts, but they wouldn't be what I knew would work best, but i wouldn't want to hurt her feelings.
posted by notsnot at 6:51 AM on April 7, 2010

I agree with the giftcard sentiment. As a fellow hardware dork that's built up a lot of computers, I found that picking out the parts was 90% of the fun. I suspect that he's probably got a pretty good idea of what he build given the time and money -- maybe you could clear him on the money part (up to a certain amount) and let him go nuts?

If that's out of the question, then it would help to know what kind of mainboard the computer has so that we can figure out what upgrades it'll support. CPU-Z ( is a good app for this: run it on his machine and note the mainboard vendor and model. (Don't forget to remove it when you're finished!)
posted by JohnFredra at 6:55 AM on April 7, 2010

More RAM, and the cheapest "in place" upgrade would be going from a Sempron to a full Athlon CPU.

Also, I have a GeForce 6600 video card with a nice brand new Zalman heatsink/fan that I would be willing to give you for free, just send me your address.
posted by mrbill at 7:03 AM on April 7, 2010

On preview: yeah, what the other folks said. Buying him parts probably won't work. But I'd much rather get something else in the sentiment of your original idea than a gift card. What about a secondary-type PC? I've wanted a Shuttle barebones system to play with forever, but it's not the kind of thing I'd buy for myself. That could turn into the foundation of his next computer, or a media center PC, or any number of things. Or how about a netbook? I'm pretty sure most netbooks are at least as powerful as that computer, don't cost much more than a CPU + RAM upgrade would, and would give him something new and portable with which to research a desktop build.
posted by McBearclaw at 7:04 AM on April 7, 2010

For a drop-in upgrade, this CPU will work and be LOTS faster (2.2Ghz vs 1.6, and 4x the L2 cache):

This is assuming that the current CPU is a Socket 754; I can't find any info that the Sempron 2600+ came in anything but that packaging.
posted by mrbill at 7:14 AM on April 7, 2010

First thing: run MSConfig and turn off whatever services and startup programs there that are not being actually useful. Hard part: you'll need to Google the names of the services and startup programs to evaluate their usefulness. Hardware and software vendors tend to add (silently) a lot of cruft that just use RAM for nothing. Also, some antivirus are abominable resource hogs.
posted by elgilito at 7:17 AM on April 7, 2010

It isn't as if the hardware gets slower over time. His installation of Windows is the problem. Windows does tend to slow down over time for the average user. Zero out the hard drive and reinstall everything fresh. This will make it as fast as the day he built it.

Also RAM. Upgrade the RAM. That's easy.
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:27 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll echo the previous statement that for less than the cost of upgrading you can get a new machine for a few hundred bucks.
posted by k8t at 8:09 AM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: If I didn't know better, I'd think notsnot was my husband's sockpuppet, because that's exactly how my husband would react. A new machine will have to wait a bit, so I'll come up with something else in the meantime.
posted by desjardins at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2010

In my IT world, "rebuild" can mean reinstalling all software, esp. the Operating System, not necessarily the hardware. On a machine older than 4 years, the usual hardware recommendation is RAM. Newegg gift cert. is a good plan. Or, since he's busy, start the machine, press F2 or whatever the key is to get into the BIOS, check the specs for what kind of RAM, whether there are empty slots for RAM. Then upgrade to 4 gig RAM.

His response will be: ++++AAAA++++ ##1 wife, would marry again
posted by theora55 at 8:39 AM on April 7, 2010

As far as optimizing services, Black Viper's guide helps a great deal. And msconfig isn't really the best choice for service config usually. Fine for other startup items, though.
posted by MrFish at 8:42 AM on April 7, 2010

Zero out the hard drive and reinstall everything fresh. This will make it as fast as the day he built it.

Um, this advice? Danger, Will Robinson! Do not undertake this advice unless you know everything about where his files and drivers are stored and can replicate them exactly on a fresh install. This is to keep your loving sentiment of "Honey, I love you; I fixed your computer so it runs better!" :D from turning into: "Honey, I love you but I um, tried to fix your computer to run better and now it's not working at all...." :(
posted by Lynsey at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: His response will be: ++++AAAA++++ ##1 wife, would marry again

Hell, I get that if I do his laundry. He's easy to please.

But seriously, people, I think I am going to take up a collection amongst family members and see if I can get him a new machine altogether. And let him pick it out. Thanks though, I've learned a lot!
posted by desjardins at 9:15 AM on April 7, 2010

For reference, the free utility System Information for Windows (SIW) is a really easy way to tell pretty much anything about a windows machine.

You can use it to see what hardware and software is installed as well as a lot of other technical details.

Also it doesn't need to be installed to run. I usually keep a copy on my carry-around thumb drive and have used it many times on friends computers to diagnose problems.
posted by Chickenjack at 4:52 AM on April 8, 2010

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