Help me strip my laptop down to an ancient email checking machine
February 6, 2013 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a six year old hp pavillion laptop. It is slow and often infuriating. However, I don't use it for anything too demanding so I figure there are better things I could spend my money on than a shiny new computer. Help me figure out how to make my computer spend it's energy doing what I need it to do and nothing more.

more specifically it is a pavillion dv6000, I think 512mb of RAM, a very small hard drive (~30gb I think), windows xp. I defragment and do that space-cleaning thing on the control panel regularly. I've tried to uninstall the programs I don't use.

What I use it for:
-general web surfing-- metafilter, facebook, gmail etc
-netflix and hulu
-very basic office stuff-- open office, acrobat reader
-at the moment I have about 10gbs of music on it but have moved all my documents and photos etc to an external hard drive/online storage. Would it make any difference if I removed the music?

-How can I make sure it's only running the programs and processes that need to be running?
-What is the best browser for this situation-- currently use Chrome.
-What is the best (free) antivirus program for my ancient computer-- currently have Avast.
-I have trouble with audio stuttering sometimes-- anything specific I can do about that?
-What else can I do?

(I realize it will have to be replaced soon, I just don't see the need to do it until it bursts into flames or something.)
posted by geegollygosh to Technology (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If i were you I'd look at options like this:

Runs with very little system resources, designed for machines like yours.
posted by irishcoffee at 7:40 PM on February 6, 2013

Upgrading the RAM will make it seem like a whole new computer. You can get 2GB for around $25, maybe less.

Deleting the music won't make the computer faster, but it will free up some disk space.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:41 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am using Ubuntu 10.04.4 LTS on an even older laptop. At the moment I can't do a RAM upgrade but that's next. Click here and scroll down to the very bottom. Download wubi.exe and follow instructions.

You don't have to obliterate can start up with either OS.

The newer versions of Ubuntu (11, 12) and all the readily accessible Lubuntu versions are too slow on this old computer. I cannot easily burn CDs or get a flash drive. Web install it is. So if you need quick and dirty, no investment, 10.04 is what I recommend.

My other OS is XP, as in your case. Over there I use mostly Chrome and OpenOffice, but I have basically stopped using Windows on this computer. The mouse pointer is faster on Ubuntu...clearly it's less processor-heavy.

Again, if you can easily burn CDs, you can try many more options (Mint among them).
posted by skbw at 8:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Upgrade the RAM as high as you can.
posted by radioamy at 8:15 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're running Windows, Black Viper has a lot of tweaks you can do to speed your computer up by shutting down hidden services and the like.

You may want to do a full reformat and reinstallation of whatever version of Windows is on there so you can start fresh. At the very least defragment your hard drive.

I have done the "Convert old computer to Linux" thing with the hopes that I can learn Linux in the meantime and it did not work out well for me. Unless you know Linux, or don't mind not being able to immediately do Netflix/Hulu because you are trying to figure out how to install codecs or whatever I suggest going for the reinstallation of Windows first.
posted by schroedinger at 8:29 PM on February 6, 2013

2nding upgrade the RAM and install an older version of worked for me on a similar Pavilion desktop.
posted by sninctown at 8:46 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with schroedinger to do a reformat and reinstallation. My dad does it every single year on his computer (I'm not organized to do so), and in doing so, he's kept even computers old as 8 years old running incredibly fast.
posted by Conspire at 8:59 PM on February 6, 2013

I used to own one of those, and I'm not sure the RAM can be upgraded. I think it's already holding all it can take.

The best free antivirus program is Microsoft Security Essentials. It also doesn't load down your computer much.

To find out how much cruft is being run, the best solution is Microsoft Autoruns. But be careful: you can cut your throat with it, because it will allow you to turn off things which are essential. And you have to be administrator to use it.

That computer is a snail; don't get your hopes up too much about performance increases.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:00 PM on February 6, 2013

My take is that the less you screw around with, the better.

I had the same computer- It never struck me as sluggish: It wasn't a 12-core Xeon, but I played Left 4 Dead and Portal on it, no problem- and this was with an upgrade to Windows 7.

The difference between yours and mine seems to be the RAM spec. 512MB of RAM is almost certainly what's holding your back. I would buy 2GB of RAM and see what happens- I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:11 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have never wiped and reinstalled, that would be my first suggestion for a cost-free option. Back up everything that needs backing up, format the drive and reinstall XP, start fresh.

Keep in mind that device drivers for an machine that old may be a little harder to get, if they proprietary. If you have the original driver disc that came with it, that would be good, or you can check the manufacturer website and see if they're still available there before you begin.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:20 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, I love Linux, but it's probably not the right solution for you. It's not easy at all to get Netflix working under Linux these days.
posted by vasi at 9:30 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

It seems unlikely that 512 mb of RAM is the max this computer can take (although you may need to take out two sticks of RAM that are in it and replace them entirely, instead of just adding new sticks.) You can use the tool at to figure out what RAM is compatible with that computer. You don't need to buy it there; that will just give you a sense of what is compatible.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:01 PM on February 6, 2013

Personally, I'd stay away from Linux. I tried Ubuntu but got bogged down in complications for "compiling drivers" and other things that didn't work. There are loads of help forums, and Linux people seem to be great but I just found it way too complicated installing it on an old machine.

I used this Optimize XP guide, which I found pretty helpful. Not sure if you need to turn off all the services they suggest though.

I'd use Microsoft's own AntiVirus - Microsoft Security Essentials as suggested above. Works fine for me

For a browser, I'd go for Opera and use it's turbo feature which pre-compresses images, it's also got flash blocks pre-installed, which will help an old PC run smoothly.

Finally, use foxit reader instead of adobe reader, which is a massive resource hog.
posted by guy72277 at 1:17 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also had an old laptop which ran Win XP and it began to run slowly. Since I use it so rarely, I wiped it and installed Linux. I run Firefox on it and have only had to upgrade the Flash plugin once. I'm fairly happy with it now and do all the things you mention wanting to do, save Hulu/Netflix, but will still be looking to replace it with something like a Chromebook or other netbook once I get more money because the mechanical parts of the laptop are just wearing out.

Sometimes, you can't save the patient, no matter what you do.
posted by TrishaLynn at 2:14 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others have said, increasing the memory is a totally worthwhile exercise, to get the most life out of your laptop. Looking up your model on (there were several dv8000 models apparently) it will run you about $75 for 2x 1Gb sticks.

As said above, a fresh install of Windows XP is also in order. Especially if you have the original OS, the original manufacturer installs a lot of programs that may have residual processes, and a reinstall with a clean version will sort that all out.

Using Chrome is best in terms of speed and efficiency.

Microsoft Security Essentials is the way to go for antivirus on Windows nowadays.

The RAM will help with the stuttering - currently the small amount you have is forcing the HD to do all the work.

Not installing Adobe Reader is a good thing - Foxit Reader or another alternative commercial package (I use Nitro PDF) to avoid the bloated thing that Reader has become.

You also might look into replacing the HD while you are at it with the memory - it might be another $65 for 80Gb via Amazon, and while you have it open and are reinstalling Windows anyway it will yield several more years of use, without resorting to waiting until the flames burst out!

YMMV with the ultimate life of the laptop, and save the incremental $130 here for RAM and HD improvements and put it toward the replacement. (Amazing what kind of specials you can get on laptops nowadays.)
posted by scooterdog at 3:45 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm using Puppy Linux on a laptop purchased new in 2004. It functions perfectly well as a web / email machine. I'd go with Xubuntu or Lubuntu, either can be booted of a USB drive to test for compatibility before installing.
posted by COD at 5:21 AM on February 7, 2013

Further, Ubuntu now has a Neflix app in the repositories that just worked for me. It's running under Wine, but it installs everything you need. One click and I was watching Netflix on my Linux desktop.
posted by COD at 5:33 AM on February 7, 2013

-How can I make sure it's only running the programs and processes that need to be running?

Try Soluto. It's a program made by a startup that helps your computer run faster by eliminating unnecessary programs from starting when your computer starts and things like that. I liked it pretty well.

Also Nthing more RAM and reinstalling windows.
posted by zug at 7:16 AM on February 7, 2013

The Netflix thing is what makes it tricky as--as others have pointed out-it can temperamental on Linux. Otherwise Linux is the clear choice, as it is available in various tiny configurations that bring new life to old hardware.

I use JoliCloud on my old Dell. It's a bit like Chrome OS in that it's all web app based. It's easy, fast, and stable.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:53 AM on February 7, 2013

Max the RAM and then either install Linux, or if you don't want to go that route, wipe the hard drive completely and install stock XP plus a minimal set of drivers for that machine (i.e. do not under any circumstances use the crapware-laden "restore" discs). Unfortunately, getting an un-crapwared copy of Windows can be a pain; eBay is probably the cheapest legitimate route. Or ... arr, matey.

XP without any cruft or overbearing antivirus stuff installed is pretty fast, basically on par with Linux + Xfce. However, it slows down very quickly if you aren't careful about what you install, and it's a bit of a virus magnet if you're not careful. I've yet to find an antivirus that wasn't terrible, to be honest, and as a result I just treat XP installations only slightly less disposable than Kleenex.

Though I do think the virus/malware risk can be pretty effectively mitigated if you keep the machine behind a firewall all the time (never take it outside your house), use a modern browser (don't even think about opening IE6/7 except to download another browser), are extremely careful about email attachments and phishing attacks, have diversified passwords, and generally heed malware warnings given by recent versions of Chrome or Firefox. I'm not sure I'd want to do any online banking on it,* or load up a master-password-keeper like LastPass, but I'd probably use a machine like that for light browsing and entertainment without losing much sleep.

* Particularly if the OS' provenance is less than immaculate.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:11 AM on February 7, 2013

Lots of people recommending Linux. I don't think this is going to help, unless your goal is to learn Linux. XP is actually pretty fast and efficient with memory---much less bloated than a modern desktop Linux distribution---and the option of installing a stripped down Linux is going to be a serious culture shock and headache unless you're already familiar with it. I say this as someone who's been using Linux as a primary OS for a decade.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:14 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Linux doesn't have to be a chore, particularly when your needs for it are basic. I installed JoliCloud from USB stick onto an old netbook, logged in using Facebook, entered my WiFi password and was done.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2013

Like many of the others that have chimed in, I've used a linux install in situations like this with very good results. You need just a touch of computer nerdery to do it and be comfortable with it, but not much. I say go for it.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:09 AM on February 7, 2013

Crucial reckons you can upgrade to 2GB using 2 x 1GB DDR PC2-5300 sticks. Some website called Specbox also seems to confirm it. Crucial quotes $38 but you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere.

That will make a big difference because if your laptop runs out of memory (which with that little, it will), Windows will use the hard drive as swap, which will make the drive thrash, the laptop slow down (since HD access is slower than memory access) and also reduce the battery life (thanks to all the HD thrashing). You'll see a major difference.

I'd also recommend a re-install of Windows, there are plenty of Q&A's on here which explain the steps but I would recommend backing up your drivers using Double Driver. This ensures that when you re-install, you install only the stuff you need and not the crufty helper applications that these come bundled with.

Also, Microsoft Security Essentials for the virus checker.
posted by mr_silver at 8:56 AM on February 8, 2013

Even Windows XP will bloat after 6 years. Format and reinstall it and it will seem like a brand new computer.

Removing the music will not help as hard drive space isn't an issue when it comes to speed (unless you have zero space remaining).

Re your questions --

-How can I make sure it's only running the programs and processes that need to be running?

Go to Start > Run > type in "msconfig". This will allow you to control what processes run on startup.

I can't recall exactly what it looks like on XP (I use Windows 7) but you should be able to select something that looks like "Selective startup" and then turn off programs you don't want running when you turn on your computer. I'd recommend leaving the Windows/Microsoft services alone, and turning off everything else.

-What is the best browser for this situation-- currently use Chrome.

Chrome is fine. I'd recommend also running Adblock and maybe FlashBlock to keep things running fast.

-What is the best (free) antivirus program for my ancient computer-- currently have Avast.
Microsoft Security Essentials. Free, well-integrated, and it works perfectly fine. (Assuming you practice basic internet safety practices, don't download dodgy stuff, etc.)
posted by Xany at 8:21 PM on March 9, 2013

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