How do I make my 2-year old Dell Inspiron 2500 run faster?
May 31, 2004 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Is there any way to make my laptop run faster? Two-year old Dell Inspiron 2500, Win XP, some Celeron craptastic processor, 256 meg RAM (max). My computer expertise: 3 o/o 10, which encompasses disc tools and Spybot, but not much more. Does it matter how full the drive is?
posted by gottabefunky to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Sure it matters how full the drive is.
Install Linux on it and give yourself a swap partiton.
Or, if you're not willing to do that, revert to some earlier version of windows that was made for computers like yours. Like, say, Win98.

That's assuming, of course, that you have already gone Start, Settings, Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, and eliminated everything that you don't use regularly...and also that there is almost nothing showing up in the system tray (lower-right desktop, by the clock) every time you start up. If there is, right-click the icons one by one, find out what they are, and get rid of them. Anti-virus stuff that runs continuously is a big resource suck.

Also, defrag the drive. Double-click on My Computer, right click on the hard drive, and it will be in there somewhere. Do it before you go to sleep.
posted by bingo at 10:02 AM on May 31, 2004

Start/run/ type:"msconfig"

Go into "startup", turn off anything you don't specifically want/need. If you don't know what it is, chances are you don't need it (YMMV, IANAComputerSpecialist)

If something stops working, you can always go back in there and turn it back on.

And yes, a thousand times yes, it matters how full the drive is. For XP, I wouldn't recommend less than 1GB free. So bingo's suggestion re:windows 98 is on the right track.
posted by signal at 10:25 AM on May 31, 2004

A two-year-old laptop maxes out at 256 MB RAM? That doesn't seem right. Crucial seems to think that this model can support 512 MB. More RAM should help.

Or, if you're not willing to do that, revert to some earlier version of windows that was made for computers like yours. Like, say, Win98.

Well, in my opinion, Win98 is almost always a mistake. If this is a two-year-old machine, though, it's actually younger than XP (I don't know why you would say a six-year-old OS was "made for" a two-year-old machine). XP should run fine on it; in fact, it's probably what came installed from the manufacturer.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:27 AM on May 31, 2004

mr_roboto makes a valid point. Please give us the manufacturer and model number, and we'll descend upon this problem like a pack of mechanical sharks, like the one they were using to make Jaws, before it stopped working.
posted by bingo at 10:33 AM on May 31, 2004

I see that you did give that info. I will now throw myself to the mechanical shark so that I can be fed upon.
posted by bingo at 10:38 AM on May 31, 2004

Turn of XP's eye-candy. Even on the fastest machine, it will take its bloody time fading in this doodad or flying that thinger around over there. When I click on a menu, I want the menu to be there. It's like they try not to surprise you too much by fading it in slowly. It's not like I go around: *click*, *click* "Oh my god! Where'd that come from!" *heart attack*

Yeah. Right click on the desktop, choose "Properties," go to "Appearance," the "Effects" button (I think), and turn off stupid things. Like the shadows under menus. That's got to take a few processor cycles to draw. Changing the theme to "Classic" might help, too, but I don't really know.

But the most important part is what everyone else said about *not* running things at startup. The fewer programs you have running, the more responsive your system will be.
posted by whatnotever at 10:47 AM on May 31, 2004

Does it matter how full the drive is?

From what I've read and experienced, you want to keep at least 10-20% free space on the hard drive. In fact, PC Magazine recently found that freeing up space produced a more significant improvement than defragging a mostly full drive. Ideally, you want to do both.

Dumb question: XP has a place (sorry, I don't know where, I run 2000) where you can customize things and has a setting for "maximum performance" (or something like that), which turns off pointless features like flyout menus. Have you done that yet? If not, start there.

I'm loathe to suggest reverting to a lower version of Windows or the headache of switching to Linux.

We should also probably ask what applications you're running. Are we only talking about Office, IE, etc.? Or an app like Photoshop, which will consume RAM, HD space and processing cycles quite seriously?
posted by pmurray63 at 10:47 AM on May 31, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far. Depending on how much music I have on the HD, I usually have between 5-10 gigs free, so it seems like that shouldn't be a problem.

I have a lot of big programs on it (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, etc) that I only use infrequently. (BTW, Word crashes about 2 o/o 5 times I use it, runtime errors when closing windows, grrr...)

This machine definitely maxes out at 256 meg RAM. From what I gather, Linux is beyond my skills. Craptastic = 897 mHz. I defragment and error-check pretty regularly. Disc cleanup always seems to just hang up, goes nowhere for hours.

Compress drive? Allow indexing? Performance settings? I think I may just be at the edge of the envelope of a slow machine...Desktop for me next time.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:53 AM on May 31, 2004

Response by poster: Oh yeah, while we're on the topic of dumb computer questions - how do I get the damn thing to stop trying to install my printer software every time I plug the thing in?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:58 AM on May 31, 2004

Response by poster: ...and as I remove things from the startup list, is there any way to find out what each thing is for?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:00 AM on May 31, 2004

google for the name under "startup item". If that doesn't help, look for the actual application name under "command" and google for that.
posted by signal at 11:12 AM on May 31, 2004

If Word is crashing that often, soemthing somewhere is pretty effed-up that's going to be hard to isolate. Are you using the OS as it was installed by the manufacturer? As a general rule, I try to make it a point to format my HD every year or so. Backup all your data, format c: /s from a floppy, and then start from scratch. I secong the idea that you should stick with XP, but definitely DEFINITELY turn off all the bullshit (try to make it look exactly like Windows98). When you reinstall the OS and other software make sure that you always chose the "custom install" option, go through all the options and make sure you're only installing what you need. Considering your reported computer skill level you'll probably run into a problem or two or forget to backup something important. This is a great learning experience that's good for the soul.
posted by TurkishGolds at 11:49 AM on May 31, 2004

...and as I remove things from the startup list, is there any way to find out what each thing is for?

YES! Blackviper (yeah, i know) has a great resource on how to speed up windows XP, including what to disable based on how you use the system (power user, gamer, average joe).
posted by Mick at 12:06 PM on May 31, 2004

gottabefunky -- the service manual for the insp 2500 says it can take 512MB. your system probably has two 128 sticks in it so you'll have to toss those and get two 256 sticks. That will make the system feel a little faster.

And that Word crashing thing means there's something definitely hosed in the OS/App that a nice re-install can fix. If your hard drive is getting full and you can't delete a lot you might think of getting a new hard drive for it. For about $50 you can get a firewire enclosure for your old HDD and use it as deep storage or a backup drive [you'll have to get a PC Card Firewire card since your system doesn't have FireWire or USB2.0]

Changing the hard drive is relatively simple since the hard drive is accessible through a door on the side (remove the screw and it slides out). You take the old one out, put the new one in. Boot with the CD to the WinXP install disk and reinstall your apps.
posted by birdherder at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2004

If you're going to defragment, use something else apart from Microsoft's own as its not very good. I recommend "O&O defrag" but it costs.
posted by ralawrence at 1:22 AM on June 1, 2004

For comparison : My home PC is a positively paleolithic five-year-old PII 400 with less than 512Mb of RAM, and it runs XP quicksmart. I can watch movies smoothly with 400kbps worth of downloads happening in the background, and it runs all but the most demanding of new games adequately.

It is tweaked to within an inch of its life, but I enjoy that sort of thing.

I'm way overdue for a new machine, of course.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:43 AM on June 1, 2004

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