Installing extra RAM, or memory, in your PC is an inexpensive, tried-and-true way of boosting its performance. Retailers such as Best Buy and NewEgg.com sell 2GB memory sticks for about $25, with 4GB kits costing about $50.
First, figure out how much memory your PC can handle. If you own a PC running Windows 2000 or XP, you can install up to 4GB. People who own notebooks running Windows Vista and Windows 7 should check the system information in the Control Panel to see if the operating system is a 32-bit or 64-bit one. 32-bit operating systems can accommodate up to 4GB of memory; 64-bit systems, up to 8GB. After you’ve purchased the RAM, you’ll need to open the back of your system to install. The exact location of the RAM can vary, so check your notebook manufacturer’s support site for directions.
Apple MacBooks can accept up to 2GB or 4GB depending on the model; MacBook Pros can handle up to 8GB. There are detailed instructions on how to do this to various models at support.apple.com.
Scrub your registry.
Install a registry cleaner such as Piriform CCleaner (free; www.piriform.com) to remove extraneous files clogging your system. In addition to old, unused registry entries, CCleaner will clear temporary system files, web form data, recent documents, cookies, your browsing history, and items in the Recycle Bin.
Try a tune-up suite.
For a more complete cleansing, tune-up software will clean your registry and use other tricks to breathe new life into your notebook. For PC owners, we recommend Iolo System Mechanic 10 ($49.95; www.iolo.com), which turns off unused background programs, identifies redundant and rarely used programs, and optimizes network settings.
Mac owners have their choice of tune-up apps, too, including the reasonably priced Cocktail ($14.95; www.maintain.se/cocktail). Remember that many PC security suites include some tune-up utilities. So before you spring for a dedicated tune-up program, see if your antivirus software can get the job done.
Defrag the hard drive.
Defragging, short for defragmenting, is a PC’s way of organizing its files more efficiently. Over years of use, pieces of a file might become scattered across different parts of a hard disk, forcing the computer to spend more time searching for them. To defrag your hard drive, go to the Start menu > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. Mac users can use the built-in Disk Utility, located under the Utilities menu.
Install a solid state drive.
SSDs are flash-based drives that deliver much faster startup times and better overall performance than a traditional hard drive. And since they don’t contain any moving parts, they’re more durable, too. Luckily, prices have fallen sharply, making them better suited for do-it-yourself PC makeovers. We recommend the OCZ Vertex 2 series (from $114 on NewEgg) or the Samsung 470 series (from $149 on NewEgg). For instructions on how to upgrade to an SSD, see our how-to on page 95.