Slow laptops are a common complaint, so much so that scammers have taken to calling up unsuspecting householders claiming to be from Microsoft and offering to help solve the problem. If you get a call like this, don’t give out your details – there’s no way that Microsoft, Apple, Google or any other company would know  how fast your machine starts up.

Instead, there are simple things you can do yourself to speed up your machine and ensure its kept safe and in good working order.

1. Remove programs you don’t need

We need to clear out our computers drives just like we need to clear out our wardrobes. Get rid of items you no longer use, rather than leaving them to take up space on your computer.

‘People install lots of programs, but don’t ever uninstall them when they’re no longer needed,’ says Lee Grant from Inspiration Computers Ltd. ‘For example, when you buy a new machine, you might install the new printer you get with it, without uninstalling the old one.’

A simple way to see what’s taking up space is to look at the icons in the bottom right corner when you start up your computer. These will show you what’s already there and firing up when you log in.

If you notice anything unnecessary, go to the Control Panel, then Programs, where you will see a list of programs. From there, uninstall the ones you know you have added but don’t need. DO NOT uninstall anything else though. If in doubt, take your machine to a professional computer repairer, who can safely uninstall unnecessary programs for you.

2. Think about what you install and on what device

‘Be mindful of what you use,’ says Lee Grant. ‘Sometimes you get extra free bits when you download software, so before you know it, by installing one program you’ve suddenly got four. Be careful when you download material that you are only installing what you want. You may have to deselect items.’

Also, you may have the same programs installed across all your devices – on your smartphone, tablet and laptop. Think about whether you really need to have programs in more than one place. For example, a lot of people have Skype installed on their laptop – a program that takes up a lot of capacity – when actually they only use it on their smartphone.

3. Protect your computer  from attack

‘It’s really important to make sure that not only your computer is protected, but also your network,’ says Steve McGovern. ‘You need to know who the computer is communicating with, what it’s sending out and what it’s receiving. Only paid-for anti-virus programs and firewalls will do that.’

The best anti-virus software isn’t necessarily the best-known. Some smaller developers will invest more into research and development than their bigger rivals. Which? have a guide to the best buy antivirus software packages to help you choose.

4. Back everything up

It’s easy to forget to back up your files, but investing in some auto-back-up, where you sign up to get documents or files backed-up automatically to external drives, Dropbox or cloud storage, will take the hassle out of the process and could save your bacon as well as your pictures and documents if the worst were to happen.

5. Use different passwords

We’ve all been told before to not use the same password for everything. But how many of us actually follow that advice? It’s very difficult to remember passwords for every single site or service that we use online, but our experts have a couple of suggestions.

Lee Grant says, ‘It’s easier to have three non-consecutive words, for example, cheese mouse chalk, rather than words that have all sorts of symbols, because hackers are getting quicker at decoding those.’

Password managing tools are another good idea. Lastpass, for example, works as a plug-in for your browser. You only have to remember one password and it remembers all the rest for you. It uses a two-step verification system, like online banks or Google, to let you access the material. ‘It’s not perfect,’ says Lee Grant, ‘but it’s a lot better than having the same password for everything, which I see quite often.’

If you’re keen to give your laptop a professional health-check, Which? Trusted Traders have computer repair specialists who can help with all your computing needs.

Do you have the right laptop for you?

If you’ve followed all these steps but are still finding your machine very slow and frustrating, you might want to consider whether you might have unrealistic expectations of your machine. A £200 bargain-basement laptop is never going to be able to cope with a lot of processing, so maybe it’s time to get a new laptop.

When you’re buying a laptop, ensure you choose a computer that has enough memory and processing power to comfortably perform all the functions that you need it to.

‘With a modern operating system, such as Windows 7, 8 or 10, you need at least four gigabytes of RAM (memory),’ says Steve McGovern of ProperGeeks. ‘To save costs and get prices down, there are computers on the market with only two gigabytes of RAM. But that’s just not enough. It would be like towing a caravan with a 1.3 Fiesta, it’s alright going downhill, but as soon as you try doing anything else, it wouldn’t work.’

For the average user, who wants to send emails and use a few straightforward programs, such as Word or Excel, a machine around the £400-£600 mark should be adequate for your needs. But if you want to run graphics-heavy software that takes a lot of processing power, you will probably have to spend upwards of £700. You can find out more about specific laptops in the Which? reviews.

If your machine doesn’t have enough memory, it is a simple job to buy some extra RAM and bolt it on to your machine. Which? Trusted Traders has computer repairers across the UK who can help.

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