Do you want your laptop to last longer or are you thinking of buying a nice new model to replace it? Yes, new processors are faster, more efficient, consume less power, and don’t generate as much heat. But let’s be honest here, do you really need a new laptop just so that you can do the same things you did on your old one? If all you need your laptop for is email, browsing the internet, writing documents or spreadsheets, and playing Solitaire, then extending the life of your laptop is certainly a cheaper option, and more planet-friendly.
The newest operating systems don’t need any more processing power, or even RAM than one from even 6 years ago. Most laptops built in the last few years already have the potential to run Windows 10. As long as they meet the minimum specifications, older laptops will be able to perform at least the basic requirements – check email, surf the web, write letters etc. If you want to play the latest games, edit videos and the like, then you will probably prefer to get something new. But don’t throw out your old laptop. If you have a family member who doesn’t have your high needs, pass it on to them, or donate it – just make sure you do a factory reset first to delete your personal data and files.
- I have a 6-year-old laptop with a reasonably fast processor for its age. Before performing 3 out of 4 of the steps below it was painfully slow. It’s now perfectly functional and runs Windows 10 without any issue, It does everything I need it to – including play videos via HDMI cable on the television.
- A 3-year-old machine with a slow processor and 4 Gb of RAM installed. This machine had almost ground to a halt, making it virtually unusable. For less than half the price of a new, low-end machine, it now runs as fast as needed.
Housekeeping & Reformatting to Extend a Laptop’s Life
Although Windows comes with tools to automatically optimize, defrag, and clean up your hard drives, their performance can still deteriorate over time. Using a free software program such as CCleaner does an excellent job of cleaning out old temporary and log files from your browsers and the Windows system. As always, it is preferable to backup up your data before making any changes to your computer. As a one-stop solution CCleaner does what you need without having to know how to do clean up drives, browsers, programs and Windows individually.
If you would rather do things yourself, then by all means do so. Cleaning out temporary files, browser caches, and old log files will often clear out a surprising amount of space on a hard drive, and sometimes improve performance. Rather than go into lengthy and specific details for each version of Windows and each browser and program that you might use, a quick search of the internet will give you detailed step-by-step instructions for whatever operating system, browser or program you want to clean up. While there, you should also search for disabling browser add-ons. I often find unnecessary and even malicious add-ons on computers that need to be removed or disabled.
If a hard drive is almost full, Windows is slower in storing the temporary information it needs, to perform all sorts of tasks. Try moving some of your documents videos and photos to an external drive. I generally recommend keeping at least 20% of your drive free – optimising and defragmentation works better. If you are constantly finding your hard drive is filling up – time to look at getting a larger drive.
A reformat can make a big difference to performance, even on relatively new machines. All your data needs backing up first but windows inbuilt backup can sometimes cause problems. I generally find it safer to manually copy everything off a disk to an external drive, and then run backup. That way if the restore from backup fails, nothing is lost. Not all computer techs are careful with saving your data but, unless a hard disk is damaged beyond repair, there’s no excuse for that – it may take a lot longer, but once the copy process is set up, it can be left to run.
As most laptops and even desktops come with recovery partitions rather than disks these days, it is essential to create system images of your drives, make sure you have the product keys for any software, such as Windows or Office written down, and, of course, back up your data regularly. In the event of catastrophic failure, you’ll be glad you did. Most computers with recovery partitions offer the choice of creating bootable media for at least a factory reset when you first get your computer. Please use it. doesn’t take long, and may save a lot of heartache later. Once your computer or laptop is set up with your programs, latest security updates, and personalised the way you want it, create a system image of all the drives and a Recovery Disk. As long as you do regular backups of your data, if something catastrophic happens later, you can get up and running again with a minimum of pain.
Upgrading Components to Make A Laptop Last Longer?
Because of proprietary build technology, soldered on components, and limited add-in capacity, fewer components on a laptop are easily and affordably upgradable compared to desktop computers. That doesn’t mean you can’t extend the usable life of your laptop though.
So, what can you upgrade? The two main, affordable, upgrades are RAM and storage.
3. Adding More RAM
Adding more memory, especially for those laptops that use shared memory for the graphics, will often result in a good 25-40% increase in speed, and improve the overall performance. As a minimum I would recommend 4Gb of RAM for laptops. Some older ones won’t take any more than that any way.
- I couldn’t increase the RAM in the 6 year old computer. Because of its age, the maximum RAM it can take is 4Gb.
- The 3 year old laptop with 4Gb of RAM could handle up to 8Gb. By adding the 4Gb extra even a laptop with only a relatively slow 1.6GHz processor and shared graphics will see a marked improvement in performance with an extra 4Gb of RAM.
- Most laptops these days come with 4Gb as standard, but they often have a spare memory slot available, and the cost of even older laptop memory is still relatively affordable.
- Adding RAM however, is not for novices – memory chips need to be matched not only for type but also voltage and speed, otherwise you end up with errors, crashes, and in worst case scenarios, a machine that won’t boot. For most people, the simplest solution is to let your computer technician chase down the appropriate memory module and install it.
- If you already have 8Gb of RAM the performance increase is negligible and for most users not worth the added expense.
4. Swapping To An SSD Hard Drive
I can boost the performance of both laptops markedly by swapping out the old hard drive for a new SSD (Solid State Drive). In theory, an SSD will run up to 10 times the speed of an old disk drive.In practice, with the bottlenecks of the system caused by the older technology, the speed increase is closer to 5 times.
For both examples:
- The boot time went from over 5 minutes down to around 1 minute.
- Both are happily running Window 10 without any issues. Everything loaded faster, and the machines are far more responsive.
With the cost of SSDs dropping to around $0.50 or less per Gb, even larger storage drives are becoming a viable option.
These 2 main upgrades will keep an aging laptop going for up to another couple of years. And with external storage drives becoming bigger and cheaper, offline storage is a good way to keep your data backed up and safe, in case age really does catch up with it.
Bear in mind that these laptops are not made for gaming – they are portable computer primarily intended for productivity, and normal entertainment needs. And despite what your kids may say, they are certainly fast enough to do their homework. If you want to play games, or watch Blu-rays, consider buying a gaming console, or a Blu-ray player. They cost less than a new laptop and kids are more focused on homework when on the laptop, although faster loading YouTube videos may distract them!
Of course if you are into video or photo editing, then even these performance boosts may not be enough to make your laptop do what you want quickly enough. Over the years there have been several attempts by various companies to add external graphics capabilities. These are expensive, and aimed at a small niche market. Here’s an example. It’s not exactly portable is it?
Other upgrades might include a new battery, an external audio card, speakers, a USB hub, even a wireless or bluetooth keyboard and mouse. It is often possible even on older machines to attach a monitor via VGA cable, meaning you have all the functionality of a desktop computer, which can be unplugged and taken with you when you need to travel.
An old laptop, reformatted but without extra RAM or new Hard Disk, can be used as a second computer for basic tasks.
We connected a laptop with a broken screen to our TV. Replacing the screen was over half the cost of the laptop and not worth replacing. Wirelessly connected to the home router, we had the internet, and access to the documents, videos and music on our other computers, all showing on our TV. Couch surfing was easily done with a wireless backlit keyboard and mouse. Effectively it became a media server and desktop computer.
The only issue was the cat walking on the lid and closing it, putting the laptop to sleep – draping a piece of cloth over it solved that issue and cut down the glare from the damaged screen. Regrettably, after 2 years of daily use, the laptop eventually got too hot, and fried the motherboard (a known issue with that model laptop). I saved the hard drive, and put it into an external case, and it still works as a backup drive. I also re-purposed the RAM and battery into another similar model laptop. Waste not, want not.