How to cheaply and easily improve Windows 10 performance

Windows 10 performance on older PCs can be cheaply and easily improved through the use of Windows' ReadyBoost feature and a spare USB flash drive or SD card.

Windows 10 laptop
Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Windows 10 generally runs surprisingly well on older or underpowered PCs, but you may still experience hiccups and slower than optimal performance on those machines.

Even when things are running smoothly, many of us are always searching for ways to improve the performance of our Windows PCs. There are some obvious ways to do it; buy a solid state drive or add additional RAM. Unfortunately, both of these options are fairly expensive. What's more, many older laptops are capped at 4GB of RAM, so these improvements aren’t always an option. Fortunately, if you have a spare flash drive that isn’t being used you can get a performance boost without the need to purchase any expensive new hardware.

Microsoft has included a feature in Windows called “ReadyBoost” since the launch of Windows Vista. Despite the longevity of this feature, the ability to improve PC performance through the use of external flash storage is unknown to many users. Fortunately, if you have an extra USB flash drive or SD card and reader laying around unused, it’s easy to give ReadyBoost a try to see if you notice an improvement from it without unnecessary expense.

ReadyBoost works in conjunction with Windows’ SuperFetch feature to speed things up by caching data from the applications you use most frequently. Windows essentially does the same thing using system memory, but ReadyBoost frees up RAM by letting your flash drive storage handle the task instead.

Before getting starting, a few small caveats. The amount of performance improvement offered by ReadyBoost varies between machines. A lower spec PC will see much more of an improvement than a high-end PC. In fact, the improvement on a PC with plenty of RAM and an SSD will be so slight that it might not be noticeable. Where I have found this tip to be most useful is on older Windows laptops with RAM limited to 4GB or less that struggle to run current software smoothly.

Another factor to keep in mind is that the speed of the USB flash drive or SD card impacts the amount of performance improvement. A newer, faster flash drive is better than the ancient flash drive you were given as a promo five years ago.

Likewise, if you decide to try ReadyBoost with an SD card reader, pay close attention to the class of the SD card. The class of the SD Card is a number, usually printed on the label, that indicates its read/write speed. For this use a higher class is desirable. If possible, use a Class 10 SD card. While a slower card will still usually work, the potential for improvement is limited. If your old flash drive or SD card is too slow to offer any performance improvement, Windows will display a message to that effect and will not allow you to use it.

Giving ReadyBoost a try is easy -- here’s how you do it:

  1. Insert the USB Flash Drive (or SD card) into your PC.
  2. A pop-up should appear with USB drive properties. If not, type “this PC” in the search bar at the bottom left of the screen and under “devices and drives” right click on your USB drive to bring up properties.
  3. Select “ReadyBoost.”
  4. Select “Use this device.” I recommend that you use the amount of reserved space recommended by Windows or simply select “dedicate this device to ReadyBoot.”
  5. Click “Apply.”

That’s all there is to it. As noted, the improvement is not likely to be dramatic on many PCs, but if you are using a Windows laptop that is a few years old you should notice a moderate improvement to system performance, particularly on boot or when starting frequently used applications.

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