How to speed up everything

Top upgrades and software tweaks for your PC, network, smartphone and more

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Benchmark Your PC

If you're serious about improving your PC's performance, it helps to measure how fast (or how slow) it is to begin with.

Here at PC World, we've been developing our own powerful benchmark tool for years. WorldBench 6, the latest version, tests all facets of a PC's performance on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows. At $249 for a single-user license, WorldBench isn't cheap, but it's a proven benchmark that's trusted by industry leaders ranging from Intel and HP to Microsoft and McAfee.

If you're on a tighter budget, you can find cheaper benchmarks that can give you an indication of your computer's speed. OpenSourceMark is, as its name implies, an open-source tool that you can download for free. This simple utility runs your PC through assorted operations, from spreadsheets to image editing. Armed with a starting score, you can then compare it with a post-upgrade score or see how much of an effect some of our Windows tweaks have on your machine's overall performance.

Better Broadband

While a variety of products on the market claim to boost your broadband Internet performance, none have proven effective enough for us to recommend them. If you're not getting the Internet speeds you're paying for, you can try a couple of basic fixes.

First, measure your connection speed at This quick assessment will give you a fairly accurate picture of your download and upload speeds. After the test, if the results are well below the advertised speeds for your service plan, you can call your carrier to complain. This is the single most effective thing you can do.

Second, ask your carrier whether a newer broadband modem is available, and try to get the provider to send you one. ISPs frequently upgrade their base equipment, and existing customers almost never receive notification. But if you ask for the latest model, many ISPs will send one out free of charge (especially if your contract has expired).

For a complete guide to troubleshooting slowdowns, see "Six Steps to a Faster Broadband Connection."

PC Performance Myths

You have lots of good ways to speed up your PC, but you'll encounter plenty of bogus tips, too. Here are three common PC speed-up tactics that just don't do the trick.

Cleaning the Registry

Hard-core Windows users love to tweak their system settings via the Registry Editor, and many claim to have elicited some performance benefits from doing so. The idea is that you can improve Windows' efficiency by weeding out broken entries in this giant database, you can save Windows some energy at boot time, and you can make Windows start and run faster. Unfortunately, there's no real evidence that this approach works, and you can do more harm than good by mucking around with the database that runs your whole PC.

Disabling System Restore

Many supposed Windows gurus will tell you that disabling the System Restore feature can speed up your computer by freeing up hard-drive space and preventing it from kicking in while you work. But since System Restore activates only when you install new applications or when your PC is idle, and since it uses only a small fraction of your hard drive anyway, turning off this feature robs you of a valuable safety measure without providing any real benefit.

Defragging Your Drive

Back in the days when drives were small and operating systems were simpler, running Defrag now and then was necessary to keep your computer running smoothly. But Windows XP, Vista, and 7 all include automated disk optimization, and it's rare for a drive to become so fragmented that it hampers performance. So, while firing up your Disk Defragmenter isn't likely to do any harm, it's usually a waste of your time.

This story, "How to speed up everything" was originally published by PCWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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