With plenty of pressure on household budgets and e-waste mountains growing ever higher, many people will be keen to extend the life of their current laptop.
Cheap upgrades and free tweaks can keep laptops running happily for years – even if they’re too old for the current version of Windows or macOS.
Follow the tips below to eke more life out of your laptop and save yourself an expensive trip to the online stores.
Upgrade to an SSD
If your laptop still has a spinning hard disk inside, by far the most effective upgrade you can make is replacing that with a solid-state disk (SSD). SSDs are much faster than hard disks, meaning apps will open in a fraction of the time and the operating system will boot more quickly.
Replacing a hard disk with an SSD is a relatively simple upgrade that you might be able to perform yourself, but you’ll need a strategy for transferring your data from hard disk to SSD. Laptop Mag has a decent guide on how to do this on a Windows laptop.
If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, it’s best to seek professional help. This is a bread-and-butter job for a local computer-repair store and it will be much cheaper than buying a new laptop.
Play games in the cloud
If you feel like you need a new laptop because it’s no longer able to play the latest games, streaming games may be a cheaper and better alternative.
For example, Microsoft’s Game Pass service lets you play a huge library of games – including FIFA 22, Fortnite and Forza Horizon 5 – via the web browser. It’s the gaming equivalent of Netflix, you simply stream the game from Microsoft’s servers. The performance is improving all the time and with subscriptions starting from £7.99 per month, it’s much cheaper than buying a new gaming laptop that will cost at least four figures for a decent performer.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now is another excellent cloud gaming service, especially for those who already own a huge library of games bought via Steam.
Turn your laptop into a Chromebook
When a laptop reaches four or five years of age, it can be a challenge to even run the latest version of Windows or macOS. Indeed, even laptops that are only two or three years old may not have the right hardware to run Windows 11.
A fine way to pep up a sluggish older system is to effectively turn it into a Chromebook, with the free ChromeOS Flex. Even if your laptop isn’t on the list of models certified by Google to run ChromeOS Flex, it should be fine. We’ve installed it on eight-year-old laptops not on the supported list with no problem at all.
ChromeOS is a lightweight, browser-based operating system, so it’s perfect for those who only use a laptop for web browsing, online shopping, watching iPlayer or light office duties (you can use Google Docs or the online versions of Microsoft’s Office apps).
One thing to note: ChromeOS Flex doesn’t yet support the installation of Android apps, unlike offical Chromebooks.
Although not as bad as it used to be, one of the main reasons why a Windows laptop slows down is the accumulation of cruft and applications that build up over the years. Those apps you downloaded once and forgot about can worm their way into start-up routines, take up valuable disk space and generally bog down performance.
Sometimes, a good clear out is all you need. Windows 10 has a great facility to ‘Reset’ a PC. This leaves all your data – documents, photos and other files – in place, but wipes all the apps to put your laptop back into roughly the same shape it was when you first bought it. You can find the option to Reset a PC by hitting the Start button then Settings > Update & Security > Recovery and following the onscreen instructions.
Take a full backup of your laptop data beforehand, just to be sure, and make sure you know where to go to re-download your key apps once the Reset is complete.
Banish performance hogs
If a reset seems a bit drastic, it’s sometimes possible to revive a laptop’s performance by simply banishing one or two apps that are dragging down the laptop.
Identifying those hogs is key. In Windows, the Task Manager is your friend. Search for it from the Windows search menu. This will reveal any running apps that are putting huge demands on the laptop’s processor (CPU) or memory (RAM). It’s sometimes the apps you least expect that can hamper performance. Take particular care not to have too many tabs open in a web browser, for example, which can be a real drag on a laptop’s memory.
For Macs, there’s a brilliant little utility called iStat Menus that can identify memory and CPU hogs, as well as provide a battery of other performance data about your MacBook that could identify what’s going wrong.