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PC feeling sluggish? Speed it back up with these free apps

Windows feeling a little … slower than it used to be? Sometimes it’s a sign that it’s time to add more memory, upgrade that old hard drive to an SSD, or give up on that aging machine and upgrade to a new computer. But before you do that, try out these apps that might speed up Windows for free!

One of my favorites is Smart Defrag 4. Here’s the deal: When you use a hard drive, the data gets broken into pieces and stored anywhere the drive has open space. This is called fragmenting. Picture stashing encyclopedias anywhere in the library where there’s enough space on the shelf to fit it. When you went to look for a volume, you would have to jump all over the place to find the pieces. The same thing happens on your hard drive. It’d be nice if the encyclopedia — or your data­ — was all neatly filed in sequential order in one place. The hard disk head ­– or your librarian — just zips over there and grabs the whole set.

Related: SSD vs. HDD: Which type of drive is right for you?

That process is called defragmenting. There’s a defragging tool built into windows, but it’s slooow. IObit’s Smart Defrag 4 is much faster. Just be careful when you install it that you uncheck any boxes trying to install other apps at the same time. That’s a good habit anytime you’re installing a new app!

IObit Smart Defrag 4

IObit Smart Defrag 4

You don’t want to defrag a solid state drive (SSD), so avoid apps that tell you they’re defragging your SSD to speed it up. What you do want is the “trim” command turned on in Windows. That should already be happening if you’re running Windows 7 or newer.

One last thought about hard drives: If you’ve filled your SSD over 75 percent capacity, you’re probably slowing it down. If Windows panics and tells you you’re running out of HD space, copy what you can onto another drive, then run an app like Piriform CCleaner. Don’t use it for registry edits — I’m not a big fan of registry cleaning — but it’s a great tool to find files you can delete from your drive to make space!

Related: The best free antivirus software

Got your drive sorted? Update your drivers. Drivers are the programs, or bits of code, that enable Windows to use, Wi-Fi, the CPU’s chipset, and all the other hardware that makes up your PC. New graphics drivers can make and amazing difference on your favorite 3D games. You can check your PC manufacturer’s website, or figure out all the hardware in your system and root through the website for each manufacturer: Intel, Nvidia, Broadcom, etc. But you can save yourself a ton of time with a tool like Slimware Utilities SlimDrivers, or IObit’s Driver Booster Free. They’ll automatically scan your system, figure out which hardware you have, and help you download and install drivers for it. By the way, if you’re a gamer with a serious 3D GPU, you need to update those drivers regularly to get the most out of your games!

IObit Driver Booster 3 Free

IObit Driver Booster 3 Free

Did your Windows box slow down all of a sudden? Maybe your teenager downloaded some new apps, or went browsing places they shouldn’t have? You might notice weird pop-up ads, toolbars, or apps you don’t remember installing. Maybe you type in a Web address, and get taken somewhere else? These are all signs you might have malware or a virus on your machine. They’ll often chew up clock cycles and memory that your apps need to run fast.

At the very least, you should have Windows Defender on your PC. It’s pre­installed with Windows 10, and Windows 8 should have nagged you to install it if you don’t have any other antivirus installed. Avast, Malwarebytes and Bitdefender are all good antivirus and anti-malware options. Whichever you choose, open it from the Start menu and hit the update button. This will add the latest spyware and virus definitions. Now click on the scan button. Hopefully you don’t have any nasty stuff in there, but if you do, follow the directions to remove it. Rooting out nasty piles of spyware and malware can make an unusable machine fly! And keeping your antivirus up to date will help keep that from happening again.