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I have a HP Pavilion with Intel Pentium 4 3 GHz Processor and 1 GB RAM. It's running Windows XP Home Edition Version 2002 SP 3.

About a year ago I installed an additional hard drive. Shortly after I found the computer to be very very slow (I don't know if these things are related but I mention them just in case; I've since disconnected the hard drive). Windows take forever to draw and Firefox takes over a minute to start up.

I don't want to replace the whole computer if I don't have to. If were to throw, say, $100-$200 at it what kind of upgrades would be most effective? Faster processor? More RAM? Upgrade the Operating System?

Edit: Thanks for all the advice so far. I will attempt a re-install of WinXP, then more RAM. I should have made clear that this computer is going to be used mainly by my kids (7 and 3), so what it needs to do is not that CPU-intensive. Flash games and word processing is about it.

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7 Answers 7

Right off, I would say double your RAM. 5 years ago, 512 MB was enough. But as programs such as Acrobat, Antivirus, and others evolved - and expected your computer to evolve - they used more and more RAM. In the Antivirus arena, low resource utilization has been attempted, but its still not great. In the end, today, I would recommend 1 GB as the minimum RAM and depending on what you do with the computer, 2-3 GB. 4 GB is the theoretical maximum, but due to some technology limitations, it's not uncommon for systems to max out between 2.75 GB and 3.5 GB, so going much beyond 3 GB doesn't generally make economic sense.

Addressing some of the points made by others, Defraging is not likely to produce a noticeable increase in performance for MOST things. If you work with LARGE files often, then those files CAN be accessed noticeably faster - so I WOULD do a defrag, but don't expect the system to suddenly speed up - the improvement will likely be too little to notice.

While switching off unnecessary services CAN help performance, if you have enough RAM, the biggest help it will be is to your startup times. otherwise, disabling some services and third party programs likely won't produce much of a difference. The CPU - if you look in task manager - is probably sitting around 5%... almost certainly not more than 15% for any significant time. That means that, at worst, the CPU itself is sitting there with nothing to do for 85% of the time (at least most of the time). So CPU should not be your problem unless your trying to edit videos or something otherwise processor intensive (basic e-mail, web browsing, document writing is NOT processor intensive - though watching flash videos can be (thank you adobe!)).

Someone asked HOW it was slow - that's an EXCELLENT question - if it's slow browsing the web, it COULD be because you may have many helper applications loading in some way - perhaps a McAfee Web-site check or other web site authentication program that validates the site your visiting as being legitimate and clean from viruses.

And I agree with the responder who said check for malicious software - I like Malware Bytes and VIPRE antivirus to check on things. Just keep in mind, NOTHING is great today... 10 years ago, Antivirus software had a 99% success rate (or so I'd estimate). Today, it's 80%... and that's just at determining you're infected, forget about cleaning - the rate is lower. Sure, it varies by product by in my opinion (and review sites not withstanding), it doesn't vary by more than 2% or 3% above or below 80%.

As noted, a clean, FRESH installation can be beneficial as well. But this can also be painful and time consuming if you're not comfortable with the concept. IF you wanted to do this, I would swap out your current hard drive with a new drive (or if nothing was on it, the old new drive) and install Windows cleanly on that. You can then get a $15 enclosure and turn your old hard drive into an external drive. (BTW, I would still get the RAM upgrade).

Finally, consider if you are willing to spend $200 on parts, a low end new computer this time of year (without monitor) can cost you about that... maybe $300. Yes, you'll have to take time to migrate your documents and programs, but it's a clean, new, faster system.

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I say upgrade and save the planet! Too much e waste being produced already, =) –  Enrico Susatyo Dec 3 '10 at 23:35

Agree with Tobu and Xiuhtecuhtli, but you may want to try the following

  • Does your system have an anti-virus installed? Sometimes the "Active" scanning modes can cut performance. I recommend that if you have one, that you leave it on; switching it off temporarily might reveal an improvement.
  • Extra RAM may help. You'll find it cheap to get to 2GB of RAM.
  • Often, experts recommend de-fragmenting your drive (in drive properties). Personally, I don't, but the ones who do swear that it boosts performance.
  • For whatever reason, I've found that a fresh install of the operating system can boost performance. This is an old habit, I'll admit, and it will lose you a day to back everything up, reinstall and then to restore your files
  • Switching off unnecessary startup items and services will improve things
  • On my P4 machines, I use Chrome (or Chromium) instead of Firefox - It's just plain faster

If you'll excuse the personal story, I've a few P4 machines running alongside more recent machines. They're certainly good enough for daily use - XP and Ubuntu are fine, but I had to upgrade the RAM recently for higher performance.

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Adding a new hard drive shouldn't make your computer slower - if windows are drawing slowly then you've got a pretty serious problem. I'd recommend re-installing Windows - you'll be surprised how much faster your system will be.

Hardware wise my first recommendation would be more RAM - you'll find that Firefox can take a couple 100 MB's just by itself.

After that I'd upgrade the hard drive. Newer hard drives are not just larger, they are faster. Having a fast hard drive makes a huge difference in program loading and a large number of slowdowns are from hard disk reads. That's why everyone is going crazy over SSD's. If you do a Windows reinstall, reinstall to that newer hard drive you mentioned - it's most likely faster than your original drive.

A CPU upgrade probably won't be cost effective, they're are that much faster P4's out there . If you have a newer socket 775 board that can run Core 2 Duo's, then that might be a consideration.

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What kind of slowness? Typically, you're better off upgrading the ram. Certainly don't upgrade to another windows release, the increased footprint would be fatal.

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Not always true if it's XP -> 7 and you make the right kind of tweaks, but generally good advice. –  Shinrai Dec 3 '10 at 23:13

Upgrading the OS (to Linux) is more likely to speed up Firefox than anything else, and it's free. But if you want to stick with Windows, the most effective upgrade would be another GB of RAM. (It would help Linux too.)

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Check your event log for excessive errors.

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Typically if a computer Was Fast and now running the same programs more or less it is slow, I am going to point my finger at MALware/Junk or Lack of Swap space on your Drive.

Make Sure you have AT LEAST 512 MB of space free for items like SWAP files.

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