We’ve previously provided tips on how to have a better video call experience by optimizing your internet speed and how to control your environment for the best results. (Here’s a handy downloadable checklist to use for quick reference.) Yet, there’s another chunk of resistance between you and the server where your data is sent -- it’s your device. And while mobile phones are well-equipped to handle video calls, not all computers are created equally.
Since it’s the holiday season and, hopefully, a respite from the daily work grind is coming, it’s a really good time to improve the performance of your computer by leaving the digital traces of 2020 behind.
(Note that while many of these recommendations are written for Windows 10 users, other operating systems have similar tools to optimize performance.)
1. Check for Malware.
If your system is running slow, regularly crashing, or otherwise acting strangely, the first thing you should do is check for Malware. Antivirus software and firewalls can’t catch everything and, if they aren’t regularly updated, they won’t be able to fight intrusions from the newest viruses, worms, and spyware. Run a virus scan and be sure that you have the latest version of security updates, and that these are automatically being downloaded and installed. (If you’re using your employer’s device or network, your IT administrator may have to do this for you.) Virus and threat protection updates come weekly, if not daily, as new threats emerge.
The physical cleanliness of your computer plays into how well it performs. As dust and dirt accumulate inside your computer’s casing (just imagine how bad your mobile phone looks after a year in your pocket) it reduces the efficiency of your cooling fans. When your computer’s temperature sensors find an electrical component overheating, it instructs the hard drive and processor to slow down.
Think of a reboot as a shower and a change of clothes for your computer. Some of you treat your computer like the hippie college roommate you had for one semester until they disappeared on a Phish festival tour. Anyway, restart your computer at least once a week. Restarting closes the background processes that have been running on your machine without your knowledge. It also refreshes the system memory and tells the computer to search and download critical updates. Rebooting can resolve mysterious performance losses when the cause is difficult to pinpoint.
4. Run the Windows performance troubleshooter.
Windows performance troubleshooter can automatically find and fix issues and is especially helpful if you are using a shared computer at work or home. In the Windows control panel, search and then click “Troubleshooting.” Under “System and Security,” click “System Maintenance” to run the performance troubleshooter. (It also won’t hurt to run the other troubleshooters.)
5. Uninstall unused programs and delete unnecessary files.
As your hard drive fills, it’s operating speed slows. Aim to keep 15 to 30 percent of your hard drive space free for optimal performance. Use the “Add or Remove Programs” tool to see if there are any applications you can remove. The provided list will let you know when a program was last used. Finally, send your personal files or work archives to cloud storage like Dropbox, Google Cloud, or OneDrive. You can sync these online programs with your machine to keep real-time access to those files without having to use the physical space on your computer.
You're not the only one fighting viruses in your work-from-home office.
6. Disk Cleanup and Defragment.
Disk cleanup is a basic Windows tool that takes out the trash, so to speak, very quickly. Use Disk Cleanup to remove temporary files (one-time files created to run in conjunction when a specific application was in-use), empty the Recycle Bin, and remove a variety of system files that are no longer needed.
Disk fragmentation occurs when a file is broken up into pieces to fit on the disk. Because files are constantly being written, deleted, and resized, fragmentation is normal. When a file is spread out over several locations, however, it takes longer to read and write. Disk Defragmenter rearranges fragmented data so your hard disk can work more efficiently. Disk Defragmenter usually runs on an automated schedule, but you can also defragment your hard disk manually.
7. Delete temporary internet files.
Every time you browse a page on the internet, files get downloaded to your computer. Some simply cache images for quicker load times, some are cookies that remember your information and preferences on a site. It’s good practice to regularly purge these items from your computer and free space. Generally, you can find where to delete these files in the menu for your browser settings or history.
8. Close unused browser tabs.
Every browser tab becomes a background process that eats away at your system’s memory. Keep a good habit of bookmarking sites you need to visit regularly or come back to and keep your immediate focus on just what you need to browse at the moment.
9. Lean your startup.
Do you have a computer that you turn on and leave for five minutes, only to come back to it still booting up? It’s likely you have too many startup programs. Open your Task Manager (CTRL+ALT+DEL) and look at the “Startup” tab to see what applications are launched when your computer is started. Disable the ones that aren’t critical to your needs. Don’t worry, you can always re-enable them if something doesn’t seem right on your next reboot.
Windows High-Performance Mode can be turned on in the Power and Sleep settings.
10. Turn on high-performance mode.
Windows default power mode balances energy savings and performance. It’s likely you haven’t changed these settings since your first time booting your computer. If your system is really struggling and you don’t mind sparing a few extra pennies each month for your electric bill, turn on the “High Performance” power mode. Search for “Power Settings” and look in “Additional Power Settings,” then “Additional Plans” for the "High-Performance" setting.
11. Turn off visual effects.
If Windows itself is running slowly, you can speed it up by disabling some of its visual effects. This really shouldn’t be a problem unless you have an older computer attempting to run newer software. However, I know some of you out there are reading this on machines that can barely power Windows 7.
Type “performance” in your Windows search toolbar and select “Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows.” The “Performance Options” menu should appear with the “Visual Effects” tab open. You can then choose to let Windows adjust performance options, adjust for best appearance, adjust for best performance, or manually tick off the visual effects you prefer to remove.
When all else fails.
If nothing works to keep your computer from grinding to a halt, you might actually have to spend some money. The most cost-effective way to improve computer performance is by adding RAM. However, before you spend any money, check the Desktop Rating assessment to discover which components might be your weak links.
Type “performance” in the Windows search bar and open “Performance Monitor.” Click through Data Collector Sets > System and right-click “System Diagnostics” to start a scan. When the process ends, click through Reports > System > System Diagnostics > [Your Computer Name] to open the report. Scroll down to “Desktop Rating” and click to expand “Query” and then “Returned Objects” to view the ratings for your computer’s five key components. The scores range from 1 to 10. If you have component scores at 4 or lower, it might be time to upgrade them.
Jared Thompson, Blinder’s vice president of content, is a former digital communications lead at the NCAA, University of Oklahoma, and Purdue University. Connect with Jared (or our Kiwi co-founders Caley and Ross) for help on how Blinder can remake your current content team into a video production powerhouse without adding new equipment or new headaches.