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You don't need a new computer, here's how to keep your old one running like new

Key Points
  • You might love your old laptop but feel like it has slowed down in recent years.
  • Sometimes this isn't hardware failure, it's just that it's being bogged down by a bunch of junk.
  • Here's how to keep your old computer working like new.
Woman uses laptop at work
sankai | iStock | Getty Images

If you own a Windows or Mac laptop that's a few years old and starting to feel a bit sluggish, you might be tempted to go out and buy a new one.

Sometimes that sluggishness can be fixed with just a little bit of effort. Yes, there are real cases where your computer might actually need to be replaced, or need new parts, like if the hard drive or battery starts to die. But, before you go out and spend a bunch of money, try some of these tricks. They should help your computer feel like new again.

Update to the latest software

CNBC Tech: Windows Update

Whether you're on an Apple Mac computer or a Microsoft Windows machine, you should always keep your computer running the latest possible software. This will help your computer stay more secure and, often, bug fixes and performance enhancements in updates can improve your experience in either macOS or Windows 10. (If you use a Chromebook, Google automatically keeps your software up to date.)

On a Mac, you can check for updates by opening the Apple menu on the top left, choosing preferences and then picking software update. On Windows, you can simply search for Windows Update in the bottom-left search bar. Open it and check for updates.

Uninstall apps you're not using

CNBC Tech: Uninstall apps on Windows

Sometimes your hard drive might slow down if it's getting filled up with lots of apps and files. This is particularly true with newer (but faster) SSD drives that are included in modern laptops. You might have a lot of apps that you've installed but don't use. The best thing to do is get rid of them, particularly the larger ones that you aren't using.

Here's how to do this on Windows:

  • Search "Uninstall" in the bottom-left search bar near your start menu.
  • Select Add or Remove programs.
  • In the drop-down menu for "Sort by:" choose "size."
  • Uninstall the largest apps that you don't use.

To uninstall apps on a Mac:

  • Open the Applications folder.
  • Drag the programs you don't use to the trash bin.
  • Empty the trash bin.

Free up junk files

Sometimes your computer might be filled with lots of junk that you don't know about. This can include old temporary cached files, old downloads and more. Here's how to find and get rid of that stuff.

On a Mac:

DaisyDisk can help you free up unused files on your Mac.
DaisyDisk
  • Download the app DaisyDisk. It costs $9.99, but it's worth it and I've used it to find and delete hundreds of gigabytes of junk storage over the years. Don't worry, there's also a free trial.
  • Run DaisyDisk and see what's using up your space.
  • Click the areas that it highlights — like old pictures, temporary files and more — and drag them down to the area on the bottom left to gather them for deletion. Avoid doing this with system files: stick to old ones you know you don't need, like old videos and installation files.
  • Click Delete.

On a PC:

CNBC Tech: Clean Junk on Windows PC
  • Type "Storage" into the search bar on the bottom left near the Start menu, and open the option that pops up.
  • Turn on "Storage Sense." This helps Windows automatically free up temporary files you don't use, files that have been in the recycle bin for more than 30 days and even old downloads.
  • Select "Change how we free up space."
  • Check all of the boxes under temporary files and then tap Clean now at the bottom of the page.

Clean your computer

Close-up view of old and dirty black keyboard buttons.
dejankrsmanovic | iStock | Getty Images

Maybe your computer just looks old, so give it a good clean. I usually just use a slightly damp cloth to wipe down the external part of my laptop (don't get water anywhere!), but you can also use a product like Lysol daily cleaning wipes without chemical residues to get some of the areas around your keyboard and track pad.

Clean with a microfiber cloth.

Wipe down the screen with a microfiber cloth, the same sort you use for sunglasses. You can find these for a few bucks on Amazon, or from places like Toddy Gear, which makes microfiber wipes specifically for electronics. Use them instead of anything with a cleaner product, since displays are often covered with protective films that can be damaged by chemicals.

Finally, get a can of compressed air and blow it around the keys, in the cracks around your track pad and clear out any dust that might have collected in the speakers or vents around your laptop. Dust in fan vents can prevent your computer from staying cool, which could also affect performance.

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