Speed Up Everything

Is your PC dragging? Does your broadband network creep along at dial-up speeds? These fixes will get you in the fast lane

Has your PC lost its pep? How about your network connection, your printer, or even your phone? Here's our guide to giving your gear new life. Follow our tips, and you can fire up your system and your other tech essentials.

Supercharge Your PC's Hardware

To get top performance from your PC, use high-performance hardware. No amount of tweaking inside Windows can give you the same kind of speed boost that a few judicious hardware upgrades can--the most effective way to soup up any computer is to start by updating the components inside. Here we'll explain how to upgrade the two most vital components: the RAM and the graphics card.

WARNING: Before you attempt any of these upgrades, take precautions against static electricity by moving your PC to a clean, uncarpeted workspace and using an antistatic wrist strap to discharge any static electricity from your body.

Upgrade Your RAM

Adding RAM is often the most cost-effective upgrade you can make to speed up a sluggish computer. When a system runs short of RAM, it must swap the overflow data to the hard drive, which can significantly slow performance. Here's how to add more memory to your desktop, laptop, or netbook.

RAM comes in many flavors, such as DDR2 and DDR3. Newer technologies offer faster performance, but most motherboards accept only one type of RAM. Check your PC's manual to find out what type of RAM modules you need and how you have to install them. RAM dealers such as Crucial and Kingston offer handy online tools that identify the appropriate RAM for many PCs and motherboards. Also, to take advantage of more than 4GB of RAM, your PC needs to run a 64-bit operating system; Windows 7 is available in a 64-bit version, and we highly recommend it.

To begin, open your PC's case and look for the memory slots. In laptops and netbooks the RAM slots are usually under a removable panel on the bottom of the machine. To remove existing RAM, release the clips at each end of the module so that it pops loose. With the slots clear, gently but firmly insert the new module.

On a desktop machine, it's often best to seat one corner of the module first and then press the other end into place. Once you've fully inserted the module, the clips should close to hold the memory securely. On a laptop or netbook, press the end with the metal leads into place first, and then press down until the clips snap tightly around the ends.

For a complete guide, see "How to Upgrade Your PC's RAM."

Replace Your Graphics Board

Even if you're not a gamer, upgrading your graphics board can give your PC a serious boost, since Windows 7 and Windows Vista both feature fancy effects in their user interface. Though you can upgrade the graphics on some laptops, in this article we'll focus on desktop PCs.

When shopping for a new graphics board, select one that fits the slot on your PC. In most newer systems, it will be a PCI-Express slot; some older systems may have only PCI or AGP slots. Fortunately, graphics card makers still sell products to fit older slots, so an outdated motherboard need not be a total obstacle.

With your new board at the ready, open the PC's case and locate the existing graphics card. Before attempting to pull it loose, remove the screw holding it down and release any plastic clips on the motherboard that may be securing it. Once the old card is out of the way, slide the new board straight down into the slot until it is firmly seated and the plastic clip on the motherboard has snapped tightly around it.

Newer PCI-Express graphics boards often use so much juice that they require a special PCI-E power line from the computer's power supply. If you've installed such a card, connect this power line (the board may have two) before closing up the case. Then boot the PC and install the drivers from the disc the manufacturer provided.

For more advice on choosing a graphics board, check out "Geek 101: A Graphics Card Primer."

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