Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

As machines get older and older the latest software upgrades demand more and more. There are ways to maximize an older computers abilities.

I Gave my son a 1 gigahertz Compaq laptop with XP home and 256 megabytes of ram. He only uses it on line, via a cable connection, and as you can imagine, it's slow. You can only upgrade ram to a max of 384meg. Will that be fast enough or can I configure something else to improve performance>

Ultimately it depends on what you mean by "uses it on line". If that simply means downloading email, chatting and viewing web pages, it seems like that machine should be fine. Bare minimum, perhaps, and adding the RAM certainly won't hurt.

If on-line means viewing videos or playing on-line games or other types of similar activities, other considerations come into play.

First, let's be clear, for most people the speed of your internet connection is the slowest part of your whole internet experience. It doesn't matter if you have a low-end or high-end machine, most of the time web pages display slowly because they download slowly.

And it may not be your connection. You may have a fast connection (cable, for example, is capable of something like 8 megabits per second, or faster), but it may be throttled for any number of reasons. Cable in particular is notorious for this since you're actually sharing your internet connection with some group of neighbors. I recently heard from a friend who was getting near dial-up speeds from his cable connection at times because his "node", or cable network, that he and his neighbors were on was saturated by everyone attempting to use it at the same time.

So step one: check your internet connection, make sure it's living up to your expectations.

"... for most people the speed of your internet connection is the slowest part of your whole internet experience."

Step two: update and scan. By that I mean follow the steps outlined in Internet Safety: How do I keep my computer safe on the internet? to keep your machine up to date and free of viruses, spyware and other malware. Particularly on a lower-end machine a malware infection can definitely result in performance problems.

Step three: tame startup. This can be a little bit of work, but there's typically a lot of unnecessary software that starts automatically when you sign in to Windows. While it's difficult for me to answer "do I need this" for each possible startup entry (the answer depends on your machine and what you do with it), this article discusses the concept and links to a couple of tools: What's all this stuff running after I boot Windows?

Step four: tame services. With a little more research you can turn off even more software by looking at the Windows Services - components of Windows that run in the background - that you may not need. Once again knowing which you can and cannot turn off depends on your situation, but this article What Windows Services can I turn off? is a great start and includes pointers to some reference sources. The most popular such source might well be Black Viper's list of XP Services where he does include recommendations for each.

After checking your internet speed, all of the above is about reducing the "other" software on your machine so that it has more available resources to do what it is you need: "use it on line", whatever that might mean to you.

There's another approach that I'll mention as well: Linux.

The very popular Ubuntu distribution calls out 256 megabytes in their system requirements, so I can't say for sure how well it'll run. My guess is it'll run just fine, as I tend to trust their system requirements as being more realistic than those specified for Windows.

But depending on your own expertise and interest in getting a little geeky, there are several other distributions out there that are specifically designed to run very well on minimal hardware. They might be worth looking into. ("Puppy Linux" comes to mind, but I'm sure there are others.)

In many cases (including both Ubuntu and Puppy) you can boot from a "live CD" and try it out before installing to your own hard disk.

And finally, no matter which rout you go, adding that extra 128 megabytes of RAM certainly won't hurt. I can't guarantee that it'll help, but these days it's an inexpensive addition.

Article C3108 - August 6, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

George Arauz
August 9, 2007 3:11 PM

These days not really. With the new technology used on internet programs and etc its more like trying to use an old Atari system rather than an Xbox360

August 13, 2007 12:23 AM

I gave my daughter a Pentium III 800 Mhz with 384MB RAM and XP Pro on it. It works fine online, even down to watching video's on u-tube. She doesn't do online gaming though - I don't let her

August 13, 2007 8:06 PM

Doesn't that get really tedious for your daughter Cathal? I mean you can't even run Microsoft Office 2007 on there without waiting 5 minutes for the program to open half way... Even now, IE7 has raised its system requirements too.. Every new program has and not just CPU and memory, but video card's as well...

I have to say this, but if you want your daughter to be any way, at all optimal in school work, you must get her a faster system...

Neither technology or life waits for any system... If the standard is now Dual-Core, you better upgrade that system to dual core or simply put, have a happy time with your bottleneck system..
Now, even Schools are putting a system requirement on all there students mainly for 1 reason: There students need a wide range of resources that used to be impossible to obtain @ that age of computer systems. Having your daughter stuck on a windows 2000 machine w/ a P3 800MHz processor and probably 128mb of ram w/ on-board video is not going to cut it out there in the real world.....

I bet ya she gets major frame skips trying to run the newest java applet while play Yahoo Chess on on the internet... Those specs are below it's requirement and guess what, most online email services are migrating to java if they havnt already... P3's are way too outdated for the internet or any use as of now.. Stick with the standards.. You wont be sorry and will never have to spend more than $500 every 3-4 years to upgrade/replace your system..

Aaron Whooley
March 22, 2008 2:21 PM

1ghz is more than enough to run a pc with firefox, dont use IE, slows down system, you could even get away with 500 MHz!, Trust me, I did! and many friends agree!, Cathal, That system seems fine, as long as you have a decent graphics card, you should not encounter any problems.

February 22, 2009 10:33 AM

I have a 1.6ghz celeron thinkpad with 512mb of ram and it runs faster then my 2.2GHz dell latitude p-4m
with 512mb of ram. i used to have a 400MHz celeron desktop with 512mb of ram and it was fine for email and word prossesingbut internet was to slow at rendering pages on the same connection as mylaptop

that 1GHZ laptop should be fine for regular internet and you tube if u max out the ram

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