How to make your Windows 8.1 PC run faster

So your machine isn't quick enough for your liking? Maybe when you first bought your PC, with a fresh copy of Windows 8 two years ago, it seemed much nippier than it is now.

While Windows 8.1 is actually pretty good at keeping things running smoothly – it's one of the operating system's stronger points in comparison to older versions of Windows – it's hardly infallible, of course. Perhaps a bit of drumming-your-fingers time has crept in upon booting your computer, or indeed elsewhere. Well, fret not, because there are some simple tweaks you can make to streamline your PC, and getting it running a bit faster once more.

Let's start with that boot time issue, as there's one major culprit in this respect. If you've found that the time you wait from the welcome (or sign-in screen) appearing to the desktop becoming "active" (i.e. you can actually do things) has increased, there's one obvious reason for that. Namely, programs which you've installed automatically adding themselves to Windows Start-up processes. These are applications which automatically load when Windows first starts, and of course take time to do so.

If multiple applications add themselves over time, you'll find that your hard drive whirrs more when the desktop first appears, and that the desktop is unresponsive for a longer time.

Related: How to check if your CPU is running cool enough

Luckily, it's easy to see which programs are booting with Windows, and switch them off if needed. On the desktop (we're working in the desktop for all this article, not the Metro interface), right click on the taskbar – the bar along the bottom of your screen, and make sure you click on a blank bit of space, not a running program or folder – and a menu pops up. Left click on Task Manager, and that will pop into view. The Task Manager appears with the Processes tab active, but you need to click on the Start-up tab. This lists the programs which boot up on start-up, and their status – enabled or disabled.

If you want to stop an application loading itself, click on it, then click the Disable button bottom-right. You can also see in the Start-up Impact column whether a program has a high, medium, or low impact (high impact slowing things down most, of course) – and you can use that info to help you pick what you might want to disable. For example, Skype is a high impact app, and takes quite some time to load, so if you're not a heavy user, you might want to consider ditching it (it's one program that automatically adds itself to your Start-up library).

As well as cleaning up Start-up programs, cleaning out general clutter is a good idea once in a while to help keep performance levels solid. Right click on the Start button (bottom-left Windows icon), and select Control Panel from the menu that pops up. Click on System and Security, top left. Next, under Administrative Tools at the bottom, click Free up disk space. This launches Disk Clean-up, which begins a scan that could take a minute or so to complete.

Now, in the window which then appears, to also remove any system file clutter, click on Clean up system files, and then wait for another scan to finish. You can then choose to delete old Windows Update files that are no longer needed (which can be quite large), as well as temporary files, log files, image thumbnails and other bits and pieces. You can choose which you want to get rid of by ticking them. Then click OK and Windows will go ahead and delete those files, freeing up space on your disk and helping your system to run a little more smoothly.

Related: How to get faster Wi-Fi by selecting the right channel

Incidentally, with Windows 8.1 you don't need to worry about defragmenting your hard disk – one common speed-up tip – as this task is carried out automatically by default.

Another point you should bear in mind is to only install programs you really need. In other words, just because you have a 3TB hard drive doesn't mean you have license to install any and every piece of software you come across, willy-nilly.

Be choosy about what you install, and if you do install something you end up not liking or using, be sure to uninstall it. Don't just let it rot on your hard disk. To see what programs you have installed on your PC, right click the Start button (bottom left) and select Programs and Features. A list of all your installed applications will appear, and you can order them by size to see the largest space hogs by clicking on the word Size at the top of its column.

You should also dip into your power settings – again, right click that Start button, but this time choose Power Options. Make sure the button next to High Performance is selected to ensure a speedier more responsive PC (but bear in mind if you're using a laptop, this will eat up your battery quicker – and it may cause your laptop to generate a bit more heat, particularly when running intense games and the like).

While you're in Power Options, there's another setting to check – click on Choose what the power buttons do, on the left. Under Shutdown settings, ensure that Turn on fast start-up is ticked (it should be by default, but if it somehow isn't, switching it on will make your computer boot much faster – don't forget to click the Save changes button if you do have to tick it).

And as ever, make sure you install the latest Windows Updates when they arrive, and indeed if you're a gamer, the latest graphics drivers are crucial to keeping your speed levels up (new drivers can boost a game's frame rates in the order of 10 per cent or more at times, as new optimisation tricks are implemented).