How to speed up your Windows computer using a cheap and simple technique

Book cover: Microsoft Office for the older and wiser

By Sean McManus

As a writer, it's really frustrating when Microsoft Office is slow. When I've got an idea for something to write, I want to just be able to get on with writing without any hanging around. It's particularly annoying when you go on the web to check something in the dictionary and it takes a long time to switch back to Word afterwards. My computer was slow to open new applications (including Word, Excel and PowerPoint), and was slow to open files in them. It was also really slow doing basic Windows functions like generating thumbnails in a folder of photos, and I've been working extensively on organising my photos recently, so that was particularly irritating. I had stopped using iTunes sometimes because I have a large music library and that often made the machine slow down.

I thought I would have to buy a new computer to speed things up, which would be a huge expense. But there is a simple and cheap technique that has speeded up my computer no end. Put simply, you can use a USB key (also called USB drive or flash drive) as extra memory for your computer. I'm amazed at how much faster it has made my PC. My applications open quickly, and Windows is much more responsive.

The technology is called ReadyBoost and is available in Windows 7 and Windows Vista. It remains supported in Windows 8.

Here's how you use it:

  1. Get a USB key. It must have a capacity of at least 256MB, and Microsoft recommends that it has a capacity of between one and three times the amount of memory you have installed on your computer. For example, if your computer has 3GB of RAM installed, get a USB key that is at least 3GB to 9GB. It doesn't matter if it's too big, because you can choose how much of it you use for ReadyBoost. USB keys are amazingly cheap now. You can currently get a 32GB USB key for about a tenner on Amazon.

  2. Plug the USB key into your computer. You won't need to access this often, so if you have a spare USB slot on the back of your computer, it would be ideal. Click the Start button in Windows (bottom left of desktop), click Computer and find the USB key you just plugged in.

  3. Optional step: If you want to use more than 4GB, you'll need to format the USB key in a special way. This will delete everything on the USB key, so take special care. Right-click on your USB key and click Format. Double-check you're formatting the right drive! Change the File system to exFAT, untick the box for Quick Format, and then click Start. This might take a bit of time.

  4. Right-click on your USB key and click Properties.

  5. In the Properties menu, click the ReadyBoost tab at the top.

  6. Choose a radio button to either dedicate this device to ReadyBoost, or to just use (some of) the device. If you choose to use the device, you can use the slider or enter a number into the box to choose how much of the device you want to use to speed up your computer ('reserve for system speed'). Windows gives you a recommendation underneath the slider for how much space you should use for optimal use.

  7. Click OK.

  8. Leave the USB key connected to your computer. The ReadyBoost settings will remain when you switch off your computer and switch it on again, so you have extra memory for Windows until you decide to stop using the USB key for ReadyBoost.

    If your experience is anything like mine, you'll find that plugging in a £10 USB key will make your computer feel like a new machine. You can use multiple USB keys for ReadyBoost too. It enables you to speed up iTunes, and make Word and Excel faster too. Give it a go!

Find out more about Microsoft Office

My book Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser is out now. Through a series of projects, it shows you how to make the most of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. You'll learn how to design letters, posters and newsletters; how to work out your holiday budgets and manage your address book with Excel; how to create a photo album with PowerPoint; and how to keep a recipe book using OneNote. There's a bonus chapter showing you how you can use email to keep in touch with friends, too.

Find out more about Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser.

Update: This book is now out of print and the rights have reverted to me. Copies are still available to buy, and you may find you can borrow it from your local library. If you are interested in Microsoft Excel, I recommend my new book, 100 Top Tips: Microsoft Excel.

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Visit www.sean.co.uk for free chapters from Sean's coding books (including Mission Python, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps and Coder Academy) and more!

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