How can I use Windows 7 on an older computer?

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Answered by: Alex, An Expert in the Windows - General Category
The stated system requirements for Windows 7 is a system with at least one gigabyte of RAM, and a CPU that clocks in with at a one gigahertz of processing power. This includes most computers made within the past 5 years or so. Many users who made the upgrade, however, found that if their PC wasn't well above the minimum requirements, the system would often slow to a crawl. This led to a less than enjoyable computing experience to say the least.

For those who want to install Windows 7 on an older computer, there are some modifications that can be made to both the computer and the operating system to vastly improve performance.

The first and most effective thing that can be done is to upgrade the RAM. The first step is to determine what type of RAM (there are several) required by the motherboard, as well as the motherboard's maximum capacity. The type of RAM is often displayed in the BIOS setup, which can generally be accessed immediately after powering on the PC. If the information is not there, one can open the computer up - after powering down and disconnecting all power cables, of course - and visually inspect the RAM. There will usually be a label that will specify the type (i.e. DDR, DDR2, etc). The current standard is DDR3, however many older computers have DDR2. A few lonely relics still use DDR. If there is no label, one can always physically take the RAM to a computer store for identification.

The maximum RAM capacity is found by determining the model of the PC's motherboard and referencing up the user manual for that particular unit. Occasionally, this information can be found on the manufacturer website, though a Google search will often find success if not.

Once you determine the type of RAM you need, and hopefully the maximum capacity, you can purchase the upgrade from web sites such as To install the RAM, simply open up the computer - again with the power OFF - and insert the new RAM sticks into the appropriate slot. Step-by-step, photo-illustrated guides are freely available for this process, and can, again, be found with a simple Google search.

If performance is still unsatisfactory after upgrading the RAM, a few key tweaks can be made to Windows 7 itself to give things a boost.

To start with, Google 'Malwarebytes' and 'CCleaner' and download the free utilities. First run Malwarebytes, allowing it to update itself and scan you system for any malicious software that may be hurting performance. The program will clean any malware it finds, which will potentially give system performance a generous improvement.

Following the malware scan, run CCleaner to clean your registry and clear unnecessary temporary files that may be clogging up your system. These are both automated, 'one-touch' processes that CCleaner will perform for you. Following that, go to the tab that says 'Tools' and press the button marked 'Startup' From here, disable anything that is not absolutely necessary for system operation. This includes any and all toolbars, widgets and so forth that may be using up valuable CPU and memory resources. When in doubt, disable (but do not DELETE) the start-up item and reboot to see if it causes problems. It is usually not possible to make Windows unbootable by disabling start-up items, so feel free to experiment. Just be sure to keep track of what you've disabled, so if problems arise, you can re-enable that item.

After upgrading the RAM, and taking care of malware and unnecessary start-up programs, if performance is still lagging, there is one last trick that can help.

Open the Start Menu, right-click on 'Computer', and select 'Properties'. Then, on the subsequent window, select 'Advanced System Settings'. When the dialog box comes up, click the 'Settings' button next to 'Performance'. This will bring up the Performance Options dialog box. Under the Visual Effects tab, select 'Adjust for best performance' and click 'OK'. This will disable the fancy transparency effects included with Windows 7, and turn the start menu into a toolbar reminiscent of Windows 2000. However, the reduced drain on system resources can often make the difference for an installation of Windows 7 on an older computer, and allow someone to enjoy that old Dell for just a little while longer.

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