Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Best Way to Boost Performance on my Old Dell

  1. Dec 30, 2009 #1
    I am contemplating a new PC build, but I feel that since I am so neurotic about details, it is not going to happen for quite some time. I need to put a lot more research into it. But for the time being, I would like to maximize the performance I get out of my old Dell dimension. The specs right now are disgusting:

    Intel Pentium 4 CPU 2.8 GHz, 256MB RAM

    I went to Crucial.com and did a system scan to see what kind of RAM I need. I was surprised to see that I can still buy it. The scan reported the following:

    Maximum Memory Capacity: 2048MB
    Currently Installed Memory: 256MB
    Available Memory Slots: 1
    Total Memory Slots: 2
    Dual Channel Support: No

    "Each memory slot can hold DDR PC2700,DDR PC3200 with a maximum of 1GB per slot. (not to exceed manufacturer supported memory"

    I am going to go with 2 x 2GB RAM and I think there should be a great increase in performance.

    Right now, things are very slow. When I right-click on "My Computer" and then click the "Properties" selection it takes quite literally 3-4 secinds for the properties window to pop up. Same thing when I click the "Start" menu...3-4 seconds to pop up.

    I recently wiped the HDD and reinstalled only the OS (WinXP Home) and MS Office. I have not completely ruled out a virus, but it seems unlikely since I wiped the HDD about 2 months back and have not knowingly visited any sketchy sites.

    Anyone have any final suggestions to bring new life into my Dell aside from the RAM upgrade?

    ALSO: I notice that when I click on a window (on the side pane) and drag to another spopt on the screen, I can literally see the vertical re-write. That is how slow the graphics respond. Is that a function of the CPU? Or solely the GPU?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Just buy the RAM, I'm amazed windows even runs in 256Meg !!!!!!
  4. Dec 30, 2009 #3

    are you sure? 4 GB is not supported by your motherboard, only 2 GB total, so you need two 1 GB sticks,

    DDR type. Most ram is now DDRII and DDRIII, so have to look for DDR

    as far as the graphics, it's hard to say. Upgrade ram to at least a gig total, and you should see a performance increase.
  5. Dec 30, 2009 #4
    Use puppy Linux...it works blazing fast on ancient 64 mb systems also.

    Anyway, you should try Xubuntu (I recommend this for your purposes)...it should work very well with your configuration.

    You should also learn that in an old system, if you can change to a free software to make it blazing fast, why buy additional hardware?...and trust me it's easy, I can give you technical support and whatever you need to know for the installation...but if you fall in a real issue (usually this does not happen), you gotta goto the Ubuntu community to get help. You also get paid technical support from Canonical which will be cheaper than buying a new hardware.
  6. Dec 30, 2009 #5
    A DDR ram right now comes pretty expensive...you should know that.
  7. Dec 30, 2009 #6
    I remember back in the day when people installed winxp on a win 98 machine with 64 mb ram, ie loaded slower than aol.
  8. Dec 31, 2009 #7
    I agree, linux does memory swap, so don't even had to buy ram, although it would help. Memory swap basically borrows some HD space for ram, but at a cost of bus speed. Still should run faster than winxp.
  9. Dec 31, 2009 #8
    Oops, you are right. I meant 2 x 1GB. How did you know that it only supports 2GB (function of the OS?)?

    Anyway, $78 (USD) does not seem too bad.
  10. Dec 31, 2009 #9

    Your proc is fine. Your miniscule amount of RAM is what's disgusting (and slowing you down).

    2 GB is fine. Just do it!

    Ensure you keep at least 20% of your HDD free.

    That depends on how busy your CPU is paging RAM on and off your hard drive. Bump your RAM to 2 GB, first, then reassess. If there's no change in speed, spend $70 on a graphics card.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  11. Dec 31, 2009 #10
    Best bang for the buck is RAM. Max it out, very cheap.

    The other thing is your intended usage. Different types of software and usage-patterns will load different areas of the computer. You need to be very specific on what kinds of software you're using. Things with lots of data-transfers such as large graphics, video or databases are mainly limited by disk-speed. Getting an SSD will improve performance significantly.
  12. Jan 12, 2010 #11


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    if you are using Windows XP, there are a few "tune up" steps that I always do (in this order):

    1) type msconfig.exe into the Run box, go to the Startup tab, and turn off anything that is not a device driver or part of windows itself; this will include "quick starters" for Adobe Acrobat, Quicktime, etc.
    2) remove anything from Startup folder that you don't really need
    3) in Windows Explorer, right-click over the C: drive and select the option to turn OFF indexing of files on your hard drive "for all folders and files"; this will take awhile to mark all the files; tell it to continue no matter what it asks you
    4) in Windows Explorer ,right-click over the C: drive and select Properties, then clean the disk of temp files and remove all restore points except the most recent one
    5) defrag the drive (Control System...Administrative Tools...Computer Manager).
    6) in Control Panel, open the System applet, go to the Advanced tab and change the pagefile size to user-managed; set both the minimum and maximum sizes to a large number such as 2048 (or whatever maximum the software suggests); this prevents the pagefile from constantly resizing itself and will help prevent future disk fragmentation

    All of this will usually noticeably speed up an older computer. And as everyone else noted, get more RAM!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook