Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q My wife and I both have laptops which are around three years old. Both of them seem to have become really slow in the last few months. I'm worried that a virus is causing the slowdown. I'd prefer not to have to buy new ones as we only use them for email, a bit of shopping and Facebook. Is there a way of bringing them back up to speed?
A There are a couple of things you might do right away. If you don't have one already installed, an anti-virus check isn't a bad idea. Scans from reputable companies such as AVG or Avast are free, as are basic packages. If that picks out something specific and you remove it (using the features of the anti-virus package), you might find an improvement in your laptop's speed. If it doesn't, though, think twice about using a third-party anti-virus package - some of them actually slow your computer down a little.
Another thing to do is to 'clean out' your PC. Even if you only use your laptop for basic activities, you'd be surprised at how much clutter and space-hogging programs can sneak into your system, hogging some of your computer's resources.
You can go into your laptop's 'control panel' folder and check whether there are any programs there that you don't need. If you're not sure, there are some programs that can help such as PC Decrapifier (yes, that's its proper name) which you can download from www.PCdecrapifier.com. This basically searches for useless or little-used programs that could be slowing your system down. Once identified, it lets you decide whether you want to remove them.
As a general rule, it's also a good idea to have the most recent version of your operating system software. This is true whether or not you have a Windows or Mac machine. Lots of people just buy a laptop and never update the software on it. In general, this is a mistake that could slow your computer down or expose it to problems that are expedited by newer software versions.
So if you're someone who bats away those pop-ups that tell you the latest Windows or Mac software is ready to be downloaded and installed, start paying a bit more heed to them. Stop telling yourself you'll "do it some other time when you're not busy".
This goes double if you're one of those who skipped an entire operating system generation, such as not bothering to upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10 or from Mac OS Yosemite or El Capitan to High Sierra.
Even if the speed issues don't persuade you, the recent outcry over the latest IT security weaknesses ('Meltdown' and 'Spectre') should. Companies such as Microsoft and Apple prioritise safety and efficiency implementation for the most modern versions of their systems.
Which neatly raises another point. It used to be that Macs 'didn't get viruses'. That comfort has now gone with the latest Meltdown and Spectre security worries. Apple has specifically said that its MacBooks and iMacs (and indeed its iPads and iPhones) can be affected by the "design flaws" identified in chips made by Intel and other manufacturers.
It goes without saying that if you're one of the holdouts who stubbornly still uses old, unpatched, unsupported computer systems such as Windows XP, there isn't really any patch-up job you can do.
Lastly, know that while a three-year-old laptop should still work absolutely fine, such machines will start to appear slow as online services (including basic websites and social media sites) naturally get more graphics-hungry.
RECOMMENDATION: Try one or both of PCdecrapifier.com and avg.com.
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Two to Try
Panasonic FZ950 (price not yet announced)
Among lots of new tellies announced at this year's giant CES tech trade show, Panasonic's flagship FZ950 is worth a look. It has a better picture and faster processor under the hood than previous models. It also has a soundbar built into the stand, which means you don't have to get a separate unit for decent audio. Mind you, they'd want to have a soundbar included as the price looks set to be over €5,000. The set comes in 55-inch or 65-inch screen options.
Dell XPS 13 (€1,200)
It used to be that MacBooks were leagues ahead of other laptops in design. But Dell's XPS line really challenged that. Its newest 13-inch model, announced at CES, uses 23pc less casing than its predecessor and is a featherweight 1.2kg. It doesn't skimp on power, though, and comes with a screen that's configurable up to 4k. It's the new USB-C connection format, though.