Speeding up your computer

Unfortunately, as computers age, they inevitably slow down and have to be replaced. However, you can make adjustments to improve the computer’s performance and this could give you longer usage. There are likely other solutions, these are just a few simple ones.

Adjust visual settings

Open Start and type in “performance”.

Select “Adjust Appearance and Performance of Windows

Use the radio buttons to choose for best performance or set custom. Note that the “best performance” setting will remove all the effects and can make interacting with the start menu etc feel a bit bland. I suggest leaving “smooth edges of screen fonts” on.

Check for viruses 👩‍💻

Viruses on your computer can consume resources as well as spy on your behaviour. Make sure to run a virus scan either with Windows Defender (default), the Mac equivalent, or a third-party scanner such as Norton or Kaspersky.

You may be running out of space

Your computer needs free space in order to perform tasks properly so if your hard drive is almost full it can inhibit performance.

Open File Explorer (previously Windows Explorer), go to This PC and check the bar for C Drive, which will give you an overview of how much space is being used. If you are running out of space you could try the following:

  • Delete unnecessary files
  • Move files to external hard drives, pen drives, and other external storage
  • Uninstall programs you don’t use very often

Background Processes

Programs can add non-system processes to the background which may eat up your computer’s performance. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc and expand the Task Manager or switch to the Processes tab if using an older OS and check which processes are eating up the most CPU and memory by clicking the title to sort by greatest/least usage. It may jump around quite a bit.

Too much running

If you have too many programs, be it word processors, creative software, browsers, etc, this will put more strain on the performance. Try to trim these down to only what you are actually using at the time where possible.

It just can’t cope

A mouse cannot pull a carriage (mouse-scaled carriages aside, which would be rather adorable). It may be that your computer simply cannot handle what you are trying to run with it, especially regarding games. Check that your computer’s specs are sufficient to run what you are trying to run. In some cases, especially with desktop PCs, you can upgrade the hardware such as adding extra memory to improve performance. It’s advised to speak to a company or individual who knows about this if you are unsure.


Computers can accumulate dust in the vents and prevent them from being able to properly cool the components, which puts additional stress on the computer. Cleaning this out such as with a pressurised air blower (use the right type) can help to dispell the debris inside. Also, make sure the computer tower/laptop is in a good place to be able to ventilate. If you are using a laptop you can also buy a riser which elevates your laptop to ventilate and make include an independent fan.


This is something of a last resort but you can reset, essentially format the computer. If you clear apps only then your files will be safe though you’ll have to reinstall any non-default applications you want to use. Open Start and type in Reset


🎦 How to use your laptop like a desktop PC

Video tutorial by me, how to set up your laptop to use it like a PC as I have done for mine. Laptop screens and inputs can be a bit awkward to use and inaccurate in regards to the screens so this workaround allows you to use your existing hardware augmeted with some desktop PC components. The laptop can of course be disconnected from this and used normally at any point.

Photoshop: Simple rainbow brush

Originally posted (by me) as an answer on Quora, I thought I’d also post it here.

How do you make a rainbow brush in Photoshop?

For your question I tried using the colour dynamics setting (highlighted below) on a regular colour brush with the Brush tool options (Window-> Brush or F5):

However I don’t think this is what you are after and I cannot see an option to blend them better. Yeah I’m just scribbling

The more separate ones was where I tried using the Scatter setting

An alternative is to, again, paint with any brush then:

Double-click the layer with the painting.

Switch on Gradient Overlay

Double-click the gradient there.

And add the Spectrum gradient. You may need to reset your gradients set to find it (little cog

icon-> Reset gradients)

And like so, though probably not with just a scribble:

Working with layer masks

Use masks to hide layers in Photoshop

(originally written by me as an answer on Quora)

When you assign a mask to a layer, adjustment layer or folder you are telling Photoshop to show anything that, in the mask, is filled white and hide anything filled black. Say if I was to create a rectangle and fill it with black, the image would display everything except for what is within the black area. I’ve circled the mask in the below screenshot. Note the blank (transparency grid) sections correspond with the sections in black on the mask.

Now I’ve inverted the mask and added more shapes. The mask shapes can consist of any possible shapes including painted on or from selections.

One advantage of using masks as opposed to the usual cutting and erasing is that they are nondestructive so I can easily add and remove parts of a mask at will such as if I slip up and cut off too much when isolating part of a picture.

Let’s say I want to cut out this penguin from the background and put them somewhere else. I’ve selected the penguin and will mask it to cut out the background

But oh no! I missed the flipper (deliberate for example)

I disabled the mask (right-click mask, Disable Mask) so I could see the full image, added the selection of the flipper to the mask and it’s back. The penguin picture is quite easy to cut around but some pictures are awkward where the subject and environment are too well-blended and precision editing is required (especially around people). I could scrap the mask entirely if I wanted and restore the image.

Here’s another example, say I wanted the background to be black and white but the folly to be colour to make it stand out more, I’ve (roughly) selected the folly

And added a black and white adjustment layer. Since I have an active selection the mask will automatically be added, though I had to invert it to get it as desired.

The same method can be used for brightness and contrast, etc.

I can also assign a mask to a group and any layers within the group will be masked the same way. Soft-edged selections will also work.

If you use shades of grey (not the book) you can cause the mask to have a partial effect or make part of the image lower opacity

Using a black->white or grey->white gradient for a mask can create reflection effects (I also flipped the image and reduced opacity).

Or write text, turn it into a selection and use that as a mask.

I sometimes use masks to roughly trim sections of text with a ‘natural’ brush for a grunge effect. I used the brush at different opacities to vary the amount of ‘damage’. Just keep experimenting.

Using reading mode to view websites on mobile

The Firefox* mobile browser app has a useful Reading Mode feature like the desktop version, which is handy for viewing non-mobile friendly websites on a smartphone.

  1. Install and open the app
  2. Go to Birmingham’s History and Traditions, which isn’t mobile friendly but is text based
  3. Press the book icon in the far right side of the url bar Now it will display like this, much easier to read.You can adjust the text display settings using the “Aa” button bottom right

Switching and customing audio outputs

Let’s say you have speakers and headphones connected to your computer and you want to switch from the speakers to the headphones or vice versa.

Right-click on the speaker icon on the bottom right of your screen



And click Playback Devices


The names will vary depending on your devices. So in my case  have USB headphones, speakers (jack) and the screen (no speakers) listed. On the device you want to use right-click and click Set as Default Device


Note that the device marked Default Communication Device is the one that your computer will use to play the sound. You can also select the device you want and click Set Default below. You can switch back and forth as often as needed.

You can customise the look and name of the devices for clarity as well (aesthetic only). So in my case the top device in the list is headphones.

Right-click the device you want to customise (hm, how many times can I write device?) and click Properties

In the Speaker Properties window you can rename the device using the top input box (above Change Icon). So I’m going to change mine to say “Headphones”


If you click Change Icon you can also choose the look of the icon. So in my case to headphones


Click OK and you’re done


How to use PC peripherals for a laptop

The most likely scenario is that your PC has for whatever reason given up the ghost, leaving you with a working laptop, broken pc but working PC peripherals (including screen). If you prefer working with a PC-type setup, doing this is quite easy.

  • You will need (all or some):
  • PC monitor
  • PC keyboard
  • Computer mouse (wired/wireless)
  • PC speakers (if you have them)

Mouse and keyboard: unless your technology is really ancient your keyboard and mouse likely connect using USB. Disconnect the cables from the back/front of your PC hard  drive and plug them into the USB ports in your laptop. If you find yourself running short on USB ports (laptops usually have 3) use a USB ‘multi hub’ to have more sockets. Note that to ensure maximum performance using multihubs with 2.0 or 3.0 (that  means no Poundland). Some wireless mouse and keyboard sets allow you to run both peripherals on the same dongle. If you do not have desk space to add a keyboard just use the mouse with the laptop’s keyboard

Monitor: Depending on your laptop it may have a blue port on the side to allow a VGA cable to be plugged in (the connection used for some screens). On the back of your computer hard  drive look for a large-ish blue cable (see image). To remove the plug part, unscrew the elongated screws on the sides holding it onto the computer. Then plug it into the relevant socket on the computer. You may also be able to use the laptop screen as an extension of the pc monitor. See this article  (external) for more details.



Speakers: These are relatively straightforward. The speakers are usually connected via a cable with a narrow green 1-pin audio plug connected to the back. Unplug this and plug into the audio output socket on your laptop, usually represented with headphones symbol. Remember that some speakers are powered by mains (as opposed to battery) so still need to be plugged in. Laptop speakers tend to be unpleasently tinny.

And don’t worry, the set-up is pretty easy to change back when you want to.