Computers are my tools for getting work done. As the Nth Graphics ads famously stated already back in the late-1980s, if you have to wait for more than two seconds, you are waiting too long -- or words to this effect. 25 years later, and waiting for a computer's split-second hesitation is too long for me.
The answer is RAM. RAM, and more RAM. Fortunately, the price of memory today has become so cheap that it doesn't make much to max out the memory in our computers, which is the key to running a fast one.
(Now, I am assuming your computer has a reasonable fast CPU, a quad-core running more than 2GHz and preferably closer to 3GHz. My desktop runs at 3.1GHz. Yesterday I had a wrestle with a friend's brand-new Lenovo G-500 laptop; wrestle , because it had only a single-core 1.5GHz CPU that sent the Windows 8 wait-cursor spinning for minutes on end. I didn't know it was still possible to make such bad computers today. I told him to return it.)
If you are on a budget, then upgrade your Windows computer in stages, like this:
1. Add ReadyBoost. This is the cheapest, fastest upgrade in speed. It consists of a USB thumbdrive (or SD card) that you plug into the computer, and Windows uses it as a large cache. The cache makes programs launch much faster, the second and subsequent launches. Vista uses a maximum of 4GB; 7 and 8 prefer to use 2x the amount of RAM (ie, 32GB ReadyBoost for 16MB RAM in the computer), but the drive must be formatted for NTFS to allow Windows to access more than 4GB. (Macs cannot use ReadyBoost.)
a. Plug the USB thumbdrive into the computer.
b. Right-click the new drive in Explorer, and then choose Properties
c. Click the ReadyBoost tab, and then choose Dedicate this Device to ReadyBoost
(This is a problem with USB thumbdrives: vendors don't state their speed, unlike for SD cards. I recommend buying a brand-name, since generic and free drives tend to be too slow for ReadyBoost.)
2. Max out on the RAM. Most computers today come with 4-8GB RAM. But maxing out the RAM means that Windows can keep more in speedy RAM before it needs to send parts of programs and data to the quite-slow hard disk.
The catches, however, are that (a) you need to take apart the computer, which is sometimes easy, sometimes hard, and (b) every motherboard has a limit to the maximum amount of RAM it can work with. My daughter's MacBook is limited to a paltry 4GB; my Acer notebook to 8GB, my Acer desktop to 16GB; some high-end Windows workstations to 192GB.
Oh, and another drawback. Often all the memory slots are full, and so you end up throwing away existing RAM. (Well, I always keep the RAM modules I pull, in case another computer can use them. In this way, I've outfitted a couple of computers "for free.") The reasons the slots are sometimes full is that motherboards access memory faster when it can work with two RAM modules at a time.
Before buying any RAM, determine the maximum your motherboard accepts. You can find this out (usually) by visiting the hardware vendor's Web site and pursuing the specs for your computer's model number.
3. Replace hard drives with solidstate drives. This is the most expensive upgrade, and the most complicated one. Fortunately, the prices keep coming down and the longer you wait, the cheaper they'll get. Right now, you're looking at 60 cent to a $1 per GB. For instance, today I'm seeing a Samsung 1TB SSD drive for $590 at newegg.com, while for $100 you get around 120GB.
The process is complicated, because it involves hardware and software modifications: cloning the old drive's contents to the new one, and then replacing the hard-disk drive with the solid-state drive. I explain this in detail at...
How to make your aging netbook run like ZIP! (for Windows 7 and older systems)