As time goes on, Windows runs slower, and there are things that drag it down from the start.
Recently one computer in our community had two antivirus programs, each one fighting the other. The computer had slowed down to a crawl. Already this month, removing an antivirus restored two slow computers to normal speed. Anti-virus programs look at every bit and byte, a heavy job which takes its toll on speed.
You could even do without an antivirus program if you are careful not to access questionable EMail links and suspect websites. Also, Microsoft's free Windows Defender alerts and avoids slowing things up. Alerted, you would remove any malicious software with Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool, also downloadable. A recent Consumer Reports has recommendations on choice of antivirus software. Additionally, Microsoft has just released its own free full antivirus program, Morro.
Often what is ultimately needed to speed up an old computer is reinstalling the system from the original CDs (after backing up your files first, of course).
Even when new, though, or with the system reinstalled, a computer can be speeded up. There are lots of things that slow Windows down right from the start, or as time goes by.
There is Microsoft's restore program which slows down the computer by keeping bigger and bigger "restore" records in order to return to an earlier stage if there is trouble. That can actually be turned off or restricted.
There is "indexing" which also looks at more and more bits and bytes over time. It can simply be turned off. Click on c:\ , then right click on Properties, etc.
There are a lot of unnecessary formatting tools. Go to Control Panel/SystemProperties/Advanced. You can turn them all off.
And there are startup programs which run all the time. They can all be turned off. "Run" command, then msconfig, click on "start" programs, uncheck as many as all.
Some manufacturers themselves have advised to turn all the above off. The result is that their particular computers run faster, such as with the nifty and quick Asus 10" sold at Target recently for as little as $250.
Then, defragmenting can speed things up, too. Go to Accessories\System Tools. Defragment.
The new fast browser, Chrome, can speed up internet. Downloadable. Another browser, Opera, accomplishes a similar result. Or try DING from Microsoft itself (new).
It is a good idea to keep your documents file cleaned out. This can speed things up. And use your XP file cleanup utility.
There are also internet updates which can be scheduled so as not to interrupt your work, or prolong startup. Have this work scheduled overnight; default is 3 a.m.
Note that Apple and Linux do not have many of these slowups. Yet Microsoft sometimes offers the tool to get a particular job done, and at a low price.
One idea: have XP, Mac, and Linux. The mini Mac can run them all.
As for the simplest and fastest new or second PC, as an alternative to Dell, you might indeed look at an Asus netbook at Target, along with a 20-24" external display. That would be the most portable unit with the most readable display. The netbook can also be had with a solid state and nearly indestructible hard drive. It comes without a CD/DVD but with a tiny removable "chip" SD drive.
When it is introduced in October, Microsoft's new Windows 7 upgrade runs fairly fast and also much eases computer use (that speeds things up, too), available on advance order from Amazon and BestBuy at $50. I am impressed with it.
As for phones, the iPhone/IPod Touch are actually also very quick computers, mainly just to quickly access information once you learn how, and if you can deal with the small screen/keyboard. It takes just seconds to check weather, mail, news, calendar, and almost anything else, like YouTube and music. That speeds things up, too.