We've concentrated on cleaning up Windows clutter, but your apps can also collect pointless add-ons. Take Internet Explorer, for instance. While installing software, we accepted every offer of a shiny new IE add-on, with the result being that we now had four extra toolbars.

Clicking 'Tools | Manage Add-ons' and disabling these freed up a surprisingly high 28 to 36MB of RAM, cut four seconds off the time it took for IE to load and then shaved half a second off every subsequent relaunch. Typical Microsoft inefficiency? Apparently not.

We had also accumulated eight Firefox extensions – AdBlock Plus, DownloadThemAll and so on – and uninstalling those halved the browser's relaunch time and saved us around 26MB of RAM. So by all means keep the extensions you use, but remember that they come at a price – get rid of any that are surplus to requirements.

It's a similar story with Microsoft Office. Outlook 2007, for instance, comes with many unnecessary add-ons, and programs like iTunes will install more (without even asking). Disabling all but the key search add-on saved 19MB of RAM on our test system (see the 'Optimising Outlook' box for the details), and while the initial launch appeared little different, subsequent launches now required only around 0.4 seconds.

Clear unwanted emails out of your inbox for a further speed boost, then check Word, Excel and other Office components for further unnecessary add-ons (though don't remove anything unless you're sure you don't need it).

Clean up your system

Congratulations, you've done the hard work – it's time to clean up. Click Start, type cleanmgr and press [Enter] to launch Disk Cleanup. Follow the instructions and clean up as much of the junk that it finds as you can.

You can get more thorough clean-up help from a tool like CCleaner. It's not a magic solution – we tried it, and cleaning our Registry made no difference at all to any benchmarks – but it does give you a central place to clean up your browser's temporary files. That really did help, cutting another five seconds off the time it took IE to load and become usable.

After one further defrag to take advantage of our additional free hard drive space, that was it. So what had our efforts achieved?

Boot time, originally 22 seconds, had initially risen to 30, but we'd brought it back down to 24. The time it took IE to load and display Google, first 28 and at its height a horrible 140 seconds, was now 35. Initial launch times for Outlook and Firefox were 25 per cent faster.

Task Manager showed that system activity had fallen by 30 per cent. We had 300MB more RAM available, and our applications had been tuned to require less than they previously did. Our work had got us close to the goal of brand-new PC performance.

Now it was time to take the next step and make our system go faster than it had ever gone before.