Computer Help forum

General discussion

Why do all Window systems slow down over time?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / January 31, 2013 7:48 AM PST

Why do all Window systems slow down over time?

Lee, I learn quite a bit from your members and discussions. I do have a few questions for you about Windows. It appears to me that any version of Windows runs fast when it is new, but slows down dramatically over time. Why is that? Is it the case that every Windows update gets installed each time you turn on your computer? Or other reasons? I am very careful to not have programs like Adobe reader always in memory. Also does this problem exist in other computers not running Windows, or issue I experience exclusive to Windows systems? Any explanation as why this happens would be grateful. And if there is method to prevent the slow downs over time, it would be a bonus to learn about! Thank you.

--Submitted by: Robert G.
Post a reply
Discussion is locked
You are posting a reply to: Why do all Window systems slow down over time?
The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Please refer to our CNET Forums policies for details. All submitted content is subject to our Terms of Use.
Track this discussion and email me when there are updates

If you're asking for technical help, please be sure to include all your system info, including operating system, model number, and any other specifics related to the problem. Also please exercise your best judgment when posting in the forums--revealing personal information such as your e-mail address, telephone number, and address is not recommended.

You are reporting the following post: Why do all Window systems slow down over time?
This post has been flagged and will be reviewed by our staff. Thank you for helping us maintain CNET's great community.
Sorry, there was a problem flagging this post. Please try again now or at a later time.
If you believe this post is offensive or violates the CNET Forums' Usage policies, you can report it below (this will not automatically remove the post). Once reported, our moderators will be notified and the post will be reviewed.
Collapse -
Drivers and Memory
by mpdugas / February 8, 2013 8:37 AM PST
In reply to: Drivers and Memory

One of the really big benefits to a 64 bit processor and Vista/W7/W8 is that they can address more than 4 GB of physical memory; that is XP Pro's biggest failing...too little memory is accessible under that OS.

Collapse -
4GB is plenty
by Rick75230 / February 8, 2013 11:57 AM PST
In reply to: Drivers and Memory

4GB memory is plenty for the vast majority of users and 32-bit processors work fine. Unless you're doing gaming or video editing, even 2GB is enough for most users. Techies like to brag about huge amounts of memory, but it's like having a Ferrari to drive two blocks to the local grocery store. This past week I upgraded an XP machine from 768MB to 2GB and even at 512MB it was fine for wordprocessing, web browsing, scanning documents, image editing and PDF editing--the things most business users need.

Collapse -
Is the Very Windows at fault ???
by drrasheed / February 11, 2013 10:51 AM PST
In reply to: 4GB is plenty

The main issue "why Windows is getting slowed down", seems to be forgotten.
The discussion changed subject many a times. It taught me and many like me to manage a computer, relating to hardware and software issues that might slow down your computer.
But is there any thing that is wrong with the very "windows' itself?.This aspect seems to be forgotten.
There was no discussion anywhere that compared such problems with either Mac, OSx or the many Linux versions like Ubuntu or Red hat.

Collapse -
Win XP memory
by Rick75230 / February 8, 2013 11:49 AM PST
In reply to: Drivers and Memory

I have upgraded several XP machines from 256MB to 4GB in steps. 256 to 512 provides a noticeable speed increase. 512 to less than 2GB provides little noticeable increase. At 2GB Win XP speeds up a lot. Realistically, if it's possible, any version of Windows should be run with a minimum of 2GB. The past week I bumped up one Dell Dimension 4500 from 768MB to 2GB and another from 512 to 1.5GB. Although the on-line manual says it can only take two 512MB sticks it works fine with 1MB sticks.

In most cases I'm using recent software such as the latest PaintShop Pro, Photoshop Elements 11, Acrobat Standard 9 and the OS was installed about 3 years ago. At that time I already had XP installed and it ran slower and slower. I wound up bringing in a second drive and doing a basic install on that (two completely independent installs--select which one to use from Setup when booting), then over the next two weeks gradually installing everything I used. Once I had everything I needed on the new drive, I then cloned it back to the old drive. So it's definitely not the hardware.

I have found that with CCleaner and occasionally defragging, that Dell and the new 2010 Dell running Win 7 Pro have not slowed down significantly.

Collapse -
Why does a Computer slow down over time?
by pauly1651 / February 1, 2013 8:53 AM PST

Because a computer is an electrical/mechanical device, it is going to slow down over time.
I have found that if I completely back up all my stuff, and format the hard drive, and re install windows, it still does not run as good as when the PC was new. It runs a bit better because I have removed all the bits and bytes of clinging data and the registry is fresh, but all the components are subject to constant heat and use, so they just will not have the same snappiness as a brand new component. Electrical traces, chips, RAM sticks, hard drives...none of these items are made to last, and run at top form, forever. It's the nature of the beast.

Collapse -
Parts wearing out
by Rick75230 / February 8, 2013 12:15 PM PST

"all the components are subject to constant heat and use, so they just will not have the same snappiness as a brand new component. Electrical traces, chips, RAM sticks, hard drives...none of these items are made to last, and run at top form, forever. It's the nature of the beast."

Total B.S. I worked for ten years as an electronic tech doing component-level troubleshooting--meaning I didn't just figure out which board was defective, I figured out which part on the board was defective.

Electronic parts are either good or bad. They don't gradually deteriorate with age. Memory doesn't take longer to access because it's 3 years old, and processors don't run slower. The same thing for circuit traces.

The only things that physically deteriorate resulting in reduced performance are hard disks. And in most cases they don't actually physically deteriorate badly for several years. Years ago end users could low-level format hard disks. That can now only be done with special software at the factory. Over time, the low-level format can slightly drift, resulting in read errors.

Collapse -
Components do wear out
by robroyzz / February 8, 2013 11:02 PM PST
In reply to: Parts wearing out

One discrete component that changes over time is a capacitor. They leak and lose their farads. They are used on the main board and in the power supply. I agree on HDDs going bad, some slow and some fast.
Do benchmarks monthly as well as "start up time" measurements.
My Dell 4600i was built around 1994. The original bios is dated 3/17/04. OS is XPProSP3. It's running with 3 GB Ram with 7 HDDs which includes 4 externals, a ROM and a DVD. My defrag runs always and I do run CCleaner, anti-virus checks, ad-aware checks and registry checks regularly. It's only a Pentium 4 but it's still humming after 9 years in use daily about 12 hours/day. What's a 77 year old retired EE to do with his time but "Run the PC".

Collapse -
Some capacitors 'wear out', some don't
by iperboreano / February 10, 2013 6:59 PM PST
In reply to: Components do wear out

When mentioning capacitors, you were perhaps thinking of wet capacitors, particularly aluminium foil types. These don't so much 'leak' as dry out over time, and when dry the electrolyte won't function anymore, so losing their capacitance function. On the other hand if they overheat and burst, then of course there will be a visible leak from the faulty component.

Another meaning for 'leak' of course is current leakage and all capacitors do this, from new. How much a capacitor leaks current depends on the type and again, depending on the type, may vary according to temperature and voltage. This shouldn't change over time though, it's a fixed characteristic of that particular capacitor.

So yes, some electrical components do 'wear out', because the materials within the component can undergo chemical reactions which in some cases may be speeded up by the applied current and temperature. These reactions change the properties of the materials which can cause a slow degradation, or in some cases a complete failure. Failures can leave the component open (a short-circuit) or closed, depending on the nature of the design; some designs incorporate failure as a closed circuit, sometimes going so far as having an inherent fuse on the component, e.g. tantalum capacitors with in-built fuses.

Part of the cost difference between various specs of hardware, e.g. different graphics boards from a single producer, is down to the components used in the manufacture. The higher the performance and reliability of the components, the higher the price of the final hardware product. In this case you get what you pay for!

Collapse -
Attacking or addressing the topic?
by pauly1651 / February 8, 2013 11:37 PM PST
In reply to: Parts wearing out

What I said is true.
I don't care if you have worked with PC's for 80 years, electrical components do wear out.
I never said that was the only cause of this mans computer slow down, maybe it's not, I was just giving a possible solution, and maybe he could benefit from it.
But I don't see ANY benefit from immature, knee jerk reactions, like yours.
I have been working with and on personal computers for around 10 years myself, and I have seen the destructive power of heat, dust, etc on computers first hand.
Apparently you were offended somehow by what I said, that is very strange, you are taking my comments, highlighting them, and then attacking them. Very immature for a 10 year veteran of computer troubleshooting.
And by the way, hard drives are NOT the only thing that can wear out dude.

Collapse -
'cos you make it obvious you don't know much...
by BobGeee / February 9, 2013 10:29 AM PST

I opened my old PC the other day and in amongst the dust I found lots of bits... Shesh, it can't work well with bits missing, I mean, heck that's data dropout afterall.!! Fortunately I had the experience to understand that I should sweep them up and stick them back in the hard drive where they belong. Lucky eh, 'dude'?

(but I'm really worried about those 'electrical components' wearing out - jeez, it's just full of them... I've got an old TV set like that and darn if it'll only get last weeks programs 'cos o' them pesky components!)

Collapse -
Parts wearing out.
by gnia / February 9, 2013 9:23 AM PST
In reply to: Parts wearing out

Based on 25 years of experience in component level repair, I agree with Rick's theory.
George N.

Collapse -
Mechanical devices speed up after initial break-in
by gang208 / February 8, 2013 9:38 PM PST

If what you said were true, the hard drive would spin faster after the bearings have enough time to break in. And the flow of electrons would also widen the P-N junctions to make electrons go faster. LOL Laugh .

Collapse -
Increased Complexity
by Bob_Meyer / February 1, 2013 9:08 AM PST

IMHO, it's the growth in complexity of the OS, applications, services, devices, etc. that most slows down any and all OS/system combinations over time. Every new version of any OS brings additional features, which results in additional complexity due to more things to manage. Patches usually add additional monitoring and checks. As applications take advantage of those new features, they become more complex and use more resources. New processes & services are introduced to improve the performance of some things use more resources, and end up slowing down other things. New browser extensions, new event monitors (live tiles, anyone?) add to the complexity. It's sort of Moore's law in reverse. In the same time that hardware capacity (all aspects of performance) doubles, software consumption of that hardware capacity expands 2.5 to 3 times. End-user expectations of the combined performance of hardware and software increases as well so that end-users expect more things to happen simultaneously and instantly.

So, for a given system, hardware performance is relatively fixed over time, while both software consumption and end-user expectation are unbounded.

Bob Meyer

Collapse -
Why the slowdown?
by ron ostrowski / February 8, 2013 11:07 AM PST
In reply to: Increased Complexity

Mr Meyer has the best answer. The main slowdown though is boot speed and shutdown speed.

Hardware aging has NOTHING to do with slowdowns. I remember the OLD DOS days when the computers ran so fast you could not read a DIR. We got by with 640K of RAM

The PROBLEM is software. Install an original version of Windows 7 and check the size and the boot speed. Then allow Microsoft to add all the updates and you'll see the differences. Then check all the sizes of Microsoft Office from Office 2003 to Office 2010. Other software has had the same growth.

The supposed increase in functionality is offset by the slowdown of the computer. Most everybody could get more that adequate function with the earlier versions of software.

So if you want speed, go back to the original installations and disconnect the Internet incessant updates.

Collapse -
Computers are a bit like a Highway
by High Desert Charlie / February 1, 2013 10:48 AM PST

Hi Robert - Your question is a very reasonable one and something I hear quite often among the computer owners I work with. My answer to most is an analogy to a system of highways. When a highway is new, it's been engineered to accommodate a certain amount of traffic and weight, and it feels smooth and pleasant to drive on. Over time, traffic increases, weather and weight take their toll, and eventually the road needs to be repaired or replaced.

Your computer is a lot like the highway. It needs to be maintained. There have been many posts on CNET regarding different software to keep your computer running smooth, but my advice is often the simple answer of backing up your data (which you should be doing anyway) and starting with a fresh installation of your operating system. It's sort of like resurfacing a highway. You keep all of the same hardware and simply clean out the junk that accumulates over time on any system. You'd be surprised how much stuff gets loaded on your system over time without you ever knowing its there.

Also like a highway, the more traffic you place on it, the slower the traffic can flow. So getting rid of the traffic that doesn't need to be there will keep you running faster. There are a few things that dictate how fast your computer is going to run. Let's name them.

1. Your CPU Speed. The faster your CPU runs the faster your programs and utilities run. If your CPU has 2 processors or 4 processors it can handle data that much faster. But remember that just because you have a quad-core processor doesn't mean you'll be 4 times the speed. The newer Intel Processors have 8 virtual processors running at once, but it's the speed of the processor that counts.

2. Bus Speed. By this I mean how many lanes do you have on your highway? This is determined by how many data paths your motherboard can stream simultaneously. Fortunately most motherboards are built to handle the maximum amount of traffic that the CPU can handle. The more expensive the board, the more data it can handle.

3. The amount of RAM and RAM Speed. More RAM means your motherboard has a greater ability to store and process data without having to access the Hard Drive. The faster the RAM the quicker the processing can occur. Having more RAM is sort of like using the Express Lane on the Highway.

4. Storage Device Speed. This is your Hard Drive of course. Conventional Hard Drives (SATA) spin between 5,400 RPM and 15,000 RPM (but not usually above 10,000). Your Hard Drive's speed will be determined by how long it takes to seek out and access data stored upon it. If it spins faster, it's likely to access data faster. On the other hand, by increasing the amount and speed of RAM, you reduce the load on your Hard Drive by decreasing the amount of Pagination (data stored on the hard drive in excess of what can be stored on the RAM chip). So more RAM means faster access time on your Hard Drive. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are becoming the preferred medium for hard drives as they have no moving parts and are much less likely to fail. They also access data almost instantly, greatly reducing the time to go fetch data and thereby speeding up your computer.

5. Graphics Processing Speed. Some computers have a Graphics Processor integrated onto the motherboard and others use a separate card for processing graphics. The faster your Graphics Processor can handle data, the faster your computer can run. Only a small number of laptops use separate graphics cards because they take up space and generate heat. That's one of the big reasons Gaming Laptops are so expensive. In any case, your system's ability to handle graphics will play a role in the overall speed of your system.

6. Finally, Your Internet Speed. If your computer seems to drag when you're logged on the the internet, it could be the result of your internet provider's connection speed. The faster your connection can download and upload data, the easier it makes it for your computer to respond to the data. There is a very large variety of connection speeds and pricing available from most internet providers. You can check your upload and download speed by using one of the many sites available to perform this task for you. Just Google "Check my Download Speed".

Of course, like the highway, time develops more rigorous loads to carry and new and improved materials become available to upgrade your system if it's your desire to make the most of it. The reason I mention all of the six speed items above is simply that your system will slow down when your highway has more and more traffic. The more data that has to be processed at any given time, the slower the highway is going to travel. When you first start your computer is like "Rush Hour". That's when the system has to handle the most traffic. Check for Updates. Make an internet connection, start up all of those start-up programs, and initiate dozens of processes in the background. So yes, the more instructions that need to be carried out, the slower the system will be, and the longer it will take to complete the start-up process.

Once all of the initial start-up routines are completed, there are still multiple processes running in the background. I have noticed that Toolbars are a BIG offender of slowing down systems. It's usually my advice to NEVER LOAD A TOOLBAR!!! They do very little when you aren't using them but can take up an enormous amount of resources in the background.

Your system hardware isn't slowing you down Robert, it's the data that your system is trying to handle that has increased. Broken shortcuts, fragmented files, unneeded files and processes running in the background, are all chewing up your resources. That's why I so strongly recommend that users back up their data frequently and do a fresh installation when things begin to drag too much. It would take you a year to identify every bit of data that's slowing your system down, but only a couple of hours to make a fresh installation of your system.

On that note, I'll plug the idea of upgrading to an SSD for your system. After doing a fresh installation of your operating system on the standard hard drive, clone it to a new SSD and you will see your computer run faster than it ever has in the past. By doing this you accomplish two things. First, you create a backup of the fresh install of the operating system on the old hard drive. Anytime you want to repeat that process you just backup data (which you should be doing anyhow) and clone the old hard drive back to the SSD. Second, you supercharge your system by eliminating the biggest bottleneck in any system, the Hard Drive. Check the Speed Index for the items I mentioned above and you should be able to get the most out of your system for many years to come.

Collapse -
Missing the point ?
by Michael Brice / February 8, 2013 4:58 PM PST

I suggest that this response has missed the point. Whilst all that has been stated is valid the question was related to changes over time. Why does the 'performance' degrade over time given a constant hardware configuration.

Collapse -
For windows xp and earlier os's users
by patrycartur / February 8, 2013 8:29 PM PST

try this lil handy trick I learned nearly a decade ago
Do a search for the folder content.ie5
this folder stores multiple folders (the longer the OS has been installed the lmore folders and files will be contained in this folder) all the pages you have ever visited will be there...
These folders are never cleaned by the default Microsft system tools
Remember to locate all instances of the folder Content.ie5
Make a shortcut for each instance of this folder by choosing one of it's subfolders left clicking and selecting create shortcut...
I have never been able to create a direct shortcut of content.ie5
Completely clean each subfolder by deleting all of it's content (you can do this safely with no harm to your operating system) DO NOT DELETE OR REMOVE/MOVE SUBFOLDERS
You will not be able to remove all the files unless you are totally offline...
Try it I have seen coputers over a year old with over 10,000 files in these folders

Collapse -
It doesn't HAVE to slow down. The user can minimize this.
by henryat1140 / February 9, 2013 12:40 AM PST

I disagree with most of the comments here that assume a machine slows down over time.
Mine doesn't. It still is as snappy as when I installed it in 2009. And previous OS's back to DOS 1.0

WHY?, I'm anal about keeping it clean and mean. I use msconfig regularly, I also have no anti virus or spyware, never have, never will. Careful surfing will keep you free of viruses. I mean you DO have to pay attention, screen your email and stay away from the 'dark side' of the web. Virus threats are IMO greatly exaggerated by the anti virus software vendors. When was the last time you TRULY got a virus? More likely you got a browser hijack by visiting some piracy site or porn site.

Another very useful free tool is Process Explorer. It will open a window into the processes that are actually running on your machine. You can sort on CPU usage and see which processes are taking the most cpu resources. You can also detect if a rogue process has crept onto your machine. Knowing that will allow you to detective how to get rid of it.

Most users are just poor PC operators, they don't pay close attention to what they download, they have no idea about periodically checking to see what's actually running. They don't pay attention when they download something, so they get all sorts of crapware and toolbars. Using msconfig on some users systems I've seen 15 or 20 startup crapware and junk programs.

You just have to take charge of your own machine and diligently keep it lean and clean.

Collapse -
no antivirus - never have, never will
by wilson_tan / February 16, 2013 1:44 PM PST

Kidding are you not? No antivirus!!?!?

You are one of those who refuses to vaccinate their kids, thereby invariably risking your kids and others esp. the immunosuppressed & ill, and responsible for the spread of the disease.

As responsible netizens, please use antivirus.

Also most users are normal PC operators, that is, they want to turn on their PC and get some work done. They don't want to have to get under the bonnet often, defrag this or that, registry cleaners.

Unfortunately all these preventative maintenance are necessary because Windows OSes are imperfect & inferior.

Collapse -
Computers are bit like higways!
by ramshah6 / February 10, 2013 4:02 AM PST

Thanks fo the reply, Lee Koo.
Your explanation was very good indeed and very easy to understand , sufficently detailed and logical.
Very helpful.

Collapse -
Be sure to use CCleaner at end of day!
by Ron Geiken / February 1, 2013 11:48 AM PST

I use CCleaner every day at the end of the day. It cleans out unnecessary files that have a tendency to pile up. They are no longer necessary and best be gotten rid of. Everyone that tells me about having a slow computer is a candidate to use this program. It is free and you can download it over the internet. If you buy a new computer anytime soon, make sure to get an i7 processor and at least 8 gig of ram, and the computer should run pretty smoothly all the time. If you have a mechancial hard drive, you can install Smart Defrag and have your computer continually defragged. I have used it for several years, and it runs in the background, so you don't even know it is working, but you can check to see how much it has defragged for the past 7 days or so. I have had my Desktop comuter for over 2 years now and it runs just about as fast as the day that I installed. Also remember if you have lots of programs start up when windows starts, this could slow things down. Get the i7 and 8 gig of ram, and those things likely won't be a problem. I use another program called Advanced System Care and also Eusing Registry Cleaner once a month or so. I don't run them every day, but they tend to remove unnecessary files. All of the software that I have mentioned is free, so there is not reason not to use them.

Collapse -
Windows Slowing Down Over Time
by vegetarianwino / February 1, 2013 6:22 PM PST

Odds are that you need more RAM. Another likelihood is that you need more processing power, but check into the RAM.

Collapse -
Why Windows computers slow down
by Droid / February 1, 2013 6:40 PM PST

I think there are 3 reasons why this happens:
1. Software changes
- You installed extra software which loads at startup and wastes time
- Existing software upgrades itself and the new version is slower (anti-virus programs, for example)
- The hard disk becomes fragmented or full
- Network drives are switched off
- The registry has items which no longer exist (references to network drives for example)
2. Hardware changes
- Extra hardware plugged in (eg. USB devices)
- Faulty hardware (eg hard disk)
- Overheating cpu due to fluff in the cooler
3. Expectations
- What you do on a daily basis, particularly on the web, becomes more data-intensive over time
- Everyone you know has newer hardware and theirs is faster so you think yours has got worse
- If this is your issue, the only answer is to keep your equipment up to date!

What to do about it-
These are my rules of thumb. Is isn't an exhaustive list but it's enough for most cases.
- Check that you have enough RAM to avoid having the hard disk churn continuously. I would recommend adding more if you have 1GB or less.
- Check that your hard disk is not full. Be concerned if you've less than about 8 GB free.
- Install Soluto and over time it will provide you with information about the software which is delaying startup.
- Consider changing to a different internet security program if you find that is the cause of your troubles
- use Soluto or Autoruns to turn off startup items that you don't want or need
- Delete any network drives that you have in explorer, which aren't physically present.
- Listen for highly repetitive clicking noises accompanying sluggishness & if present, suspect a faulty hard disk
- Unplug usb devices & see if anything changes. You might find that some devices perform better when plugged directly into the pc rather than via a hub.
- On a monthly basis, defrag your hard disk with the built in defrag utility or Defraggler (but NOT if you have a solid state disk, you'll just help to wear it out)
- Run a cleanup utility such as CCleaner regularly, for each user
- Check for fluff in the vents or the cooler and remove the worst of it with a vacuum cleaner (carefully!)

Some links:

Collapse -
re-Why Windows computers slow down
by ronrumpf / February 8, 2013 11:20 AM PST

There are many possible reasons for your system to slow down. My top offender is Microsoft. For example as you loaded your system, when the computer was new, the Windows XP OS came off a CD with a maximum size of 700MB. Now the windows folder is at 8500MB. The operating system has become bloated.

The other thing you need to remember is that your computer is a machine. As such it must be maintained to keep it running at its best. You need to keep your background programs memory usage below 25% of your active memory. Depending on the size of your hard disk you can set your virtual memory to 1.5 to 3 times your active memory, but increasing the virtual memory it may cause more memory swapping. When your XP system was new it worked fine with 256Mg of memory. With today's bloated OS you will need a minimum of 2GB of memory to run half way decent. You should periodically check your background programs and remove any unnecessary programs. The website is a good source of information on, which programs are needed to keep running. Just like you clean your home it will make a difference if you get rid of any programs that you no longer use. Also clear out temporary files like internet files. Using CCLEANER is a good program for that.

Hard disk size and loading is not usually problematic if you keep at least 10% free space. The NTSC file system uses a b-tree indexing system which can maneuver through any size disk quite efficiently. It is however very important to keep your file system from being massively fragmented as it will slow down file retrieval and thus make the system slower. By defragging your files your hard disk will have fewer disk seeks, thus speeding up your system. There are also Defragment programs that also optimize your files on the disk. The optimization program organizes your most used files to the outside of the disk to make file retrieval faster.

As Lee Koo indicated one of the largest enemies to computer systems is DUST. Dust can clog the air intake, the computer heat sink and any of the internal fans. Restricted air flow can cause the CPU temperature to rise and it can slow down your system. In some older computers it's not uncommon to find the inside coated with dirt and dust and the video board fried. CPU temperature is readable by software. If space permits your desktop computer should not be on the floor.

Lastly, once you're sure that your system memory is optimized and the file system defragged and cleaned you need to look for external forces that slow your system. Make sure that you have a good ant-virus program and run it periodically. Don't just rely on the program running in the background, do a manual scan of your file system. Since most anti-virus programs don't search for spyware and adware you should also run a scan for them also. Some browsers are faster than others, but can be affected by some addons. Only install addons that you intend to use and keep tool bars to a minimum.

Collapse -
Whole Lots of Things
by Flatworm / February 2, 2013 1:12 AM PST

There are many things that slow down Windows PCs over time. There are some that I haven't figured out what they are.

I have found that the most common cause of a slowdown is too much unnecessary cruft running at startup. A whole lot of programs are written by arrogant little geeks who presume that their little masterpiece will be the most essential thing you've got, so they run these little listening daemons that take up clock cycles. The truly excellent program WinAmp is an offender here with its "Agent," and other commonplace programs, even including the nearly wholly altruistic, do this. If you have Adobe CS it may even be running version control software that slows you down a lot. So does Apple stuff, like "Bonjour" that comes with iTunes.

You can use a startup program, like Microsoft's own Autoruns (obtainable for free at, or any of literally dozens of others, to pick and choose, but you have to be careful deactivating the entries it locates. It doesn't distinguish overtly between the necessary and unnecessary start-up programs, but you can usually make a pretty good guess from the location of the executable.

Another source of any slowdown is your anti-malware application. If you're running one that your ISP gave you for free it will almost always be a resource hog. McAfee and older (pre-2010) versions of Norton will slow down your PC significantly, as will many others. Newer Norton and a number of freeware programs like Avast, Avira and Panda are quite lightweight in the load they put on your system.

One of the worst things that slows down performance is adware/spyware. You should scan frequently with something like SpyBot Search and destroy or Ad-Aware, although these have now taken to running things resident in RAM that slow you down (but you can deactivate those features, and I advise it for most of them).

Obviously viruses can just destroy performance, among other things, but I assume you know this already.

Fragmentation of the data on the hard disk can also slow a computer down badly, but this doesn't usually become noticeable until the data becomes really BADLY fragmented. A simple defragging will handle this nicely; better defragmentation is available via various software, the best of which that I have found is Raxco PerfectDisk, , and you can download a fully functional trial version that will work for a month.

BUT NOTE, if your computer has a solid disk drive (SDD), you NEVER want to defrag it, but you probably wouldn't be complaining about a slowdown, either.

A lot of people swear by registry cleaners and registry defragmenters, but I have never noticed any material performance improvement by running those even on totally befouled Windows System registries. Maybe a LITTLE better boot-up speed, but that's it.

Lots of loaded fonts can slow down a PC's performance. You can remove the ones you never use.

I once had a computer speed up HUGELY by reflashing the BIOS with the most current version. The method of doing this differs from motherboard to motherboard, so you'll have to look to the manufacturer's website.

System file corruption, which is actually quite common, can also slow a computer WAY down. From a c:\ prompt, as the administrator, run the following command: sfc /scannow . Hopefully you either have your original Windows distribution disk or the .cab files were put somewhere on your hard drive and your system is configured properly to find them.

You can also be infected by a rootkit that converts your machine into a spam zombie. This of course will slow you down, and most anti-malware programs won't find it. There are numerous freeware anti-rootkit applications that you can get and run, but some legitimate anti-virus programs run as rootkits so beware of removing them.

But sometimes even trying (and fixing) all of these things doesn't do the trick. At this point, if you want to speed your machine back up, save all your data somewhere other than on your disk and do a wipe-and-reload of your operating system. I haven't had a machine yet that this didn't fix, but it's a REAL hassle. You not only have to restore your data, but reinstall and reconfigure all your applications, and sometimes updating your O/S to current takes nearly a whole day -- you have to run update over and over and over again.

So, in other words, there are so many things that can slow down a Windows system that there is no way I have hit on them all here, but at least these are some of the most common.

Collapse -
Why PCs slow down: Flatworm wins
by spitbrook / February 8, 2013 8:42 AM PST
In reply to: Whole Lots of Things

Flatworm gives clear response to the question with some realistic solutions although some are not suited for John/Jane Q. Public. The windoze system has some incredibly complex baggage associated with its simplified "plug'n'play" approach. All that baggage and a smattering of hardware issues as well as compromised security cause havoc. Thanks Flatworm.

Collapse -
Auto Updates also cause many major traffic jams on startup
by tds7 / February 8, 2013 9:10 AM PST
In reply to: Whole Lots of Things

This is what I find that causes a lot of slowdowns, programs auto updates trying to be 1st in pecking order to check for updates. I disable auto updating if possible, but you have to remember to check for updates on your programs every few days, or allow check for updates while system is idle option if available.

Start your Windows task-manager at start up and watch which program is bogging your system down, I find Google and iTunes battling it out many times.

But the issues Flatworms mention are big culprits for many who do not maintain their systems. And the more a system insist on taking core of everything for you, the more headaches you will have.

Collapse -
On XP yes...
by JCitizen / February 8, 2013 11:39 AM PST

I've never noticed the same effect on newer MS operating systems.

Collapse -
Little Geeks!
by raywigton / February 8, 2013 12:22 PM PST
In reply to: Whole Lots of Things

"written by arrogant little geeks who presume that their little masterpiece will be the most essential thing you've got." Laugh

My friend, I couldn't have said it better. The amount of stuff being loaded at startup is a major problem for most people.

Collapse -
slow down.
by stormtrooper / February 8, 2013 6:46 PM PST
In reply to: Little Geeks!

The main problem with windows is that its programmers are lazy. When writing applications instead of using libraries available in the operating system they replicate ones from earlier versions or ones from a C issue. Compiling a program used to be instrumental in writing a piece of machine code that worked independant of the operating system it was working on, yet because it used the correct code and output to the VDU via the graphics processor. This made programs compact and quickly deployable. Now you get a variation in Processors, VDU's Graphic adapters and memory. Essentially 64 bit programming is no different to 8 bit programming except the parameters have changed. Ask yourself why is Apple so widely lauded, there is your answer. You pay very little for O/S upgrades and the architecture doesn't really change much, and most importantly it is built by the manufacturer of the operating system. So there are less deployment issues. Writing for one setup is not much different than writing for another. Windows PC's are so diverse you can never really have two identical PC's even if they had exactly the same components. So there is your first real issue with why your PC slows down. It could have the same chips in it as the Apple but because it has issues with tasking you will always have slowing issues.

Popular Forums
Computer Help 51,912 discussions
Computer Newbies 10,498 discussions
Laptops 20,411 discussions
Security 30,882 discussions
TVs & Home Theaters 21,253 discussions
Windows 10 1,672 discussions
Phones 16,494 discussions
Windows 7 7,855 discussions
Networking & Wireless 15,504 discussions


Find the best hybrids on the market!

Hybrid technology can be applied to any type of car, and the best show the most significant fuel economy improvements over a similar gasoline-only car.