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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.
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Why do all Windows systems sow down over time?
by 3JGProductions / February 3, 2013 9:31 PM PST

It is the End-Users un-awarenes of his responsibility, techical in-ability to keep his machine clean or defragment it, clear it of un-used or necessary programs, removed un-needed downloads, do not duplicate programs that are built in the Windows, understand why patches & fixes are necessary, to keep pace, with concurrent technology, that Updates are to fix, expand, change the Windows Operating, to meet secure safety, new technology, its an on going thing, that Adode & Java follow suite, as the Operating System is updated automatically, so is Adode, JAVA and others, that Microsoft & Vendors work hand in-hand to keep all working. Start Up programs are a major contributors to slowing a PC. If you have 10 start up programs selected, each requiring 2.5 seconds for start up, it will slow down your computer daily upon sign on, about 25 seconds, only open a program when needed. Do not stay Logged In to any program, when finished close it out always. Your don't need 3 or 4 Internet browsers all wanting to be your Default Internet Browser, all wanting to load at start up, some are even powered by the same Major Web-Engine chose one or two, Do not let the Operating system remember pass-words. It others word, constantly clear your PC of any un-used programs & don't download any program you don't need. Go to Control Panel & remove or un-install any program you don't need & defragment atleast every two weeks. Just a reminder PC's are not TV's, you must be pro-active in keep em clean.

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Computer gets slower with Time
by waytron / February 7, 2013 8:01 PM PST

A computer slowing down over time is pretty much a fact of life and it is not just a PC problem, Mac's have the same issue but often not usually as bad or as quickly. There are many, many reasons this happens ranging from simple clutter to real physical problems such as a failing hard drive. There is also the issue of perception too. I remember when I first got my new motorcycle. Wow what acceleration... What speed... but after a few weeks, it just did not seem so fast anymore. Why? Was it getting slower? No, of course not, I was just getting use to it. The very same thing happens with a new computer, it always seems so fast when you first get it and starts to feel slow as you get accustom to it. A computer can never be too fast ... Putting perception aside, there are also many real reasons for a computer to slow down.

Let's start with possible physical problems:

HARD DRIVE - The traditional mechanical hard drive is the weakest link in any computer and whether it is a PC or a Mac the hard drive tends to cause the most problems and is also the most likely component to fail. They have a typical life expectancy of about 3-5 years (often less for laptops). Hard drives can fail abruptly or fail slowly over time resulting in extreme slow downs and long boot times. Replacing the hard drive can often return your computer to its original fast self.

OVERHEATING - When a computer gets too hot it can cause a number of issues depending on the exact make and model. Excess heat can cause a computer to crash or freeze or it may signal the processor to automatically slow itself down in an effort to cool down. This is often caused by dust, dirt and pet hair clogging the vents and internal cooling system. This can often be alleviated with a vacuum cleaner and some compressed air from the outside but may also require removing the cover to get inside to clean the actual heat sinks if they are badly clogged.

MEMORY ISSUES - Defective memory or corroded contacts can cause you to lose some of your computer's memory. In most cases the computer will exhibit crashing and freezing problems but in some cases it can just cause extreme slow downs.


HARD DRIVE FULL - One of the first things to check is to make sure your hard drive is not completely full. You might just find that the kids have filled up the hard drive with all kinds of music, photos and videos and there is no room left for Windows to even operate. Do not let your hard drive get to less than 15% free space.

SECURITY SOFTWARE - I often find that clients have installed multiple antivirus programs causing a huge slow down. It is like having multiple people checking and questioning your every move. Even if you only have one installed, it is not uncommon for antivirus software to get damaged and start misbehaving, resulting is a major slow down. I often recommend simply uninstalling and reinstalling security software every once and awhile. If you find that your computer speeds up drastically when you uninstall it, you might think about trying a different brand. Note: Many security programs do not uninstall completely often leaving behind updating routines still running and other tid bits. AFTER running the normal uninstall routine, I would recommend using the special uninstallers that are available for download from most of these companies such as the Norton Removal Tool for all Norton Product and the McAfee uninstaller to remove an remaining parts of the software.

VIRUSES AND MALWARE - Viruses and Malware on your computer can bring it to a grinding halt. Make sure that you have a working antivirus software running and perform a full manual scan. It is not uncommon for your regular antivirus software to miss things so I always recommend performing routine scans with additional scanners such as Malwarebytes as well as the latest version of a rootkit scanner such as Kaspersky's Tdsskiller. You DO NOT want to install or have any more than one real-time scanner but there is nothing wrong with occasionally performing a manual scan with something like SpyBot, Adaware or Hitman Pro. Mixing it up can often find things that got past other scanners. Many of the major vendors offer free online scanners that you can run as a double check.

PRINTERS - Many All-In-One printers come packaged with tons of software (much of it useless). HP is a major offender in this area. Many of these printers come with ink monitors, network monitors and automatic update routines that can really slow things down. This can be even more of a problem if you don't uninstall old printers that you are no longer using before installing the new ones. I often run into client computers that have 5 or 6 old printers installed along with all the software that goes with each.

BROWSER TOOLBARS - One of the most noticeable slow downs is with Internet Access. Waiting for Internet Explorer to open or for Websites to display can be a real headache. We all use the Internet constantly and any unnecessary delay is very noticeable and often unacceptable. Toolbars are often a major cause of problems with Internet access. Having too many toolbars and toolbars that are old and poorly designed can cause huge slow downs in both opening your browser as well as accessing websites. If you must use a toolbar, make sure you uninstall it occasionally and re-install the latest version. Watch out for toolbars that are offered to you with updates from Adobe or Java as well as toolbars that come with printers. I often recommend resetting Internet Explorer and reinstalling Java, Adobe flash and Acrobat just to get a clean start and restore your browser to full speed. Some Internet Service providers offer optimization tools for your browser as well.

CLUTTER - Having a ton of Temporary files, internet history, cookies and internet temp files can cause your computer to slow down. Using Microsoft's own Disk Cleanup utility or a program such as CCleaner can do wonders at cleaning up and disposing of all the junk files.

STARTUP PROGRAMS - There is a list of programs and routines that start automatically when your computer first boots up. This list can contain things like starting up Skype, turning on Virus protection, looking for updates to printers and software, turning on ink monitors and starting up other various programs and functions. The more things that need to load the longer it will take for your computer to boot and the slower it will run. CCleaner has a tool section that will let you look at this list and decide if you want to disable some of them. Examine and uninstall any programs that you no longer need.

OUTDATED DRIVERS OR SOFTWARE - As your computer matures and Windows updates are installed, sometimes old drivers will have problems working with the new updated Windows or visa versa. In any case, this may require that you download and install updated drivers from the manufacturer of your computer and other hardware such as printer and scanners. The same may go for your software too. Windows may install some security update which in turn causes a conflict with some piece of software and unless you update that software too there becomes and problem. These problems can build up over time causing all kinds of delays in Windows. It is best to keep everything up to date. Note: Many users are afraid to install updates because they can cause new problems. To reduce the likelihood of problems while installing updates always reboot your computer just BEFORE and AFTER installing updates.

CORRUPTION - As time goes on, files get damaged, drivers can get corrupted, left over pieces of viruses and malware jam up the system and the only way to get that computer working the way it once was is to back up your data, wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows from scratch. And since you are going to spend the time and effort to do that, I would seriously consider replacing the hard drive at the same time. And if you really want to boost the performance, install a spanking new SSD drive and watch it really fly.

Short of not using your computer at all, it is very difficult to keep a computer running just as fast as it did the day you brought it home. On the extreme side, many avid users will intentionally wipe their computer clean and reinstall the operating system every year or two just to keep it in tip top shape. Others will store disk image backups of their computer so that they can return to a time when the computer was running perfectly, saving them the time and effort of reinstalling Windows, software and printers. For optimum performance you might want to consider replacing your hard drive about every 2 years and put the old one aside or use it for redundant backup purposes.

Wayland Computer

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Dana, you are squarely on target!
by gcapp99 / February 8, 2013 11:59 AM PST

Your list along with your experience-based comments reflect a focused set of checkpoints that others would find most helpful if they addressed on their sluggish PC.

I run a computer service business and have found that malware in all of the forms it now takes is generally the number 1 offender. By using CCleaner to dump the cache & temp files followed by Malwarebytes and rootkit removers 4 out of 5 computers I service get a new lease on life.

Of course the other points are very important- particularly laptop cooling systems- but overall my experience is that malware is stealing resources.

Figured I would add my 2 cents.

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Try disabling prefetch
by cpu8bits / February 8, 2013 1:17 PM PST

You may also try changing the way Windows prefetch works. According to MSDN "Prefetch is a utility that is intended to improve Windows and application startup performance by loading application data into memory before it is demanded". By default the prefetcher key will make data files for system boot and applications. The more software you run, each one of them will create data files at the Windows\Prefetch folder and Windows will take longet to boot. Update the EnablePrefetcher registry key in your run-time image:

Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

The default value is 3, change it to 2. This will enable boot prefetching and disable application prefetching. Then delete all data files inside the Windows\Prefetch folder and reboot the system. The first time maybe Windows will take a little longer to boot while rebuilds the data files.

This method requires changing the Windows registry, if you had not ever done it before I suggest to get help from someone with experience.

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Disabling Prefetch ? Why not in RAM Disk
by drrasheed / February 8, 2013 11:21 PM PST
In reply to: Try disabling prefetch

A very useful comment. Perhaps one of to best useful ones to make you think in favor o RAM Disk. Will it be possible to transfer or direct the pre-fetch directory to a RAM Disk on a small sized SSD ?

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Re: RAM disks
by Kees_B Forum moderator / February 8, 2013 11:36 PM PST

RAM disks aren't on the SSD. They are in RAM. And they lose their contents when you shut down.


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by drrasheed / February 9, 2013 10:06 AM PST
In reply to: Try disabling prefetch

Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

The default value is 3, change it to 2. This will enable boot prefetching and disable application prefetching. Then delete all data files inside the Windows\Prefetch folder and reboot the system. The first time maybe Windows will take a little longer to boot while rebuilds the data files.

But the default value in Windws 8 is '0' o0r not set. What is your suggestion here in this context?

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Windows 8 prefetch
by cpu8bits / February 10, 2013 3:37 AM PST
In reply to: Pre-fetch

I have just installed Windows 8 Professional from scratch, the PrefetchParameters section default values are:

BootId 9
EnableBootTrace 0
EnablePrefetcher 3
EnableSupertetch 3

I ommited the BaseTime Reg_DWORD value only. That computer does not have any software yet, just the operating system. I have no idea of why your computer does have a "0" on EnablePrefetcher. Is it an OEM Windows 8 version?

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Great and comprehensive reply
by gururajbn / February 8, 2013 2:36 PM PST

This is one of the most helpful replies I have come across in recent times. Comprehensively addresses all the conceivable related issues. Many thanks!

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Like the post.
by nieltj / February 8, 2013 6:05 PM PST

Just wanted to add that a motorcycle can't be too fast either. One can drive them too fast for conditions, but not too fast of a machine.

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Operating System OS
by jimroberts / February 8, 2013 7:33 PM PST

Often the operating system OS updates which are mostly for security, add processes and use much extra RAM usage. This will slow the computer down over time. Watch out for unnecessary updates and keep a check on your Physical RAM usage. If your average Physical Ram usage is over 50% it is time to invest in expansion which is not much expense. If you are already maxed out it maybe time to invest in a better PC.
Jim Roberts
Electronic designer

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I don't see this as one of the reasons
by waytron / February 9, 2013 8:53 PM PST
In reply to: Operating System OS

I have not found that updates on there own will slow down a computer. The proof of this is the fact that you can wipe your hard drive clean and reinstall Windows and then download and install all updates and service packs with little to no effect on speed or boot times. Now if Windows is already corrupted or damaged, then maybe I could see an update making things even worse.

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What a great document!
by LZCenter / February 9, 2013 1:00 AM PST


This is excellent. I knew about many of these things, but this is the most comprehensive and well-written one I have seen. Thank you very much. It's a keeper.

Hope your business is doing well.

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Great Information
by cnj0ancn / February 9, 2013 7:07 AM PST

Your explanation was so simple that even I understood it. I learned somethings, thanks.

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Computer gets slower with time.
by rjp1 / February 11, 2013 5:43 AM PST

One Item most of the writers are forgetting is that many people never shut down there computers. Instead they let or make them go into some kind of hibernation mode. In my very limited experience with trouble shooting other peoples computers, as well as my own, this has been a big problem. My theory is that many programs tie up a lot of RAM and never release it even if the program is shut down. The best thing is to do a complete reboot at least daily to make sure that as much of your RAM is released to be available for use throughout the day. This problem is not as bad as it was in the old days but I think it's still applicable.

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The answer is easy...
by gonzo112450 / February 8, 2013 8:33 AM PST

That is an easy way to make people buy new pc's every two or three years. Just like they did with Y2K...remember that one? Wonder how many millions they made when all US companies bought new systems. We are so gullible.

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So far mine haven't.
by kitekrazee / February 8, 2013 8:59 AM PST
In reply to: The answer is easy...

I'm still using a Core 2 Quad and some Phenom IIs.
I've been using Ashampoo Winoptimizer and Perfect Disk for years.
Routine maintenance does wonders.
I haven't had a hard drive die either.

I'd would say that those who run AV suites probably suffer from slowdown.

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Close the windows... Open OS X!
by leton53 / February 8, 2013 8:55 AM PST

As long as Microsoft's Windows does hang on registry, temporary files and manual defrag the pc's will always be collecting data which do increase the reading time of the system. Helpful or not, needed or useless, windows is going through all the steps on which the system is based to get "fast" access... contradiction at its best!
When i used XP (i changed onto macs in this period) i backed up my data and installed the whole OS from zero 2-3 times a year. Several attempts to handle the slow-down with cc-cleaner, registry fumble and nonstop defrag never really fixed the thing. Guess Windows 8 will show the same phenomena since the core of the OS isn't really changed, and when i look at the price and the very lo-fi support of Microsoft i get only one conclusion: be smart, go mac! Wink

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All PC slow down with time
by wilson_tan / February 8, 2013 9:38 AM PST

Reading the many suggestions give me flashbacks of the times I've had to support my stores' pc. Many suggestions work but ultimately windows pc slows with time. 5 years ago, after the disappointment of windows vista, I trialled a Mac in my office. I was a windowphile & a Mac cynic.
I've not looked back since...except when someone discusses about windows woes. I know I'm not contributing anything technical here but these suggestions (which work to some extent) are like putting accessories & better parts to a non-racing car. You will still have the original limitations. Nothing short of a true bred racing car with its chassis, engine, suspension can give you true racing capabilities.
In this respect, windows is a non-racing car. Mac OS is likened to a racing car, well engineered Porsche. I'm still using my original Mac which is nearly 7 years old, even though I've since bought more than a bakery's dozen of Mac OS & iOS.
Really sorry, not here to start an OS war. I just feel that all the 'fixes' do not address the underlying root cause. Although they partially work, they do NOT address the longer term issue. A house from cards will never be better than one engineered with steel, bricks & mortar.

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OS vs Mac
by cnj0ancn / February 10, 2013 12:21 AM PST

I've always used PCs and replaced them whenever they slowed down (every 3 years or so). But your experience influences me to try a Mac next time (which is probably soon, my current one is 3 years old)

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Lots of reasons
by hank080225 / February 8, 2013 9:03 AM PST

There are a lot of reasons systems get slower. One is that programs, including operating systems, get more and more new features, but these features cost space and time. Anti-virus programs have to deal with more and more viruses and new kinds of exploits. It may be better to think of the computer speed staying the same but the work it is doing is growing.

Various types of malware and bloatware will slow down your system so run an antivirus and firewall 24x7.

Here are a few things I have recently done to speed up my PC:

1. Make sure your hard drive is less than 80% full. At 90% full the system slows noticably.
2. Defragment the hard drives. Even if the C drive is only 1% fragmented, if the right (wrong?) system file if fragmented the whole system will slow.
3. Clean the registry. If you have added and removed, or moved, a bunch of programs, the registry will start getting corrupted.
4. Check for spyware and bloatware. Use something other than your normal antivirus. No antivirus catches all problems. Ad-Aware is a reputable program, and there are others.

Other things to do are:
5. Move the swap file to a different drive than the OS drive. This takes a little bit of system knowledge (e.g. you have to know the attributes of the physical drives) and may not be worth the trouble.
6. Use a fixed size swap file so it doesn't get fragmented.
7. Clean the dust off the inside of the system (if you can), clean the air filter if there is one, and make sure the air vents are unblocked. Many processors slow down if they are overheated, and newer ones have an accelerated mode that stops when they get hot.

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Moving swap files
by drrasheed / February 8, 2013 11:28 PM PST
In reply to: Lots of reasons

Moving swap files to another drive may seem to be helpful. But to my logic it will not give you any advantage unless it is moved to a drive on another physical hard disk, preferably on an SSD. But why don't you think of creating Swap files on to a RAM Drive? This will be possible for those who have invested on more RAM, up to and more than 8 GB.. This will be a good experiment. The readers of the forum may please report their findings.

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Re: swap files
by Kees_B Forum moderator / February 8, 2013 11:38 PM PST
In reply to: Moving swap files

That seems a bad thing. It amounts to moving things around from one side of the RAM (the normal use) to another side of the RAM (the RAM disk). So all it does is increasing the CPU load.


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Swap files gain
by drrasheed / February 9, 2013 1:23 PM PST
In reply to: Re: swap files

Please learn about Radeon RAM Disk. I have been using this for a while.It definitely improves loading of programs. May seem disturbed at times when it takes longer to shut down. It is,in fact, the time take to save the files on the RAM disk on your hard disk.
It is true, but not as exactly as you may be thinking that we are moving files from one side of the RAM to another side. For those who are using 32 bit windows,and if they have more than 4 GB of RAM, why not use a portion of the RAM for a small RAM disk?

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Back Up, Wipe Clean 3-4 times per Year !!!
by Hillbilliebill / February 8, 2013 9:22 AM PST

Everyone in my house knows to be ready at a moments notice ! Only back up files !!! No OS or other reg, sys, ini, dll, or exe at all !!

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Windows XP: The Best Version?
by ericdorcey / February 8, 2013 9:25 AM PST

I've never claimed to be a computer expert and if someone tells me something that contradicts what I say, I usually believe them because I did not study computer science in college. However, in my experience, I've found that Windows XP is the only version of Windows that I've never had any major problems with.

I grew up with an old Mac LCIII and it wasn't until Windows 98 came out that my family got our first PC. It was great, for a while. Eventually, it slowed down and was pretty awful those last few months before we upgraded to XP. About two years later I purchased my own laptop with Windows XP Pro. That was in the summer of 2005. I am happy to say that I am typing this on that very same laptop and my version of XP is running great. Just as fast as it did when I first turned on the computer back in 2005.

My father, on the other hand, got a laptop a few years later with Vista. It sucks. It freezes up all the time and once or twice a week will just go blank while he's working on it. He has to manually restart the entire computer. My mother got a laptop with Windows 7 a year ago. It was fine at first but now it's so slow. My laptop is way faster than hers. And no, they don't have overloaded hard-drives or tons of programs/games. Neither do I, but you'd think that a year old computer would be faster than mine nearly 8 year old computer. I'm sure someone will try and point out why theirs may have problems, but it's not just theirs. I have used other computers with Vista and 7 and they just don't match up to XP. And I don't think it has anything to do with my computer (hardware) either. It's nothing great. Just a plain old Dell, like my mom and dad's. Maybe I just got lucky, but I swear by XP Pro. I dread the day I have to buy a new laptop because this system and computer have been so good to me.

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The answer is right there in your question:
by Robynsveil / February 8, 2013 9:34 AM PST

"why do all *Windows* systems slow down over time"

It is inherent in that particular OS design. As one poster put it: "it's just a fact of life"... I'll throw in the word "Windows" in there, just to be specific. Not all OSes suffer this fate as an inevitable outcome from just using it, certainly not to the degree Windows does.

Saying that, I still do use Windows. I just don't expect it to do everything. Anything "dangerous" - like getting on the internet, reading mail, etc - I let Linux Mint handle: it's designed to deal with that safely. I actually use Windows only for software requiring hardware-acceleration, such as Poser Pro 2012, which is a Windows/Mac-only program. And since I've remove pretty much all other software, shut down unneeded "services", un-installed stuff like Photoshop CS3 and MS Office 2000 for working on VBA (which I can run in VirtualBox in Mint, my Windows 7 64-bit box-16gig RAM) generally doesn't run slowly anymore, even if it does *start* slowly. I don't dual-boot very frequently into Windows, so when I do, it has a lot of housekeeping chores to catch up on. I've found with Windows (unlike Linux), you're better off letting it do its chores first or some software may spit the dummy down the line.

Indeed, because most Windows updates seem to require a re-boot (again, unlike Linux), I tend to sort-of lose steam on whatever it was I went into Windows in the first place by the time it has finished doing all of the updates and stuff.

I guess it's a trade-off: if you're happy using the Linux answers for Windows software, you'll have a system that doesn't slow down. I find for certain software - like Photoshop - there is no Linux equivalent, but it runs okay in VirtualBox. And for the odd program like Poser Pro 2012, you can always dual-boot.

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Why computers slow down
by MarcusAureliusII / February 8, 2013 9:42 AM PST

There are multiple causes for computers slowing but IMO almost all of them have one thing in common, they are forcing your computer to do something else you don't want it to do at that moment. Common tasks are things like automatic backups. More sinnister are adware, tracking cookies, spyware, worms, viruses. They are everywhere all over the internet. Unless you block all cookies, create an impregnable fire wall and stay off the internet you are going to get some of them. I clear them out several times a day with Norton, once every week or two with Malware Bytes, and I use other software too. But sometimes you have to look at what programs were inadvertenly downloaded. Coupons was a terrible one. Bonjour was inadvertently downloaded with Safari. Blix or Blinx was another. These are not always easy to get rid of. Going into Control Panel/programs/uninstall isn't always enough. Often you have to go on the internet for specific advice. Also periodically clean up your registry and your temporary files. Maintenance is a constant chore. It's bad enough when your computer is doing something else becuase you need it to, like run a backup. It's much worse when it's doing something someone else needs it to like checking to see what websites you are visiting so it can target advertising at you. When you download software read carefully and uncheck all those ad ons they try to sneak on you. Don't allow anyone to automatically download anything on your computer. Decide only after you know what you will be getting. One inadvertent click can result in a long frustrating process of cleaning out a mistake.

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They slow down because they get filled with crap
by The Masked Villain / February 8, 2013 9:52 AM PST

I run into the same problem, so about once a year I do a full backup, and reinstall everything.Everything from Windows, to my applications. It takes me about three days, but I have burned all my applications to disk so it's ease. You can restore your files from your back up, so that's pretty fast just a few directories,"Documents", "Favorites", and "Contacts".The rest is your application data. But after all that, the system just flies, at least until it's time to do it again.

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Is there parts of the problem specific to Windows?
by waldstille / February 8, 2013 9:54 AM PST

The answers given are good, but most seem to apply to personal computers in general rather than to Window systems. I would be interested in the narrower question of "Why do all WINDOWS systems slow down over time" as opposed to "Why do all COMPUTER OPERATING SYSTEMS slow down over time" (or do they?). In other words, is the problem or part of the problem specific to Windows (and if so, what?) or not?

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