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Why does hardware get slower with time?

Some of my friends claim that their PCs tend to become sluggish after 4 or 5 years of use.
I mean the PC itself gets slower, that means even if you have a freshly installed OS.
Can this be true? And if yes how?

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I had revived my beautiful Compaq Presario 5000 (born 02 June 2000), and it's performing excellently on a modern operating system! :D : i.stack.imgur.com/cj4LO.jpg –  Deltik Jul 2 '12 at 6:54
    
A 4-5 old computer might have problems being fast enough for viewing HD video on Youtube even after a fresh reinstall. Does that mean that it is sluggish? –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 2 '12 at 12:51
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marked as duplicate by sleske, Diogo, ChrisF, Tom Wijsman, DMA57361 Jul 2 '12 at 13:14

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8 Answers

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Taking out software variables : Imagine you bought your PC in 2003 and freshly installed XP on 2003 and never plugged to the net. Then in 2010 you did a fresh install of the very same XP on the exact same hardware. Now assume you use the same exact piece of software to stress out your PC (Diablo 2!) without doing any software update or even connecting to the net which brings you to the exact theorical situation than in 2000 -->

It might be slower due to several things and I think I will forget some of them :

  • Disk sectors become less responsive due to demagnetization
  • flash modules (graphic card, disk cache, RAM etc...) get less effective (far less reliable than hard drives)
  • transistor dopage and gate degradation
  • Copper and other metals oxidation (loss of conductivity)

I'm no electronician or physics geek but I think there are a lot of reason for a PC or any other electronical device to loose efficiency through it's lifetime.

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Barring hardware issues (e.g. hard drive sector errors), no, it can't. Their expectations as to what a "fast PC" is changes, and they see older PCs as sluggish.

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That's exactly what I thought. –  Hamed Momeni Jul 2 '12 at 6:28
    
You're missing the other obvious piece, which is that people tend to install more things then they uninstall. Over time the more programs you have installed -- specifically programs that are constantly running in the background, like anti-virus, chat clients, even some printer drivers -- will actually make the computer feel slower. –  Eli Jul 2 '12 at 12:16
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@Eli: "even if you have a freshly installed OS" –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 2 '12 at 12:23
    
@Ignacio Generally you are right, however there are a lot of cases where PCs can get slower, e.g. because of accumulated dust in the CPU cooler causing the CPU not to use TurboMode or even throttles. –  Robert Jul 2 '12 at 12:48
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Those fall under "hardware issues". –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 2 '12 at 12:55
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In general, components with no moving parts will end their life abruptly, and will just work one day and die the next. They don't "get slower" as would a battery for instance.

That said, some components do wear down with time, most notably mechanical hard drives, their magnetic properties may wear off after a (very long) while, which causes the hard drive to do more work to succeed at reading/writing data, thus making the system slower (but this usually isn't seen as a well-maintained hard drive far outlives its practical life)

Power supply units can also degrade with time, and start having fluctuations in their power output which can cause certain electrical components inside your computer to behave erratically and possibly perform worse (or just outright burst into flames, if you are unlucky).

Another likely possible cause is overheating, many non-tech-savvy people use overheated computers without even realizing it, which significantly slows down the system as a CPU equipped with thermal throttling will, well, throttle itself to protect itself from damage. It would be sweet if OS'es provided some sort of clear software alert to inform the user when this happens, but I guess this requires standardization of motherboard thermal sensors, good luck with that.

But I would agree that in most cases, this feeling of slowness is artificial. In fact, when we use the computer, we don't generally think about how slow it is, because we have nothing faster to compare it to (if anything, we think about how much slower computers were in the past). However, the instant you touch a computer with better, faster, newer hardware and software than the one you use, you have a point of reference, and you start expecting your own computer to perform better, hence the feeling that it is running slowly.

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Well, yes, for a few reasons. Firstly, OS rot may occur, but thats easily fixable by occational fresh installs. Whether Hard Drives slow down with age is debatable - i've subjectively found some systems where its happened but this question has answers that disagree.

Sometimes newer service packs may have greater requirements as well.

There's just too many variables here, so i'd say, yes, maybe.

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Interesting perspective you have there. But as I said, the test case is like this, the software is freshly installed and is the same when the hardware was young. –  Hamed Momeni Jul 2 '12 at 9:45
    
I'd probably run benchmarks to be sure. I have one system which DOES exhibit extremely slow hard drive benchmarks, and a dozen old age related smart warning, and runs slow despite a minimal, crap free install of windows XP SP3 –  Journeyman Geek Jul 2 '12 at 10:07
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I don't think OS Rot has existed post Windows-XP, has it? Windows 7 is still fast as ever after an 2 years with no reinstall. –  reach4thelasers Jul 2 '12 at 10:15
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One thing to keep in mind is that even if the hardware doesn't get slower, the machine probably will if you keep updating the software. New software will( and should) require more of the machine it runs on, making the machine appear more slugish.

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+1 as it becomes ever more and more noticeable as we do more and more of our work in web browsers. Browsers are continually updated and contain more and more features, so do websites have more and more cpu-hungry scripts. –  vsz Jul 2 '12 at 13:12
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Sadly, software gets less and less efficient as years pass. Developers concern themselves less and less with adiquite peformance on old devices.

This means that installing fresh versions of new software will cause your machine to running slower than it did in the past. A big example of this is browsers, which, over the years have gotten largely less and less efficient, and websites have gotten more and more complex.

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You need to keep in mind that over time the average computer becomes faster, and computers do not exist in a vacuum.

As the average computer becomes faster, the average piece of software can become more complex. Users who create the data you use have faster hardware and larger monitors. That website you're viewing on your 1024x768 desktop may contain graphics which are optimized for 1920x1080 and this machine that was fine viewing 240p 3GP videos yesterday is no good for 1080p H.264 MP4s today. The adverts in the page are optimized for the average user, and even Google, the "lightweight" search engine is running over 100kb of JavaScript in your browser nowadays.

Your 3MP camera from a few years ago creates much smaller images than the 12MP ones created by your friends, and your email client now struggles to resize them to your screen when displaying them. It might not be doing less CPU cycles but they don't matter to the user, what matters is doing useful work at the user's level of abstraction. If it now takes ten seconds longer to open an email attachment than it did five years ago then as far as the user is concerned the machine has got slower.

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A freshly installed OS may not help over time as OSes keep getting updates with fixes and more functionality. They then require more resources to run making the computer have to do more just to get the basic OS up and running. Add the constant updating of programs (what are we on, Chrome 57?) as users tend to use a whole lot more than just their OSes and you have a machine with fixed resources and programs asking for more in each update.

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