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Why does hardware get slower with time?

You probably know this: A newly bought computer is snappy and responsive and just really fast. Then you use it for a couple of months and slowly but steadily the computer gets slower. Opening programs now takes a long time, accessing files takes longer, everything just takes longer than it used to.

If you wipe your hard drive and reinstall, everything is back to its original snappyness, but will deteriorate again.

This always happend with any operating system I used. Worst of all Windows XP, but also with Ubuntu Linux, Fedora Linux, OSX 10.5/10.6, Windows Vista... (haven't used Win 7 long enough to confirm this)

Do you know the reason for this? Or even, a cure?

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marked as duplicate by Molly, quack quixote, Diago Jan 5 '10 at 14:40

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Possible duplicate - superuser.com/questions/55218/… –  ChrisF Jan 5 '10 at 11:33
That question is about hardware. This one is about software. –  bastibe Jan 5 '10 at 12:27
@Paperflyer - indeed, but several answers (including mine) touch on the software that gets installed and how it affects performance. –  ChrisF Jan 5 '10 at 12:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I second Bobby's answer. On Windows (haven't used anything else really) the chief reason for a gradual slowdown is installing more software.

I tell this from personal experience. I've lived on my Windows machine for some 5 or 6 years without a reinstall and very little degradation of snappiness. I have achieved this by being very picky about what I install. I very rarely install new programs and with great reluctance. I also take care that my startup contains no more than just the minimum set of programs that I want. The less programs are in your memory, the faster your computer.

One particular category of programs that provide a HUGE slowdown are anti-viruses and 3rd party firewalls. I don't use a 3rd party firewall (the Windows built it one works just fine) and I don't use an anti-virus. This might seem a bit extreme, but I know my computer well, down to every last process, so I can just open up task manager and any viruses will be immediately apparent to me (except rootkits, of course). Also, During all these 8 years in which I haven't used an anti-virus, I haven't had any viruses on my computer. Luck? Maybe.

As for the fragmentation and registry bloat - I'm not so convinced. Fragmentation is definately there, and I do defragment my hard drives from time to time, but I haven't noticed any improvements in speed after doing that. Also IMHO most of the registry keys are made by Windows itself, and 3rd party programs account for a very small percentage of that. I've not data to back this up, so I might be completely wrong, but that is the impression I get when navigating the registry in Registry Editor.

That said, there still is the intangible impression that the more software there is on my computer, the slower it gets. It might be because there is less space on my already small system drive (only 40GB, filled almost to the brim) so manging swap file becomes harder. It might be that some software hooks into system and is "running" as a plugin (for example shell extensions) although there are no processes of its own. Could be many things, and probably are too.

But the bottom line - if you don't install more software, your computer doesn't get slower. The exception to this rule might be games which you install on another drive than your system drive.

Added: Forgot to mention - drivers also play a role, although not as much in snappiness as in stability. I have found that the more you tinker with drivers, the more your system starts crashing for no apparent reason. This is especially true with graphics drivers. They have new versions every month, so there is a temptation to keep them up-to-date - but don't. The best way is to install every necessary driver just once, when you install the whole OS, and then leave it. At that point of course take the latest drivers from the manufacturers webpage, but after that don't upgrade them if the manufacturer releases a later version. Of course, there are exceptions to this (like if the updated driver fixes some serious bug that you are suffering from), but most of the time you are better off with the original driver.

And a last note - don't go wild tweaking Windows services and turning off the ones you don't like. That is a piece of bad advice that comes up now and then. This won't give you any noticeable performance increase, but it will make your system more unstable. I once tried that and after that had to reinstall my machine even though I re-enabled everything again. Microsoft knows how to write software that works well on Windows and their services are configured just the way things should be. Trying to be smarter here than Microsoft is plain asking for trouble.

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"I can just open up task manager and any viruses will be immediately apparent to me." Don't be so sure. The point of viruses is that they modify existing program's code, so you won't notice it. Also they can have many other tricks, to hide themselves from you. (eg. malicious plugins or services, or ADS-es) Also if you get any viruses they are designed to be hidden. So don't expect to see skull and bones on your screen. –  Calmarius Jul 1 '13 at 9:57
@Calmarius - true, but AFAIK today such viruses are rare. I don't remember when I last heard of a virus that actually infected another .exe file. There are also rootkits out there, but it seems to me that those are mostly used for hacking and retaining servers, rather than mass-spread workstation viruses. It seems that virus writers don't bother with it anymore. They need large numbers of computers for botnets, and the ability of a virus to hide well doesn't seem to affect this. They just give their .exe files unsuspicious names (like "WindowsService.exe") and that's it. –  Vilx- Jul 1 '13 at 10:11

It happens with Linux too? I sometimes notice a slow-down due to some regression in the kernel or an application but after updating it, things usually go back to normal. However, I have not noticed any trend of slowing down on Linux.

Personally, I cannot think of any reason for this to happen unless you had swap memory enabled and you are running applications that take up more and more memory, forcing it to swap to hard-disk more often. It would be less noticeable for in-memory only systems.

Are you on 64-bit as compared to 32-bit previously? That may have mixed results too depending on how much cache memory your system has.

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This is a problem I could really just observe using Windows. My Ubuntu never really lost speed.

Windows There are some major reasons why a Windows-Installation can slow down:

  • Registry gets bloated
  • C: gets really fragmented
  • Startup programs
  • Driver problems

The problem is, that nearly every piece of software which gets installed on Windows is Third-Party...you don't really know what the software is doing to your system, and if it is undoing it if you remove/deinstall it. Some software is hooking into the Autostart and slowdowns the start and reserves memory you might need (Autoruns can be a great help here). Another problem is that Fat32/NTFS tends to fragmentation, making more harddrives accesses necessarily to open an folder or start programs.

Another problem might be drivers, I just realized that my Windows installation at home (just for gaming, but still) nearly needs the doubled time to bring me to a working desktop, just because I added a Disc-Drive + Card Readers.

Linux I can't really say that I ever experienced slowdowns like I did under Windows. There is no registry to bloat, ext3/4 are way less fragmenting and software gets installed/removed from a main application. So, maybe I'm the wrong guy to ask if it comes to Linux.

Hardware Another problem (which will not disappear with reinstalling, though) can be the hardware. Dusty fans and heat sinks can drain on performance. Also, terrible read/write ratios on harddrives can be hints that the drive is failing.

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There was a good article about this on Lifehacker this week.

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