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So my mum brought her laptop over last night and asked if I can do anything about the fact it runs noticably slower than it did when she got it. It's a low end Toshiba running Vista Home Premium.

When she got it I went through and uninstalled most of the OEM-ed crap that came on it and it ran fine. While there are a few extra things installed now there's not enough to account for the impact.

My feeling is that rather than it being a specific issue this is the inevitable Windows performance degredation over time.

I've used Windows in one form or another since 3.1 but have never really understood why this is or how to prevent or treat it.

Can anyone tell me why it happens and, critically, whether there is anything (short of a full reinstall) I can do about it - either preventative or a cure?

(And I've tried selling her on another OS but she's 65 and for now wants to stick with what she knows, particularly when she's only had 9 months use out of a machine).

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You probably mean "brought", right? –  JesperE Jul 29 '09 at 17:41
    
"I'm sorry, you have a bad case of computer rot." -- Dogbert's Tech Support –  mmyers Jul 29 '09 at 19:48
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Not an explanation of why this slowdown happens, but you might be interested in Raxco's PerfectDisk (it is payware, but there's a 30-day free trial available). It's a 3rd party defragging tool, but it goes the additional step of re-ordering your files on disk according to how frequently they're accessed.

This worked wonders for my aging XP desktop, quite tangibly increasing responsiveness on initial boot and when launching applications. The most obvious changes was that previously on boot I'd arrive at the XP Welcome screen, only to have to wait between 10 and 30 seconds before the login prompt became available. Afterwards that wait was down to 1 or 2 seconds.

The tool has other bells and whistles (scheduling etc.), but I recommend it to friends and family based purely on the SmartPlacement stuff. IMHO its worth using the trial version to do a full SmartPlacement pass, even if you never use it again!

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The free JkDfrag (now MyDefrag) has the optimization feature and a command-line version that can be run via Windows task scheduler. mydefrag.com –  Dennis Williamson Jul 21 '09 at 11:29
    
I'll give this (or MyDefrag a try). –  Jon Hopkins Jul 24 '09 at 9:09
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+1 for PerfectDisk. Best defrag tool I've ever used. However, I think it's important to note that it won't really help with the "inevitable slow down", because that doesn't happen due to fragmentation. But it does help speed up your system to the point where you don't notice it as much, at least. –  Sasha Chedygov Jul 29 '09 at 19:23
    
Why is this the accepted answer? It hardly answers the question. –  JKAbrams Jan 21 at 2:54
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In my experience, this is caused by the users having installed lots of software, as mentioned by Avery Payne and John T. OTOH disk fragmentation accounts for only a small part of the slow down. I have come up with this approach:

Whenever someone in my family buys a new computer, I spend one or two hours doing what you did: deleting all the unnecessary crap. I clean up everything that I can find, install the latest service packs and security updates for Windows, Office etc, and I move the My Documents folder to a seperate drive. *)

Then I install an old version of Acronis TrueImage that came for free with a computer magazine some years ago. (I think it's version 7, it came with a license to use for free for personal uses, as many installations as I wanted, so i am legally in the clear here ;-) I take an image of the whole system drive and store it on the drive with the user documents.

Every now and then, my mom, dad, sister, cousin or whatever will complain that their computers are getting slooooooow... I tell them that I can restore the old image, but they will have to reinstall all other programs they installed after I took the image.

So far, everyone has acceptesd this. I restore the old image, and they have to spend an additional hour or two reinstalling all their pet programs (thus starting to make the system slow again ;-)


*) yes yes, I know... better to store the image on a seperate physical drive than on another partition, but hey - you have to balance benefit against effort

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+1 for actually doing this, rather than just theorising about how it would be a good plan. –  ChrisInEdmonton Jul 22 '09 at 22:11
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One thing that people don't think about is that the version of the OS that comes installed (or you install) on a your machine; Definitely isn't the same version you're running years later!

Updates, Security patches, Service packs will have replaced numerous, if not most, of the software that was originally installed. And these replacements will be bigger more robust version fixing issues or adding features, that inevitable slow your computer down.

does anyone know of a performance comparison between Windows XP RTM and the current SP3 version patched up-do-date?

I wonder!

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The Delete key is probably your friend in this case. I find one of the biggest causes of slowdowns on PCs is all of the content people have crammed onto them. Programs, documents, media, etc. It all has to be indexed by programs when you (or a program) want to navigate through that directory or search for a file. This is also how NTFS works with regards to keeping track of your files. Remove old programs, delete things you dont need, clean the browsers cache, and clean up the registry.

This old forum post on Joel's site has some responses worth reading.

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Install the Windows 7 RC and upgrade it to Windows 7 Home next year.

She doesn't want to change, but luckily for you Windows 7 acts/looks just like Windows Vista. But it's way more trimmed down, so it will always run faster than Vista on older hardware.

It might cost $50 but it will make that thing run faster than anything you will try to do with Vista.

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And what assurance do I have that Windows 7 won't slow down? After all, it's been a Windows issue since 3.1 (or earlier) - why should I believe they've fixed it now? –  Jon Hopkins Jul 21 '09 at 9:51
    
@Ivo: I don't think upgrading to Windows 7 will help with bit rot. Sure, it may make her system a little snappier, but it will still slow down after a while. Also, as a side note, I sincerely doubt Windows 7 will cost only $50... –  Sasha Chedygov Jul 29 '09 at 19:38
    
I don't think you can upgrade the Windows 7 RC -- with the current RTM release you can NOT do so. –  hromanko Jul 29 '09 at 22:47
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