Why do computers start to slow down over time?


Why do computers start to slow down over time?

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The speed of the processors and electronics stays the same, but software in general gets “more and more bloated” over time. Software gets patched almost weekly, so “more features” and/or “more exceptions to check” keep getting added on, making the software require faster / more processing power over time. The computer doesn’t “improve” like the software, so what you observe is that “it’s getting slower.”

>ELI5: Why do computers start to slow down over time?

They do not. The only things that constantly change are the **software’s demands** and the **user’s expectation**.

If you still have an old XP machine from 2004 standing in your basement, untouched for 18 years, then it will still function the same way it did all that time ago (technical failure like corrosion notwithstanding).

You may no longer be *used* to waiting minutes for the booting process to be finished but that’s just how long it has always taken if you were using an HDD. And if you try to run modern software on the device you will also be disappointed, because it has been created with more modern systems in mind.

Two reasons.

On the one hand, parts degrade slowly but surely over time, especially if not properly maintained. Dust coats connectors, corrosion hits exposed parts, mechanisms wear down from use. This causes those parts to work a little less efficiently over time.

On the other hand, computers are made obsolete by progress. When a computer is made, its hardware is pretty much set. It processes things at a certain speed, is capable of certain things, can store a certain amount of data, so on so forth. Unless you change out the parts, that is all that particular computer will be capable of. But newer computers are designed to be more capable. And new software is designed to use what those newer computers are capable of. Over time, software needs more and more resources, and eventually it needs more resources than an old computer is capable of providing.

There’s many different things at play here, but here’s just a few.

First and foremost, your software programs become more demanding over time, while your computer’s physical hardware stays the same. As software is updated and made more complex, your hardware falls behind because it’s still the same old hardware running new and more complex software.

Another major factor is *how much* software you’ve installed over time. Lots of programs run automatically when you start your computer, and many users have a tendency to install many programs over the years and never uninstall them. They build up over time, and eventually your computer will have to launch a couple dozen programs every time you turn it on, and keep them all running in the background while you use your computer.

There’s other more subtle factors as well.

Battery powered devices like cell phones are often designed to intentionally slow down as the battery ages, to prevent situations where the old battery can’t supply enough power to drive the phone. If you’ve seen an old phone that randomly turns off even though it still has some battery remaining, that’s what happens when the battery can no longer support the device at its full speed.

Devices with cooling fans such as laptops, computers, and gaming consoles also fall to another culprit — dust. Over time, dust will pile up on the cooling vents and block the flow of air through your fans. This makes it harder for your computer to stay cool. Over time, as your computer gets hotter and hotter, it will start to slow itself down to prevent heat damage to its components. This is especially common with gaming; cooling is very important because the computer is working very hard.

Software moves on. Day 1: ‘Add 1+1’. Day 2000: ‘Add 1+1, but do it with a liquid glowing background and have the answer fly in on a rendered flying carpet that accurately accounts for ambient air pressure and wind effects. Don’t forget accurately rendering each of the tassles’.

Also, software gets bigger / storage gets slower and fragmented. Day 1: ‘Move this brick over here’. Day 2000: ‘Move this atlas stone, the first of 300 that also need to be moved, from here to here; and by now someone has left a mess in the pit so you have to pick your way more carefully across the ground to not disturb anything. Also, in some places the ground is actually a thinly covered abyss, so if it falls through, leave a flag there, go get an identical stone and put it someplace else.’

More stuff is happening at once as all the applications (that have background operations) you’ve installed over time add up. As above, but ‘And also there are 15 other people moving through the same tunnel to get to the pit. Wait in line.’

It’s a Windows thing.

(And MacOS)

Linux computers get faster over time, because Linux gets faster. Updates incrementally improve the code, and my laptop is faster now than it was when I got it, 2 years ago, if only a little.

On Windows, it gets slower and slower because Microsoft. I don’t think I need to explain. PS: they made Internet Explorer.

On MacOS it gets slower because Apple adds features and eye candy to each version of MacOS.

PS: The MacOS thing happens on Linux too. Sometimes, there’s big overhaul, and everything gets prettier and slower. But it happens a lot less often.

Reality is that if you were to wipe your computer fresh and reinstall everything you had on their previous, it would seem much faster. Your registry gets bloated over time with new program, and often it leaves remnants. Temp files, fragmented data, over time.. it just slows down.

While sure.. newer versions of software are more demanding, we have taken older 4 + laptops, rebuilt from scratch and installed current version AutoCAD LT for example.. and it runs great.

Now if you rebuild from scratch and everything still runs dog slow.. yea, probably time to upgrade. : )

* Softwares deteriorating with more and more processes running, caches filling up, indexes and maps gettings saturated etc
* Batteries dying and losing power
* Dust overheating the computer because air cannot circulate properly
* Thermal paste degrading over time on both GPU and CPU, despite a clean, dust-free system, bad thermal paste can deteriorate up to 10-20°C the working temperature of a component.

Bloatware. Or just another update. Maybe some left over files from a bad uninstallation. Old Versions of apps that did not get deleted. All kinds of stuff really.
Also programs need more power as time goes on. Newer PCs have resources to spare, so efficiency or compatibility with old systems just isnt important anymore.

It depends on what part of your PC is slowing you down.

Most of what happens to a user’s PC is self-inflicted.

I’m going to assume you are using a Windows system for the following.

Your system startup or “cold-booting” your PC? Disable all the unnecessary programs in your systray that load when you turn your PC on. To disable them, turn on your Task Manager and look under “Start-up” and disable any programs you don’t need at the moment.

Are you running any unneeded services while you are gaming or browsing the web? Look under “Processes” and if you see any processes that aren’t needed by your OS to run and you are competent enough to know you can safely “end task” them with no issue, go ahead and terminate them.

Internet security has taken a sharp jump with Windows and there simply isn’t a high enough need for excess applications like there was 2 decades ago. Outside of Anti-Malware Malwarebytes as a Malware/Ransomware solution, the Windows Firewall and Windows Defender are more than capable of doing the job of protecting your system. I would like to add though that there are two complementing programs that will give you more granular control over those apps giving you an even higher level of protection. “Malwarebytes Windows Firewall Control” and “Configure Defender” will allow you to fully defend your Windows 10 or 11 OS.

Do you regularly clean your PC out as thoroughly as possible? Buildup of dust which precipitates heat into your system can wear your system peripherals down causing premature wear and tear on your PC. Get a strong blower and clean out your system every few months if that’s the least you can do.

Lastly, is your PC really slowing down or is it your perception of it? If you have a smartphone with a timer app or a wristwatch of any sort, actually time how long it takes for your system to boot up, browse the web, how long it takes for an application to load, play different games, etc. You want tangible results and data you can work with in this case, not feelings or hunches. You might want to benchmark your equipment to see what numbers you are pulling, so you have a real world example.

Most of the above came from my own trial and error over the years as I wanted to simplify my system for my own use. Experience may vary.

If you buy a computer and never update any of the software, and don’t completely fill the hard drive, it will run the same as when it was new. Websites may slow down overtime because they become more resource intensive, and that’s out of you control, but each iteration of software generally requires more processing… Hence slowing down as years go by.

I’d like to add that not just installed programs and the operating systems get more bloated over years, but also things like website are way more complex than a few years ago. Bigger images, more animations and more scripts that do things in the background.

So if you open a few websites they consume a lot of memory. My notebook has 8 GB of ram which was more than enough a few years ago. Nowadays my machine would sometime get sloggish if I have too many tabs and applications open at the same time.

Oh and BTW, in the days of mechanical hard drives there was the problem of fragmentation. Files get constantly copy and deleted which leads to parts of files being cluttered over the hard drive. Reading these cluttered files would take much longer with mechanical drives. So you’d either had to defragment your drive after a while or deploy file systems which mitigated the effect somewhat.

Poor maintenance usually, it’s almost always software related. This PC is 10 years old, ouch, and runs just fine, it’s running Windows 10 and it boots and operates swiftly, the only upgrade it’s had is an SSD to replace the HDD. If it wasn’t for the fact i’ve played all the games I want to and I can’t play some newer games i’d quite happily keep this one running.

Ok, here is the real reason PC slow down over time. One as someone mentioned is software bloat. Not only does this take up space on your hd it adds to overhead of windows services running by taking up memory ,in the background to support each app. This but the windows registry contains all the settings and information about each application. So windows has to read the registry to find what it needs. Each added software package increases the size of the registry.

You only have limited resources
CPU -. Processing power – application & services
Memory – get as much as you can and make sure it’s fast clock speed
Disk space -. Windows needs swap space so having a drive that is even 80 or 90% full is still going to slow you down.

This is why people wipe their machine every 3 year and it will run better for a while.

In the long run newer applications require better PC components.

If you bought apple stuff, that happens. I found that out 8 years ago and haven’t bought any apple stuff since. IPad1 can barely load cnn.com. takes forever!
My 10 years old windows 8 is still chugging along fine. It’s as fast as the day I bought it. No issues loading any sites.
My best guest is planned obsolescence. Apple wouldn’t be a trillion dollar company unless people keep buying its stuff, annually.

It’s not that computers get slower, it’s that newer computers get faster, and technology gets more demanding, making older computers seem slower at doing those newer tasks.

That’s the best explanation I can give a five-year-old.

Multiple reasons.

The first main reason is the software that runs on the phone gets updated and uses more and more resources with each update. So a software may have only started off using 2GB of memory, but after 2 years of updates it now uses 4GB of memory because they added new features. So you’re phone hasn’t gotten slower, but it now has much more it has to process, creating the illusion that is has slowed down. This happens because developers develop based on the currently available hardware, not what was available years ago.

Building on this it is made worse the more things you install on a computer that run in the background that you forget about. You may have software on your computer that automatically launches at startup and runs in the background, but you haven’t actually used it in years. Cleaning up old software you don’t use anymore will go a long ways towards restoring some speed.

Building on this more, your computer may be fine, but you may have a bottleneck elsewhere, such as on your router. So you think your computer is slow, but in reality your network setup can’t handle the bandwidth demand of 4 people trying to stream at once.

Second: Dust buildup impacts cooling capabilities, which impacts speed. Electronics work at their best when they are cool. Over time dust builds up, hindering a computer’s ability to cool. As heat builds up it can cause the electronics to run less efficient and slower. Many computers now have temperature monitoring of some sort and will throttle performance/resources in an attempt to prevent permanent damage to the system.

Third: Part degradation. Even though they don’t have moving parts, as electrons move through the computer and the parts generate heat, they do break down at the molecular level. After years, this can impede their performance by a little, but the bigger problem is they may stop performing withing a certain expected tolerance, and start causing noise or dropped data. Your computer now has to work harder to handle errors due to aging hardware.

Fourth: This doesn’t apply as much anymore, but older computers that use a disk drive with spinning discs can become a mess of organization. A single file may be spread out over 30 different locations and the read head would have to jump around to find each one. You can de-fragment these which causes the computer to move all those locations to be right next to each other so the read head can grab them all one after the other without jumping around.

Computers don’t necessarily get slower. so much as the things we ask them to do get harder.

The circuits are made of atoms which have protons and electrons. Well electricity runs though these circuits. Sometimes an electron entering one side bumps off two electrons from the exit side, net loss 1. Well as you can imagine, over time you run out of electrons if this keeps happening, and electronics without the electron is just ick.

Another cause that I haven’t seen anyone mention is fragmentation. Hard drives (drives with a spinning platter as opposed to SSDs) can fetch data much faster if it’s contiguous rather than scattered all around the disk. Starting with an empty drive files will be written out nicely, but the longer you use the drive, the more files will end up scattered across the disk in non-contiguous chunks. This means the average speed at which you can read files from your drive will decrease over time.