Software Performance: What causes a PC to slow down over time? by Steven de Rooij
Answer by Steven de Rooij:
It is because Microsoft doesn’t care about you.
First, some mythbusting: many people seem to believe that the hardware itself magically slows down. I’ve heard people say “the computer is getting a bit old, it isn’t as fast as it used to be”, as if it was creaking in its transistors. That’s impossible and untrue. (Edit: I was trying to not go into this further, but as pointed out in the comments repeatedly, what CAN happen is that the fan deteriorates, the CPU overheats and then gets throttled by the BIOS. If you experience speed problems make sure you rule out real hardware problems such as this first.)
The other answers dutifully list dozens of reasons why computers appear to slow down, that’s all fair and balanced, but I’d like to be just a teeny bit less fairminded and say: in practice the experience is really tied to using Windows. Macs and Linux boxes don’t slow down in this way.
Now of course Windows does not magically slow down: there are reasons, and it’s not a single reason but a combination of attempts of other software companies to claim your attention by being as obnoxious and in your face as possible, as well as bad design decisions over at Microsoft. So it’s certainly possible to have a debate about whose responsibility this is. Is it Microsoft’s fault for allowing this to happen, or is this the user’s fault for installing too much junk on their system, or is it other people’s fault for making bloatware, spyware, viruses, too many updates and advertisements, or is it the hardware manufacturer’s fault for making slow and bulky drivers?
I’m squarely in the camp of mostly, it’s Microsoft’s fault. They have created a system that, for whatever reason, accumulates cruft over time. Of course users are going to use their system. Install stuff on it, throw it away again, replace their printer or other hardware, do stuff. But Microsoft has shown few signs that they were attempting to protect their users from cruft accumulating over time. While users got bogged down by an ever-expanding registry or a fragmented hard drive, Microsoft was busy adding a “helpful” paperclip to Word. When users upgraded to a new version of Windows that was supposed to work on their system (“awesome new features for improved performance!”), they found that while it worked somewhat after a clean install, after only a few software installs and updates they had to expand their memory or buy a new system.
(I can’t find more complete, up-to-date, and unbiased charts, sorry. It depicts memory required to run these systems, in MB. In reality, the difference is larger than shown because while windows would run on those minimum requirements, it really required at least 2GB to run smoothly.)
I don’t blame Microsoft for other people writing software to abuse their system, such as malware and viruses. But I do blame Microsoft for adding all kinds of services that slow down performance even for users who never use these services. Also, they never tried to force manufacturers to keep their drivers lean, or to refrain from installing bloatware. They were content to keep adding more and more features to their products without improving the core functionality and ensure smooth operation on any hardware (because really, 1GB of memory should be bloody well enough for an operating system to run smoothly!). Some other answers list “you waited too long to reboot your system” as a reason why it is slow! Is it a law of nature that operating systems need to reboot every week? Other OSes prove it is not.
My overall impression is that while Microsoft has always worried greatly about having a marketable user experience, they never truly prioritised leanness and resource efficiency, which is of fundamental importance for the usability of an operating system. People keep accepting it, and they will sheepishly go to the store to upgrade their hardware every two or three years, somehow convinced that they now need to have at least 4GB of RAM to run their word processor or watch a movie on Netflix.