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Has your computer slowed down over time? Here's why, and how to fix it

All computers will slow down over time, due to more programs being installed or the system simply becoming clogged up. However, there are ways to make it and nice speedy again.

A dirty ol' laptop, in need of some attention.
A dirty ol' laptop, in need of some attention.
Image: Mister Softy via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE HONEYMOON PERIOD after buying a new computer, where all programs run fast and everything seems to work perfectly, can sometimes only last a few months.

For some it could last years because we all use our computers for different tasks and activities, which means there isn’t one single reason that pinpoints why this slowdown happens.

The thing is, when you first get a new computer and boot it up it works lightning fast. That’s because it doesn’t have anything on it. Regardless of whether you have a PC or Mac, over time as you download files, install software, and go online, your computer gets bloated with files that hog system resources. In addition, there are many other things that contribute to a slowdown. We explored some of the major causes.

Software and hard drive corruption.

We started by speaking with Rachel, a tech expert with Tekserve. She told us that software and hard drive corruption are two reasons why your computer may slow down over time.

Corruption can be caused by a host of things but it’s mostly bugs in the operating system, corrupted RAM data, static electricity (from carpet or other fabrics), power surges, failing hardware, and for Windows users, normal operating system decomposition with age.

Two other huge culprits are not having enough RAM (memory to run programs) and simply running out of hard disk space.

Constantly seek more RAM

Not having enough RAM causes your hard drive to try to compensate for a lack of memory. The computer will constantly seek more RAM taking away resources from other tasks.

Another thing users fall victim to is installing unnecessary software. This will fill up your hard drive, causing you to run out of space at the price of speed.

There are useful free programs that help you easily identify what is taking up space on your hard drive:

  • For Mac users try: OmniDiskSweeper, a free program that breaks down exactly which files take up the most space.
  • For PC users try WinDirStat, a disk usage statistics viewer and cleanup tool.

But what if you don’t have a lot of apps or programs on your computer and it’s still going slow?

If you’re updating your software regularly, that can contribute to a slowdown because the updates themselves take up more space and require more system resources. Whitson Gordon of Lifehacker points out that, “in theory, if you did a clean install and never updated any of your software, everything would run as fast in year four as it did on day one. But that’s not exactly a feasible—or secure—way to use your computer.”

If you have a spinning hard drive, once they get older they simply start to slow down as they reach the end of life. It’s important to note that all spinning hard drives will die eventually, it could be tomorrow but it could also happen 10 years from now. It’s just the nature of their design.

A spinning hard drive, or HDD. Pretty, isn’t it? (Image Credit: Numinosity/Flickr)

A simple solution to prevent slowdowns caused by the hard drive is to install a solid state hard drive (SSD) in your current computer or buy a new computer with one. Solid state hard drives take advantage of flash memory, which is found primarily in tablets and smartphones. Without going too deep, a SSD’s flash memory doesn’t have an arm like the above hard drive to write data, instead it relies on a processor making it much more reliable. You can read more about the difference between a SSD and HDD here.

We also can’t ignore that fact that for PC users malware and viruses can also contribute to a computer slowing down. A huge misconception with PC users is that you need to load up on antivirus software to keep your computer fast. This is simply a myth, dismissed by Whitson Gordon too.

Gordon recommends that before you run out and buy pricey antivirus software you should first:

Start by learning a bit more about viruses and what they do … Your first line of defense should be safe browsing. If you’re downloading shady files, clicking on internet pop-ups, or opening links from unknown email, you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting one. But if you’re even mildly responsible, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get an infection.

You should still download antivirus software though, and there are many free options available.

Besides checking what is taking up space on your hard drive and practicing safe browsing you should also:

  • Regularly clear your cache, internet browsing history, and temporary Internet files.
  • Empty the trash can.
  • Check which programs are running at start up and also see what background services you are having load after a set amount of time.

We have to face the fact that as time goes on, our computers will get slow. It’s a natural progression. The Internet and software capabilities evolve by the minute. These new innovations require more power and space to keep up with the pace. Sometimes it might not even be your fault that your once zippy computer is now crawling but its just a sign of the times.

Do you have any tips to keep your computer in good shape? Tell us in the comments below.

Kevin Smith

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