why do some computers slow down after a while?

My two or three year old Dell was sold to me with the promise that it could multitask. I took that to mean that it could do more than one thing at a time. It can, but it takes forever, and if I ask it to do three things it locks up. I run an anti-spyware software program from time to time and collect and delete a handful of low-thread programs that it finds. I have used McAfee to check for viruses. No matter what, I find the thing is slowing down. I’ve even used the defragmentation gizmo. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do to fix it?
xo, C.

Giving us your specs will help us get a clearer picture.

But if you are suffering from slowdowns when multi-tasking the first thing I’d look at is my RAM. How much do you have? For windows XP I’d recommend atleast 512 MB, more if you use a lot of memory hogging apps like photoshop. For vista 1 Gig is minimum.

As to why it slow downs, well it could be for a number of reasons. Hardrive will take longer to seek as it ages and gets filled up with stuff, if the computer is not clean, you may be suffering from overheating issues.

But usually, what I find from non-techi users is this: They still have 3, 5, 7 year old PC’s but their running very recent applications, applications that have higher system requirements than the applicaitons they used to use when they first got the PC. So sure, you could multi task with the apps and OS that came out 7 years ago, but now their runnign vista or XP and the latest version of office, photoshop, and adobe premier. Of course their comps can’t keep up!

Another performance sapper is the build-up of programs that start up when Windows boots. Many of these programs you are unaware of, and others are simply bloatware that use all your available system resources even before you have a chance to run the programs you want to use.

  1. when the SDMB just e-mailed me that I have mail - notification that someone added to the thread - I got seven identical copies of the e-mail. Coincidence? I think not.

  2. It came with XP and it has 256 MB of RAM. I don’t do anything except write in Word and surf. It’s when I’m on the internet that it usually happens. Trying to close or open windows or give a command or click on one thing or another. You can’t do too much of that or it just stops.

First off, 256MB of RAM is the absolute minimum I recommend for Windows XP. There more memory you add, the faster it will run.

When was the last time you cleaned out your internet temporary files and Windows temporary files? If those folders are allowed to get bloated with old temporary files, everything will slow down. Run Disk Cleanup in your Accessories/System Tools menu, and check off everything when the scan is finished. Click OK, then Yes, and you should see some improvement.

Do you have any cash to blow? As others have said, upgrade your memory. Memory is very cheap. Upgrade to 1Gb and it will make a world of difference. Send your computer model and we will be happy to speculate on cheap memory upgrades.

Cash to blow? No. But if I can upgrade the memory cheaply - and easily - I’d consider it.

Since you’re running with the bar minimum RAM, you could be slowly accumulating more apps that run at startup and chewing up your RAM. Run MSCONFIG and uncheck the ones that you don’t need. Also check Task Manager for the resource hogs and make sure they’re not running unnecessarily. And it can’t hurt to do the usual cleanup of junk/temp files that accumulate over time.

About once a year, I backup all the files I need and completely reformat my hard drive to its factory settings. It helps tremendously with the speed although it is time consuming to reinstall the operating system and all the programs.

Hard drives themselves don’t last forever either. I bought my fiancee a new hard drive for her computer, to replace her old 8gb drive and it basically became a new computer. So depending on how old and full your hard drive is, you may wish to replace it altogether. This is a decent amount of work though, as you have to reinstall everything.

How much hard drive space do you have? Windows needs a few gigs of breathing room and the less space you have, the stranger your machine will behave. Right click on your Recycle Bin, choose Properties and make sure it isn’t bogarting your drive. Recycle Bin defaults to 10% of your drive’s total space, which is insane if you have a large hard drive. Set it to 1 or 2gb at the most.

Same with the cache in IE. You can use Internet Options in the control panel to check this. First, empty it- delete offline files and objects too. Second, set it as low as you can. It has an 8mb minimum and that’s plenty if your internet connection is fast.

I would definitely double the RAM in the system as well, it shouldn’t cost too much for another 256mb. 1gb would be even better if you can get it.

256 MB may be the minimum RAM recommended for XP, and more memory never hurts anything, but the computer I’m typing this on runs XP with only 128 MB of RAM and it runs just fine. I can type in Word, surf the net in Firefox, and listen to music all at the same time without any slowdowns.

Typically, if you’ve got something hogging memory, adding more memory only makes it take a little longer before the system slows down again. So, instead of your system taking 3 minutes to slow down to a crawl, it takes 5.

If it were my computer, I’d back up everything important, wipe the disk, and start over. I’d also switch to AVG instead of McAfee. If you’re not using Firefox, switch to it. Then, if I wasn’t getting adequate performance out of my system for everything I’d want to do with it, I’d consider adding more RAM.

Wiping the disk may seem a bit extreme, but there’s so much spyware and crap out there that can slow down your system that even if you are a computer geek, you can spend weeks trying to get it all out of your system. It’s just faster and easier to start over, IMHO.

Don’t really want to second-guess you (since clearly you use your own computer and I don’t), but I find this kind of hard to believe, to be honest. Back when I was too skint to afford an upgrade I went through and stripped about everything out of XP I possibly could, going through the startup crap and turning off every service I could get away with, and the absolute minimum footprint I ever got XP running on was 133MB. It may be that if you’ve got a particularly speedy disk, paging isn’t as painful for you as on some systems, but I’d be frankly amazed if your memory usage with Word and FF running isn’t considerably higher than the RAM you’ve got. You might be surprised at the change with an upgrade to 512MB or 1G.

Also, while you do often get slowly increasing memory usage, the difference between 128MB and 1G is way more than just 5 minutes of non-paging versus three. For instance, my computer’s been on since yesterday; I’m running Opera, Outlook, MSN, an apache server and google desktop, and my usage is stable at just under 500MB. So for me, the difference between 256MB and 1G is the difference between constant paging, and almost none. Or to put it another way, the difference between my computer being nigh-unusable, or not.

So to the OP, I would heartily recommend a memory upgrade and a little bit of poking around with the startup programs before considering wiping your disk. With XP, it really shouldn’t be necessary to rebuild your system just to rectify speed issues.

I’m in agreement with what you say here but, although being a Firefox devotee and using it on five systems, there are those who claim that Firefox is a memory hog.
I have never had reason to complain about Firefox but it may be a point worth considering.

I’d underscore the ‘dump McAfee’ statement too.
Some people seem to have issues with AVG though, in which case Avast is a very good alternative.

Now I’m going to trot out the obligatory Linux promotional!
I have Ubuntu on two systems.
One is a Duron 700 with around 700Meg and is (still) running Hoary.
XP is on the same machine.
Both run fine but Ubuntu boots in ¼ the time it takes XP and in general responds more quickly.
I also have an Athlon 64 3200+ that was never intended to be a speed machine. It had XP on it for a while and was quite satisfactory but running Feisty it is far quicker and indeed in contrast to XP it increases in speed with use.

Both are faster than my new Vista laptop with dual Pentium 1600’s. It has slowed significantly since birth although all crapware/shovelware has been removed.

[/Linux rant]

If you also install Spybot Search & Destroy 1.4 and use advanced mode/tools there is a secure shredder there that will find and remove a load of rubbish that XP is oblivious to.
Not that a lot of XP machines will not really empty the temp folder when you run ‘Disc Cleanup’. It thinks it has but misses by a mile.

This is great info. I’m wondering if this piece of information solidifies any of the advice so far: occasionally, when things seem to grind to a halt, I press Cnt/alt/delete and get the Windows Task Manager, and when I check on CPU usage to discover that it’s at 100%. I presume that means that something is in some sort of endless loop that is keeping anything from happening - sort of like a gridlock. Does that just verify what others have suggested about getting more RAM and getting rid of startup programs that are running in the background? Or does it indicate something else?

The 100% CPU utlization indicates that some piece of softare is broken. More RAM or a cache cleanout, while nice in themselves, will do NOTHING to stop the 100% utilization from occurring.

Once the 100% utilization problem is triggered, our next troubleshooting step is to switch the Task Manager to the Processes tab, check the box for [Show processes from all users], and sort by the CPU column. With a runaway processs it may take 3 or 4 minutes to make those 3 clicks, so best to preset task manager that way leave it open until the problem happens.

Once we know which process is the hog we can begin to fix it. Keep us posted.

I have seen dozens of them, they usually eat hard drives after a couple years from tons of caching. This is also more feasible without SP2 onboard.

A few other things to consider:
Consider me a third on dumping Mcaffee, its one of the biggest resource hogs out there in the AV world.

Defrag, since you will be caching constantly with 256M, having a consistently defragged HD will make a serious difference. Consider downloading and running the 10 day trial of diskkeeper and make sure to defrag you MFT and page file, I have seen several machines with badly fragmented pagefiles that eventually grind to a stop.

Look into more RAM, a 256MB stick of DDR400 will only run you around $30-$40. Pull your old ram and take it with you when you go shopping in case you dont know what you have, a decent shop can ID it and get an appropriate additional stick.

Dumping startup programs will help with this, RAM will not.

After cleaning the drive and defragging, manually set the swapfile size. This will keep it from spreading/fragmenting all over the drive.

My old laptop with 256 megs of RAM runs XP like greased lightning. It is true that upping your RAM is always good, but unless you make some changes to the way your computer runs, you’ll experience the same clogging later. Definitely uncheck in msconfig the programs you don’t want to start up every time, but go a step further and follow this guide, keeping in mind that it’s **always **necessary to back up your current registry before changing any settings: http://skeletorscorpse.com/joomla/content/view/174/170/

It’s the best step-by-step I’ve seen that will get you clean using freeware only. This stuff really works. On my computer with 256 megs of ram I can listen to music, check email, use GIS programs, etc. Hell, my wife even runs Matlab on it. Not too fast, but good enough. Always be thinking of other ways to clean up - things like getting rid of Adobe Acrobat if you’re just using the free ‘reader’ version. That program is bloated and unnecessarily terrible. Uninstall it and use as a default something free like PDF-XChange viewer, which even lets you (gasp) write on and change PDFs. If you’re bogging down then it’s nothing a little cleaning won’t fix. More RAM is great but not necessary to do the basics you’re talking about.