Why computers slow down

19:55, Feb 22 2010

Most people think their machines are too slow, so I am not surprised at the number of computers I see with so-called speed-up software installed.

No matter how much money we spend on a fast computer, in 12 months, it will have slowed to what feels like a crawl. Part of this will be because we have improved our computer skills, but for the most part it will actually be slower.

Why? Over time, Windows and other software generates lots of temporary and junk files, dead shortcuts and other flotsam, which tend to clog up the works.

We also download so much stuff that our hard drives often lack free space and the registry has become so bloated that it is a wonder Windows still boots. Think of Elvis in 1959 and Elvis in 1977, once rich food and drugs had done their worst.

It seems sensible for software authors to create utilities which could undo this damage and restore our computers to their youthful selves. The problem with most of this software is it only goes halfway in doing this job, and installing yet another program is often the last thing your overburdened machine needs.

Some speed-up software installs multiple resource-hogging services to run with Windows. That can't help but slow things down, the opposite of what it purports to do.

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Why doesn't the software go all the way? The answer is safety. Not all optimisations work on all machines. Some tweaks need to be applied differently, depending on the environment and other variables, and software isn't smart enough to make all those calls.

Most speed-up software cleans the most common temporary files and certain parts of the registry, and has a few other tweaks for tuning up system areas. Running this on most machines should result in a big improvement, but a good technician should know all these tricks, without relying on software, and apply them in exactly the right place.

Another consideration is most modern computers run later versions of operating systems, which have far superior resource and hardware management than their early incarnations, so utilities such as memory-management software that once made a real difference aren't as effective now.

Windows machines are configured for compatibility. They are expected to run every piece of software installed on them and potentially work with thousands of third-party peripherals.

Turning off things that aren't used and optimising those that are can make a huge difference.

There are only two programs I would consider: the current versions of iolo's System Mechanic and Auslogics BoostSpeed, mainly because they work well and are easy and safe to use.

* Dave Thompson runs a computer services company in Christchurch. Email dave@computerkungfu.com

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