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Why a computer operates slowly
Friday, February 17, 2023
Many of our readers have probably noticed that their home computers work more slowly over time, and eventually it becomes very difficult to work on them. It can happen a different way—yesterday their home PC worked normally, but today it suddenly stops responding to commands with its usual speed. Losing overall system performance for no obvious reason is a fairly common problem. In today's issue of the Anti-virus Times, we will talk about a frequent situation: when a computer suddenly becomes much slower. The presence of system-slowing malware is a common, but far from the only, reason. In this article, we will refer to the average PC running Windows. Windows 7 and 10 remain the most common OSs installed on home computers.
Those who’ve used now-outdated Windows versions, such as Windows 98 and XP, probably remember when the time came for another system reinstallation. Often, the reason for this procedure was due to computer performance problems, which were most easily solved in such an extreme way. Why did a PC’s speed decrease over time? The fact is that in the process of a user working on a computer, digital "garbage" (a huge number of files that were not deleted along with programs, cache data, overgrown directories, etc.) inevitably accumulates in the operating system. Of course, the more programs installed and removed, the more the situation is complicated by decreased performance. However, we cannot say that only unnecessary files are to blame. “Forgotten” software, installed and working in the memory of a computer, has become a much bigger problem. In addition, over time, Windows could have system errors, which were most easily fixed with a complete reinstallation of the OS.
Older versions of Windows were not very good at "keeping an eye” on themselves. If a user actively experimented with different software, that quickly led to a noticeable system slowdown. It should be noted that modern versions of Windows are much more stable. And yet, over time, they begin to slow down under the influence of the above factors. The author of these lines had the same problem: Windows 7 worked without reinstallation for ten years, but as a result, it still came to a state when the virtual machine running in it with a similar OS worked much faster. At the end of its “life”, about 700 updates from Microsoft were installed in the system, while the newly installed virtual machine had about 150 updates. It is also worth mentioning the sprawling user data of programs located in the hidden AppData directory. Therefore, we can say that the gradual slowdown of a system is practically inevitable. For clarity, one can imagine an empty “Downloads” folder and then how it looks for many users a year later. Another living example: reinstalling a slow system, with the user profile saved with the help of the data transfer tool. The “clean” system worked perfectly, but after the profile was restored, it began to work noticeably worse, although not as bad as before the reinstallation. After the profile was deleted, the system returned to normal operation.
But the above is not the only reason. In itself, the growth of digital garbage in a system has a noticeable impact primarily on computers with initially low performance. As noted above, a decrease in performance is largely due to running programs that a user may not even be aware of. For example, some applications run several related processes that are constantly operating in the memory. Often such processes are launched together with the OS, and they significantly slow down the system boot time. Therefore, to accelerate a computer's performance, it is enough to analyse the list of installed programs and, most important, the programs working in the background, and remove unused software.
Another possible reason for slow operating system performance is that system file integrity has been violated, or the drivers or installed software are operating incorrectly. But, usually such problems lead to a sudden decrease in performance that is immediately noticed by the user. Therefore, in this case, one should first analyse what changes were made to the OS before the problem occurred. In simple cases, a standard restart of the computer can help, but often it’s necessary to boot the system in safe mode and carry out diagnostics.
A malware infection is another frequent reason why unprotected devices operate slowly. We have written a great deal about miners, but they aren’t the only ones that can slow down a system. For example, malware can cause problems with a network or a browser by blocking Internet access. A user can associate such symptoms with a loss of computer performance in general. Also, do not forget about the numerous types of malware that is expressly designed to carry out destructive actions in an operating system. Sudden “thoughtfulness” on the part of a computer may also indicate a very serious problem—the start of files being destroyed by encryption ransomware. Therefore, the issue of anti-virus protection should be taken seriously, without neglecting preventive protection mechanisms and real-time file monitoring.
In addition to what is unequivocally malware, there exists a huge amount of advertising and unwanted software that can also slow down a computer. The irony is that some of these programs are marketed as useful applications for optimising and accelerating device performance. These can be “optimisers” of the registry, various “customisers”, “accelerators”, driver installers, etc. Such programs are not malicious, but in the worst-case scenario, some of them can harm an inexperienced user, in the best—they just prove to be useless. For example, registry "optimisation", which consists of removing unnecessary branches, cannot speed up your computer against a background of other possible problems. But the search for and installation of drivers using so-called software aggregators can be simply dangerous, as can making rash changes to a system with the help of all sorts of customiser programs. Another scenario: some programs "find" a number of non-existent problems in a system, and then propose to the user that they purchase the full program version to eliminate them. We have already written about unwanted applications in one of the issues of the Anti-virus Times. Recall that by default the comprehensive anti-virus Dr.Web Security Space warns users about programs that meet the criteria for such software.
Up to this point, we have touched exclusively on software-related reasons why a device’s speed decelerates. However, when talking about performance, one should always consider a computer’s hardware configuration. Modern PCs, even inexpensive ones, are relatively powerful, and, in most cases, they do not slow down Windows. However, older computers or modern entry-level laptops with slow CPUs and a small amount of RAM may experience difficulties where, at first glance, they should not be. A browser with numerous tabs, several programs running in the background, a text editor, a running VPN—and a computer with limited resources can begin to slow down noticeably. In this case, you need to understand the capabilities of your device and load it accordingly—or consider a possible upgrade. As a rule, tripling RAM and replacing the hard MD with a solid-state drive significantly speed up work in Windows. A solid-state drive doesn’t just write and read data faster, it also is not affected by fragmentation, which also has a negative impact on OS response time. By the way, the lack of free space on a system drive also often leads to a slowdown of the entire system.
Finally, we must not forget to mention possible hardware problems. Overheating, the failure of electronic components, power pack problems—all this can also lead to reduced performance, sudden reboots and an abnormal termination of Windows.
The Anti-virus Times recommends
- If you've noticed that your computer has become slower, try to determine when that started happening. If everything worked properly yesterday, you should analyse the latest actions taken in the system. It’s quite possible that the problem was caused by installing a new program or driver.
- If the problems occurred after software was installed, try to roll back to one of the system restore points.
- Review the list of installed programs, and look at the autorun list. Uninstall or disable the automatic launch of unnecessary programs and restart the device. This is especially true for machines experiencing low performance.
- Also, disabling Windows visual effects (for example, animation, shadows and transparency) can help PCs experiencing low performance.
- In all cases, we recommend that you install important operating system updates and regularly back up your user data.
- If your computer is not protected by a reliable anti-virus, use the free Dr.Web CureIt! scanner for an initial search for malware and remove it. Malicious activity is often the cause of slow PC performance.