Your PC is NOT Old

old pc

I just finished doing the math. I began computing in 1983 and during that time, I have owned exactly 10 different computers. That means, the average life of one of my PC’s is 2.5 years. That certainly is an eye opener. 2.5 years is not that long a time in PC years. When I purchased each one, my anticipation was a lot more than a couple of years, so why is that?

I have heard it said so many times in casual conversation throughout the decades. “My PC is old, I need a new one.” This logic is flawed. PC’s are not like cars that have tires, brake pads, and gears that grind against each other. In fact, in a modern PC, other than the hard drive, no other component consistently fails. Looking on the surface, a new PC should last for decades and certainly a heck of a lot longer than 2.5 years.

So if it isn’t the hardware, why do our PC’s get slow and perceived as old? Let’s take a look. Here are the six key reasons why PC performance deteriorates over time, and what you can do to stop performance degradation.

Web Browsing – You visit a new web site that you have never visited before. For most people, this simple event happens probably 10-20 times per day, if not more. What happens behind the scenes? First off, your browser creates a record that you have visited this web site. You can see this information in your browser history. Next, most likely the web site wrote a few cookies to your hard drive. Lastly, the browser made a mini copy of the web site including all of the images, links, and layout of the page.

Is this a big deal? Not really, the problem happens little by little and over the course of a long time, (let’s say 2.5 years), there is a noticeable hit on performance. After 2.5 years, the browser takes a little longer to come up, seems less responsive, and web pages come up a little slower.

The solution is simple. This information needs to be cleared out on a regular basis. Furthermore, for the paranoid amongst us, this type of information is the foundation of modern computer forensics.

Temporary Files – In addition to the internet cache, lots of temporary files are stored on your disk. Many of these temporary files aren’t so temporary. Here’s an example. Whenever you open an attachment in an email, your email program (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc) stores a copy of the attachment in the temporary directory. In many cases, it isn’t so temporary, and these files reside on your hard drive for years. Over a long period of time, it is important to reclaim this space, or your PC will have a lot less disk space, and also appear slower.

Applications – The internet is the source of all solutions. Whatever problem I am trying to solve, I go to the internet. Furthermore, most of the solutions are free or have a free trail. Here’s a personal example. For my article on Notepad alternatives, I downloaded about 10 Notepad alternatives, and I finally settled on Notepad2 as my favorite. The problem is that the other 9 which I never use, still reside on my hard drive. Of course the solution is simple, we should all be uninstalling the software we no longer need or desire. If you have never done this simple exercise in 2 years of use, I would bet your system in not running optimally. Boot times are longer and memory usage is less than optimal.

But there is more. Many uninstallers do not do a complete job of removing the application entirely from the registry. Yes, the application is gone, but these little traces make the all-important registry less than pristine. So after doing the exercise, we recommend doing a simple registry scan to make sure that there are no broken or redundant entries in the registry.

Moreover, many applications install little craplets in your task bar, whether you use the application or not. Over time, if you have many of these craplets, they eat up memory and CPU cycles degrading system performance.

MalWare – As I wrote about earlier, the face of malware has changed dramatically since the 90’s. No longer are there malware that reformat your hard drive. Gone are the I Love You and Anna Kournikova viruses. Back then, once you contracted the malware, you knew it. It was horrible but at least you knew you had a problem. Today’s malware goal is to escape detection, and then surreptitiously use your PC as a bot, ad server, or for other illegal activity. Due to its very nature, today’s malware is hard to detect, and slows down your PC.

We at PC Pitstop recommend a thorough, not quick, scan of your PC at least once a year. Hard drives are so big, and loaded with so many files, that a full scan could take up to half a day, but it’s worth it. Really.

Memory – Two of the greatest marketing lines of all time are “Clean, Rinse, Repeat” and “You can never have too much garlic.” Here’s another one “Always add more memory.” If you’ve been using your PC for a few years, and you think it is slow, you could well need more memory. There are some basic reasons why adding memory is a panacea for PC performance.

Web browsing. Web 2.0 has changed the face of the web. Web sites are more inviting with more information and superior and intuitive navigation. This comes at the expense of using a lot more memory per page. I believe that this trend will continue.

Data Glop. Each and every email that you receive takes up a tad of memory in your email client. If you keep all of your emails (I do!), then you need more memory each and every year. No matter what, each successive computer should have more memory than the prior one.

Always On. Here’s some great news. PC’s crash a lot less than 10 years ago. The one side benefit/ramification is that I have my PC connected 24/7. Great, but it changes the way I work. I edit a lot of images throughout the day using Paint.net, and since I never close down the application, quite often all the images that I edited in the last week are all sitting in the application. I really ought to close out the old ones, but it is easier to add more memory.

Fragmentation – Fragmentation Kills. Hopefully, I’ve drawn a picture of all these non-obvious ways that things are quietly being written to your hard drive. The largest ramification is fragmentation. Once your hard drive becomes fragmented, it is painful. Minutes become hours, and hours become days. The key is to avoid this situation by following these tips.

1. Do the clean up BEFORE you defragment. As described above, your PC needs a regular clean up, but you are stubbing your own toe, if you defragment BEFORE cleanup.

2. Close all applications before doing a defragmentation. Vista now has automatic defragmentation, which is great to a degree. If you continue to work, or leave applications open during a defragmentation, then those application files will not be defragmented.


Conclusion

There are many more tune up tips to keep your PC running like new, but these are the basics. Theoretically, if your computer can easily upgrade memory, it should be running like a race car well into the next decade.

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77 thoughts on “Your PC is NOT Old

  1. Great article, but lacks the “how to”. Why not be really helpful and tell us how to do all the things that you wrote about?
    Nancy

  2. I have had the suggested 2.5 yearly pc change and yes what a waste of money etc and damage environmentally. Our work place sends hundreds (honestly) to be recycled??yearly.
    I have a great main machine with XP etc. But my favourite machine is the “latest” old one I have rebuilt out of reclaimed pc bits in my work shop – kind of backward engineering if you like.
    They are cheap and will run on win eg win 2000 I have learned more this way than i could even from the internet. The “last model” are great for kids “coz yu aint screaming when they have downloaded something”. When the XP machines start to age they will still be plenty fast enough for the average dude even if VISTA is then the oldie
    So yes moving forwards is necessary but try going back just a bit and you may save a buck and your ist cardiac arrest.
    PS I built a working pc flat on an old kitchen cupboard door (yes it was electrically safe)it was hung on the work shop wall, connections were intentionally “heath Robinson” and it worked a treat.Our IT manager loved it!!!! truly.

  3. I refurbish old computers. I have found that the ones that run the best and upgrade easily are IBM Thinkpad laptops. These were designed for business users with more emphasis on performance rather than frills and prettiness, are sturdier, do not rely on “proprietary” software, peripherals, drivers or add-ons. IBMs used to be the standard that everyone else tried to match – remember “IBM-Compatible”? I can install an O/S in my IBM, take that hard drive, stick it in any laptop and it will boot-up like a champ. Try that with a Dell, Compaq or Gateway. 9 times out of 10 there are problems. My P3 IBM runs better than a P4 ANYTHING with twice the memory. The only other ones that come close are older Toshibas; they were ahead of their time but now the rest have caught up.

  4. Whatever. It made some sense, but was hoping to see some programs to use to do this instead of having to “f” thru the “myriad” of programs that claim to be of benefit(and really turn out to be spamware or worse). I have been on computers before Microsoft was a “twinkle” in anybody’s eye(so meaning the internet was no-net yet. I have gone thru alot of programs in the beginning when they came out-some good, some bad, some(really evil). Computers don’t get old IF you use them for same old office procedures. However, if you want to upgrade to a newer version of the procedure chances are, the machine is not up to the task. This would also apply to going onto the net.
    It doesn’t help when OS are writing in DATA files(behind your back) that you can’t clear out, unless you wipe the whole machine. I don’t have old email files that I am aware of (unless the pc is keeping a copy). I don’t want it, or a record of where I have been on the net(and that is the way it should be). So fixing that issue is more my concern.

  5. Yes, sometimes new is NOT better. I am running win98se on a pentium III processor with a 19 gig hard drive. She does just fine for general web surfing and my wordsmith work. Sure she could be a litter faster, but she was given to me by my brother the tinkerer, Bob. My brother has now passed on, but his machines still live. I could afford a ‘newer, faster, smaller, laptop, but I ‘cut my teeth’ being a computer operator(remember those guys) on an IBM 360/40 mainframe that had a total of like 10,000 kilobytes of memory. So there, wippersnappers. I’m saving my money for retirement.

  6. I am a serial games and application user, tryer, discarder and it is amazing no matter the program large or small simple or complex how many of them call home over the net whether to check for updates or otherwise. They also mostly insert themselves in the system startup without permisssion causing slow startup and shutdown. I have anti virus, antispyware, antimalware, ip blacklists etc all taking up CPU processes and ram causing it to slowdown.
    If I was to stick to word processing and Email checking my PC would be like a rocketship saying that I would not need over half a terrabyte of hd space (which is full), 2 gig of 800mhz ram, 9600gt graphics and a dual core cpu. Oh dear my pc is getting old.

  7. You forgot to mention the constant stream of updates, especially for Windows and Java, while Windows hides itself my Java updates are over 100 megs each and there are at least 7 of them now. My machine got real insistent that I let it install SP3 last week, on top of all the other updates over the last 18 months. At some point those two, at least, among many others, should just issue a new condensed version, let you delete all the updates that are spread out all over who knows where on your drive, thus cutting down the seek time dramatically. It would be the decent thing to do. My desktop is 99% dead right now, and Windows is the culprit. It is not my drivers being out of date as their additional information page you’re sent to from a Blue Screen of Death event claims, which is also the only possible solution they ever mention. I pulled the drive, put in a new blank one and installed Linux, works perfect now. And I may never go back to that lopsided EULA leased lousy performance, non controllable software and OS.

  8. Designed obsolescence.
    I bought a HP desktop in 2002 with 512MB installed. Today’s computers are able to access a lot more than 1GB of memory, yet that’s the max I can install. Had I known it then, I would not have bought it. I know that more installable RAM = more $$$. Also, unless you like to spend money, there are free programs that are equal to if not better than their commercial counterpart.
    Jorge

  9. Much of what I read above in this blog makes allot of sense.
    Software is getting bigger and bigger (takes up more RAM and Hard-Drive space), mainly I think because of lazy programmers who feel because memory and hard drive space is getting cheaper, then why should they bother to try to optimize their code writing. Applications do reach a point where they can no longer be run on an older machine because the BIOS or operating system won’t support their needs. Power supplys do fail, Fans do fail, Hard drives eventually wear out. But no matter what you do there is a time that a computer will no longer be able to run with top efficiency, even if you are only running the older verisons of software and operating system. This is because ROM’s and RAM’s can only last up to a certain amount of write and read cycles (usually several 100,000’s) before they become degraded. Their access time as a result of degradation will slowly decrease over time. The more you use your computer and the more times you have to boot it up; the quicker this degradation will occur. If during the assembly process the electronic components were accidently exposed to high sources of ESD, then the components (memory, Processor, etc.) can become damaged but still function and the device can fail much quicker then it was initially designed to do so. Most components on a computer motherboard are designed to last for approximately 10-15 years with a failure rate of around 1 ppm (part per million).

    I finally had to buy a new computer (old one was about 6-7 years old) about 1-1/2 years ago, (even though I kept things cleaned out, defragged well and protected from viruses and other suspicious destructive software) because it got to the point that when I attempted to open a folder it took what seemed like forever (5-20 seconds or longer) to do so. It got to the point that when I changed an entry in one of my Excel spreadsheets cells it would take just as long or even much longer than the time described above for it to finally become visible. I suspect that one of the components on my mother board finally became so degraded that the computer was now almost finally worthless. Removing everything, including the OS and re-installing it seemed to make no difference. I don’t use my computers for allot of fancy games and large amounts of internet downloading, and I still had tons of disk space left on that computer (used only about 6GB of 30GB hard drive); yet it still became practically unusable for the most part.

  10. Unless you do more than going on the internet or some basic tasks, then your computer should last 5 to 10yrs depending on your needs. However for the latest games and graphic displays it’s always time to upgrade. Anyways Bill Gates will do anything stop u from using XP because it’s evil … i think. Why else would he stop selling it? Vista is our future…

  11. I would like this info also….

    Jeanne Hagen Says:
    August 21st, 2008 at 3:07 pm
    I would love to have a step by step of how to do all mentioned in cleaning computer. Where could I find this? I am very timid about deleting old programs..i.e.I think I have many versions of Outlook express…Could you suggest someplace where I could find this info? I found the article very good.

    jim

  12. The only way to keep your PC running as fast as the day you got it is to do a clean reinstall of the operating system once a year.

    In between you can keep it up to speed by running in real time antivirus and antispyware protection — but many of these programs can slow things down if they are written poorly.

    Be vigilant in what crap the applications that you install install in your start files and services. Remove frequently.

    Run CCleaner every other week.

    Make sure your drivers and updates are up to date.

    Don’t leave optical disks in your drives.

    That is pretty much it. There are things you can do to speed up your boot time or shutdown time or your computing experience. But after that there is no magic solution.

  13. Some one else has spoken the truth about “Old PC’s), I believe that with today’s system there is another step that should be taken, that is of realigning the Registry. One problem I have found that I disagree with you is that for “dated” system the memory is either not available, or very expensive.
    Excellent how to…..

  14. The list of preformence tweaky steps and tricks would take a multi page website, more then a dozen apps (apps are to save time you doing and the cleaning manualy). And theres more then just the software end, theres the hardware end and I’m not talking clock speeds, dta pipe widths. What I’m talking is heat expansion room, extra wattage from the power supply, dust build up, air currents around the PC. If you have hot air build up and stagnet floing air, the air around the system will prevent the system from receiving the cool air needed to cool it down.

  15. OK I didn’t read all this but I checked on the purchace date of my Desktop Dec 2002. almost 6 years old and I’ve replaced a hard drive and DVD RW drive its a 2.5ghz and runs plenty fast with XP home edition sp3. I have always used Trend Micro’s Pc-cillin it cleans my hard drive of garbage and even checks my email. I also keep it up to date with Microsoft. Maybee someone who plays games and loads a lot of free software will have trouble but I generally stick with known software. See what Eric Stein Says:
    August 21st, 2008 at 4:46 pm

  16. My Computer is 6 years old, yes I have installed a second hard drive (and soon will change both for larger capacity HD,s) I have increased the memory ( and hope soon to be able to fit the maximum it can handle) and of course I have bought a TFT monitor, cordless keyboard and mouse.

    But my machine does what I want it to do, with more memory it may do it a bit faster, a larger HD and I’ll need more DVD rw s to back up to.

    Yes there will come a day when my OS is completly obsolete ( probably next week) and none of the files I recieve from other people will open with my version of an application and eventually the “current” OS will not work on my machine, but as long as my machine does what I want it to I see no reason to change.

  17. I’m a firm believer that the single biggest threat to our computers is these cleaners, whether supplied by reputable companies or not. No cleaner does what they claim they’ll do, and every one carries the serious risk that your system will no longer boot. Further, people need to research which programs are legit and which are in fact malware trying to imitate legit software.

    My advice: Save your money.

    Nothing beats a fresh format for cleaning/increasing speed/removing pests. Nothing. We recommend backing up your data and motherboard drivers (use cpuz to find your motherboard and download the latest drivers from the manufacturer), and formatting once every year or so.

    It’s free, anyone can do it as long as they have their operating system disc, and no software on the planet can duplicate the performance of your system as it is put back to the way it was when new.

    While you’re at it, upon booting to the operating system disc and prior to installing the operating system, make 2 partitions.

    The 1st partition should be around 40-60Gbs, depending upon how many programs you need to install. This will be for your operating system, and should never get more than 80% full. (Anything over 80% full will effect performance and can prevent defrag from working correctly.)

    The remaining hard drive space should be used for the 2nd partition. Assuming your HDD is at least 120Gb, the 2nd partition will be the larger of the 2.

    Load your operating system onto the 1st (40-60gb, C:) partition. Install the motherboard drivers first, then install all your programs again.

    Put your data on the larger partition. I like to change my 2nd partition to D: and label it “Data”, and change my DVD burner to E:. Next, create a folder on the data drive for each profile that you use. Then change the “My Documents” shortcut to point to the corresponding folder on your data drive. Copy all your data to this folder. Now you can run auslogics or some other 3rd party defrag on your data drive occasionally and never need to format it again.

    Regularly format your OS partition, and all you’ll have to do is reload your programs and drivers.

    Another advantage is that you should only have to regularly scan your C: with anti-virus/anti-spyware. Scan your data drive every year or when you that know you have malware on your system.

    We charge $120 for this service. No charge for the advice. 🙂

  18. OK,for everybody who wants a 25 page eBook in simple English with pictures and diagrams. The most complete manual I ever read, even for Newbies. (I’ve built a few computers for myself) It will Setup, Clean out, increase Boot time and Hacker proof your PC or Notebook. http://pcsecretformula.com/?e=fix-it

  19. I have enjoyed some of the comments here – very helpful suggestions! [B] There are plenty of suggestions here IF you read or browse the entire “blog”.[/B]

    This evening, after reading some of the comments here, I did a “SEARCH” (In WinXP, Open: Start => Search) and found twenty (20) “Earthlink” random files and programs, despite having deleted “Earthlink” via the “Add or Remove Programs” function of “Control Panel” a week ago!

    I subscribe to “Windows Secrets” for a few dollars a year (a free edition is available at ) and will never consider NOT subscribing to this essential news source. IT IS NOT OWNED NOR OPERATED BY MICROSOFT! It is a totally independent newsletter and website that has some people (ten of them!) whom I consider as “gurus” on the Operating System called “Windows”, i.e. Win98, Win2000, WinXp, etc. They also give advice that can be used on keeping generic (Linux?) operating systems well-oiled.

    I am using “SuperAntiSpyware” as a FREE malware cleaner, “AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition” as a spyware detection and cleaner, “CCleaner” as a FREE disk file cleaner-upper instead of Microsoft’s “Disk Cleanup”, “JKDefrag” a FREE defragmenter in place of Microsoft’s Defragmentation beast. You can find all those programs through the “WindowsSecrets.com” website, along with more explanations on what to use and in what sequence.

    If you support WindowsSecrets – and I have no interest in them, I’m just passing this along for your benefit – they will add a “bonus download” from this webpage: . The ONLY reason I mention this webpage is that it has an excellent PDF (Adobe Acrobat) document titled “9 Free Programs Every PC Should Have” that can be downloaded and read giving people like me (and you) some direction as to which programs and in what sequences to use.

    Best Regards,
    MountainMike

    System: Old (built in 2002) Athlon XP 1800+, ABIT kr7a-133r motherboard, 512MB RAM, Western Digital 160GB Caviar HardDrive, NVidia GeForceTi4200 graphics card (overkill for me!), SoundBlaster “Live” 24-bit sound card, with “SpeedStream” LAN/Ethernet (DSL) external modem (USB 1.0), 350 watt “Force Group” power supply. This system may need “upgrading”, but it will not be put out to pasture til it “dies”. Oh yes, I am using Windows XP Professional Edition. I will not upgrade to Vista. I will migrate to one of the Linux Operating Systems before Vista!

    I took a “Repairing and Building a PC” class when I was living in Fort Bragg a few years ago, and the main theme of that class was to ONLY build or buy a PC that had an upgradeable motherboard, like an ATX motherboard, so you could upgrade the “box” in a few years if you felt the need. I can change out the hard disk drive, install additional memory, upgrade the graphics card, install a LAN/Ethernet card, etc. As has already been mentioned, the memory (RAM) for older PCs has increased in price compared to newer memory modules, but it is still a lot cheaper than purchasing a new PC! Yes, at some point there is a point of diminishing returns where I would be better off in purchasing a newer PC (or building one!), but I am not at that point yet; probably ten years after the original build (2002), IF I MAINTAIN the computer I have – like vacuuming the fans, cleaning the interior, replacing stuff that turns into smoke, etc.

  20. What about those new applications that make hundreds of entries all over the registry? An unistall failure will leave you to remove them by hand.

  21. I maintain my system in a manner similar to what Winston described. I have a four year old Dell desktop Pentium4, 3GZ with 2g Ram running XP. I use Acronis Disk Director to partition my drives and Acronis True Image 11 to back up my system and an older version of System Mechanic to get rid of junk files and to maintain the registery etc.

    My system and programs are on their own partition and as a result can be defragged, backed up or restored very quickly. I find that my data files rarely need to be defragged, but I defrag my system partition weekly.

    As to the issue of hard drives slowing down…let’s keep in mind that the data is written to the outside of the disk platter first and as the drive fills up more and more data must be written toward the slower inside tracks of the drive…thus slowing the system down even though the drive has been defragged.

    As to the issue of learning to do these tasks…I have found that by using these utility programs I have gained knowledge of how to do it. It’s possible to download a trial version of many programs and experiment, evaluate them and learn from them. It does take a good deal of time to read and absorb the manuals and help files,but I believe it’s time well spent if I want to do my own maintenance.

    For defragging I use Ultimate defrag. It allows me to decide where on the disk platter to place each program or folder and it also will do a boot defrag of the files that can not be defragged while the system is in use. I place my operating system and programs that I use the most on the fastest outside tracks of the drive. Ultimate Defrag’s manual and help files are excellent,very educational and helped me to understand a lot about a disk drive’s effect on system speed. There must be many good utility programs out there that do a good job but this is what I’m doing with my own system and I’m very satisfied with the speed of my four year old system. I learn by doing!

  22. It is true that PCs never get old. If anything, the software is getting more demanding and resource-hoggy. Add to this that Windows, on their own, is pretty demanding and seems bloated. I never saw a speedy PC until I started trying out various easy-to-use Linuxs.

    My brother is a gamer, so he keeps his computer upgraded piece by piece. His computer is a P4 with a GB of RAM, Windows XP dual-booting with Wubi Ubuntu. I’m more of an browser and studyer, so I don’t need to keep mine upgraded. My computer is a P3 with 128 MB of RAM, Puppy 4 and trying out Damn Small Linux. I am either going to use Wine a lot or will be dual-booting with MicroXP.

    Everybody is different and has different preferences and a different style of computing. Its weird that most of the computer world shove this “you must be a power-crazed user!” perspective on everybody. You see this even in stores when you are shopping for a computer. You also see it in the proof of how hard it is to find a single core machine unless its secondhand. I don’t mind secondhand. Always much much cheaper and affordable compared to the overboard new ones.

    Last but not least, the cheapest and greatest in laptops I’ve seen is the Asus EeePC lineup. Maybe I can someday afford one of them.

  23. I definitely agree with Winston. I do the same thing with both my computers. I find this way of doing thing is the best(I use Norton ghost for imaging). I also keep My documents folder on the second drive. This way you don’t have to worry about backing anything up before a restore.

  24. The gag in the computer jungle is to keep making more and more “updated” software and then of course you will need a newer rig to run it on. Of course your computer can get bogged down with bloatware and about every other garbage you can think of,but one can clean that out,but it is hard to run a new game on a n older rig. Get the picture? Just keep pouring more money into the hands of the geeks that dream up new games for us to play,and no problem. However,if all you need is something for email and a word processor,pray tell what on earth do you need a supper fast outfit for?

  25. I am Wheelchair Disabled and my hands are virtually useless.

    So, I have to use Nuance’s Dragon Speaking Naturally Preferred to operate this Hewlett Packard Pavilion a309.uk PC. It is a superb programme.

    I have just upgraded to Dragon version 10 wth Bluetooth earphone/microphone and USB 2 connection.

    It does not work because the BIOS on my PC needs an upgrade.

    I contacted Hewlett Packard and their technical help said that they could upgrade my BIOS for $118.

    I am disabled, retired and living on a fixed income. I bought the Hewlett Packard partly because they claimed excellent customer support.

    I cannot afford this kind of fee for what must be a very simple download. How heartless can people be?

    Yes, PC’s DO get old: because of manufacturer’s greed.

    John Rippon.

  26. Thank you for the basic advice. I clean my computer weekly, Defrag monthly or if major changes in deleted files or added files. Often I use Easy Cleaner…It’s a free downloaded full use shareware. It Ck’s and cleans ur registry, add/remove, duplicates, unessary, shortcuts, disk space, startup, internet files; cookies; history and MRU. Creates an undo file in case of screw-up’s.

  27. Gary above says to use ccleaner. I did once, at the advice of a guy on the helpdesk of IBM.

    But the second I used it, more than a year later, I got a bunch of infected files.

    Don’t know if it was something, but at the time it sure seemed like the ccleaner (which is free, btw).

  28. It gets very old reading this kind of stuff without specific instructions on how to do such things. The people who KNOW aren’t reading this site… they already handle it. Vague to this and do that, without specific instructions is a waste of time for the reader… but apparently that is of no concern to the writer or to the the publisher.

  29. Started PC-ing in 1982 – an Apricot. Since then always bought 2nd hand. Joy of PCs unlike Macs, is hardware components can be updated piecemeal & the fad for latest gizmos has meant I could always pick up not so old components for peanuts when they get discarded by others. I’m not a gamester so my 1.2GHz motherboard (7 yrs old) along with 2 x 80GB HDs (1 for OS and applications, other for files) seem to handle all that the internet can throw at them. Total cost 2nd hand incl LCD monitor etc about £95 or US$180. So, what’s the conclusion? Work out what you want from your PC, only buy what will deliver what you want (not what salesmen think you should have) and buy 2nd hand!

    Who needs two core processing? So far I don’t.

  30. Hi,
    Very interesting article.
    Trust this doesn’t sound arrogant but I never have these problems or infact any others because for many years I have partioned my hard drive.
    I have 2 hard dives and on disk 1 I have a partion for XP;VISTA;Programs;Data;XPVISTAbackup. On Disk 2 I have VirtualMem/Internet Temp; Games; Data BackUp;XPVISTAbackup2.
    Because of the above I always have a ‘virgin’ operating system saved,(in case of problems) be it XP or VISTA, and any sign of trouble I just restore.
    I usually do anyway every 6 months and my comuter always runs as fast as when I first purchased it.
    I have always used Partion Magic and it’s never let me down but there must be equally good software ‘out there’.
    Hope you found this interesting?
    Winston.

  31. Leonard mentioned XP sp3, and that brings us to something I was going to look up. What are the experiences people are having with the service packs? Do you end up with unnecessarily duplicated files? (i doubt that one)
    Any paranoid people wondering if there is built in self destruct code in the XP sp3 since it came out after the backlash about Vista? For non-literate people (such as myself) there are remote access computer support services such as My Computer Works (http://www.squidoo.com/mycomputerworks)to help you through the processes described by everyone else….and of course, run the PC pitstop full tests at LEAST twice a year, but more like monthly. ESPECIALLY if you have kids cruising on the internet.

  32. I enjoyed the article, very informative. But why were there no explanations of how to perform these maintenance tasks, or links to those explanations? I’d love to see a follow up article.

    Thanks,
    Randy

  33. With XP on my desktop PC, I have been using CCleaner, disk cleanup, defragrementer,PC Pitstop, etc. regularly. What I would like to be able to do is go to a new baseline on my own (which XP service pack 3 did ). I noticed great speed improvement after XP SP3.

  34. Nancy,

    An opinion is like you-know-what, everyone has one, and some later posters may disagree with my comments below. But here goes anyway.

    I’m running WinXP and here are some of the basics I use for routine maintenance:

    CCleaner.exe http://www.ccleaner.com A free program that does a fabulous job cleaning up junk files.

    Executive Software Diskeeper http://www.diskeeper.com A really good defragmenter you can purchase, then set to run on any schedule you choose.

    Handy Backup 4.0 http://www.handybackup.com One of many programs you can purchase to auto backup your important files. I do an incremental backup every night to an external hardrive.

    JV16 Power Tools 2008 http://www.macecraft.com For purchase, an excellent set of registry tools, file tools, system tools, and privacy tools.

    And of course, PC Pitstop Optimize http://www.pcpitstop.com I’m still using v.1.5, but it still does a great job.

    Check these out and see if they may be right for you.
    Regards,
    Gary

  35. Any of you folks live in a town with a computer club? You can find a wealth of information from the folks who belong to these groups. Try finding one and join. Here in Hernando County, FL we have the second largest club in the state with 400+ members.

  36. I’ve came up with this that computers hardware / software age over time of use but doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work correctly or slowly for that computer model if you keep up with all of the normal maintenace. The only parts that do where out are any that are mechanical such as the HDD (hard drive), Drives, Fans, PSU (power supply unit). Then there’s the human factor that is more times than not always forgotten in these type of articles. I mean that the user becomes more familar with their own computer as well as their own computer skill/s. Essentially the human starts to perform the computer entries / uses in a quicker response then what the computer can normally process the info which has been doing consently, so the human out grows the computer instead of the computer really getting to be to old.

  37. Designed obsolescence isn’t addressed.

    My toshiba laptop, never dropped, hardly used, has keys falling off and one of the hinges is broken, so I can no longer close my laptop.

    The plastic parts of the hinge cracked.

    The computer is a little over 2.5 yrs. I won’t buy another toshiba.

    Are there any well built laptops physically built to take even average use?

  38. It would be nice if an article such as this one told the reader HOW to do some of the things mentioned. What programs to use or what type to buy. Not everyone who reads these articles understands every little thing. I was able to follow it well but I haven’t a clue how to take care of some of the more complicated issues.

    I do clean out my cookies, cache, and deframent. I do delete some of the unused programs and the remaining registry. But what about the rest of the suggestions.

    Can anyone recommend a good program for purchase that will do all that this author suggests.

  39. Is it true that only Mac hard drives clean themselves out when you delete stuff but Windows only chop it up in bits and make it irrecoverable, but it is still taking up space. What is the all time best way to refresh your hard drive?

  40. The solution: Puppy Linux , Makes my Presario 5000 run like a race horse on 500 Mb of ram with a 1.2 ghz athalon processor.

  41. Have an 8 year old running 98SE, as a seond computer. Did a clean reinstall without the programs that I don’t use (Notons, Outlook Express,etc.) Upgraded harddrive, memory (only512}, and installed DVDRW about 6 months ago. Still using same CPU. Works just as well as my new ( 18 month old) Compaq with Dual CPU and Vista in most cases.

  42. And how can I forget: run full tests here and find out what programs are running unnecessarily, then eliminate them from msconfig startup and services.

  43. Working on older PC I have noticed many slow due to dusty interiors causing overheating, dust clogged heatsinks on the CPU’s GFX cards and PSU’s. Also the fans seem to have a limited shelf life to. How long was it since you cleaned / checked your insides?

  44. I agree with some of this, though I never noticed any speed difference after a defrag. Why upgrade every 2 – years ? It is cheaper than trying to upgrade an old PC. Imagine trying to add a DVD writer, USB2, 160Gb hard disk, gigs of memory, decent graphics card, flat screen, faster chip, bigger cache, new more secure operating system (OK we’ll stick with XP) decent speakers, keyboard, mouse (worn out)and STILL have a slow old PC. Recycle it down the line to someone who will be grateful for it. But clean it up before you do.

  45. Computers may get slower but you can still word process on a 486, check emails on a 486, browse the net on a 486.

    Its the software that gets more complex. A little like trying to install a spectrum 128 game on a 48k spectrum. Doh! Stick with old crap software and your old crap pc will be like new

  46. The main reasons computers get old is our requirements (read that as software requirements). I have a 5 y/o AMD 2600 which was (almost cutting edge when it was new). With a few exceptions it is still running more or less the same software as it was 3-4 years ago, and it works perfectly well and as fast as it did when I built it. I now have an E8400 C2D with all the bells and whistles and it runs very well, except it has current software (including Vista Ult)on it and the reality is, for every day computing, it’s not that much faster than my old 2600.

    It’s horses for courses. I was very unhappy at, on top of the cost of Vista, I had to spend a lot more money to get new or upgrade my old programs to run on Vista when the software I had did the job perfectly well on XP Pro.

  47. It’s not so much that computers get old, it’s that software constantly becomes more power hungry over time giving outdated computers the “old” tag. If you use Office 2000 with good ol’ Windows 98 and it works fine for what you need then leave it be until the day it ultimately passes on.

  48. A radical solution for an old computer is reformatting and reinstallation of an os.
    Well, I’ve just completed such a task, hoping to get a “newly born” pc. But not! The computer is still slow.
    How can I identify what’s wrong? Is there a hardware problem? Should I replace a card?

    By the way, adding memory to an old pc isn’t always a viable option. While adding memory to a new pc is a relatively cheap solution, memory for old systems is quite costly.

  49. PC’s do get old when the only Windows version it can handle is old.

    I have 2 PC’s.
    My main pc is a 2006 eMachines W3502 runs XP/ready for Vista that I bought in Nov 2006 (that I have upgraded for gaming).
    And the other is a 1998 HP Vectra VLi that I got from a friend for free made for 98 runs XP, it has an intel pentium III 451Mhz, 256MB RAM, 8MB intergraded video card, 20GB HDD.
    now you tell me. Is that old? i think so

    Above is proof that pc’s are old.

    although 2.5 year old pc is not old. my eMachines is going for 3 years this year. i could run vista if i wanted too, just needs a ram upgrade.

  50. I just bought a new ‘barebones’ set-up.
    It’s been slow since it was built. It won’t even accept a new stick of memory, meaninmg I have to buy the stuff in packs of two strips, so I know they match. reusly I have spare memory sticks that won’t run unless I keep them together.
    PC not only get old. They are being so mass produced that Motherboards are marketed along with irritating faults that cost tens of pounds to put right.
    Sheesh!

  51. Despite not being as computer-literate as other correspondents I do keep the hard drive of my five-year-old Dell as clean and uncluttered as I can. And it’s not noticeably slower over the years. My beef is that it is virtually impossible to remove some old software, particularly that of discarded hardware like printers and modems. Any tips?

  52. They do appear slower if you’re connected to the internet and all the new technology that’s constantly being updated and used every day on your computer. I’m typing from a 3-year old computer. But, it’s a gaming computer so it still has some life in it. I still have every computer I’ve assembled right back to my Pentium MMX 200. It still does Office, some older games and things like that no problem. It’s almost 10 years old now. Heck, I still have my dad’s 386SX laptop. If I ever need to type something up quick, it boots up in a few seconds and is easy to use. Computers can live if we choose to let them live.

    Now, the older ones won’t see much usage as they used to, and it’s probably good since some of the older ones aren’t so environmentally friendly. The way to do it, is go and get/build a computer with the best and fastest parts you can afford and upgrade it over time iof need be. It’s cheaper in the long run and they will give you some good life out of them. Granted, not all computers can be upgraded fully over time, such as my socket 939 FX-60 I’m typing from; it’s the end of the line, but if you have people in the know they should be able to point you to a system that should be upgradable for the CPU, memory, video card(s) and so on over time. Such as AM2 to AM2+ to AM3.

  53. Yeah, I have Laptops over 10 years old, still in use (but not for traveling). The oldest are using Win-2000. Of course all the original HD’s have been replaced, and RAM added.

  54. Yes, you should know another reason why computers get old.
    Because of course software gets more demanding too!
    It becomes bigger and take up more drive-space, it becomes heavier and use up more memory and speed.
    And that counts for even the simplest programs.

    So in fact your old computer would have to work better than it started out to be.
    Which makes no sense, thus you need a new computer or better parts if possible.

  55. This article points out what I’ve felt for a long time: there’s simply no substitute for a complete HD wipe and reload every so often, depending on how often one downloads trialware, etc. Back-up the music, docs, emails, etc. that you want, run Belarc Advisor or CPUID to see what software you need to reinstall, reformat the HD, then start fresh with Windows operating just as MS intended. Use a slipstreamed copy of Windows with updated Service Packs for the reinstall to save space and time. There’s just no substitute in my book.

  56. Most people I know only think that their computer is “too slow” because marketing has told them that the newer products are “faster”. I used a 286 (DOS) from the late 80s to the late 90s, got a 386 (Win3.1, $10 at a yard sale)for my wife in the mid-90s. We “upgraded” to a Celeron 300(?) (98SE)to go online in the late 90s and would have stayed with that if it had not died due to unknown causes. The units I service at my wife’s school, some of them newer and supposedly “faster” than our current home Compaq Presario (XP), move like molasses because their users never clear out any crap that accumulates, but heck, I get paid to “fix” them.

  57. The main reasons PCs get “old” are:

    – You get a new version of Windows (*ahem* Vista, I’m looking at you).
    – You’re a gamer, and it’s essential to upgrade for new games.
    – CD/DVD burners get faster.
    – That old 40 GB hard drive just doesn’t cut it with today’s high data storage requirements.

    I’m not an upgrade fanatic, and even have a five-year-old PC, but it’s a fact that computers do get old quickly.

    (My first computer was a 48K Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1983.)

  58. Hard drives getting full isn’t a problem till they get SO full that there isn’t enough space for all they are doing, such as swapping to disk. The main reason that replacing a drive is good is that the odds are the new drive is bigger. Try replacing a drive with one the exact same size and put on the same amount of junk — er, stuff you are storing — and you probably won’t see much improvement even if you just bought the drive yesterday.

    So, storing emails only slow your system down to the extent that they eat up drive space that you need for something else. Buy a terrabyte drive and you probably won’t have to worry about a few email messages for quite a few years.

  59. “a simple registry scan”
    I never thought that these words would ever exist together.
    “a simple scan”, “simple registry”??
    The registry I am thinking about is quite complex.
    A simple scan of it might look for a text string that is unique to the program you have just deleted.
    How “simple” is it to work out whether to delete what you find and what to ignore?
    ..B..

  60. Quantity of emails vs memory usage? Just open up task mamanger and Outlook Express. I have a client with an employee that keeps every email an one that does not. Duplicate machines provide an interesting study of memory usage as the email packrat machines takes forever to load up OE while the email spartan’s OE lights right up. Taskmanager veriies memory usage. Of course that is what I see with OE. Your mileage will vary with other email clients.

    HD slowing down over time? Try a real defrag program and clean up the HD. the slow death is most likely the accumulation of crapware over time. Try CCleaner or something like that followed by a defrag. You should see a world of difference. And one can never have too much memory..OK 4GB if you are running 32 bit code. Make sure you paging file is set right also.

    Cheers!

  61. Your PC is not old
    as per Chengrob, I started computing in 1980 before 386’s were heard of. The problem I found was the next generation didn’t like the “Oldies” (a bit like life).

    I kept my first 386 for ten years running games on it for the kids and it was still going when I pensioned it off. If you don’t overload it with craplets from the web they will do the job they were designed for.

  62. I think the most likely reason for slowdown, besides malware, might be the hard drive actually getting slower. Many hard drives die a “slow death” where they don’t just stop, they just get slower and slower. PCPitstop’s scan tests the seek speed of the drive. If the drive is flagged as unusually slow (after you have done all the other things in this article), then you might consider replacing the drive.

  63. Can someone explain the following to me? Sure, stored email uses disk space, but memory? How? I don’t think my email client is loading every peice of email into RAM.

    “Each and every email that you receive takes up a tad of memory in your email client. If you keep all of your emails (I do!), then you need more memory each and every year.”

  64. Having purchased and runing PC Pitstop, doing daily Registry cleanups, daily defragmentation, daily Malware cleanup, etc. I am already “up to speed” on all of your recommendations. However what is lacking is and indication of the “real” needs which force people to purchase new PCs.

    1) New versions of existing application programs which require more processing power, live memory, or will only work with a new operating system (e.g. VISTA and not XP).

    2) New technology – try reading a BlueRay disk on a five year old processor and its cooresponding mother board. Try using equipment designed for USB 2.0 on USB 1.1 connectors.

    3) Operating system growth. Those Service Packs keep coming and each one eats into your processing speed.

    4) Hardware that does wear out. Not only hard disk drives (about 3 years) but also DVD burners and Power supplies (I’m on my third one after only five years).

    5) For those who are serious “gamers”, the new games arriving seem to force an PC upgrade almost each year.

    The tuning recommendations are correct but you need a little reality check for the valid reasons people are forced to replace their PCs.
    Decade old PCs with decade old harware and software (Windows 98) are just not viable.

  65. can u recommend an article or specific inexpensive or free software to help a 46 year old female who has learned as much as she can reading articles and from her teenage children. thanks so much Kim West

  66. I would love to have a step by step of how to do all mentioned in cleaning computer. Where could I find this? I am very timid about deleting old programs..i.e.I think I have many versions of Outlook express…Could you suggest someplace where I could find this info? I found the article very good.

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