Why are our computers running so slowly?

windowsxpslow I began to notice it about six months ago. Everyone with a 3-5 year old Windows XP computer was complaining that their computers were running slowly. Occasionally I can still improve things by turning off unnecessary startup programs and services, but all too often there isn’t much that can be changed. It’s become common for older computers to need 3-5 minutes after the desktop appears before they are usable, and to have agonizing delays launching programs or switching windows.

At one time we bought computers with 256Mb of RAM. It was sufficient to run Windows XP and it was expensive to buy more.

More than two years ago, I realized that more memory was required, thanks to the cumulative effect of updates to Windows and our changing use of our computers. I recommended adding memory or buying more memory with new computers.

I think we’ve reached another one of those milestones. I can’t prove it but my instinct is that it’s no longer possible to get satisfying performance from a Windows XP computer with 512Mb of RAM.

There doesn’t seem to be any single explanation. Maybe it’s the updated versions of our basic programs that require more memory – Internet Explorer, say, and the various programs that run along with it (Flash, Java, Acrobat, toolbars, and more). Maybe it’s the new structures underlying many programs – things like .NET Framework, with its recent huge, slow update. Maybe our systems have to work harder to stay secure, absorbing service packs and hundred of updates since Windows XP’s release.

If your Windows XP computer has 512Mb of memory, its performance should improve if you upgrade to 1-2Gb of RAM. Memory is cheap. Most of you will be able to upgrade for less than a hundred dollars, sometimes quite a bit less. I think you’ll decide it was money well spent. Each computer is different but don’t be surprised if you buy 2Gb of new memory and throw away the memory sticks currently in the computer.

You can see how much memory is installed by going to Control Panel / System. There are instructions here about using the free Crucial System Scanner to buy a memory upgrade. It’s very easy to install memory!

I’m an old-timer with fond memories of the 640K memory limit in DOS. Outgrowing the memory in computers is an old game, experienced over and over in the last 25 years. Give that WinXP computer one more boost if you’re not ready to replace it!