Researched by jordansPublished - May 4, 2016 Last Updated - January 14, 2019
Do Computers Slow Down Over Time?
Computers don’t slow down over time. CPU and Memory intense programs and “disk fragmentation” can cause slowdown, but the age of the hardware won’t.
In simple terms, your computer has only a few parts that affect performance: CPU (the brain), RAM (short term memory), Hard Drive (Long Term Memory), and GPU (graphics processing). If any one part gets weighed down, performance can suffer.
Most often slowdown is caused by resource intense programs hogging up CPU and Memory, while hard-disk fragmentation can cause slowdown over-time for users who install a lot of programs. The root cause of slowdown is often malware, apps and tool bar installations open in the background, or a lack of proper maintenance, and not the age of the hardware or how much it has been used, computer hardware typically either works or it doesn’t. We explain all this below.
TIP: See our page on “how computers work” for a simple look at how all the hardware and software connects. We cover lots of performance tips on that page related to hardware.
What Causes Computers to Slow Down?
Technically speaking, if you were to download a program or game, and it’s the only thing running on that computer, it would essentially run like new forever. Eventually, one of the parts could fail causing the computer to crash. But as a whole, it is fairly rare to see an electronic part “half-work”, or slow down. If a part doesn’t work, it can’t send or receive electrical signals, and will likely cause the computer to crash. Computer hardware, unlike cars and other machines, won’t run itself into the ground.
Both the operating system and software you install will be your computers biggest problem, specifically, CPU and Memory intense programs that run in the background, and something called Fragmentation which can happen at the application-level or even at the OS level (especially with Windows).
NOTE: OSX (Apple) and Linux machines may not have the same slowdown problems, but all computers are subject to slowdown as they are used. This includes phones.
How Does Software Effect Computer Speed?
The software is a list of instructions written by a person that the computer reads and executes. Anytime a program is downloaded, or a file is saved/changed, the data is stored on a hard drive. This adds extra weight to your computer’s load.
Disk Fragmentation, Memory, and CPU
With constant downloading and saving, the hard drive can become fragmented, which means the computer saves a file in a different place on the disk than the original file causing confusion. A good way to fix this is by doing a disk defragment which will re-organize these files so they are together, in turn making the computer run more efficiently. Newer programs are built with more detail and features than they once had, this causes the programmer to have to write more code, making the software a larger file. Older computers have trouble keeping up with current computer trends because they are running software that is just too advanced for the computer to handle. Thus, older computers will seem slower, suffer more slowdown due to memory and CPU, and need to be defragmented more often. For example, Microsoft Office 2003 only called for 400MB of hard-drive space and 128MB of RAM. The newest version, Office 365, asks for 3.0GB (3000MB) of hard drive space and 2GB (2000MB) of RAM.
FACT: Some games have quadrupled in download size since 2007. 
NOTE: A quick way to look and delete the programs you’ve downloaded is to go to Start\Control Panel\Programs\Programs and Feature.
Toolbars and Background Programs Slowing Down Computer
Programs not only add extra weight to your already slow computer but also come with many hidden features that most people don’t want. If you are going to download a program, don’t just go click-happy through the install process. I can’t emphasize this enough. Companies add check boxes that are automatically checked upon first installing programs. Make sure to keep all boxes un-checked, unless it’s agreeing to the original terms and conditions. Most other check boxes are for toolbars and background applications. Not only are additional installs annoying, but they can also slow down the computer by running constantly in the background until uninstalled. Make sure and check the task manager occasionally because programs can run in the background without you knowing it. Just like getting rid of programs, toolbars also can be deleted through the control panel.
NOTE: In Windows, type ‘MSConfig’ into the start bar and click on the startup tab to disable/enable programs that will automatically launch when the computer is first turned on.
FACT: Anti-virus software is famous for slowing down computers. Check and see what processes are running once in a while. Is something eating up CPU, is something being a Memory hog? Can you uninstall something, are there other options?
How Hardware Effects Computer Speed
Hardware is all of the physical parts a computer needs in order to run, the hardware you put in your machine will determine its capabilities. This includes the computer case, mouse/keyboard and many other units, some we’ve listed below. If you buy a pre-built computer the hardware is already installed and is very difficult to change later on down the road because of compatibility issues. This is where building your own computer comes in handy and is fun! Starting from scratch you can buy exactly what fits your needs.
Whether you’re a gamer, designer or just browse the web you can customize the computer for what it will be doing most. And best of all, when building the computer you will learn not only where and what each computer part does, but if you want to upgrade later on, its just a quick switch of hardware. Also building your own computer costs less because you are only paying for the parts and not the labor, so your money will get you more!
NOTE: If your looking to build your own computer, you can find parts and check their compatibility here. With a customized computer, it is easy to switch out individual parts to suit your needs. But be careful and make sure the parts bought are compatible with the ones already in your computer.
Computers won’t slow down over time on its own without human interaction.
When a piece of software is downloaded, it’s not only adding extra “weight” to your computer but can also cause fragments in the hard drive, making your computer less efficient over time. Hardware will typically run smoothly as long as it is well maintained, with electronic hardware a part either works or it doesn’t.
Sometimes you need a new computer, typically you just need to defragment, clear the browser’s cache, and uninstall malware. On older machines you could just need some more RAM.
Jordan Semler is a writer for FactMyth.com and currently studying coding in Spokane Washington.