Why Your Computer “Slows Down”

I see it all the time:  People put off getting a new computer for as long as they can.  I know people still trying to make due with 8, 9, even 10 year old computers.  And why not?  They’re still "working"!  It’s understandable; they can be a serious expense, ranging from a cheap $300 netbook up to a fully-equipped-and-loaded desktop computer for several thousand dollars.  The frustrating thing…the issue with which so many people wrestle…is that barring hardware failure, their 10 year old computer is every bit as "good" as it was the day it was made.  Computers don’t "slow down," they are simply being asked to do way more than that for which they were designed.

How does this happen?  Imagine your computer is a pickup truck.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a Chevy S10 or a Ford F350.  It’s new and it can do the job.  In this analogy, "the job" is driving on a flat, straight road.  There are no hills.  There are no curves.  There is no wind, snow or other weather.  It’s a flat, smooth, straight road in the middle of the day.  You bought your truck to drive, and so you start driving.  Everything’s great!  The road is flat and so the truck uses very little gas.  There’s just one catch, however: every mile, there’s a guy at the side of the road and as you drive past he tosses a sandbag into the back of your truck.  "No big deal," you think as you continue your way down the road.  You hardly notice it!  The truck’s performance hasn’t been noticeably hindered, and you’re still not using very much gas.  As you drive along, you see all kinds of sights and side roads leading to all kinds of destinations; some of them fun, some of them work, but all of them open.

This continues every mile.  The road is still straight and flat and there’s still no weather hindering your progress, but every mile a new sandbag lands in the back of your truck.  They keep piling on, higher and higher, heavier and heavier.  You start noticing that you’re using up gas faster and faster.  You also notice that some of those side roads are now no longer an option.  Why?  Because you’re now too heavy and over the weight limit!  As you get heavier and heavier, your truck gets less and less efficient and more and more roads are closed to you.  Eventually it becomes impractical to use your truck because you’re stopping every mile to get more gas and there’s nowhere to go anyhow because no road will let you pass because you’re so heavy.

That analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s basically apt.  The truck is your computer.  The highway system is the World Wide Web, colloquially (and incredibly incorrectly) referred to as "The Internet".  The side roads are individual web sites.  The sandbags are the software requirements of constantly-improving technologies that demand more and more computing "horsepower" to execute efficiently.  Your computer is every bit as powerful as it was the day you bought it.  But the work it is expected to do is constantly evolving, and it’s not getting easier! 

I know a couple that still have the computers they bought 25 years ago.  They still use them and they work just fine.  How can this be?  Simple: Their needs have not changed!  They bought those computers to do word processing and nothing else.  The original software as purchased with the computers still works.  Their printers still work.  The computers still work.  Their needs have not changed, so everything is, from their perspective, just as good as it was when the computers were new.

But today everyone is online.  The Internet and the software needed to use it is the sandbags.  Web sites and all the "stuff" that you see on them get more and more complicated to display on your computer screen.  As a result you have to download a near-continuous stream of "software updates" just to stay current.  If you buy an actual truck and take care of it; change the oil regularly, put new brakes and tires on it when it needs it, keep it clean, etc.; it might last you 25 years or more, just like those 2 computers.  It will have some wear and tear, but it will basically be as good as the day you bought it.  The needs of drivers don’t change all that much.  Our roads don’t change much. 

The Internet, on the other hand, is constantly evolving.  Therefore, whether you want them to or not, your "needs" are evolving in kind.  If you expect to remain compatible with the "Internet" and all of the technologies that make it possible, you should be prepared to buy a NEW computer a minimum of every 4-5 years. 

And watch out for sandbags!

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