Why does a computer "slow down" over time?

Discussion in 'iMac' started by Smallville, Jan 14, 2011.

  1. Smallville macrumors regular

    Nov 1, 2004
    A question for people a lot more savvy than I with computers ...

    Why does a computer "slow down" after a few years? How and why does it go from lightning fast out of the box to taking 3 to 5 minutes to open iTunes years later? Why does it take a minute for a simple webpage to load? Why do I see that damn beach ball all the time when all I want to do is scroll down a page?

    I ask because I'm looking for solutions to pep up my iMac. I bought it in February 2008, a 21.5-inch screen model with 250 GB hard drive, a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 1 GB of memory.

    So, is this an issue of buying more memory? Or is it time to start shopping around once this thing really starts dragging?

    Any advice is appreciated. And go easy on me, I'm no computer expert.
  2. Transporteur macrumors 68030

    Nov 30, 2008
    Largely scattered data chunks on mechanical hard drives and the fact that filling them decreases their speed is what makes your computer slow.

    These problems have finally been overcome with the release of solid state drives a few years back.
  3. Kebabselector, Jan 14, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2011

    Kebabselector macrumors 68030


    May 25, 2007
    Birmingham, UK
    1gb of memory is quite low, but it might be worth checking how full your hdd is. Also worth having a system cleanup, delete unused applications and archive old data (to an external source).

    You may find some of the system's cleanup utilities haven't run for a long time, maybe using a free app like onyx might improve performance (it runs system clean up tasks!), maybe worth running monolingual as well to get rid of all the different languages that get installed by default on every application update.

    oh, before you start to do anything - make sure you've got a backup of your data/files etc

    With regards to Monolingual, after 10.6.6 and all the recent iLife updates it's saved me 662mb in languages
  4. Smallville thread starter macrumors regular

    Nov 1, 2004
    The hard drive is exactly half full (or half empty). 125 GB out of 250.

    I'll look into the Onyx program.

    Thanks for the advice.
  5. solowmodel macrumors 6502

    Jan 11, 2011
    I would look into the possibility of adding some ram as it's not very expensive, and at the very least, will help somewhat :)
  6. A Macbook Pro macrumors 6502

    Aug 22, 2009
    Have you ever done a fresh restore? Back up all important data, wipe OS X and install it again, put important data back. If you do this often and your computer still seems slow, it's because you keep upgrading your software version. iTunes 8 might be much faster on your computer then iTunes 10. Same goes for Safari.
  7. gullySn0wCat, Jan 14, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2011

    gullySn0wCat macrumors 6502

    Dec 7, 2010
    OK, long post time.

    Don't bother with any "cleaner" apps, they are only treating the symptom and not the disease, and can f&$@ your computer up. Doing a fresh install of OSX is a better option.

    Old versions of iTunes, etc. won't make a difference. Hardware became cheap and powerful enough circa 2007 that only top-end software and games can really tax a machine built since then.

    That being said, you need more RAM. 1gb wasn't enough, even back in 2008. 2gb is pretty much minimum, 4-8gb seems to be the "sweet spot" for now.

    Otherwise, back up all your data, format the HD and do a clean install of OSX. Before restoring your data from the backup, try using some programs. If you still get the spinning wheel of death for extended periods, that can indicate a failing hard drive.

    I had the same issue on a 250gb drive on our company's 2008 iMac. The HD eventually failed completely.
  8. JRoDDz macrumors 68000


    Jul 2, 2009
    I agree. Pop some more RAM in there, and do a fresh install. Computer should speed up nicely.
  9. lilB macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2011
    Too many apps left running (unused apps running at startup), permission errors, and lack of proper maintenance.
  10. skunk macrumors G4


    Jun 29, 2002
    Republic of Ukistan
  11. bobr1952 macrumors 68020


    Jan 21, 2008
    Melbourne, FL
    I don't really think a computer has to slow down over time. I do see the logic of the hard drive slowing down over time as it ages but I really haven't noticed much of a slowdown on my 3 year old iMac. I don't do anything to keep it running fast--or to make it run slower--steady as you go is the rule. Maybe it is just me slowing down more than my computer. :eek:
  12. Smallville thread starter macrumors regular

    Nov 1, 2004
    Ding! We have a winner.

    Seriously, thanks for the input. I'm not a heavy user at all. I think the most intensive program I use is Word. I don't do games, I don't do movie editing, I don't do much beyond word processing, email and web browsing.

    I do have an external HD that I use for Time Machine. I'll give formatting and a fresh install a try. I'm on Snow Leopard, by the way.
  13. gullySn0wCat macrumors 6502

    Dec 7, 2010
    Well, looking at my activity monitor

    Snow Leopard = 390mb+ (wired RAM)
    Safari with two tabs open = 275mb
    Word 2011 = 230mb

    = 895mb of RAM, without any extra activity whatsoever! If you have a look at your activity monitor, you will probably know that you are getting a lot of "page outs." this means that your Mac has run out of RAM, and is using the HD (virutal memory), which is very slow.
  14. chrono1081 macrumors 604


    Jan 26, 2008
    Isla Nublar
    This was probably mentioned but hard drive performance degrades over time regardless of a reinstall.

    I usually replace a hard drive after 2 or 3 years. Yes they can go for MUCH longer but you usually get a nice boost in performance from simply replacing a drive (provided you already upgraded your ram). Its a trick we do all the time in the IT department to keep machines longer. Its much cheaper to replace a drive than a machine.
  15. archipellago macrumors 65816

    Aug 16, 2008
    with Apple computers of that age, in my experience its usually because it s going to break..!

    anyway for your uses you'd be better off with iPad, with or without keyboard.

    iMac is poor value overkill.
  16. Smallville thread starter macrumors regular

    Nov 1, 2004
    iPad my ass. It's an accessory, not a computer replacement. I'd be better off with a MacBook if I had to go that route.
  17. simsaladimbamba

    Nov 28, 2010
    Yep, my 2007 iMac with 10.6.6 is going to break down any day now due to its daily use. I don't know when it will happen, but any day now. Any day. Anyway.
  18. Smallville thread starter macrumors regular

    Nov 1, 2004
    Update: After doing some research on the Apple.com support site, I came across some advice to reset the SMC (System Management Controller).


    So far, I've had success with this approach. Hardly any stalling since I went through these few easy steps.

    Any thoughts as this being the solution or am I still in a bit of hot water with the hard drive?

    Again, thanks so much for the advice.
  19. mjsmke macrumors 6502a

    Mar 2, 2010
    iPad????? iPants more like.

    Most useless apple invention. Ever!
  20. ZilogZ80 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 5, 2010
    Could be a symptom of a failing hard drive. If the clean re-install doesn't help, you could try replacing it. They are cheap enough these days.

    Never come across the Apple battery charger then?! :D
  21. And macrumors 6502


    Feb 23, 2009
    92 ft above sea level, UK
    Try Google's Chrome browser, it requires a lot less memory (I have three tabs open currently and it's using 70MB). This will free up memory and reduce beachballing when virtual memory is required.

    Best, and.
  22. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    There are two things that make a Macintosh slow in my experience: Not having enough RAM, and a defective hard drive. To check the RAM situation, start "Activity Monitor" (in the Finder, press Command-Shift-U to open the Utilities folder, and Activity Monitor should be the first application inside), switch to "System Memory", and check how much "Free" and "Inactive" memory you have. If you don't have Free or Inactive memory while doing what you normally do, then you don't have enough RAM.

    The other thing is a defective hard drive, which could very much explain your symptoms. Hard drives don't last forever, and one thing that will happen is that the computer has to try to read the same data again and again until it works if your hard drive is close to giving up its ghost. A symptom is spinning beach balls at unexpected times. Make sure that your computer is backed up with Time Machine. And at some time you'll have to replace the hard drive.

    And three to five minutes to start iTunes is not normal, at least if your library has a normal size. It starts on my 2006 MacBook with about 15,000 songs in maybe 10 to 15 seconds.

    And much cheaper (time wise) to replace it while it is still working than doing it after it crashes. And yes, newer drives are faster.
  23. Macmel macrumors 6502

    Feb 7, 2008
    I had the same symptoms in my Early 2008 MBP C2D 2.4 4Gb RAM 200 Gb HDD. 4Gb was more than enough for me (clearly 1 Gb is not enough for you, I would start there).
    The problem I had was that the HDD was 70% full and had started to fragment. Yes I know Macs don't need defragmenting, but that's only in fanboys' minds. In real life, a HDD which is quite full and has big archives been moved around (deleting them, putting new ones, etc) like movies, for example, is going to fragment.
    I used Drive Genius to have the HDD defragmented, to remove non-used crap like languages, old files, etc., to check integrity and repair permissions, and the machine improved a lot.
  24. Erasmus macrumors 68030


    Jun 22, 2006
    Hiding from Omnius in Australia
    Damn, you beat me.

    Obviously you should do this AFTER you've used your computer for a few hours, not directly after startup. For example, sometimes I find Safari and/or iTunes slowly accumulate more and more memory, until they're using well over half a gig. As I only have 2 GB, it fills quickly, and when I'm running something RAM and CPU intensive like MATLAB... Well, it ain't pretty.

    You should obviously add more RAM (although 2GB should be enough for you) but you should also check the "Page ins" and "Page outs" in the RAM tab of Activity Monitor. That's what is likely causing the slowdowns, ie. the swapping of data between real and virtual RAM. I expect if you were to check them, they would be quite high.

    EDIT: Sorry to thread-jack, but I just noticed my "VM Size" is almost 122GB. Which is odd, as my HDD is only 120GB, a large portion of which is Boot Camp. Can OS X use external USB disks as VM???
  25. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    Doesn't mean anything. "VM Size" is how much memory all your running apps together could ask for, and all 64 bit apps _can_ ask for an awful lot of memory. If all your apps simultaneously decided to use all the memory they are allowed to be used, you would be in trouble. But they don't, so you are fine.

    This is like checking with your bank "what is the biggest loan I could ask for"? And the bank manager says "well, you can ask for a loan for a billion dollars. You won't get it, but you can ask for it. "

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