It’s actually a topic I touch on briefly in my article Why Is My Machine Slowing Down?
As we get older, we tend to gain weight. The same seems to be true for most software, Windows included.
But more than Windows can make your system seem bloated and slow.
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Growth over time
Software gets bigger over time. That’s the nature of its evolution, as well as our expectations of ever-increasing functionality and support. Years of updates slowly increase the resource requirements of your operating system and the applications you run.
In many ways, it’s a form of “death by a thousand cuts“. An updated version of an OS or application might require just a tiny bit more RAM, or use just a little more CPU than the version it’s replacing. Repeat that dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the life of the software, and it can add up to something more significant and, as a result, noticeable.
As you’ve noted, adding RAM or improving whatever resource seems to be holding the machine back often resolves the issue, at least for the time being.
But what if that’s not an option?
So. Much. Software.
I’m a high-end user, I get that. I generally have several windows open in a couple of different browsers, as well as a few utilities that I run more-or-less constantly, not to mention OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive. As I type this, my Windows 10 Pro laptop has nearly 300 processes running, using 22 of the 32 gigabytes of RAM on the machine.
But even my Windows 10 Home machine, running nothing at all, has close to 100 processes running in its two gigabytes of RAM. One hundred processes to do nothing?
Of course, that’s not the case; Windows is doing a lot behind the scenes. Be it Windows Update, Windows Defender, OneDrive, managing all the different hardware, running periodic tasks to keep the system operating properly, managing backups, and more, your system is quite busy even when it’s doing “nothing”.
And all that “busy” means there’s software loaded and running — often lots of it.
The question is, do you need it all?
Applications love their startup utilities
One of my pet peeves are applications which, once installed, include a utility that starts automatically and is always running, regardless of whether or not you use the software. There are so many better ways to solve the problems that these small programs address, it’s just not funny.1 If there’s no UI component (an icon in the taskbar or notification area) or some other kind of expected user interaction, they rarely need to run all the time.
I turn many of them off.
The simplest approach is to run Task Manager (right-click on the clock in your taskbar and click on Task Manager), click on More details if it’s displayed, and then click on the Startup tab.
As you can see in my example above, I’ve disabled close to half the items on my Startup list. I do this for two reasons.
- The computer starts up faster.
- The computer uses fewer resources.
It’s the latter that’s on point here. As your computer uses more and more resources over time, you can sometimes compensate by preventing some of the software on it from running all the time.
It’s impossible for me to know which items on your startup list can be disabled. Each is there for a reason. Sometimes it’s an important component to software you use, and you really want it to be running. And sometimes, as I said, it’s the wrong way to solve a different problem. You need to research your own needs. What Can I Disable in Task Manager’s Startup List? is a good article to start your research.
Services: more processes you don’t normally see
“Services” are programs you don’t see that run in the background. They’re called services because they typically provide some service to other software running on the machine. For example, the “Windows Search” service is the software that manages what happens when you search for something using the Windows user interface.
Windows is, in a very fundamental way, not much more than a collection of running services and the programs that make requests of those services.
But there are a lot of services. Over 150 are running on my laptop now, and 89 on that Windows Home machine.2
Are they all necessary? Just like startup programs, it depends. I can’t say what’s appropriate for your machine and how you use it. Some are critical to Windows operation, but others might not be needed for the ways you use your computer. What Windows Services Can I Turn Off? is an article that tackles the subject.
For years, Black Viper has maintained an exhaustive list of Windows services, what they do, and recommendations for which can be disabled under what conditions. Unfortunately, this information no longer gets updated, so it’s slowly falling out of date. I have yet to come across as exhaustive a list to recommend as an alternative.
If you’re running into memory or performance issues without alternative means of addressing the issue, examining the services your machine is running is one approach. In my case, I tend to leave well enough alone until or unless there’s a problem.
Brute force: add or improve the hardware
Of course, if your budget and your computer allows, throwing more hardware at the problem is quicker than wading through startup entries or services.
If your machine is capable of holding more, adding RAM is the quickest way to address this problem. For many years, adding RAM has been the single most effective approach to improving your computer’s overall performance. Windows loves RAM.
While not addressing RAM usage issue directly, upgrading a traditional HDD hard drive to an SSD (Solid State Disk) can also have dramatic impact on startup time and overall system responsiveness, even in RAM-started environments.
1: Application vendors should learn how to use Task Scheduler properly. From what I’ve seen, this could remove 80% of these applications that run all the time.
2: It’s tempting to think that this means over half the processes running on each machine are services. That’s inaccurate, however, since some processes — most notably svchost — provide multiple services in a single process.