It’s a proven fact: The more programs you install on your computer, the slower it will eventually become. Let’s revisit this almost two decade-old position in 2010 and see if it still holds true for today’s machines and the modern operating system Windows 7.
More programs equals less performance?
What most users are unaware of: Installing too many programs can result in problems and a massive decline in performance and stability. And it is not their fault—how should they know? Windows by itself does not do a really good job of telling users to get rid of programs they rarely use and that may cause issues. It is mostly long after the fact that people start asking themselves, “Why is my PC so slow?” or yell out, “My Windows crashes all the time!”
So what’s the cause behind all this? The more programs you download from the Web or install from a DVD, the more services, background processes, files, startup items, and registry entries will be created. Some software products even install new drivers, for example virtual DVD drives. This obviously puts more and more of a strain on your machine, because it needs to assign a certain amount of resources to the newly installed programs, and this, in return, reduces performance.
The question is: Is this drop in performance noticeable? We’ll find out in this exclusive real-life test run!
Our testing method
The “Clean PC”: To test the theory, we measured the performance of a computer with only a minimum set of programs installed. We call it the “Clean PC”.
As you can see, we have Office 2010 Beta, Google Earth, TuneUp Utilities, Windows Live Essentials, Media Player Classic, Microsoft Security Essentials, Age of Empires III: Asian Dynasties, Sony Media Go and PhotoImpact X3 installed. All the drivers are up to date and all Windows 7 updates have been installed.
The “Junk PC”: Then we installed exactly 200 software products that are widely used. We selected these 200 based on the most used programs on Wakoopa (a software usage tracker), the top downloads at Downloads.com, from various “Top 10 Programs you need” lists and from our personal experience with what our readers use most often. It is an even mixture of very popular and huge software suites—such as Pinnacle Studio 14 or Nero 9 Full—and useful freeware applications such as Skype, WinZip and Opera. We even selected some utter junk (for example, Screensavers) that we very often find on typical PCs used by kids. A full list of products we used is available for download here. We call this the “Junk PC”.
Selecting, downloading, cataloging, and especially installing these applications took literally more than two days and over 50 restarts. There was tremendous click-work and lots of waiting involved, believe us. Also, a lot of free and even commercial programs come with additional software such as toolbars. So when we speak of 200 additional programs, in reality it might come close to 250 due to tons of toolbars and advertising programs that came with the programs. We ran each of these programs at least once, to ensure that they were properly set up and working.
The machine we used was an ultra-thin laptop (a MacBook Air running Windows 7 via BootCamp) with a 1.86 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo L9400 processor, 2 Gigabyte of main memory, a GeForce 9400M graphics chipset and a 120 Gigabyte serial ATA hard drive.
The question is: Is there performance degradation? And if so, how much are we talking here? Do all the additional files, registry entries, background processes, and startup items of those 200 programs slow down the computer noticeably? Let’s find out!
And here they are… the results
So after almost going crazy from installing literally 200 applications, the fun part starts. Do a plethora of applications affect performance in any way? Here’s what we gathered:
The time it takes the machine once the power switch has been pressed to finally loading the last automatically running program on the startup list.
After the installation marathon, we basically restarted the computer at least 40 times and used the machine over a three day period to ensure that Windows 7 had optimized the startup process as best as it could. But still, it needed over 7 minutes to fully boot up and load up all the startup programs. Although the desktop was visible after about 2–3 minutes, due to the massive load it was impossible to use the machine.
Note: On a couple of boot up attempts, the machine simply froze a couple of seconds after the desktop displayed.
The time it takes from clicking the “Shut down” button to actual power down.
Apparently, some of the new services and background processes caused Windows 7 to freeze during shutdown. We waited literally more than 20 minutes, but nothing happened. In only one of about a dozen shutdown attempts did the machine actually power down correctly—and that took exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Virus scan performance
We used Microsoft Security Essentials to test how long it takes to scan 1.5 GByte worth of RAR archives.
It took MSE nearly twice as long to complete the virus scan after the 200 programs had been installed on the machine.
Here we measure the performance of selected applications. We start by measuring the time it takes for Outlook 2010 Beta to load and display the first e-mail. We move over and start Google Chrome with 8 tabs. We did not measure how long it took to actually display the Web sites, as that depends entirely on the Internet connection.
In the last run, we tested how long it took our test computer to fire up Windows Media Player and start playing a 1080p Full HD video file.
No surprise here, Outlook took almost twice as long to start up—same with the Google browser. We’ve also waited twice as long until the Full HD video clip started playing in Windows Media Player. This is absolutely intolerable. It felt like we were using Windows 7 on a 10 year old machine and not from a laptop bought in 2009.
Processor, graphics, and memory performance
We compress three video files (each about 350 MByte in size) to a single ZIP file, which took a significant amount of time—even before we “ruined” our machine with the massive amount of programs we put on this little machine. After that, it took almost 45 seconds longer—probably due to the massive load put on the CPU and the hard disk.
The video file wouldn’t even play smoothly for more than a couple of seconds. On one test run, Windows Media Player simply froze up on us.
Photo editing performance
Using PhotoImpact X3, we took a 30 MByte TIF graphic and applied the “Enhance” filter that is supposed to enhance colors and picture quality. We measured the exact time needed for the filter to take effect on the image.
Surprise, this rather GPU-intense task took only 3 seconds longer on the junked up configuration. Not a drastic performance reduction that we experienced in basically every other benchmark we ran.
Cinebench R10 performance
Cinebench is a leading benchmark for 3D animation performance based on the very popular CINEMA 4D animation software. The benchmark generates a score that represents the performance of a computer and that can be used to compare performances between different configurations. The higher the numbers, the better the performance of the PC.
It was no surprise either, that rendering the 3D animation took noticeably longer on the Junk PC configuration. This resulted in a significantly lower score on each test run of Cinebench R10.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat performance
A benchmark based on the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat released in Q4 2009.
Stalker suffered a great deal. The already pretty low-frame rate went down to an absolute unbearable 1–3 frames per second, depending on the scene and details on screen. It seems that games with massive textures and details suffer the most from a junked up computer.
PC Mark Vantage performance
PC Mark Vantage is a set of benchmark tools designed to test the speed of the CPU, and read/write speeds of the memory and hard disks. It also tests the machine by automatically performing tasks such as playing multiple video files, editing photos, or filling up WordPad with dozens of pages of text. At the end of the test, the benchmark calculates a score that is used to determine the performance of a computer. The higher the score, the faster your machine performs. We used the “default run” here.
It was shocking to see the total PC Mark Vantage score go down from 2624 to 1092 due to the massive amount of programs installed. We were, however, surprised that both the HDD test, the music and the gaming test were not affected that much from all this new background activity going on.
Overall performance and stability from the user perspective
Benchmarks test in pure numbers. What we test in this last “benchmark” is the performance from our point of view: The overall responsiveness when launching and switching between programs and Windows or when clicking on menus.
After the 200 programs were installed, you had to wait a few seconds until any window opened. It took about 25 seconds until the “Computer” and the “Control Panel” windows opened. Some programs did not even launch anymore or caused the computer to lock up. It took a few seconds until even the smallest context menus showed after a right-click. Granted, the system we used is not the most powerful high-end machine, but it is not out of date by any means. Still, everything seemed to run as slow as molasses.
Conclusion: massive performance hit! Advice: limit what you install
We expected a noticeable drop in performance before we started this experiment, but certainly not over 200% in some benchmarks. By installing that many programs, we simply ruined our machine to the point where it was absolutely no fun at all to work with it. Starting with the boot process: It was incredibly slow and after the logon over two dozen advertising windows, pop-up balloons, and program logos appeared, before we could click on anything. Even a couple of error messages showed up.
The performance of the poor machine became horrid, as it took over 30 seconds to start Windows Explorer even after the machine fully booted. Opening even a very lightweight application like Excel 2010 took almost a minute. It was simply embarrassingly slow.
We suggest a couple of rules
- Before you install any piece of software, think long and hard if you actually need it or plan to use it regularly. If you just need it once, remember to uninstall it.
- Go through the list of all your installed programs and decide if you still need all of these programs. Check out the TuneUp Blog Diary: Removing Unused Programs on My Mom’s Windows PC post.
- To further clean up your system, read the How To: Disable Unnecessary Features in Windows Vista and 7 post.
- Be sure that only the most necessary startup applications are loaded automatically when you turn your PC on. Read our post How to Reduce Windows Startup Time post for more information.
- Install new software within a virtual machine. That’s a simulated PC with an operating system! You can basically wreak havoc in this environment and test all kinds of programs without affecting your own PC. Try out free solutions from Sun or Microsoft. Note: You need a Windows XP CD, Vista DVD, or Windows 7 DVD and an additional license to install the virtual operating system.
Stick to our advice and watch out which and how many programs you install on your machine. Yes, this test was an experiment, but we have actually seen many computers in the last couple of months that have been messed up like that. In an upcoming blog post, we will show you the best way to handle even these chaotic machines without actually having to reinstall them. Stay tuned!
Read the next part of our 200 programs experiment – Can the original performance be restored by removing all of these unnecessary applications?
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