Why Modern PCs May Feel More Sluggish

John Lister's picture

Software engineers have been debating whether today's operating systems are slower to respond than their predecessors. It led one site to experiment with running Windows XP on a new computer.

After some hassles of getting it going, it turned out that XP felt extremely fast to use, albeit with a serious risk of malware infection.

The debate started when Julio Merino put together "real-time videos" of an old machine running Windows NT 3.51 (a business version roughly equivalent to Windows 95 for consumers) and a modern machine running Windows 11. (Those of us of a certain age may have to reflect for a moment to fully appreciate that Windows NT 3.51 is almost thirty years old).

Lag Is Annoying

He noted that while modern machines and software are clearly more powerful, some basic functions are much slower these days. The big problem was with the response times for opening simple apps such as File Explorer, Paint and Notepad, with Windows 11 having a noticeable lag. (Source: jmmv.dev)

Merino was originally baffled given many computer advancements, most notably the switch from old-style moving-part drives to SSDs, has made many operations faster. He also rebutted some theories such as basic tasks being slower because the computer has to handle more pixels when displaying the relevant windows on modern, high-resolution screens.

He concluded its partly to do with the languages developers use to code applications and partly because apps have more code as they are designed to work the same way across different devices.

XP Feels Faster

The Register's Liam Proven then tested the arguments by installing Windows XP on several modern PCs that the site normally uses for testing new applications. He found the biggest challenge was locating and installing drivers for the various hardware components and peripherals, which he eventually managed with third-party tools Legacy Update and Snappy Driver Installer Origin.

He also found a browser (MyPal) and antivirus (Avast) that worked. Proven says that for most applications, using the Microsoft version wasn't viable, but third-party tools such as media player VLC often had a compatible version. He did find that Office 97 worked OK when many optional components were disabled.

Proven reports that using XP on the modern machines "felt not merely usable, but good: fast, responsive, and smooth, more so than any newer version." The experiment appeared to back up Merino's argument. (Source: theregister.com)

However, Proven did note that using XP as a main operating system on a computer connected to the Internet is pretty much insane as even with an antivirus tool in place, it's a ludicrous security risk.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you find opening applications and windows slower today than in the past? What do you think causes any slowdown? Do you find a couple of seconds delay on small regular tasks more frustrating than a big task (such as editing a video) taking several minutes longer?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Older operating systems will always run faster on modern hardware because the programming does not take into account the patches and workarounds for bug fixes and security exploits of today's computing issues. The key point in that sentence is "today's computing issues."

For example, take the "meltdown" and "spectre" security vulnerabilities that were first spotted in 2018: the operating system patches used to circumvent the exploits account for a 5 to 30 percent drop in processor performance.

New operating systems are patched against these exploits while older systems are not. Without the protection, any malicious program can gain full administrative privileges (perhaps even remotely) and you'd lose all your data from a ransomware attack just by having the machine connected to the Internet. I've actually witnessed this happen to one of my clients that insisted on running Windows XP because of a software compatibility issue.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that as technology advances, many of the software development kits (SDKs) used to create shared libraries of code are no longer supported (usually but not always due to security vulnerabilities) and that's why the majority of software - especially operating systems - need continued development. This often translates to rewriting lots of code which also addresses vulnerabilities, and hence the need for modern hardware to compute all the extra lines of code and to take advantage of other technologies (example: ultra fast usb-c connections, new wifi standards, etc).

buzzallnight's picture

How many customers have you worked with in your life time?
And one of them had a problem with xp...

How many of them had a problem with win 8?
How many of them had a problem with win 8.1?
How many of them had a problem with win 10?
How many of them had a problem with win 11?

eric's picture

I have been working with customers/end users since 1994.

Windows 10/11 is the most robust, most stable, least crashing and most likely to recover from crashes than any Microsoft OS since DOS 6.22.

Windows 10 was the first Windows that can mostly handle and be OK with moving the drive to a different computer with different hardware (or not require reinstall after you do major upgrades). In fact, I even once moved Win10 a drive from and AMD computer to am Intel computer and the OS was fine. No previous version of Windows could do such a thing.

buzzallnight's picture

Can they recover from M$ patches?

bachacos_01's picture

Older systems like XP are far more compact and suffer less code bloat than New patched and overwritten OS. XP is still maintained because there are millions of embedded XP machines around the world (ATMs, medical machines, industrial equipment) that need a fast and reliable OS.

Antivirus is stopped way before any comms get to the PC and as such are hardened externally. If we can have improved routers, modems and switches we could again simplify and improve our PC's with efficient OSs and less overhead with AVs and Spam scanners that have become a reason for themselves.

c_hirst_2382's picture

If you dual-boot Win10 and WinXP but disable the internet connection on XP - no XP driver for the ethernet card/bits - you can safely(?) run legacy software on XP if it is stand-alone - like compilers etc. As both OSes have access to the same hard drives, you can re-boot to Win10 to download what you need protected by your up-to-date antivirus and store the files on the XP system disk. Then, when you next boot to XP, you'll have the data you need.