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Can Too Many Desktop Icons Slow Down Your PC?

The answers to one of the most popular questions: can many icons and many files saved on the Desktop contribute to slowing down the PC? We are often asked a question that has its roots in the history of Windows: ” can the many icons on the desktop slow down the PC ?” Even today, many are convinced that the presence of many icons on the Windows desktop causes performance drops.

The short answer is “no”: in general, many icons on the Desktop cannot cause slowdowns on the PC in use. In most cases, most of the icons placed on the Desktop are links (files in .lnk format ) that weigh no more than 2 KB.

However, many users usually use the Windows desktop as a ready-to-use “container” where they place large files and folders. To find documents, videos, and images more easily, the files are saved directly on the Desktop or collected in folders which are also always placed on the Desktop. 

The Windows “Desktop” folder is a folder like many others (we will see later what is special about it, as in the case of the other system folders…): Windows does not keep the contents of the Desktop in memory and therefore does not perform any particular processing having so many icons in this area of ​​the system does not in itself cause performance problems.

Keeping many icons and multiple folders on the Windows desktop can slow down the user’s work and reduce productivity: it’s not easy to find what you need in a jungle of icons. Here, many use the integrated search in Windows, which by default examines and automatically indexes the items placed on the Desktop: Search for files on the Windows 10 PC: how the new search works.

Why store so many files on your Desktop if you need the built-in search function to find what you need? In “modern era” versions of Windows, all loaded into memory are icons used as “placeholders” for files located on the Desktop, certainly not their contents.

To speed up the display of icons, among other things, Windows uses a file called icon cache, which is always kept up to date. A certain “delay” in the composition of desktop icons can only occur when the operating system has to check the contents of each file and generate the corresponding icon.

If Windows slowly displays the icons on the Desktop or their content does not appear correct (the preview is not shown), this is due to a problem with the icon cache file, which may have become corrupted. In these cases, it can be regenerated manually by following the procedure we presented at the time: Damaged or incorrect icons in Windows 10.

Antimalware Scanning And Indexing Of Desktop icons And Content

Some argue that the anti malware installed on the system is forced to continuously scan the desktop content because it is one of the areas that the user most frequently accesses. Scanning large files kept on the Desktop would therefore contribute to slowing down the system markedly.

In reality, this is not the case because all modern anti malware solutions refrain from scanning files that have already been scanned in the short term and optimize the scanning activities to minimize the impact on machine resources.

Just run software like Process Monitor to realize it: you will get the list of files accessed in real-time. You will notice that the most relevant I/O activity certainly does not concern the Windows desktop folders. 

The same can be said for Windows indexing, which examines the contents of each file present in the folders subject to automatic scanning: as can be verified by pressing Windows+R then controlling srchadmin.dll, the contents of the Users folders are always indexed by the system operating system, including Desktop folders.

The more files there are on the Desktop, especially if they are of considerable size, the longer it will take for the Windows indexing routine to process them: during the indexing phase, the performance of the PC will be reduced (even if the operating system tends to avoid heavy indexing when the system is in use). However, this is a “one-off” procedure: once the desktop files have been indexed, they will be re-analyzed only if they are modified.

What’s Special About The Windows Desktop Folder

The Windows Desktop folder is “special,” anyway. Like other system folders, Desktop also represents the union of the contents of two directories: that of the user account currently used (type Windows+R then %userprofile%\Desktop ) and the public one (generally C:\Users\Public\Desktop ) shared among all users on the machine.

Then there is another point worth highlighting: if the Windows PC in use is part of a domain (therefore, it is used within a corporate network or at an educational institution), a user can access his account using the credentials he possesses using any computer.

This is possible thanks to the roaming user profile: as we saw in the article AppData: what the folder is for and what information it contains, files synchronized between the various machines within a Windows Server domain are placed in the Roaming folder. In a properly configured client-server environment, user profile folders are roamed from the server to various workstations using the local network. When the user logs out, any changes are transferred to the server.

If users used to store large files on the Desktop, copying them between servers and workstations (and vice versa) could take time, also consuming network bandwidth. For this reason, saving large amounts of data on the roaming desktop should always be avoided.

Clean Up The Windows Desktop

That said, it makes sense to clean up the Windows desktop by reducing the number of icons displayed and, for example, by grouping those relating to the same categories. For example, you can create two or more folders on the Desktop and then move the various icons. 

By opening each of them, you can then use the key combination ALT+TAB to switch quickly from one to the other: How to switch from one window to another with ALT+TAB and other shortcuts. With the free WinDirStat program, by selecting A Folder and then indicating the path to the Desktop, you can immediately know which items stored on the Desktop take up the most disk space.

To know the exact path of the desktop folder to paste in the A Folder field, just press Windows+R and type. Press the Enter key. By clicking the right mouse button on the Desktop folder and then choosing Properties from the context menu, you can check the space occupied by the contents of the directory.

The differences between the byte values ​​reported for Size and Size on disk are justifiable based on what is explained in the article Size and size on disk: what’s the difference in file storage. Click on the bar to the left of Search in Desktop, and the complete path will appear. Clicking on it and pressing CTRL+C will copy the desktop folder path for the selected user account and paste it into the A Folder ( CTRL+V ) field of WinDirStat.

Finally, many users keep the position of the icons on the Desktop, panicking when they no longer use the original arrangement. In the article Block icons on the Windows desktop and restore their position we have seen how to avoid changes and restore the desktop configuration if necessary.

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