TUCOWS ARTICLE

How To Speed Up Computer Efficiency - Part 1 of 2

Read part one of this two-part article on how you can make your computer more efficient.
Published: Jul 14, 2008
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows

Speed Up Computer Efficiency - Part 1 of 2

by Piers Allen of Uniblue Systems

Your PC is a pretty no nonsense piece of kit that combines technology that skirts the very edges of our technical know-how (such as the chip), and (the banal such as the monitor, keyboard and cooling fan). When you buy your new system, whether a laptop or a desktop, it will probably be close to being at the cutting edge of what you can buy. At time of writing, for a laptop this means 4GB of memory and around 500GB of hard disk, and for a desktop means 8GB of memory and around 4TB of hard disk!

The numbers start to sound a little silly after a while. I learnt the SI series of prefixes, (i.e. the mega, giga and tera etc which precede big numbers) back in physics class, but I never expected to use them. To think that we have now gone from PCs with 40 megabytes of hard disk space to ones with 4 terabytes (an increase of a factor of 100,000) in a little over 15 years is quite stunning. Similarly to go from PCs with under a single megabyte of RAM, up to ones with 8 gigabytes (an increase of a factor of 10,000) in the same time is astounding.

But the other side of the coin is that if money were no object and you went out to buy the best PC that you could get your hands on, you already know that 12 months down the line your system is only going to have half the memory and half the storage of the best computers on the market.

This makes it clear that if you are going to keep your computing technology up to date, by constantly buying more powerful machines, you will end up spending a fortune just to stand still. So the bottom line is that your best bet is to roll your sleeves up and try to squeeze out every last drop of performance from the PC you already have.

RAM

A good place to start when you are trying to improve your system’s power is to boost the RAM. What RAM will do is allow you to run more applications at the same time, or more memory intensive individual applications, such as video games and media editing programs. However what doubling (say) your RAM won’t do is automatically make your system twice as fast.

To understand this you can think of RAM as a backpack. If you have a small pack, but only a few small things to put in it, a small pack is as effective as a big one and there is no performance advantage as long as everything fits in fine. However, if you now want to fit in your tent, and a thick sleeping bag, your small pack will simply be too small and that is when you need something bigger.

So it is with computers. When you run an application your PC loads it from storage to memory (ie from the hard disk to RAM). For basic applications like word processors, email packages and web browsers, you won’t need much memory and your PC will probably even be able to run all the applications at the same time. However, if you then want to start working on your new video editing package, or playing the very latest graphics-intensive video game, you might find that the RAM requirements are too great to fit in the memory available on your PC.

A particular problem you might face, if you decide to upgrade your operating system to Vista, is that Vista needs more RAM than Windows XP. So you might find that, all other things being the same (ie you are running the same software) your PC runs more slowly under Vista than it did before. To release the full power of Vista you really need more RAM. Also, when using certain RAM intensive applications (for example games or video/image editing applications), the PC can be made considerably faster by installing a graphics card with its own RAM. So if you already have a graphics card installed you can try adding more RAM to this card as well.

Upgrading RAM isn’t particularly difficult and certainly isn’t beyond the abilities of an interested amateur. Basically you need to open your PC or laptop, identify how much space you have for more memory, buy the right memory and then install it.

There are a number of online tutorials that will explain what you need to do so I won’t go into detail here. Just remember the following points: 1) opening your PC or laptop may cancel the warranty, so check before you start; 2) you can’t just stick any old memory chip into your system, but must check that it matches your computer (websites like www.crucial.com and www.kingston.com will help you with this); and 3) make sure your PC and laptop are turned off and don’t go jabbing around with a screwdriver because you might break something or, worse, electrocute yourself. You also need to be careful about harming the components with static electricity so when touching computer parts it is a good idea to have a specialist wrist strap that earths body static.

CPU

A non starter, when it comes to system upgrades, is replacing the processor itself. Not much to talk about here. The processor is so integral to your system that everything, including software and hardware, will be configured to match your processor. Changing the processor will mean a lot of extra work for no great performance gain. If you are happy changing the CPU then fine, but you should only attempt it if you are an expert!

An alternative to changing your CPU is to “overclock” it. In fact one leading PC manufacturer, whose site I checked today, was selling a high end laptop whose 1066MHz RAM, it is promised, is “overclockable to 1333MHz.” Overclockers (as exponents of overclocking are called) take advantage of a number of tricks, many of which amount to simply exploiting the hardware up to its design limits, as opposed to merely its operating limits.

This isn’t without cost though. Think of a car: if you had the opportunity to do it safely, you might be able to take an ordinary family auto and race it at over 100mph around a track for hours on end, however it won’t necessarily be stable and it will probably breakdown more quickly than if run at its normal operating speed. Then again sometimes you can win the lottery, since chip manufacturers will mass produce a higher spec chip and then sell it as a lower specification CPU. If you find one of these chips in your machine, a little expert tinkering might be all you need to do to have that chip operating a its true operating potential. Again, in car terms it is the equivalent of a car firm mass producing a 5 liter V10 engine but selling and running it as a 4 liter V8 by disabling a couple of cylinders.

That's all for this week. Join me next week when I talk about other factors like storage, power supply, software, and more.

If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via email by clicking HERE You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.


About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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