Everybody these days wants computers that are fast and powerful. Some people seek out RAM upgrades, other people seek out new toys like SSDs or RAID configurations, but when you go to speed up your system, you can’t just pick up a new piece of hardware and expect to see a world of difference.
To help our customers in deciding how to best speed up their PCs, Jafferson Computers has put together this handy guide on how to identify and solve speed problems. When it comes to computer speed, there are three main pieces of hardware we look at. The processor, the memory, and the hard drive. Each one helps out with different tasks, and one last thing to remember is that a computer is only as fast as its slowest component, so having a super-fast processor is no good if your RAM can’t keep up with it.
Part 1: The Processor
The processor is the first piece of the puzzle. This is the “brain” of the computer or the main calculator. Everything the computer does has to run through the processor, so good processor speed is very important. Unfortunately, its pretty difficult to fully understand how processor speeds really work. Basically, you have two things to look at.
1: The clock speed (measured in GHz or MHz)
2: The number of cores (1 core, 2 cores, 4 cores and up)
The theory behind all these “cores” is that if you buy a 2.1 GHz processor with two cores, then the total clock speed is theoretically 4.2 GHz.
This is a little misleading. The thing is that a 2 core processor can only use both cores if there are two things to calculate at once. Most programs, however, have to do things one at a time. So if you are trying to compile one big, awesome HIGH DEFINITION photograph, odds are that only one core can handle that task, and that one core will max out at 2.1 GHz while the other core will remain mostly idle, so you never actually get to use the supposed 4.2 GHz your processor is supposed to be able to do.
Please understand that this is an oversimplification of processor speed and there are many many other things that come into play, but here’s a good RULE OF THUMB
A dual core processor at 2 GHz can give you 4 GHz, but this only happens when conditions are perfect, and even if the conditions are perfect, it will still never be as fast as a single core processor at 4GHz. The downside to single cores is that it is difficult to make a single core do 4GHz, and they also get very HOT and use a lot of power. Having multiple cores is much more economical and cost effective.
For most people, all this doesn’t matter too much because all you need is a processor that is “good enough”. Modern processors are all fast. You only need to shell out money for good processors if you are doing something processor intensive.
FAST PROCESSORS HELP MOST WITH:
- Doing heavy calculations.
- Moving around large files.
- Searching or scanning your hard drive
- High definition movies or photos.
- Graphically intense video games:
Part 2: Memory (RAM)
RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and basically it is the part of the computer that holds all your short-term data — as opposed to your hard drive which holds all of your long term data.
Imagine the relationship like a bucket and a well. The hard drive is the well. It holds all of the water, and it takes a long time to get water out of the well.
The bucket is the RAM. The bucket doesn’t hold very much water compared to the well, but it is much faster to get water out of the bucket.
When you call up a program like Microsoft Word, the computer searches through the hard drive for all of the files associated with Word, and copies them into RAM. Once they are sitting on the RAM, we can access them much faster, because RAM moves data much faster than a hard drive can. When we go to use a different program, at that time the computer will push the Word files out of RAM to replace them with files from the program you are now using, so that program will start to run smoothly and efficiently.
There are two things to look at when determining your RAM speed.
1. Amount of RAM (512 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB and up)
2. Clock speed
The amount of RAM is easy. The more bytes of RAM you have (4 GB is better than 2GB), the more short term data you have to work with. This means that you can load more programs into fast memory at once, and your computer is wasting as much time trying to retrieve data from the slower hard drive.
The second part is clock speed. If the amount of RAM means how much short term data you can hold, the clock speed is how fast that data moves in and out of RAM. There are many ways to measure clock speed, but in general the higher numbers are better. The simplest way to determine clock speed is to look at the DDR or PC rating. DDR3 (a.k.a. PC3) RAM is faster than DDR2 (a.k.a PC2) and much faster than DDR1. DDR3 is the faster consumer RAM available right now, but DDR4 will be available to buy by the end of this year.
Here’s my RULE OF THUMB for buying RAM.
Go for the higher clock speed over the bigger amount of RAM. Most new computers have at least 4 GB of RAM and the average user will RARELY max that out. It just doesn’t make sense for most people to pay for 6 or 8 GBs of RAM because they will never actually use more than 3 or 4 GBs at a time. Clock speed, however, should get used to its maximum all the time, (assuming that the motherboard is able to match those speeds) so you aren’t wasting money when you pay for the higher clock speed.
RAM HELPS MOST WITH:
- Multi tasking or running multiple programs at once
- Accessing large or commonly used files
- Running big programs like Windows, Quicken, Microsoft Office, photo or video editors
- Running background programs, services, antiviruses or firewalls.
Part 3: Hard Drives & SSDs
The last part of our speed puzzle is the hard drive, or the “long term storage”. Your hard drive is what holds all of the files your computer uses, this includes documents, photos, movies, Windows system files, programs files, computer settings, drivers, registry files, and everything in between. The hard drive has to be much bigger in terms of storage than RAM, because the hard drive has to hold everything. This is why you buy RAM in amounts of 2-8 GBs, and you buy hard drives in amounts of 50-1000 GBs.
Again, there are two things the average user should look at when considering a hard drive.
1. Amount of storage space (80GBs, 320 GBs, 500 GBs, 1 TB and up)
2. The type of hard drive (SATA or IDE, and spinning disk or solid state)
Obviously the more storage space you have, the better. The laptops and desktops that customers bring into our shop usually have between 150 GB and 500 GB maximum capacity. In our experience the average user will fill up somewhere between 50 GBs and 300 GBs. Here’s a quick breakdown of things that will likely use lots of storage, and things that will likely use not-a-lot of storage. Remember, these are just general estimates.
5 GBs + | Large programs or video games
3 GBs | High definition video files
1 GB | Video files
500 MB| Medium sized programs
3 MB | Music files
900 KB | Standard photos (.JPEGs, .PNGs)
15 KB | Documents
3 KB | small or simple images (.gifs)
1 KB – | Simple text
If you hold a lot of movies or big programs, you’re going to need a lot of storage space. If all you do is send emails write documents, and browse the internet, you don’t need a lot of space. Simple.
The TYPE of hard drive is the last thing we will go over. There are lots of factors in hard drive speed, like latency (the lower the better), and RPM (the higher the better), but for most consumers this is too much to worry about. The only thing an average user needs to worry about is this, IDE vs. SATA, and SSD vs. mechanical or spinning disk hard drive.
SATA and IDE are connection types. SATA hard drives use SATA cables to transfer data between the hard drive and motherboard. IDE hard drives use IDE cables. IDE cables are wider, slower, and less efficient, so nearly all modern computers have switched to SATA technology, so this is pretty easy. Always choose SATA, unless you have to use IDE for some reason.
Finally we have solid state drives or SSDs. SSDs are a new type of hard drive that are just now starting to make it into consumer laptops. Jafferson Computers has a whole article on SSDs already, but here’s the long and short of it. Basically SSDs are like giant flash drives or giant sticks of RAM. They are much faster than mechanical hard drives, because they don’t rely on a spinning disk to hold data. The trade off is that they are expensive. An 80 GB SSD will cost about as much as a 1000 GB (or 1 TB) mechanical hard drive. SSDs are great because it makes your long term data load almost as fast as your short term data, meaning your computer can boot within seconds of you hitting the power button. The downside is that they just can’t hold that much, so don’t try to load all your high res movies onto it.
THAT’S ABOUT IT FOLKS
This stuff is complicated, no doubt about it. If you take away nothing else, take this. Your computer is only as fast as its slowest part. Upgrading your computer with twice as much RAM is great, but if your processor is maxed out, then your processor is maxed out, and all the RAM in the world is not going to help. If you are trying to figure out which part of your computer to upgrade, you need to figure out what is the slowest part of your computer first. Thanks for reading!