That New Computer Smell
If you are like most people when they go out and buy a new Personal Computer, you probably get excited when you take it out of the box, turn it on, and marvel at how fast it runs. When a computer is new, it always seems to run faster and boot up quicker than your old computer. The applications and games seem to run without any slow down, and when you get on the internet, the pages load instantly on the screen, and you can quickly surf from one website to another. Over time though, your computer can slow down and not run as quickly as it did when it was new.
This slowdown can occur for various reasons, and when it happens, it can be frustrating and spoil your computing experience. When this happens, it can be corrected by either cleaning up your hard drive or running some diagnostics. Perhaps the computer has a virus, and once you remove the virus, performance can be restored. What do you do, though, if you have done all those things and your computer is still running slow?
If your computer is running slow even after you have removed any viruses and attempted to improve system performance, it could mean that the demands you are now placing on your computer have exceeded the computer’s capability.
As we use our computers, we install new software applications and attempt to run more applications simultaneously. The new software we install can require greater computer resources such as more computer memory and a faster CPU or central processing unit to run the software applications or games properly.
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Like me, you like to have multiple software applications running or multiple internet browser windows open simultaneously, utilizing greater computer resources. The more resources you use, the slower the computer will run.
This is a constant problem in computing because computer technology doubles roughly every 18 months. In demand for more feature-rich software applications, software developers create more resource-consuming software programs. To meet the increased demands of software, computer manufacturers continue to build faster, more expensive computers. In my opinion, this is a vicious cycle where to maintain a fast and enjoyable computing experience; the computer user is forced to go out and buy a new computer every few years.
Fortunately for me, I have never had to worry about that problem. I am a certified computer professional and have been building and repairing computers for over 15 years. When I want a faster computer, I do not go out and buy a new expensive computer. I have learned how to break the new computer buying cycle by upgrading my computer. By upgrading my computer rather than buying a new one, I can make myself a faster computer at a fraction of the cost.
You can break the computer buying cycle too, and you do not have to be a computer professional like me to do it. You only need to know a few things about computers, be handy with a screwdriver and be able to follow a few simple instructions. Still, before you begin to think about upgrading your computer, it might be important to get a brief overview of how a computer works.
Computers are made up of a combination of hardware and software working together. When you aren’t familiar with how a computer functions, then it can seem very complex. You can reduce that complexity once you understand how a computer works at a basic level.
At its most basic level, a computer receives input and produces output. A computer receives input through input devices such as the keyboard and mouse (hardware). Every time we click the mouse on a link or move the mouse across the screen, we give the computer input or an instruction to do something.
The computer receives the input as an electronic signal created by the mouse click or keystroke on the keyboard. This signal is transmitted through the computer and is converted into digital data where it can be interpreted as an instruction by the operating system, software application, or game. (software)
The computer processes digital instruction data and produces output as either an image or words on the computer screen or a printout on a printer.
What makes a computer fast is its ability to receive input and produce output quickly. There are several components a computer needs to function, but three primary components directly affect how fast a computer can operate.
The three primary computer components which handle the processing of input and make a computer fast are the:
- Motherboard or Main System board
- CPU or Central Processing Unit
- RAM or R
- random Access Memory
- The Motherboard
Without getting too technical, the Motherboard is the computer component that connects all the hardware on the computer. You could think of the Motherboard as a data freeway that links together all the computer components and allows them to transmit data between each other and communicate.
Every computer component connects to the Motherboard either by being connected directly to the Motherboard or connecting via a data cable. The devices or components that connect to the Motherboard are the CPU, RAM Memory, Hard Drive, CD ROM/DVD drive, Video Card, Sound Card, Network Card, Modem, Key Board, Mouse, and Monitor.
There are additional peripheral devices that can connect to the Motherboard through a variety of data ports connected to the Motherboard, such as a printer, digital camera, microphone, and even a HDTV. These devices can connect to the Motherboard using one of several ports such as a USB, Parallel, Fire-Wire, SATA (Serial-ATA), or HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) port.
In short, the Motherboard provided the data communication infrastructure, which allows communication between all the devices. What makes one Motherboard faster than another is the volume of data it can support being transmitted across its data BUS and the speed at which it can transmit the data. One way to think of it is in terms of a street. Think of the data bus as a street, and the data are like cars driving down the street. Older Motherboards communication was the equivalent of a two-way two-lane street with a speed limit of 25 MPH. Today the new Motherboards are like 8 lane highways with 200MPH speed limits. New Motherboards are faster because they can allow more data traffic at higher speeds.
The CPU or Processor is the brain of the computer. The CPU carries out all the instructions that you, in conjunction with the Operating System, like Windows XP or Windows 7, ask it to do. CPUs can only carry out one instruction at a time, but they do it so fast it seems like they are doing multiple tasks at one time or “Multitasking.”
Newer CPUs are faster because their “clock speed” or “clock cycle” is faster. The clock speed is the speed at which a CPU can carry out instructions. You can think of clock speed like the timing of a metronome, the device that helps musicians keep the right musical time. A metronome has a hand on the front of it, which swings back and forth at a timing interval you set. As it swings back and forth, it ticks like a clock. Like the metronome, the CPU also ticks at a set interval, but a CPU ticks at a speedy rate measured in Mega or Gigahertz. The CPU carries out an instruction on every tick of its clock cycle.
New CPUs can not only carry out instructions at very high clock speeds, but they can also be made up of multiple CPU Cores. Each Core can carry out its own instructions. When you have a Dual Core CPU, it can carry out two instructions simultaneously, and a Quad-Core CPU can carry out four. There are even six Core CPUs out now. Like the newer Motherboards, these CPUs also have a larger Data BUS to send and receive data faster through the Motherboard, enhancing the computer’s overall performance.
RAM or Random Access Memory stores all the instructions you have asked the computer to carry out. Every time we interact with our computer, we create instruction data for the CPU to process. Even the simplest interaction, like moving the mouse across the screen, requires many single instructions the CPU must carry out. You can imagine that playing a computer game or running an application like Adobe Photoshop can create a tremendous amount of instructions for the CPU. The CPU is fast and can execute a lot of instructions quickly, but it can’t do them all at once, which is why we need a place to store the instructions until they can be processed. This is why RAM was created.
RAM is basically the storage place for all the instructions waiting to be executed by the CPU. You can sometimes tell when you don’t have enough RAM when you have clicked on the mouse or hit the enter key to initiate a program, and the hourglass sits there spinning on the screen. It can appear that our computer has locked up or frozen but what is actually happening is the computer is completing the series of instructions it has been given before it can perform any further instructions. When this happens, we usually see it as the computer briefly locking up. It is also very frustrating.
The best way to resolve this problem is by simply adding more RAM to your computer. Adding more RAM is possibly the easiest way to increase the performance of your computer. Increasing the amount of RAM in your computer can help your computer run faster because it allows you to store more instructions. This lets the computer carry out many instructions while you continue to do your work, and it reduces the computer freeze-ups.
The speed of the RAM you use can also help the computer. If you use RAM with a faster Data Bus speed, it can send the instructions it is storing to the CPU faster. The faster the CPU gets the instructions, the faster it can carry them out, and the faster your computer will run.
The amount and type you can use are dictated by the type of CPU and Motherboard you use. The Bus speed of the CPU and Motherboard and the capacity of RAM the Motherboard can recognize will determine what type of RAM and how much you can use.
Some Motherboards will allow you to install as much as 32GBs of RAM, and most Motherboards will recognize multiple Bus speeds so you can use several different types of RAM. Generally speaking, the faster the BUS speed and the larger the storage capacity of the RAM, the faster your computer will perform—the important thing to remember, though, is that with larger capacity and speed comes a higher price.
What’s nice about upgrading RAM is most Motherboards can accommodate several different speeds and capacities of RAM, so you can start with a slower speed and smaller capacity, which will be less expensive, reducing your initial upgrade cost, and then later down the road, you can upgrade your RAM to a larger capacity and high speed.
Replacing the Motherboard, CPU and RAM is actually a lot easier than you may think. The CPU and RAM are directly connected to the motherboard, so you can replace all three components at the same time by simply swapping out the motherboard. To do this, you must first determine what kind of form factor of motherboard your current computer supports.
The Motherboard Form Factor
Many computer manufacturers such as HP, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, eMachine, and Acer build their computers based on 4 primary motherboard form factors or design specifications, and they are:
ATX = Full-Size Motherboard generally found in full-size Desktop computers and Towers Micro-ATX = Mid Size motherboard found in Mid Tower and Smaller Desktops Mini-ATX = Small Motherboard found in Mid Towers, Smaller Desktops Mini-ITX = Newest motherboards tiny size found in new smaller towers and desktops These form factors refer to the size of the Motherboard itself. The computer case is designed to accommodate a specific size of Motherboard. Once you have determined which form factor your computer model is, all you need to do is purchase the correct form factor Motherboard that fits your computer model’s case.
It would work like this. Let’s say you have an HP Pavilion 750n desktop computer. This is an older computer with a single-core processor—a nice computer when it first came out but very slow by today’s standards. You decide to make it faster by upgrading it to a Quad-Core CPU, but you need to determine if you can upgrade it.
You can determine whether or not you can upgrade that particular computer by going to the HP support website. On the site, you would type in your computer model and look at the hardware specifications for that computer. HP will list the form factor information in the specifications guide. Having done this many times, I already know the 750n uses a Micro-ATX form factor.
Each computer manufacturer I named has a support site on their webpage where you can go to determine your model’s form factor. You can also search Yahoo, Google, or Bing and ask what form factor your computer model is. If that doesn’t work, email me or leave a comment on this article, and I can help you locate it.