One of the most common questions we get asked is “How can I speed up my PC?” or “Why is my PC so slow?” This article aims to outline the key hardware-related reasons why your PC may be slow and what, if anything, can be done about it. So let’s start with the three major causes of a slow PC.
Your PC can also be slowed down by software, but that’s for another blog post…
The CPU is the part of the computer that actually does the work. It takes the instructions contained in the various programs and carries them out one by one. These days a CPU is made up of a number of cores which are basically mini CPUs and each core executes one instruction at a time. Most PCs are either “dual core”, meaning they have two cores, or “quad core”, with four cores (obvious really).
Along with the number of cores, CPUs have a “speed” expressed (these days) in GHz (Giga Hertz) or billions of “ticks” per second with generally one instruction executed every “tick” (some instructions take more than one). This is the number most quoted by salespeople because the higher the number, the faster the CPU is perceived to be but the actual performance is also affected by the number of cores and some other factors (which we won’t go into here). Compare this to the way megapixels are used to compare cameras. We all know there are many other factors affecting image quality.
Memory, or more correctly RAM (Random Access Memory), is where programs are stored as they are being run as well as any resources that they need access to. It’s like your short-term memory. Anything not being used right now gets stored somewhere else to make room for what’s needed next. If your computer doesn’t have enough RAM for the programs you want to use then some of the short-term memory has to be saved to the hard drive for later retrieval when it’s needed. Compare this to when you need to write things down when you can’t remember them! Writing and reading is much slower than simply remembering and so it is the same in the computer. If you don’t have enough memory the computer gets so busy writing to disk and reading back from disk that the whole thing slows down. Sometimes it slows down so much it actually stops responding to what you want it to do!
The hard drive is the long term storage for everything on your computer. Everything is stored here and all information is retained when the computer is shut down (unlike random-access memory).
Data (programs and information) is stored in blocks on the hard drive which are arranged into tracks, like on a CD. Also like a CD player, there is usually one read / write head which has to move to the right track then wait for the correct block to spin around before it can read or write the data. As you add and delete files, the operating system puts the blocks of data wherever it can find room which leads to a phenomenon called fragmentation. This causes noticeable slowing down of a computer over time as part of files get spread all over the disk. Most operating systems either have built-in defragmentation tools or they do this automatically when the computer is idle.
We’ve covered the three main reasons for a slow PC (there are some others) so how do we actually speed it up?
The first step is to determine the “bottle neck” or whichever of the reasons above is / are contributing most to the poor performance. Then we can make a decision based on this.
1. CPU: It is possible, but unlikely, that the CPU is the performance “bottle neck” in your PC unless you are playing high-speed action games or editing movies or songs. If this is the case, you should buy a new PC with the right hardware for the job!
2. If you run lots of programs simultaneously or are editing large graphics files or videos then you may need more RAM. If you are stuck with a 32 bit operating system then you are probably out of luck as the most you can have is 4GB in total. In this case you will need to upgrade at least the operating system to a 64 bit version.
In all other cases, 8GB of RAM should usually be sufficient for most people’s needs. Adding more later is usually quite simple but adding more RAM than you actually use won’t speed things up though.
1. The best performance boost is to be had by replacing your slow, mechanical hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). With this your PC will start up and shut down many times faster than it did before and programs will start and files will open instantly.
If the new SSD is of sufficient capacity then the existing hard drive can be “cloned” to the new SSD so everything will be as it was before – only much faster!
Depending on capacity, you could also use your old hard drive for extra storage.
Extra tip: Because they have no moving parts, SSDs are ideal for use in laptops.
Note: Some computers, because of the way they are manufactured, cannot be upgraded at all!
UPBEAT Business Computing can evaluate your PC and provide the best upgrade solution to fit your needs and your budget so if your PC is on a perpetual go-slow, give us a call and get it sorted. You’ll be glad you did!