Breaking the Computer Buying Cycle

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. Overtime though, your computer can slow down and not run as quickly as it did when it was new.

This slow down can occur for a variety of reasons and when it happens it can be frustrating and spoil your computing experience. Often times 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 tend to 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.

If you are like me you like to have multiple software applications running or multiple internet browser windows open at the same time and that can utilize greater amounts of computer resources as well. 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 a demand for more feature rich software applications, software developers create more resource consuming software programs. To meet the increased demands of the software, computer manufacturers continue to build faster, more expensive computers. This, in my opinion, is a vicious cycle where in order 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 new, I can simply 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 screw driver and be able to follow a few simple instructions; but before you begin to think about upgrading your computer, it might be important to get a brief overview on how a computer works.

Computer Basics

Computers are made up of a combination of hardware and software working together. When you aren’t familiar with how a computer functions then they 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 are giving 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 perhaps as 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 in order to function but there are three primary components that 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 Random Access Memory

The Motherboard

Without getting too technical, the Motherboard is the computer component that connects all the hardware together on the computer. You could think of the Motherboard as a data freeway that links together all the components of the computer and allows them to transmit data between each other and and communicate.

Every computer component on the computer 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 which can connect to the Motherboard as well through a variety of data ports which are 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 what is called it’s 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

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, asks 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 an incredibly fast rate which is 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 at the same time and a Quad Core CPU can carry out four. There are even six Core CPUs out now and like the newer Motherboards these CPUs also have a larger Data BUS to send and receive data faster through the Motherboard enhancing the computers overall performance.

RAM Memory

RAM or Random Access Memory is what stores all the instructions you have asked the computer to carry out. Every time we interact with our computer we are creating instruction data for the CPU to process and 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 Photo shop 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 that are 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 hour glass just sits there spinning on the screen. It can appear that our computer has locked up or froze 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 your computer store more instructions. This lets the computer carry out a lot of 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 that has a faster Data Bus speed it can send the instructions it is storing to the CPU at a faster rate. 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 is dictated by the type of CPU and Motherboard you use. The Bus speed of the CPU and Motherboard as well as 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 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 higher price.

What’s nice about upgrading RAM is most Motherboards can accommodate several different speeds and capacities of RAM so you can start out 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.