In the first blog we talked about various software issues that can cause your computer to run slowly. In this second blog, we will look at the various hardware components that make up a computer, how they can cause it to slow down and ultimately, how to fix/prevent these issues.
A computer is a very complex piece of engineering. People often take for granted just how intricate a computer is and how hard we make them work. Using the analogy of buying a brand new car, you would expect that car to work for at least 10 years. You would also, probably, get it serviced annually. After daily use for 10 years, you wouldn’t be too surprised if you started seeing problems. Getting back to computers, you might spend £1000 on a new MacBook Pro and after 5 years of daily use it starts to slow down. Bear in mind this laptop is left on most days with the majority of people not even shutting their computers down anymore. It’s very rare that someone would pay to get their computer serviced annually (despite this is something we would recommend) so it shouldn't come as a surprise when a computer waves a little white flag after a few years. Hopefully in this post I can explain the workings of a computer and ultimately give it a longer and more cost effective life.
Although most parts of a computer can be upgraded and repaired; getting the right computer for your needs and budget is the most important thing you can do to save you money in the long run. I will break down the core components of a computer so we can see what it is and how it can affect the speed of your computer.
The first, and arguably the most important, part of a computer is the processor. This is because it is the "soul" of the computer, and as such can’t be upgraded unless you buy a brand new machine (although they can be replaced if they fail). A processor ‘processes’ all signals within the machine, telling all the other components what to do. It’s like the decision and communication part of the brain. It is found on the logic board or motherboard (which is the American term). A processor speed is measured in gigahertz (Ghz) which is a form of energy. The higher the number of Ghz, the more energy and therefore processing speed the processor has. There are different brands of processor that computer companies put into their machines, with the most popular being Intel. Intel processors are used in Windows PCs and Apple Macs and are used more than any other processor. You may have also seen ‘dual-core’ or ‘quad-core’ on the processor information. This simply means that there are 2 or 4 processors which obviously means more power. Computers and processors are designed hand in hand and as such can’t be upgraded as they work in harmony with each other, so getting the right one for your needs is very important. If you need a machine just for Facebook and emails then a low end 2Ghz processor will be fine, but if you want to do online multiplayer gaming in 4K HD then the 3.7 quad-core processor may be more your cup of tea. The more powerful processor can take information from programs and use that information at a faster and more efficient speed, ultimately getting the job done quicker. If your machine is running slow it could be that whatever you’re trying to run on it is too much for the processor to take. If your machine is 5 years old and you’re trying to play the newest game, then the processor may not be able to handle the speed of the gameplay. The biggest signs that your processor is during use, the computer gets sluggish and starts to freeze. As the processor can’t be upgraded you need to make sure you get the right one for you from day one, but also understand that technology updates very fast and even if you buy the highest spec processor, it will likely be coming to the end of its use in 5 years anyway, so choose wisely.
The second hardware component that affects computer speed is RAM, but not in the way most people think. RAM (Random Access Memory) is the computer’s short term memory. The computer puts whatever programs or files you are currently running into the RAM and then once you have closed that program, the RAM removes it. RAM is a much faster to access components then a hard drive, but doesn’t have the space that a hard drive has. In theory you could run a program from a hard drive but they are primarily designed for capacity over speed so the RAM is used instead. Whereas a standard hard drive size these days is around 1 Terabyte, the industry standard RAM size is 8 Gigabytes (quite a large difference), So RAM can fill up very quickly. RAM will become an issue when you do a lot of things at once because it will fill up. If you’ve got music playing in the background along with a game running and a few Microsoft office programs left on from earlier; that is going to demand a lot from RAM. Gamers tend to need the most amount of RAM to meet their needs, with 32GB generally being the highest that machines will go to. If you only have email open on your computer and no other programs running in the background, then RAM is not the issue if your computer is being slow. RAM can usually be upgraded very easily (although newer computers often have it built onto the logic board so they’re harder to replace) and is one of the cheaper upgrade solutions, but don’t expect it to solve all your problems. It will help if you are doing lots of things at once but it won’t help if it takes a long time for programs to load.
The final component that can affect computer speed, and the one that most people will know is about is the hard drive. However, people tend to just look at what capacity a hard drive has as opposed to how fast it is. Memory size is important, but it’s how quickly the computer can get to that memory that’s important for speed. As of about 4 years ago there are now 2 standard types of hard drives. Mechanical and flash storage. Mechanical hard drives have been used for decades and are quite large. They have a mechanical disk inside of them that spins around, reading and writing the data to it. They still rely on analogue technology so they are always limited by the speed they can move and tend to degrade the more they are used. Apple describe them along with batteries as ‘consumable parts’ in that the more you use the part the slower it will get. Flash storage isn’t mechanical, but simply a circuit board containing segments of data storage. These boards are very quick as they don’t have any physical restrictions, but they come at a price. For example, if you buy a 13inch MacBook Air for around £900; around a third of that price is the cost of the flash storage (or SSD as they are often referred to). And because of their cost, they tend to give you a lot less capacity. A laptop with a mechanical drive would give you at least 500GB for that price, whereas the flash storage would be 128GB. Although flash storage won’t degrade mechanically like old hard drives, they can still become corrupted, but that will be more software then hardware related. Hard drives are the easiest component to replace or upgrade, but they’re also the most important as they hold all of your data. The signs that your hard drive’s failing are your machine taking a long time to boot (as the operating system is stored on the hard drive), and files and programs taking a long time to open. There are software diagnostic tools you can download to test your hard drive status, but once they stop working, retrieving your data will be a tough task, so backup your data regularly. Hard drives are the most likely to fail out of any component as they are worked more than any other part. There are lots of different ones to choose from; varying in capacity, speed and cost. Apple have now released the ‘fusion drive’ which uses a program to merge a mechanical hard drive and an SSD to form 1 visible drive. It works out what files and programs you use most and puts them on the SSD as they can be accessed quicker, and uses the larger capacity of the mechanical hard drive to store things like photos you look at once every couple of years. You can buy new machines with this built in or you can install SSDs alongside the mechanical hard drive (if you can find the space inside) to make a super computer!
Unlike software issues; hardware issues are much harder to resolve, so it’s important that you get the right tool for the job when you first buy them, and most important of all, backup your data regularly! Once your data is lost, it’s usually gone forever, so don’t take it granted. Your computer is your most trusted ally until it fails. If you have any problems with your computer being slow or need a part repaired or simply want to get ahead of the game and upgrade it before it starts getting slow then contact Donkeylogic for advice and support.