Office of Educational Technology
Speed Up Your Computer
What Matters A Lot
The processor is the real “brains” of your computer. The speed of your processor determines how quickly your computer actually performs its operations. Modern processor speeds are measured in gigahertz (Ghz), and the newest computers have the equivalent of two, four, or even eight processors running at once, making for some VERY fast speeds. Unfortunately, processors tend to be both expensive and labor-intensive to replace, and most models of computer have only a few particular processors that they can use, making the processor a bad candidate for an upgrade.
Random Access Memory (RAM) provides the processor with workspace for its operations. The operating system, all of your running programs and all of your loaded documents take up residence here to remain accessible to the processor, since it can access RAM much more quickly than the hard drive. The more RAM you have, the more “stuff” you can run without having to access the slower hard drive to swap data to and from the RAM. RAM is fairly generic and doesn’t take long to replace, making it a good candidate for an upgrade.
What Matters A Little
The hard drive is your computer’s long term storage for information that the processor isn’t currently using. On less expensive platter-based drives, the data is stored on round magnetic platters. The speed at which those platters spin (measured in RPMs, just like your car) can have an effect on your computer’s speed. On many computers, solid state drives (SSDs) are also an option. Though more expensive, these drives contain no moving parts, and can read and write much faster than platter-based drive. SSDs also usually have much lower capacities than platter hard drives, so you won’t want one if you expect to store large amounts of data.
Changing hard drives is a big deal; unless you have room for a second one, you’ll have to reinstall your operating system and copy your files. You’ll also usually get a better performance boost from increasing your system’s RAM rather than swapping your hard drive for a faster one. Loading data from RAM is always faster than accessing data from even the fastest hard drive.
What Doesn’t Matter (Much)
Some high-end systems have a graphics card to help the CPU draw 3-D objects and environments. But unless you’re working with 3-D design software, editing movies, or playing high-end games, the graphics card isn’t going to affect your system speed much.