Tech Tips: The First Upgrade for Speed

I am going to take you on an inside journey into computers.  For some reason, computers and tech are an enigma for people, so much so that even some of the most intelligent people don’t have enough of an idea with computers to get by.  Computers are our world now, whether it be your home PC, your on the go laptop, or the high powered computer most people carry with them.  Yes, your smartphone is a high powered computer you keep in your pocket, there is no question of that.  The phone I carry with me is more powerful than The Blue Monster, a computer I built a little over five years ago.  However, today isn’t about debating the validity of the mobile platform when it comes to computing, today is about your PCs and laptops.  Namely, today is about speed in those devices, and what the first thing to do to improve that.

Why is speed important?

Easy.  Having a fast computer is essential in our lives now, and many of us just do not have the time nor patience to wait on a slow computer.  This is one of the primary reasons why the PC and laptop age is slowly ending.  Mobile computers (our phones) are becoming more prevalent in primary use not just because they are convenient.  They’re not even faster than their bigger computing brethren.  They are used more because you can multi-task while waiting for the lack of speed.  In a lot of cases, you will find people using the mobile platform for certain everyday tasks, because they can also be doing the rest of their daily routine at the same time.  Click a link, brush your teeth.  Why not the laptop or PC?  Because that would take away time from other things, while you wait for the computer to boot, or load your browser.  Your phone is always on, why wait for the big computer to boot to check your email?

Some people, like myself, cannot live without a full operating system, a full experience.  We need that keyboard and mouse.  However, speed is very important in these matters as well.  Ask yourself this, how long does your computer take to boot fully into your operating system?  If it’s more than fifteen seconds, your computer is too slow.  How quickly does your browser open and become operational?  More than just a second or two?  Your computer is too slow.  You will quickly become bored, and move on to other devices.

So I should upgrade my computer.

So you have decided that you are going to upgrade your computer.  It hasn’t been that long since you bought it, so you don’t want to just go buy another one.  Additionally, doing that wouldn’t help either since most prefabricated computers nowadays don’t even give you the optimal equipment all around.  You could have one built, sure, we even offer those services, but the startup cost of that is a bit more than most people spend on a single computer at one time.  Sure, having it built has its advantages, primarily the long term savings of never needing to buy a computer again, but some people just aren’t ready for that yet.

What do I upgrade to make my computer faster?  Should you get a faster processor?

Sure, there are a lot of new processors out there that boast very high speeds.  A lot out there that advertise multiple cores, and lots of the gigs.  Considerations like, is your motherboard compatible with the new processor, is huge.  Processing technology changes fast.  Processor sockets are extremely varying, especially in chips from Intel.  That would put you in a pickle of buying a lot more equipment than you wanted to.  In most cases here, you are required to buy a new copy of your operating system as well, because at this point the big bad company thinks you got a new computer.

Ok, so maybe I should just upgrade the memory?  That’s important right?  

Sure, having good memory is a bonus.  Having something large enough to handle your daily use is important, but did you even know that memory has a speed rating?  Much like your processor, there is a speed at which said memory works, and in most cases, this is where prefabricated computers fall short.  Great memory is both big and fast, and the biggest sacrifice you will consider is lowering the size, for faster speeds.  However, again, you run into compatibility.  Is the newest memory even compatible with your board?  To the Google! And you see quickly the answer, and if it’s not, there goes more hardware, again.

So, what’s the answer?  

What is the first thing you should do that would bring a drastic speed increase to your computer?  Let me tell you a story.  Computers work in a very simple way.  Your data is kept in a storage drive, somewhere that the data is hard written into a device for recall, the motherboard, processor, and memory utilize this stored data to make your computer function.  Once that data is retrieved from the storage device, the hardware can run it’s merry conga line of processes to show you your desktop, open that picture, or run your browser.  I have just described to you the biggest bottleneck in your entire computer, in a very convoluted way of course.  The data storage is charged with delivering your stored information to the hardware.  It can do so at the speed in which is is designed to do so, and in many cases, is limited by technology by how fast it can.  Until that data is fully delivered to the hardware, you are staring at a screen and waiting.

Hard Disk Drives, the most prevalent data storage technology on the market, are slow by nature.  They are essentially a very high tech version of a vinyl record player.  A needle and arm mechanism course the disc to find the information requested, the disc spinning at a speed determined by its manufacturing (7200 rpm is the most common in a desktop, 5400 rpm in laptops).  These devices are excellent for data storage due to their near unlimited storage capacity potential.  You can see this as more and more hard drives come out with an obscene amount of drive space, yet get no bigger in physical size to accommodate it.  However, as far as speedy retrieval, the technology lacks the potential for it.  Even increasing the speeds of the discs themselves only improves it marginally.  That being in reference to the Western Digital VelociRaptors, a high speed disc that increases data retrieval speeds.  Those used to be the way, the truth, and the light, up until the birth of a new technology.

There’s no hiding it of course, there is a new technology afoot that has vastly increased data storage speeds.  Where they lack in overall size, in the current generation of technology, they excel massively in data reading and writing speed.  They are perfectly designed to operate you entire computer’s core, including software like browsers and gaming.  They are not a solution for mass storage, they are solution for computer operating speed.  They are known as, you guessed it, Solid State Drives.

What is a Solid State drive?  

Well, this is easy.  Most of you have a thumb drive sitting around somewhere, or maybe an SD card in your phone or camera?  That is called Flash Memory, which is essentially a storage chip.  An easy way to compare, however inaccurately, the chips used here is to look at them a big like the chips used on your memory.  Taking the mechanical parts, the spinning drives, out of the equation, and accessing your system through these chips completely removes the spin-up time.  This means, when your computer asks for it, the drive is already ready to deliver.  You can see this first hand in a direct comparison of boot speeds.  For example, before I upgraded to a Solid State Drive, my computer booted in just under forty five seconds, all the while hearing the whine, clicks, and pops, as the primary drive did it’s best to keep up.  Now? It is at the logon screen in eight seconds.  I can load any of the known “too bulky” programs like iTunes and Internet Explorer (not that I use either) in mere seconds, as opposed to the eternity it took before.  All of this done on middle of the road hardware, my processor isn’t the best on the market, it’s just your run of the mill quad core.  I have OK memory, but nothing too extravagant.   The Solid State was the answer.

Ok, sure, this magical SSD is a great way to speed up my computer, but really, it’s gotta be far too expensive. right?  

Well, what’s expensive?  Is $50 expensive? Well, then you weren’t going to make your computer any faster at $50.  How about $100?  Hard to find decent upgrades beyond what you already have at that price point, right?  A good processor would clock in closer to $200.  Well, you can get a high end 120GB SSD, perfectly sized for your operating system, and most software and games, for $89.99 from Amazon right now (normally $99.99).  One that is actually far better than the one I run personally.  $89.99 for the biggest speed increase your computer has ever seen.

What about my current operating system? Won’t I have to reinstall?  

No, just about any decent SSD manufacturer includes software to clone your old drive onto the new one.  No reinstall, or activating windows for you.  Just click, walk away until your slow drive delivers all the data to the new one, and enjoy your new break neck speeds.

There is one sacrifice for laptop users.  Upgrading to SSD does limit your overall storage space, unless you do in fact dump a big chunk into the higher capacity SSDs available.  Solving that problem is pretty simple however.  You shouldn’t be storing large files on your laptop to begin with.  Your home PC should be your storage station, and if you don’t have a PC at home, you should be rocking an external storage drive.  It’s irresponsible to put all your data onto one laptop, because laptops in themselves are much more prone to breakdown and damage.  One careless move, and you have lost all your data.  That little spinning drive in your laptop?  Ever hear of angular momentum?  It’s the principle that a gyroscope works on.  Very resistant to change in direction, essentially.  You disc is a gyroscope.  If you start walking away, or tip the computer up sideways to put it away, you contort the disc, and risk heavy damage to the disc.  SSDs don’t have that of course, but that’s not the point I am making.  Don’t keep your files on the laptop, use the Cloud, or external storage, and problem solved.

Any more questions imaginary person?

Can you help me install my new SSD?


Of course, we offer that service among so many others.

I hope this sheds some light into that world a bit for you, if anyone has further questions, feel free to ask them in one of the very many ways we offer to communicate.

Keep on Geekin’ on.