Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Computers Are Fast and Slow

My friends that know me know that I'm a writer, deep in my heart, but I have never found a way to make a decent income writing (along with 99.8% of all other writers) so I have my other trusty skill; PC (and copier/general electronics) repair.

Years working in IT departments, Tech. Support (actually both of those with Gateway), as an online repair tech., with my own business now for the second time working on PCs--years of hearing people say, "It's too slow, I can't find my files, my mouse is upside down, can you see into my house?, how many CDs can I put into one drive?, I'm a woman and I'm tired of getting ED pop-ups, I'm a man and I clicked on some boobies and now my all I see is flash images pop up in the thousands of cow births; I don't understand: HELP ME!"... years of that led me to this quick little post.

This isn't something you can't Google to learn, but maybe I present things in a more understandable way--you be the judge.  I'm just trying to help.

*NOTE: don't click "yes" on anything you don't understand... don't mindlessly sign up for contests, especially if they require ANY type of software download, and guys, if you are going to get into the porn., all I can do is wish you luck and say that I and others like me are here to resuscitate your pc when it all comes crumbling down...

What makes a PC fast?
Well, what kind of "fast" are you talking about?  You could open Word, then open a modern, resource-hogging PC game, then open the internet and start having video conferences all at once and never notice any difference in PC performance from when you're just writing a note in Notepad.

Are we talking internet speed?  That's signal strength, bandwidth, and transmission/receive methods.  Cable and fiber-optic connections are fast. Then we step down when going to dsl, wi-fi, satellite, or (gulp) dial-up.  But even the fastest connections can be slowed down.  It depends on what programs, apps, or bad stuff on your PC (viruses, malware, spyware, adware, etc.) are using your bandwidth to either update themselves, send themselves, or otherwise intentionally clog up your bandwidth while you try to do the thing that is now moving too slow to make you happy.

I hear from people a lot: "My internet is too slow.  I can't even play Farmville."  When we do a speed test, they are moving at Mach V.  So why?  Well, apps like Farmville and others can be slowed down/stopped by a need for updating your Flash Player for that particular browser (what are you using?  Chrome, IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari?  All are different).  Could be 100 other things causing that, too, which I won't go into (give too much away, and my job is gone).

If you're talking more about fast in general, like closing, opening, and operating within programs, and we manage to rule out all the "bad" stuff (for example, you are up-to-date on anti-everything-bad and you've traced down resource hogging background apps) then we need to look at which operating system you are running, how updated it is or is not, how bloated it is or is not, and, sometimes most importantly, the hardware, which is where we'll start.

Why is mine so slow?
If you've got a 5-year old pc or older, don't expect much out of it unless you bought a very unusual PC (you can still pay $50k bucks for a PC, getting the quantum-jump on latest and greatest).  What limits speed?  Well, I'll be honest with you; really, it's heat.  The closer we try to get "transistors," which really aren't transistors but behave like them, onto a chip, the more one's heat affects the other, because we are, essentially, jamming them together to fit more on; usually, the goal is to increase computing power without increasing size (as a matter of fact, one of the goals is decreasing size which increases heat problems).  But with your system, we can look beyond that because although that is the fundamental source of slow computing, it probably isn't what is causing your hardware-related slow-downs.  Why?  Well, chances are you have 2 or 3 or 4 fans blowing at any given time to keep those cool.

What your problem is, more likely than not, is your processor's speed, the amount of its Level 1 and Level 2 cache (which is faster than RAM but always in a much smaller amount because it is memory that is actually cast directly onto the die of a CPU; precious space, indeed), its bus widths and speeds (consider them the highways in your components that information travels down--an old system may have a two-lane highway with a 35mph limit while in a newer computer, there's an eight-lane interstate with an 80mph speed limit), the speed in the operation of the RAM (random access memory), the efficiency of the CPU chip itself as well as its cooling components (heat sinks, which dissipate heat away from the chip and/or fans which do the same--heat in an actual CPU chip will lock up a computer faster than you can say wiggles), the capacity/speed of your video card or chips (many video "cards" are now on the motherboard in the form of chips rather than being separate cards, which is called "integrated" whenever you're dealing with add-ons like video, sound, or wi-fi), the power output, stability, and temperate/cooling efficiency of your power supply, the tightness of your cable connections and the integrity of the cables themselves (many get brittle or have a pushed-pin from people fiddling with them and putting them on wrong), the health of your hard drive (a dying, overheating, or otherwise failing hard drive will lock you up regularly or just cease to allow you system to function), and it could be a few other things.

Many times, on more modern computers, the problems that I fix to speed up computers are related to software and cleaning.  For software, there is usually a battle I have to take to the viruses, malware, spyware, and adware to pull them up by the roots.  This takes many "re-boots" which is the worst time-killer in computing but necessary for this war.  After I get those out, I have to go remove anything in the background which isn't necessary/desired but that is hogging your resources and get it out of there.  After that, I have to do a full software/hardware clean which I won't go into because, again, I need my job security.

Moral of the story?  If you have an older system, keep it clean and protected and don't expect too much out of it.  If you have a newer one, especially if it's under warranty and there is no cost and the problem is something you can't fix AND the shipping is free (I can fix these sometimes for less than the shipping), send it back.  Get it fixed free or get a new one.  If you don't have warranty coverage or don't want to bother hunting all the paperwork down and make the calls and do the packaging and (...), then bring it to me (local people only; remote people, I can work on yours remotely for a flat $35 IF you have a speedy internet connection).  $45 gets you in and out the door (as of this date) repaired, cleaned, protected, tuned, and happy in 24 hours or less with a 6-month guarantee.  If it requires hardware, we talk.  If it's not worth fixing, I call you and tell you and you pay a small $10 diagnostic fee.  (E-mail me at wutzthedeal at ya plus hoo dot com; hope you get that--have to put it in code language anymore or spammers' sweeping programs aggregate and snag yours, multiplying the amount of spam e-mail you get).

*NOTE: if you have a work PC that is slow, it could be any of the above but it could also be their "monitoring" software, which, very commonly now, is watching and recording every move you make on the internet, or their proprietary "firewall" whether it's software or hardware-based can be a choke point, and finally, the software that you run to do your job is often not designed with allowing a pc to maintain its speed and functionality outside of that software.  It's designed to take as much as it wants (in the way of computing power/usage) to get the job done, and that often leaves loose ends on it which cause the software to be a real resource hog.  A good IT department will know all of this; they'll order software that includes a focus on having a "small footprint," if they are required to use monitoring software, they'll find the least resource-hungry, and they'll have a physical firewall that doesn't limit incoming traffic a noticeable amount as it analyzes who might be a hacker or what might be bad software, etc.

Hope this was worth something to you.  

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