The technology helper: Which upgrades will boost PC speed? (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Sep 10, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - Is your computer too fast? Probably not. In fact, if you're like many PC users, you'll eventually find yourself wishing that you could spend more time using your PC and less time waiting for it. That's when the idea of upgrades comes into play.
Component manufacturers stand at the ready, of course, offering you every possible upgrade - from video card to extra memory to full-fledged processor upgrades. All of these promise to make your computing life less frustrating and more productive. But which upgrades make sense? Read on for some answers.
Q: How can I make my Windows Vista computer boot faster?
A: Bootup speed of Vista or any other operating system is determined largely by two things: how fast your hard drive is and how much software you have installed that loads automatically at startup.
You have some control over both, but let's start first with the no-cost option: reducing the number of software programs that start automatically when your system does.
First, uninstall any applications that you do not use regularly. You would be surprised at just how much additional system load is caused by programs installed on your PC, whether they're running or not.
Second, perform some optimisation of your bootup process. Windows Vista and 7 give you the tool to do this in MSConfig. Open the Start menu, type MSConfig, and press enter.
The System Configuration dialog box opens. From there, click the Startup tab and inspect the list of applications there. Each one of those starts when your computer does. De-select anything that you know you don't use or need.
Next, in the same dialog box, click the Boot tab, and then click the Advanced Options button. There, you'll see a 'Number of processors' check box, which allows you to specify the number of processors - or cores - that Windows should use during the bootup process. If you have a dual- or quad-core machine, activate that setting, and tell Windows to use all of your processors.
Software tweaks will only go so far, though, in making your PC boot up faster. Hard drive speed is critical, too, as is system memory. Assuming your machine is outfitted with at least 2 gigabytes (GB) of memory (RAM), you may want to look at upgrading your main hard drive with a solid state disk, which will probably cut your boot times in half.
SSDs are still pricey, however, compared to conventional hard drives, so see whether you can stomach the cost of a replacement SSD that's large enough to satisfy your data needs.
Q: I have 4 gigabytes of RAM in my Windows 7 computer. I understand that the computer can take up to 8 gigs of RAM. Will the extra RAM improve performance?
A: First, to access more than 4 GB of RAM, you must be running the 64-bit version of Windows 7. If you're not, then don't worry about adding more RAM. Your computer won't even recognise it.
But even if you are running the 64-bit version of Windows 7, you won't see an appreciable improvement in overall system performance with 8 GB of RAM unless you regularly use applications that you know can take advantage of it.
Think high-end graphics, CAD, or video production software. For conventional computing, however, with browsers, e-mail, and traditional office applications representing the majority of what you use, 4 GB is plenty, even with the 64-bit version of Windows.
Q: My computer has a Core 2 Duo processor, but it can take a quad core. Will I notice much performance improvement if I upgrade?
A: Going from a Core 2 Duo to a Core 2 Quad processor may or may not provide you with the kind of performance boost you're seeking. Much will depend upon the particular Core 2 Duo model you currently use and the quad core processor you're eyeing.
In general terms, though, moving from a lower-end Core 2 Duo to a higher end Core 2 Quad will give you a noticeable performance improvement, and your overall computing experience will be smoother.
However, if you have a higher-end Core 2 Duo, moving to the top-of-the-line Core 2 Quad will probably not yield you enough performance gain to make the investment worthwhile.
And if you happen to be a gamer, you're almost certainly better off staying in the high-end Core 2 Duo camp, since few games take advantage of quad core chips.
Q: I'm going to give my two-year-old Core 2 Duo computer to my son. He claims it needs a graphics card upgrade to allow him to play the latest games. I bought the machine for business use. What should I look for in a graphics card?
A: First, look for compatibility with your current computer's motherboard. If your current machine has integrated graphics and no PCI Express (PCI-E) slot for adding a dedicated card, your son will be out of luck.
If you currently have a dedicated graphics card or a free PCI-E slot, however, you can move on to other considerations. Primary among them should be the strength of your PC's power supply and the size of your case.
Gaming cards such as Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 or AMD's Radeon HD 5870 require a minimum of a 500 watt power supply that outputs 40 amps on the 12-volt rail. These are fairly technical specifications that you'll have to research by, at a minimum, finding out the current wattage rating of your PC's power supply.
If the machine has less than a 500-watt unit, you may need to upgrade it to a 750-watt power supply when you procure the new card. A newer, beefier power supply is also sure to have the additional PCI-E power connector that many high-end cards require.
Be sure, too, that you have enough space in your case for a graphics card designed with gaming in mind. Some of these cards are substantial in size and will not fit in a slimline or mini-tower computer case.
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