Speeding Up Your Computer

By: Nathan Segal

This week we're going to look at other options for speeding up your computer. We've covered many issues that could be slowing your system down in previous newsletters. Today, our main focus is the hard drive.

One thing to consider when running your computer is how many programs you have operating at any given time. This is less of an issue on a desktop system, but is crucial on a laptop.

Essentially, if you have too many programs running, that will slow down the performance of your computer. On a laptop, the problem is even worse, due to the slower speed of the hard drive (usually around 5400 RPM, but some are even slower - at 4200 RPM). An additional problem is if you have the latest version of Photoshop or another image editing application. If the hard drive is too slow, your program won't run properly.

On a laptop, I recommend that you use as few programs as possible at any one time - preferably only one. If you have a slower hard drive, I recommend using an earlier version, such as Photoshop 7 or PHOTO-PAINT 12. The current versions will be too demanding if your hard drive is too slow.

Here's the thing, if you're looking at speeding up your computer, the first place to look is at your hard drive.

Here are a few things to consider: one is that while other components on your computer have advanced considerably, hard drive technology hasn't changed much in 5+ years. Also, despite having fast RAM, video cards, processors, etc., it's the hard drive that governs how fast this data is accessed. If your hard drive is slow, your system will be slow, it's that simple.

If you're building a desktop graphics platform, I recommend that you buy a hard drive with a speed of no less than 7200 RPM and make sure it has a fast cache (the cache is an important factor in determining how fast the data is transferred). I don't recommend buying a faster drive than this because you'll run into noise and cooling problems.

If you're using a laptop, the same rule applies, but the size of drive you can use is smaller and the resulting speed is slower. In this case, get a 5400 RPM 80 GB drive with a fast cache. The difference in performance will surprise you. I did this on my Toshiba A70 Satellite and it felt like I had a brand new machine.

The second bit of hardware to look at is RAM. Few people realize that Photoshop is a major RAM hog. As an example, let's say you're running a Windows XP system and it performs reasonably well with 256 MB of RAM. And let's say you now open Photoshop and start working on a 40MB file with multiple layers.

I guarantee that your system will slow down to a crawl very quickly. Why? Becuase a file of this type requires 3 x 5 times the amount of the file size in RAM in order for Photoshop to function properly. In this case, that's from 120 to 200 MB of RAM for the file alone, not to mention the RAM requirements for Photoshop itself and for the operating system. The problem becomes even worse if you have multiple programs running.

My recommendation is this, if you want to speed up your computer look at your hard drive first, then consider your RAM requirements and what types of images you work with.

Next week, we'll look at other options for speeding up your computer.

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