Calculating your computer’s actual speed

There’s a huge misconception about computers: The processor’s speed is the speed of the computer. The truth is all the components inside, and outside, the case figures into the overall speed of the computer. This includes the processor (CPU), RAM, hard drive, DVD/CD drive, the motherboard, USB ports, USB devices, the video card, and even the software. We’ll go into each of these in detail to figure out the real speed.

The CPU does play a major role, but can be limited by other components. The main point of interest is having a dual core or quad core processor. Dual core processors are like having two CPUs, but programs don’t run twice as fast. These CPUs are rated to run 70% faster. Be on the lookout for an explanation tomorrow.

RAM, or memory, is the second most important speed factor. The amount depends on what you are doing, no more than 1GB for normal use. RAM has a speed also, and that plays a critical role. Make sure to check the speed when you buy a new computer, because manufacturer’s will use slower RAM, because it’s a few cents cheaper.

Next up is the hard drive and DVD/CD drive. First off, you’ve got RPMs. Most hard drives spin at 7200 RPMs, which is fine. DVD/CD drives calculate speed by a multiplier of a base speed. The interface is also important. IDE, the old standard, transmits data at 133 MB/s. The new standard, SATA, transmits at 375 MB/s. There is a dramatic difference here, but not all motherboards support SATA, so double check.

The motherboard plays a small role because it can limit the interfaces of the CPU, RAM, drives, USB ports, and video card. USB ports, and devices, should be 2.0, not 1.1 or 1.0. SATA support is a plus, but not a must. The video card interface is critical if you are into gaming. PCI Express(PCI-E) is the latest standard here. nVidia has taken this interface a step further with SLI, which requires 2 PCI-E 16x ports.

Video cards are important for gaming, but not much else. The interface, PCI-E or AGP or PCI, plays a large role. Modern video cards have a processor(GPU) and RAM that runs at a particular speed. SLI takes this to the extreme by using 2 PCI-E nVidia video cards. Each draws half of the screen, making it render at close to double the rate.

Keep these things in mind when buying or upgrading your computer.