With the holiday season in full swing, you might be looking at that 2-year old, $2,000 Facebook machine of yours (or a loved one) and considering replacing it with a brand new, $2,000 Facebook machine. But before you do, consider figuring out what the bottleneck is and upgrading just that part. Take the remaining $1,900 and throw it into an index fund, pay down your student loan, or save up for your next big down payment.
Like any machine, it only takes one slow link in the chain to bring the entire system to a screeching, hair-pulling halt. The most effective way to get the most out of your computer is to locate the point of concern and fix or upgrade just that part. Luckily, diagnosing your computer issues isn’t rocket science; there are only a few parts in the system that might be slowing everything down.
The main parts of a computer that might be slow are (in order of probability):
The hard drive. When your computer tries to open a program, it first fetches that program from storage. If you have “hard drive,” the hard drive needs to spin up the platter, move the arm to the area where the program is located (many times split up and spread across the drive in different places), read them and store them in memory before the computer is ready to act.
The memory aka RAM. If your computer has a low amount of memory, then the next time it attempts to load a program from storage into memory, it might not have enough. If this happens, most computers will write back to the storage drive (the hard drive) as if it were memory, known as the page file. If this happens, it means your poor hard drive is scrubbing around trying to both read and load programs, while at the same time keeping track of immediate the things the program is doing, which it would usually use memory for. This has the effect of exponentially slowing the chain down.
The processor aka the CPU. Once a program is in memory, the computer is ready to act. This might mean load a website or display a video. Modern processors are fast, even low-end budget processors. If your computer is 5+ years old, the processor might be ready for an upgrade, but in my experience, 90% of the time, the bottleneck is not the CPU.
So, how do you know which part is causing the slow-down, and what to upgrade? In short, two things will solve most of your computing needs:
Replace your hard disk with an SSD (solid state drive). This $100 upgrade will boost the speed of your entire computer dramatically, even if you’re low on memory.
Make sure you have 8GB - 16GB of memory installed. Very light workloads should be fine with 8GB, but if you typically have many browser tabs open, or typically work with productivity tools, consider 16GB.
First, check the memory. Click on the memory tab of your monitoring program. If your memory “in use” is about the same as your “physical memory,” then you’re probably due for a memory upgrade. Again, consider 8GB - 16GB of memory.
If those two look fine, and your computer is slowest when viewing web pages and videos, using productivity tools, or playing games, you might want to consider a CPU upgrade. Most big-box desktop computers can easily swap out their CPU’s, but notebook computers will most likely need to be replaced since the CPU is soldered on.
An SSD or RAM upgrade will usually cost around $100, and most upgrades can be done by yourself and a screw driver. If you’re especially nervous about getting into the system, take it to your local computer store and ask them to do the upgrade for you.
You’ve just saved over one thousand dollars!