What makes a computer fast?

This really depends on what you mean by a fast computer. I can safely assume you mean one or more of the following:

  • Does it mean fast Internet?
  • Fast games?
  • Fast email?
  • Fast graphics? Fast calculations?
  • Fast Windows?
  • Fast downloads? Fast installs?
  • Fast boot-up? Fast shutdown?

I'll try to answer generally in order to cover my bases.

There are many things that contribute to the speed of a computer. Hardware is the main ingredient for a fast machine. Next comes the Operating System. Software is next in line for contributing to speed. Finally, your Internet connection plays a significant role. But this doesn't really answer the question.
The hardware that makes a computer fast is tied to a few main components.

  • First is the processor speed. You might hear about such chips as the i3, i5, i7, Dual Core, Quad Core, Centrino, Pentium, Athlon 64, with such things as 1.8Ghz, 3.5Ghz, 700Mhz. These are all types of chips and various speeds and power at which they operate.
  • Next, we have the FSB or Front Side Bus, which determines how fast the data gets to the processor. The faster the data gets to the processor; the sooner the processor can begin processing.
  • If that wasn't enough to spin your head around, there is the speed of the memory (RAM). We're talking about actual RAM not virtual memory. Memory is a chip that stores information for the processor, but only while the computer is turned on. When you turn off your computer the memory chip is erased! The faster the memory the more often information can be retrieved and manipulated by the processor.
  • Then there is the Hard Drive, the place where you put your documents, the operating system, pictures, and everything else that is stored on your computer. When this is slow, the other components have to wait for the information to be retrieved before they'll do anything with it. (Oh, and don't confuse Hard Drive space or Flash Memory with Computer Memory (RAM). They are completely different things.)

Things that slow your computer.

Then there is the software speed of your system. Software does not really have its own speed, but it uses up computer resources, which means that lighter software can run faster than bloated software.

  • The operating system (i.e., Windows or Mac OSX) uses up resources (hardware) on the computer to bring you the Internet, e-mail, movies, entertainment, and photos. Some operating systems use more resources than others.
  • Generally, the more software that gets installed onto a computer the slower the computer will operate. This is not true of all software. Most of the popular ones load a little bit of themselves every time the computer is started. This slows down the computer€™s boot-up time. Having one or two of these little programs will not slow down your system to any noticeable degree, but when you have a dozen or more, then performance lags.

What can be done.

To counter all these little programs eating up your computer's resources you should have plenty of memory (RAM) in your computer. Memory or RAM should not be confused with what is called Virtual Memory, which is not really memory but a file on your Hard Drive that pretends to be memory. If you don't have enough memory your computer will start using Virtual Memory, and it will slow your computer down making everything take 10 times longer than it should. Virtual memory has its uses, but it should be used rarely. Also, memory or RAM should not be confused with Hard Drive storage where your files are located.

Some of the pitfalls of a slow computer:

  • Take longer to fix.
  • Take longer to update
  • Require more of your time to get things done

Computers need virus and hacker protection. Mac and Linux computers have very few worries in the virus department, but they are not completely safe. Virus protection, at least the popular ones, require more and more resources to protect Windows from attacks. Then there's spyware, rootkits, spam, and pop-ups that are a constant bane to Windows users.

A slow computer will be slow to catch and remove these sorts of malware (malicious software). To get better performance, use protection that requires fewer resources. Symantec, Trend, McAfee are examples of protection that require more resources than is absolutely necessary. There are smaller reliable and free alternatives on the internet, like AVG, Avira, Security Essentials.

Internet Speed.

This leads us right to the Internet and how it affects the speed of your computer. Dial-up connections, even on a fast computer, are slow. Too much information needs to pass between your computer and the internet to really be of any use to you. Virus protection updates are almost impossible at dial-up speeds. Dial-up inhibits your access to many webpages, causes delays in email, and limits the quality feedback response required for learning to use your computer and the Internet.

Having a fast Internet connection does not mean you'll have a fast computer. If your computer is slow a fast Internet connection will not make any real difference in your computers performance. To break it down to the simplest elements... if any part of your computer system is slow, speeding up everything else does nothing.

If you can follow this formula, you can get the basics of what makes a computer fast.

  • Slow Computer + Fast Internet = Slow Computer on the Internet.
  • Fast Computer + Slow Internet = Computer Slowed by the Internet.
  • Faster computer + Faster Internet = Quality experience on the Internet.