PC performance tipsSlow of Light (589252) writes "The slow of light
People refer to the "speed of light", usually with a slight sense of awe. Well, thanks to a certain physicist1 with a permanent bad-hair-day we know that everything in this universe is relative. The speed of light itself, near infinite that it seems to us, has finally met its match.
Light isn't the only thing that travels at the 'speed of light'. c, as it is abbreviated, applies to all manner of electromagnetic radiation, even to electronic signals traveling in wires. For the record,
c = 299,792,458 m/s
though it is commonly rounded off to 300 million meters per second2.
My first computer was a Tandy MC103, running at a leisurely 860kHz and using an old 30cm TV as a display. The keyboard was an integral part of the system, there was no mouse.
Light (and by extension, electronic signals traveling in wires) could span (300,000,000 m/s / 860,000 Hz = 348m) over a third of a kilometer between clock-cycles. The electrons zipping about in my computer could easily pop by the kitchen for a quick snack between operations and no-one would even notice
Recently I played with a 3GHz PC with dual 24-inch monitors. While PC's have sped up, light has remained as 'slow' as ever.
A strange feeling of deja-vu set in, and I realized that this thing doesn't actually seem to go much faster than my old MC10. You all know this feeling, right? You fire up the brand-new PC, twice as fast as the old one!, only to wait even longer for that elusive login prompt. Even once it's up and running, nothing seems to go much faster!
Though Moore's Law keeps pushing and upgrading the PC specs, we are still limited by the speed of light! The same electrons that were ambling around in my MC10 are now being clocked at 3GHz, that's 3 billion times per second! Where before they could travel hundreds of meters between cycles, now they are down to only 10cm!
Also, vital peripherals are now external to the PC. Curly keyboard cables (thankfully abandoned!), external drives (disks are both input AND output devices, so these count twice!), luxuriously long monitor cables, all this adds up!
It's all about clock cycles, the more you have, the faster you go. Right?
I hit a key, the signal goes up the curly wire (1.05m long when straightened out), down to the external disk (0.8m) and back (0.8m), out to the monitor (1.5m) and finally back to me (1m, hey, with these huge monitors you can sit back a fair way!). That's a total of over 3m, or 30 clock cycles!!
No wonder the PC feels sluggish, it is a full 30 clock cycles behind!
It's even worse if you have a hyper-threading or dual-core system because these delays, unlike normal workload which is evenly spread among the cores, applies to _ALL_ cores equally!
All these extra clock-cycles are great if you're into batch-processing, but when you're trying to use the PC interactively, then constantly being 30 steps behind gets very noticeable!
Sometimes old ideas are the best ideas; Laptops with integrated keyboards, just like my trusty old MC10. Avoid external disks, get as short a monitor cable as you can, and don't believe the 'large monitors are more productive' hype (maybe for some noob magazine reporter who doesn't notice the extra lag, but a true power user will loose more productivity due to latency than they gain thanks to the extra screen-space).
If you have to use a conventional keyboard, try to get one with a short cable or, better yet, a wireless one4 (if it's the infra-red kind, make sure though that the transmission is line-of-sight. IR cannot travel through your table-top, and having the signal bouncing off the back-wall to get to your PC under the desk will _not_ speed things up!).
Do NOT mess with the power cables! Not only is this dangerous, it's useless as the power-cables are not in the data-path. USB cables are a special case, they provide both power and signal; get the shortest once you can.
Information inside your PC is carried by electrons5. Though individually these are almost weightless, it actually takes vast numbers of them to transfer even a single bit! Even if you only needed a single bit, modern machines collate bits into ever-larger words for 'efficiency'. A single mouse click (1 bit, right?) might get bloated to 8, 16, 32 or even 64 bits! Aren't you glad you spent that extra money on a 64-bit processor?
Desktops-style cases are better than tower cases. The motherboards lie flat, smoothing out speed gradients and allowing higher clock-speeds (why do you think all high-powered rack-mount servers are flat?). If you are forced to use a tower case, experiment with re-orienting it. Different parts of the motherboard carry out different functions, some of which are more speed-sensitive than others.
Though monitors are bidirectional devices these days, data traveling from the monitor is used mainly during boot-up. Unless you reboot a lot make sure the monitor isn't too high above the PC (resting it directly on a desktop-style PC is ideal). Keyboards, on the other hand, are mostly input devices, keep them as high as you comfortably can (unless you post to a lot of gaming forums, in which case you probably use CAPS-LOCK a lot and will benefit from a more responsive CAPS indicator light).
If you plug in a USB stick, choose the socket wisely. If mostly copying TO the USB stick, use a low port (usually one on the PC itself). If mostly copying FROM the USB stick, use a high socket (like one integrated into the monitor). The same applies if you need to use an external disk.
Modems are mostly used for downloading, as are switches and routers; they should be as high as possible (UNLESS you're on a server, in which case site them low!)
Much of the hype on software bloat is just that, hype. No, Bill Gates is not part of an evil conspiracy to sell more hardware. As a famous engineer6 once said, "You cannot change the laws of physics", even if you are the worlds richest man!
Be skeptical of 'improvements' like larger monitors, Home File Servers and 64-bit processors. If you thought a 1m USB cable adds latency, just try a few dozen meters of network cable! Remember, we're worried about latency here, not bandwidth, so getting Gigabit cables (or even fiber) won't help!
Use common sense and a few of the guidelines found here and you'll get the best possible performance out of your PC.
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