Monday 28 November 2011

What does it do? (3 of 4) Part 3 - Hard Drive

So in part 1 we discussed the CPU and how it processes billions of calculations per second.

In Part 2 we spoke of the RAM, a temporary storage area that was fast access for those calculations and information.

In this part we're discussing the role of the Hard Drive.  The Hard Drive is a mass storage area for data, and is written in a form that will remain while your computer is switched off, making it available for the next time you turn on your computer.  This data can be in a large variety of formats.  Typically the kind of things you'd store on your hard drive are things like:-

Word Processor Documents
Games & Other Applications

We mentioned in Part 2 that 1 GB could hold about the same amount of information as 20 volumes of encyclopedia's.  Hard Drives are vastly bigger than RAM, and it's not uncommon to see 500GB drives installed in most machines nowadays.  So, that's about 10,000 Encyclopedia Volumes inside your computer tower. Rather large. Drives are continually getting bigger, and we're now experiencing very low cost TB drives (Terrabyte is 1000 GB).

As much as a Hard Drive is fast, it's never as quick as RAM, and so if you have a small amount of RAM installed (a small desk in our illustration in Part 2) and the computer needs to write some information away, it will write that information into an area on the Hard Drive.  This process of writing data away to the Hard Drive is the delay that you experience when your computer starts to run slower. 

Other formats of drives are becoming available, Solid State Drives use the same technology as USB Sticks and are gradually becoming larger in size, but the cost and size limitations are still in early days.  Hybrid drives are also becoming popular, which contain the speed of a Solid State Drive, but have a Regular Hard Drive attached on the end for mass storage.

The size of Hard Drive that you require will largely depend on the type of files you plan to store.  If it's word processing documents that you're dealing with, you'll find 250 - 500GB Drives offer a good starting point, whereas if your dealing with Video footage or Music, you might find the need to increase your Hard Drive storage quickly.

There are optional configurations that you can use on your hard drives, but we'll cover that in depth discussion another time.

Thursday 24 November 2011

What does it do? (2 of 4) Part 2 - RAM

So our second article about the major components in a PC is the subject of RAM.  What does it do, and why do we need it?

RAM stands for "Random Access Memory" and in it's simplest form, it's a temporary storage for programs and data to reside.  Anything stored in RAM is lost when you turn off your computer, which is why you need a Hard Drive - which we will discuss in Part 3.

After discussing about how many calculations the CPU performs every second, this is only any good if it has somewhere to STORE those calculations, or it will start getting bogged down and will slow down if it has to write it all back to the Hard Drive.

Therefore, a good size of RAM is recommended. Sizes of which will largely depend on the types of applications you plan to run on your computer.

The easiest way to describe the role of RAM is like a desk.  If you imagine that you have a shelf with reference books on it and you're working on a project - each time you look something up you pull down several large reference books from the shelves and open up the correct pages to lay them on the desk.  This is OK for a while, but if you keep bringing more and more books down, you'll start running out of room on the desk.  When finally you run out of room, you'll have to put a book back on the shelf every time you want to get a new book out.  This will slow down your studying as you'll be up and down to the shelves swapping books so that have the relevant material in front of you.

RAM is like that desk. If you don't have enough, you'll find that you'll slow your computer down as it has to empty a few items from it's memory when you want to run another program.  However, if you upgrade to bigger RAM - a larger desk so to speak - you'll have more room to have more programs open and running and so system performance will not be affected.

RAM is measured in MB (Megabytes) or more commonly today GB (Gigabytes). To give you a rough measure, 1 GB could hold the same amount of information as about 20 volumes of encyclopedia's.

As a guide, Windows XP is happy running on around 2GB and due to technicalities will not immediately recognise more than 4GB.

Windows Vista is a little more sluggish, and so I'd recommend 4GB+, Windows 7 runs much better than it's predecessor, so 4GBis a good size, but more is always good.

RAM is a cheap upgrade if you find your computer is running slow. If however, you'd like advice before increasing the RAM in your machine, please contact us first.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

What does it do? (1 of 4) Part 1 - CPU

I've decided to write 4 articles covering the major components of a computer and what they do.  I'll try and keep it simple, we don't need complicated articles do we?

The four main components are CPU, Ram, Hard Drive and Graphics Card. We'll start with the CPU.

A CPU is a Central Processing Unit. It's the main chip in the middle of everything that goes on in your computer and is designed to do all the calculations necessary to run programs, and "compute" anything mathematical.

Every time you switch on your computer, fire up windows, run a program, anything at all, your CPU is calculating lots of instructions per second.

Ok, a few mind blowing facts.. hold on to something.

A CPU with a 1ghz speed can process about 1 billion instructions per second.  Mhmm that's a lot.

Modern CPU's are build in layers. Things have got so fast, that a single layer can no longer go any faster. So they've built these layers (called Cores) so that they can simultaneously process information.  The latest chips have 6 cores, each running at about 3.3ghz. So 6 x 3.3 = 19.8ghz.  So, in theory, the modern processor could calculate around 19.8 billion instructions every second.

Don't take this figure as absolute. There are a lot of things that affect this speed, but it's a helpful guide when you are choosing a PC. The higher the CPU Speed, and the more cores it has, the faster it can process the information.

The CPU is responsible for the speed in which a computer runs. In the next article, we'll look at how RAM plays a part and what its role is.

Monday 21 November 2011

Updating your Antivirus

We are all aware of the need for antivirus.  The world is riddled with these nasty things (and before you think of changing to an Apple to avoid them, it's complete untrue that there are no viruses for Macs).

So we all do our obligatory thing and purchase an antivirus to protect our photos and emails and music etc..  But the question I often get asked is "Do I need regular antivirus, or Internet Security?"

Antivirus comes in all sorts of varieties, so there is no definitive name for the "internet security" versions, but in the main they include a piece of software called a Firewall.

A Firewall, in short, is additional protection from the outside world. The idea behind it is that it should stop anybody from hacking into your computer from anywhere else in the world.  It's like having a high wall around your property, designed to stop people from getting into your garden.

In most cases, your broadband router, supplied by your Internet Service Provider, should have a firewall in it already. If it doesn't, then I'd recommend you request a new one with one built in. This is particularly important if you operate wirelessly too.  If you do have a firewall on your router, there is not normally a reason to have to purchase antivirus with built in firewalls too.

Take the wall around the garden scenario.  If you put a wall around your property, to stop people coming in, you shouldn't then need to put another wall around your house.  If they can climb over the first wall, they'll happily do the same with the second.

There are circumstances where you might open your wireless network for outsiders to use. If you're happy in doing so, then I would certainly recommend you have a firewall between your computer systems and theirs.. to give you that added protection.  However, for the most of us who know all their users of their broadband, an additional firewall isn't normally necessary.

One particular exception to the rule is if you own a laptop, and plan to take that laptop out and about and connect to free wifi in McDonalds, or Starbucks.  Please do have a firewall enabled on your laptop, while it is in an open environment, as it will help protect you from being hacked from another user in the same location.

Firewalls are a benefit worth leaning on, but often we overpay for antivirus software that contains things that are just not necessary.  Please ask before purchasing and we'll happily advise the recommended way to go.

Thursday 17 November 2011

PC or Laptop?

I often get asked which is better, PC or Laptop? And to be honest that will always depend on the planned usage of the machine. 

However, let me try and put a few key pointers down for those currently in this dilemma.

Being a bit of a geek, I'll always prefer to choose a PC. This is because I like to know that I can upgrade it cheaply in the future, add extra storage, memory or graphics.  And a PC is good for this.

Components on a PC are cheap, there is often plenty of space to upgrade and you can often strip the box completely and start afresh with the same tower frame if you want.  You can add extra monitors, extra USB ports and do all manner of things with your hard drive storage.

The flip side is the fact that it's a bigger box, you need a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse and then... there's the cables!

A laptop however, holds a few neat tricks. It's compact, it's light, its portable and you get a keyboard and monitor built in.  Modern laptops have super performance and the hard drives are of a very satisfactory size for even the most heavy users.  Aesthetically they knock the socks off a PC too.

The downside is the cost to upgrade, and that if a component fails, the whole laptop needs to be sent for repair.  Component costs are more expensive for a laptop and is almost impossible to add extra components in the laptop case.

So, as you can see, there is no definitive answer. It truly depends on the planned usage of the computer in the first place.

There are more things to consider before you invest in a computer, too many to include in this article.  However, if you wish to post a question on the Facebook group, or comment here, I'll try and give you some tips and advise as to a machine spec that would suit your plans.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Keep It Clean!

First of all, a warm welcome to the new Blog. I hope you find this blog informative, and the information useful. I'll try and get some other techie people to send me some blog information or to upload a blog too, so that we can address a range of issues and also give you a wide range of tricks and tips.

I did set up a facebook page, but realised that it might be better to write the articles on a blog instead. It'll look nicer and give everybody a better interface. Hope you enjoy it!

We'll start off the first blog with something that will help so many of us computer users:-

Keeping it Clean!

My father is a great example here, he often downloads and purchases programs that are designed to "speed up your system" I am sure we've all seen adverts for super duper software that will promise to make your system quicker, by sitting quietly in the background and monitoring everything that is going on, tweaking your computer as you go. My father had 3 of these programs running on his system at one point, and you can imagine how slow his computer was because of it!

You see.. it's a little like putting some water in a glass, then sliding a ruler in to see how high the water is. As soon as you insert the ruler, it affects the height of the water.

Instead of using a running program to speed up your system, you can manually do a few things yourself.

The programs I'd particularly draw your attention to are both created by a company called Piriform. One is called CCleaner and the other is Defraggler. For this post, we'll just look at CCleaner. You can download this direct from . It's completely FREE.

Installation is quite straight forward, you accept most defaults. When you run the program for the first time it will give you the options to analyse or clean the system. Down the left hand side you'll see a list of options that you can tick. May I suggest that you do NOT tick the "WIPE FREE SPACE" which is currently right at the bottom of that list. Everything else you could check.

Click Run Cleaner and you'll probably get a warning, saying that it will permanantly delete files from your system. This is correct, it will be removing temporary files from your system that are no longer needed, so click "OK"

When it's finished its run, you'll notice that it shows how much it's cleaned off your drive.  Yes, often it's quite a lot!  I run my CCleaner every morning at work. I just ran it at 1pm while writing this blog and it removed 157mb from my hard drive.  Files that have been written away to my hard drive that are not completely necessary any more.

The more options you choose from the list, the more it will clean.  But you can pick and chose the things that affect you the most.

It has a registry cleaner too, but I'll cover that in another article.

If you have any questions relating to this article, please post them below.  Please keep your comments clean as this is a family site.  Thank you!