Tiny Code

Tiny Code


Bad advice from an IT guy

A relative called recently asking about her friend's laptop computer which was running slowly. Her friend had asked someone from the IT department at work how to make the laptop run quicker. The IT guy's response was to suggest they replace the hard disk with a faster model.

This is wrong on so many levels that it makes my head hurt. First, the IT tech didn't ask any questions to determine what the underlying cause of the slowdown might be. Laptop computers typically come with relatively slow hard drives since lower RPM drives create less heat. Laptops always have trouble dissipating heat because of the small cases. Chances are a faster drive may not be available or at least may not be affordable for the average user. A slow hard drive typically only causes delays in one of two circumstances: loading programs and reading or writing data files. Those two cases comprise a fairly small percentage of the overall usage time and will most likely not produce a noticeable delay.

A better approach to speeding up an older computer is to add more memory. Application software always seems to get larger over time. Data files also have a tendency to grow with use. Users also tend to use more applications simultaneously as they get more sophisticated. All of these conditions probably require more memory than originally came with the laptop. When the laptop doesn't have enough physical memory, Windows will be forced to swap unused applications and portions of the data files out to the swap file on the disk. Hard disk accesses are always much slower than memory accesses.

Sadly, bad advice like this is not at all uncommon. Hang around in the computer section at any big box electronic store any you'll undoubtedly hear something similar. Amazingly enough, $8.50 an hour and a few months of experience doesn't always produce quality technical advice. Imagine that...

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