Everyone wants a fast Windows 7 computer. This is especially true of people who play games. So the question is what makes a Windows 7 computer fast? How can you speed up your Windows 7 computer without paying an arm and a leg to increase the speed.
Several things make a computer fast. The most important is keeping it clean. A new Windows 7 computer is like my 2 car garage in 1985. At that time it help 2 cars no problem. Today is holds no cars. There is no room because other stuff has been stored there.
The same is true of most computers today. When they were purchased they were fast because they were empty of software. Over time software accumulated in the computer. The most egregious software is memory resident software. Often we use programs for a short time and then never again. However, these programs often have memory resident components that slow down the computer. A clean computer is a fast computer. How to clean is computer is the focus of another article.
In this article the focus is on what makes Windows 7 fast. So the first step is to measure Windows 7 speed. There are benchmarks and diagnostic programs that measure performance and speed. While they do a good job, they are not the measure on what a computer user considers fast. To me fast is responsive. Windows 7 has a responsive measurement tool called the Windows Experience Index. It is a measurement scale ranging from 1.0 to 7.9 currently. Newly purchased computers typically score in the range of 3.4 to 4.5.
To find the Windows Experience Index, click on START, then point to COMPUTER, click the right mouse button (the other mouse button), and use the normal mouse click to open PROPERTIES from the bottom of the menu. the overall rating is displayed smack dab in the middle of the display. A click on the Windows Experience Index to the right of the overall rating number should reveal the rating for each of the Windows Experience Index categories.
The Windows Experience Index measures Processor speed, Memory speed, Graphics card desktop performance speed, graphics card 3D gaming and business performance, and hard disk transfer rate. It rates the overall performance of the computer as the lowest score in any of these categories.
Many computers today have quad-core processors running at 2.5 to 3.2 GHz with DDR3 memory. Such systems typically score in the 6.9 to 7.2 range for CPU and memory speed. Generally, CPU and Memory are not a major consideration in making a Windows 7 computer fast. My laptop running an Inter i3 dual core 2.13 Ghz CPU and memory performs in the 5.9 to 6.1 range.
Disk drives in computers are Serial AT Attachment (SATA) drives. They rotate at 7,200 rpm. This is typically twice the 3,000 rpm at which automobile engines cruse. Laptop drives may run at 5,400 rpm. High performance drives operate at 10,000 rpm. So why the focus on rpm speed. A large part of disk performance is the time it mechanically takes to move the disks read/write mechanism. Part of that mechanical performance is the rotational speed of the drive. So 5,400 rpm drives are slower than 7,200 rpm drives. Most SATA drives have a Windows Experience Index of from 5.6 to 5.9.
What remains is the graphics card performance. That is the area which makes the Windows experience index run in the 3.4 to 4.5 range.
How do we make our Windows 7 computer more responsive? Changing processor and memory are costly. They are likely the fastest components already. Changes there make no sense. With Windows XP, increasing the computer’s memory size from 256 MB or 512 MB to 3 GB or 4 GB noticeably improves performance. Most Windows 7 computers today come with 3 GB to 6 GB of memory. Windows 7 64-bit Edition can use more than 6 GB. My computer has 16 GB of memory. However, application programs mostly are written to use no more than 4 GB or memory. So most of the 16 GB memory is unused. Right now my computer seems to be using 10 GB of memory. Increasing memory size in a Windows 7 computer is not likely to result in a noticeable improvement in responsiveness.
It is possible to improve responsiveness with a faster disk drive. This requires disk drive replacement. Two drives can improve performance: 1. Solid State Drives (no moving parts) and 2. High RPM drives (10,000 rpm). Both types of drives are expensive with Solid State Drives (SSD) being the most expensive. Solid State Drives also wear out over time (several years) depending upon use. The smaller the SSD, the quicker it wears out. SSD are the fastest drives because there are no mechanical parts.
One disk drive strategy is to get a small 128 MB SSD that only holds Windows 7 and the application programs and place the remaining data on another larger SATA drive. The Windows supports the Windows paging files and temporary file area. These areas are constantly used by Windows to store and retrieve data while you are working on the computer. Making that storage and retrieval process faster makes Windows more responsive. Word, Excel, Pictures and Music files stored on another slower drive do not make the Windows 7 computer less responsive because we expect some delay every time we retrieve one of those files. My computer uses a 128 GB SSD for Windows. It has a Windows experience Index of 6.8. All my data is stored on 1TB SATA drives with a Windows Experience of 5.9. I have not tested 10,000 rpm drives as yet to determine their Windows Experience Index. The Windows Experience Index is not published for any drives because it depends in part on the motherboard and CPU to which the drive is attached.
The last area is the graphics cards. Because their Windows Experience Index score is low they offer the greatest potential for improvement. Graphics cards are advertised with high performance chips (chip sets) from ATI or Nvidia typically. They have graphics memory on the card. Fast graphics chips and more memory on the card can speed up and make games more responsive. They should make the 3D business and gaming graphics Windows Experience Index higher.
In contrast a card with a high 3D performance and a low desktop performance our computer may not make our computer as responsive as we hope. Also how we use our computer can be important. In my case I run four (4) monitors each with 1920 by 1200 resolution. So having two Digital Video Interface (DVI) connectors on a graphics card is important because I need two graphics cards to support the four monitors. Configuring the cards for responsive performance requires that the motherboard of the computer have graphics card slots (Peripheral Connect Interface Express – PCI Express connectors) that run at the highest PCI Express speed (16X speed) from both slots simultaneously.
The final consideration is the graphics card memory interface. The interface can be 64-bit, 128-bit, 256-bit or higher. Here the larger number is better. If you are a gamer and get the best performing chips (chip set) on a graphics card that only has a 64-bit interface you could find the gaming performance less than expected. Not being a game player (except for Solitaire) I may be incorrect here. In the case of four monitors, a $100 card that has a 256-bit memory interface produces a Windows Experience Index rating of 6.8 for both Windows Desktop and 3D Graphics performance. Finding a good performing and moderately priced graphics card requires a look a the specifications and specifically the memory interface. Cards with a 320-bit memory interface or higher can be very expensive. Actually, some cost more than my motherboard, CPU and 16 GB of memory.
The last part of performance is the network interface. Computers with a 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps interface are common. Few if any computers operate at the original 10 Mbps Ethernet speed. The speed is not so important here. Internet speeds are typically slower. The Verizon FIOS speed is often slower than 35 Mbps. This is under the 100 Mbps of most computer Ethernet interfaces. So then what is important to understand about network performance? It is simple, when a network is not working well, a Windows 7 computer slows to a snail’s crawl. With a malfunctioning network interface (or any Universal Serial Bus – USB interface) it looks like someone poured liquid nitrogen over the computer so it is frozen solid. This can also happens when the batteries in your cordless mouse die.
So a responsive Windows 7 computer is determined more by graphics card performance and memory interface, as opposed to CPU speed, Memory speed, and disk drive speed. Any network, USB or mouse problems tend to stop everything. Keeping the computer clean from unused and memory resident software helps as well.
Pete the Nerd
“Your Friend on a Technically Challenged Planet (c)”
(c) P D Moulton
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