Make your computer faster every day

Submitted by peter on Fri, 11/16/2018 - 14:51

Computers and handheld devices slow down every day. You can rejuvenate your smartphone/desktop just as fast and give them the occasional upgrade to keep or exceed that new speed feeling.

Speed is subjective. Our friend shows you a game running fast on an expensive new device. You think about an upgrade. The truth might be that the game is only running fast because your friend has it set to a low resolution. You might not notice a difference like that when your friend is waving the $2000 device in front of a group. You might not notice until after you spend your $2000 on a new device then try to replicate the speed. Oops, another $2000 wasted on an iPhone without any real improvement.

Speed is not everything you need. Having mentioned iPhones, the only real improvement in recent models is the camera. A good camera might be more important than speed. In that case you would look at the better cameras featured across a wide range of brands and models. You might walk past the Apple shop to look at other brands with real waterproof models, models with extended battery life, and models with extendable storage, many features that can be more important than speed.

Sometimes you just have to buy something new. A common need for new hardware is the jump from taking photographs to producing video. High quality video requires a big increase in computing power. Disks, processor, and the video chip need twice or more speed. A new computer can be cheaper than upgrading an old computer.

Before you throw all that cash at new hardware, work through improvements to your existing devices to find the real speed you currently have and then to experiment with the big new workload from video or whatever makes you want a new computer.

File system improvements

Empty the trash every day. No matter what operating system you have, part of the speed is limited by the file system. File systems can slow down when they start to fill up. The slow down varies. The older Linux file system, Ext3, starts slowing down when little more than half full. The newer Linux file system, Ext4, works better but still slows down gradually, which may not be noticeable until things start to fail. Empty the trash every day and clean out the junk once per month.

Microsoft's NTFS tends to work better in the range of 70% to 90% full then you hit a sudden noticeable slowdown. Empty the trash before you crash.

Apple's operating system is a copy of Unix but the Apple file system has added complexity that makes the performance unpredictable. Several people have asked me to fix their Apple notebooks. Cleaning up the file system made only a small difference. They had to perform clean re-installations of the operating system to get back the speed.

You have a trash bin in your kitchen and empty the bin every few days. Empty your computer trash bin every time you empty the kitchen trash bin. You clean out your wardrobe/garage/garden every spring. Clean out your computer file system at the same time.

I develop software and often have multiple versions of projects. When there are more than three versions, I look at removing old versions. Old versions can also be moved to USB memory sticks or external disk drives. Every month you could backup your computer then delete the oldest version of things where you have multiple versions.

Applications

Delete unused applications. Smartphone owners tell me they have found 50 or more unused applications on their smartphones after just one year of use. All those free applications make money by tracking your location and selling your privacy to big corporations. Every time you delete one of those applications, you reduce the processing overhead and the data traffic on the network.

You might find the extra speed to avoid a hardware upgrade and reduce your data usage enough to drop down to a cheaper data plan.

If you cannot give up one of the applications, look at disabling all the access rights for the application. Remove access to your location. Remove access to your data. Remove access to the network. The spyware game application should be just as much fun to play without the spyware constantly copying your contact list out to Nigerian and Russian scammers.

Photographs

The advantage of digital photographs is the ability to take many then select the best image at a later time. Instead of a five minute sunset opportunity being two good shots on film, it can be dozens of digital shots. The next day you can look through them to delete the ones where the subject blinked or frowned.

Take time to review the photographs at later intervals. You might look at the same images after a week, a month, then a year. Do you need six shots of your friend smiling? Perhaps you could choose the best three or two. During a later review, you might choose the best one.

A good photographic image uses 10, 20, or 50 megabytes. A cull of your last holiday might free up a gigabyte. A cull of last year's images might free up 20 GB. Videos are worse.

Video

A quick quality video can consume a gigabyte. You might make a dozen videos of bird life each day when you walk through your local park on the way to work. There goes a terabyte.

Cleaning out failed videos is important. Just as important is trimming the good videos. Your two minute tracking shot of a bird taking off then flying might have only a few seconds of excellent video showing the bird leaving the nest. The remaining 100 seconds might show sky with the bird rarely in the picture and never in focus. Trim the video down to the good part. Repeat the edit across all your videos.

Test video edits before deleting the original. Make sure the edited video is of the same quality. Many video editors default to producing rubbish quality or excessive destructive compression. Show the before and after video on a big high quality high resolution screen.

Read about the best settings for quality in your editor. Experiment. When you are completely satisfied, rip into your videos. If in doubt about the editing, move the originals to an external disk so that you can repeat the editing when you have more experience.

Email

Email does not use much disk space until people send you images and other attachments. Save the attachments when needed and delete the email. Clean out old email the same as cleaning out old photographs.

Unsocial media

If you use social media, you know how it is flooded with junk. Visit all your accounts. Delete accounts you no longer use. Delete any item no longer relevant. Delete all those fake friends trying to market products. Delete anyone you cannot remember. Clean out the junk.

Check the privacy settings. Switch off everything you do not use. Tighten down the access for everyone.

You can run your Web browser in a jail cell to stop your unsocial media spying in your computer. You might be amazed to find out how much your network traffic is reduced when the contents of your hard disk is no longer exposed to the world.

Disk

Your device had a primary storage device and possible a secondary storage device. Upgrading either can be a big improvement without the cost of a buying a new device.

This does not apply to the Apple religion where you have to buy a new device every year.

Your primary storage might be flash memory wired in or a removable disk or a removable SSD. Disks have big improvements about once every 3 to 5 years while SSDs leap forward about every 2 years. Check your primary storage device. An upgrade from a magnetic disk to an SSD will produce the biggest gain in speed.

An upgrade from an old SSD to a new SSD will produce a small increase in read speed and possibly a big increase in write speed. You should also get a big increase in capacity for the same price. The important thing to look at with SSDs is the real write speed, not the junk speed mentioned in the advertising. Read reviews and look for the continuous write speed.

If the primary device cannot be replaced, look at the secondary storage device. Your smartphone has a slot for a microSD card. MicroSD card increase in speed and capacity every year. Upgrade to a card that I twice as big and twice as fast. Check the Android settings to make sure everything is written to the microSD card, not the wired in storage.

You can easily move the microSD card to a new phone or any other computer to access all the files, to add new files and music, to do anything you want. If your phone does not have a microSD slot, it is not a smart phone. Time to upgrade your phone.

The built in storage is expensive. When I purchased a notebook with a 128 GB SSD, there was an option to get the same model with a 256 GB SSD but it cost several hundred dollars. For a hundred dollars less, I purchased a 1000 GB SSD, yes a whole terabyte, and replaced the 128 GB SSD myself.

M.2

There is an evolution in storage based on the connection from the computer mother board to the disk. SATA then mSATA then M.2. mSATA uses less space and electricity compared to SATA but does not increase speed. If you are already running the fastest mSATA device and need more speed, you need the faster M.2 which means a new computer. M.2 introduces new complexity, there are several sizes and speed options.

For M.2, the smallest size options are of no advantage over SATA or mSATA, you need one of the larger sizes. Look at the M.2 disks you want to buy then make sure you buy a computer that can fit that size.

M.2 disks can run as slow as mSATA. M.2 has speed and data with options. As a minimum, you want several times the speed of mSATA before the upgrade is worthwhile. Loot at the best performing high capacity M.2 SSDs then look for a computer with the right internal configuration to run an M.2 SSD at that speed.

USB 3

Some older computers and devices have only USB 2. USB 3 is better for activities including backing up to an external disk. You might not notice the USB 2 speed limit when copying a few images from a camera. You will complain about USB 2 speed when copying 30 GB of video from your camera. USB 3 is a good reason to replace a computer when you frequently use external storage.

USB C is a slight step up from USB 3 and is mainly for small handheld devices as USB C allows more charging current in the same size cable as the microUSB cable used in older handheld devices.

You might be tempted to switch to wireless charging. Wireless charging is very slow and wastes a huge amount of energy. Wireless charging is the opposite of efficiency, the opposite of green, and not a reason to replace anything.

Fans

Fans fill with dust and lint. They stop working. Something overheats and breaks. Clean the fans before they stop. The CPU fan in some notebooks can be difficult to access. You might need professional help.

Web browsers

Some Web browsers waste massive amounts of memory, processor power, disk space, and network data by preloading pages from links on the current page you are reading. You will not visit most of the preloaded pages but you pay for them with speed, battery life, and excessive data charges. Chrome is the worst. Switch off page preloading. Switch off loading of adverts, Javascript, and anything "third party". Use NoScript and equivalents.

Antivirus software

Antivirus software is a resource hog and a real roadblock. Switch to a different operating system so you do not need an antivirus program.

Visual effects

Your operating system and applications may have visual effects that do nothing useful and just slow down everything. Experiment with switching each effect off for a while. You may find you can work faster when an effect is off.

Windows to Linux

For your home use computer, there is no reason to stick with the expense and overhead of Microsoft Windows. Replace Windows with Linux. At the organisation level, whole corporations and government departments switch from Windows to Linux. People tired of being locked into Microsoft and Apple products find the freedom of Linux quite refreshing. They also often find they can use their computer for a few extra years before replacing the computer.

The Windows/MacOS conversion is more common when you buy a new computer and decide to give the old computer to someone younger. They are already using Linux (Android) on their smartphone and are happy to use Linux on their desktop/notebook computer.

The older generation are often still stuck in Apple OS land. Years ago, Apple dumped their operating system and switched to Unix, placing Apple decorative features on the front of Unix. Unix inherits many device drivers and other features from Linux. You can bypass the limitations of the Apple version of Unix by upgrading to Linux. Trying to talk an Apple user into stepping out into the open can be difficult. It is easier to wait until they are really frustrated by what they cannot do on their iPhone and they switch to another brand because every other brand of smartphone uses Linux.

Reboot

No matter which operating system you use or what applications you run, some resources will be lost. Reboot your computer to free up lost resources. The most common lost resource is memory. Continual use will also fragment memory, decreasing efficiency. A reboot starts everything off from the minimum use.

Microsoft's NT operating system started as memory efficient then they changed their software to save a few machine cycles and screwed up memory usage. You used to be able to run NT for months without worrying about memory. I left one very active machine run with many applications for over six months without a reboot. After Microsoft made the change, the same machine had to be rebooted every week. Microsoft then inserted Internet Explorer as software you could not uninstall. If you accidentally started Internet Explorer, NT would crash in less than a day, the same as Microsoft Windows.

The software on Macs is almost as bad as Windows.

Some versions of Linux are very reliable with Web browsers and external USB disks the main sources of problems requiring reboots.

Hardware failures

Any decent brand of computer lasts ten years or more with minor repairs, equivalent to replacing tires on a car. If something breaks, you can look at the break and avoid it next time.

I read about power supplies lasting less than five years. You have to buy a really cheap nasty machine to have a power supply failure. If your environment is dusty, vacuum the junk out of the fans at least once per year.

If your mains power is really dirty and full of spikes, everything electronic in your house will fail faster, the microwave, the thermostat on your refrigerator, everything. Use good uninterruptible power supplies to remove the spikes and dropouts. A UPS costs less than a new computer or a new television or any other major appliance.

Batteries can be replaced easily and at far less cost than a new machine. The batteries on my machines last a long time because I often run the machines on mains power, reducing the frequency of discharge and recharge. For a notebook, I buy a second power supply to use in the office. Batteries can last five years instead of three years.

Keyboards and screens are easy to replace except on some notebooks. I find both last six years. After that, replacements are often no longer in stock, a good reason to replace a notebook. To reduce keyboard damage on your notebook, plug in an external keyboard when sitting at your desk. A good external keyboard will also make your typing faster and reduce strain on your arms.

Good brands of disks last more than five years. Plain old every day use rarely kills them. Breakage is usually the result of bumping the disk while the disk is spinning, a problem you do not have with SSD. Extreme heat can also wear out disks fast. Switching disks off and on can kill them, something that may happen if you have power saving software set to spin down the disks between each use. Use SSD instead of magnetic disks for anything you move from desk to desk and anything that enters a power saving mode. Make sure the fan is dust free to keep the machine cool.

Conclusion

Cheap computers fail no matter what you do. A good brand of medium priced computer will last many times longer for just that little bit extra in cost. Combine cleaning out the dust with some slight extra investments, like an external keyboard, to double the life of your machine.

Along with cleaning out the dust, you need to clean out applications, files, and all the other forms of digital junk. This will keep your machine as fast as new.

Current the best hardware improvement is replacing a magnetic disk with an SSD, followed by replacing a first generation SSD with a modern large fast SSD. The best software upgrade is to move from Windows to Linux.