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Understanding "bottlenecks" in your computer...

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on June 25, 2001


After questioning a number of computer sales people and technicians I have found that none are really clear on the answer to this question: What are the bottlenecks in computer systems?

- Ken


This question was answered on June 25, 2001. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Few things in computing are as irritating as having to wait What is in essence a few seconds seems like an eternity when we want something from our computers I call it the “microwave syndrome” – it’s never fast enough!

“Bottlenecks” slow the flow of data and are everywhere in your computer, but the ones that actually affect your computing speed depends upon your applications Gamers, CAD and graphic designers will experience more bottlenecks than those that simply surf the web, check their e-mail and write a few letters.

Your computer has 3 basic components that will determine your overall performance They are your processor, RAM and the hard drive Of the three, the processor is the fastest and the hard drive is the slowest In simple terms, everything outside of the processor is a bottleneck to the processor The motherboard bus speed, RAM, video card, operating system, applications and especially the hard drive all cause the processor to have to wait (often referred to as “wait states”).

The biggest bottleneck in the computer is the hard drive No matter how you use your computer, the hard drive is the single component that can cause the biggest slowdown It’s also the most overlooked component in today’s computers Most people focus solely on the storage parameters when looking at hard drives, but there are many other issues to consider if you truly want to reduce this bottleneck.


There are two main types of interfaces for the hard drive - IDE and SCSI Most computers use basic IDE hard drives because they are much cheaper

SCSI based drive systems can be twice as expensive because they require a special interface card, but the increase in performance can be dramatic There are several different types of SCSI interfaces with the Ultra3Wide being the fastest If money is no object, SCSI is for you

If you are like the rest of us, you look for the “best bang for the buck” The latest IDE hard drives have very respectable performance specs at a much lower cost Look for an EIDE drive that uses the UltraDMA or UltraATA interface

Performance specs:

The basic performance specs that you want to concentrate on are transfer rate, RPM, and average seek time Transfer rates on current SCSI drives can range from 80 to 160 MBits/second The best IDE drives can range from 66 to 100 MBits/second The RPM spec refers to how fast the platters are spinning (the faster, the better) Generally they range from 5400 to 15,000 RPMs 10,000 RPM and higher drives tend to have heat issues, so make sure you have a well ventilated area inside your computer to install them When it comes to average seek time, the lower the number, the better the performance

One of the cheapest ways to reduce the hard drive bottleneck effect is to add more RAM Windows based computers use the hard drive for temporary memory space when they run out of RAM, so if your system does not have at least 128 MB of RAM you may want to increase it

If you are a gamer or do a lot of graphic-intensive work, the video card can be a bottleneck, so you may want to research the latest in video card technology.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on June 25, 2001


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