What makes a computer fast and powerful?

Note: This document helps explain the components within a computer that help make it fast. See our troubleshooting a slow computer page if you are need help troubleshooting a slow computer.

There are several components within a computer that help make it faster and more powerful. Below is a list of all the hardware components that help contribute to the performance of a computer. Keep in mind that even the software running on the computer may impact the speed of a computer.

Processor (CPU)

Computer CPUThe overall speed or clock speed of the computer and how fast it is capable of processing data is managed by the computer processor (CPU). The computer will be much faster and more powerful when it is capable of executing more instructions every second. For example, the first computer processor was the Intel 4004, which was only a 740 kHz processor and capable of processing approximately 92,000 instructions per second. Today's processors are multi-core GHz processors capable of processing over 100 billion instructions per second.

Cache

Although today's computers are cable of executing billions of instructions every second, the processor is usually waiting for those instructions from the slower types of memory in the computer. Because the RAM and hard disk drive are much slower than the CPU, computer processors and motherboards use cache to transfer instructions between the processor, memory, and components in the computer. Cache is the fastest type of memory and a computer with more L2 cache or L3 cache will be capable of storing more instructions and send those instructions to the processor more efficiently.

Memory (RAM)

A computer with more memory (RAM) will be capable of storing more programs that are currently running in memory. If your computer runs out of memory, the computer must swap unused data stored in memory to your hard disk drive until it is needed again. This makes each task more complex by adding another extra step and because the hard drive is the slowest type of memory in the computer it will decrease the speed even more.

512MB memory stick

BUS speed

The bus speed of the motherboard can make the data being transferred between all the components much faster or slower. For example, a Front Side Bus (FSB) of 66 MHz is going to be much slower than a 400 MHz FSB. If the bus is slow, it only increases the amount of time the processors has to wait for the instructions.

Hard drive

Crucial SSDThere are several contributing parts of a hard disk drive that can make it faster, which makes your overall computer faster. With an old or slow hard disk drive each time your computer has to read or write to the hard disk drive the system will slow down. Below is a list of different factors

  • An SSD drive has no movable parts which makes it much faster than a traditional HDD.
  • Older computers use EIDE (ATA) cables to connect the drives, which has a much slower transfer rate than the SATA included with newer computers.
  • With an HDD the RPM is how fast the platters in a hard drive spin. A 5400 RPM hard disk drive will be a lot slower than a 7200 RPM drive.
  • Since Cache is the fastest type of memory, a hard drive with a cache or larger cache allows data to be handled more efficiently when it's transferred between the computer and drive.

Video card

If you play the latest computer games, a powerful video card with its own CPU (GPU) and its own memory makes the game run faster. These types of video cards help with the performance of the computer by taking on the responsibilities of processing the 3D rendering and other complex tasks.

The interface of a video card is also a contributing factor to the performance of the video card. For example, the older AGP video cards are much slower than the new PCI Express video cards.

Additional information