Computer Active | Articles


The articles below are writtten to be used for general advice & information purposes. Technical jargon has been kept to a minimum and some scenarios simplified to try and make each article understandable regardless of your technical knowledge.

Article 01: The Importance of Backups
Article 02: Traditional Hard Drives vs Solid State Drives (SSD's)
Article 03: My Computer Has Slowed Down
Article 04: Computer Performance (Hard Drive & Memory Configurations)
Article 05: The Importance of Recovery Discs

The Importance of Backups

The most common cause of data loss is a problem with the computer hard drive, which is where your computer stores your documents and information. A hard drive problem can happen for many reasons like a virus infection, physical damage or even accidental data deletion. Although hard drives are normally reliable, they are nevertheless a mechanical device that can and do fail from time to time. Hard drive technology is gradually moving to solid state devices which eliminates the need for moving parts, however in the main, most drives are still mechanical devices. As such, the risks of a hard drive failure increase with age, hence the importance of backing up your data and documents..

Backing up of your data is probably the most overlooked routine for most personal computer users, yet if a problem with your computer occurs it can be very frustrating, especially if the loss of your important data or documents is the end result. So many people dispair when this happens and they realise their information is damaged or lost, especially if the problem is severe and there is nothing that can be done to retrieve it.

Backup routines come in many forms, from simple manual backups to fully automated solutions. For personal computer users, a simple backup routine can eliminate the worry of potential data loss and the headache of retrieval or recreation from scratch. Whether you decide to backup your data and documents manually on a memory stick or external hard drive, or use an automated backup routine, or even store your data in an external data centre (using the internet), a backup routine of any description is better than no backup routine at all.

If you don't have any backups of your important data or documents at all, then just spending a few pounds on a memory stick to make a simple and quick backup is a worthwhile investment. Don't get caught out like so many people do and have the worry and frustration that often follows!

If you would like further information on backup options, please send an email to info@computer-active.net or send a message using our contact form here.

 

Traditional Hard Drives vs Solid State Drives (SSD's)

If you have read the article titled 'The Importance of Backups', you will already have an understanding of the computer hard drive and why backups are so important. However, you may not be aware of the differences between a traditional hard drive and a newer type solid state drive, their advantages and performance gains.

A traditional hard drive is a mechanical device that consist of (in basic terms) a spinning disc and a read/write head. Think of this in terms of a record player with a needle (the read head) that reads the grooves of a record (the disc), or a compact disc player with an optical laser (the read head) that reads the information stored on a CD (the disc). The only real difference is that a traditional hard drive stores and reads data magnetically using a read/write head that moves very quickly across the surface of a fast spinning metallic disc. These 2 mechanical movements (spinning disc and moving head) have become the staple of computer hard drive data storage for decades. Over the years they have become much smaller in terms of physical size, whilst increasing in storage capacity, speed and reliability.

In recent years, a new generation of hard drive has evolved called the Solid State Drive (SSD). Initially (as with all new technology) solid state drives were very expensive and not really a viable alternative for most people. However, these drives have increased in popularity over time and costs have reduced significantly to the point where they are no longer prohibitively expensive, especially when you consider the performance gains over traditional hard drives. So why invest in a solid state drive rather than a traditional hard drive? Well, simply put, solid state drives have several key advantages over traditional hard drives in terms of reliability and performance.

Firstly, a solid state drive has no moving parts whatsoever, so (unlike a traditional hard drive) the possibility of a mechanical failure as the drive gets older is zero. Secondly, a solid state drive stores data electronically on memory cells (there is no spinning disc or moving read/write head required to search for the required data). As a result, the speed at which data is stored and read is almost instantaneous which makes it incredibly fast (much faster than a traditional hard drive) and greatly improves computer startup times and performance. Thirdly, a computer with a solid state drive does not significantly slow down over time (which is a common complaint with a traditional hard drive computer). Again, this is due to the way in which the data is stored and read, i.e. virtually instantaneously due to no moving parts.

If you would like further information on hard drive options, please send an email to info@computer-active.net or send a message using our contact form here.

 

My Computer Has Slowed Down

A common complaint of many people is that their computer has slowed down. This normally happens gradually over time, but initially goes unnoticed until performance has dropped significantly. There can be many causes, but in this article we will look at how a modern operating system (like Windows) stores data on a computer hard drive and the impact this can have on performance over a period of time.

Each time a program is installed on a computer hard drive, the operating system creates records relating to that program installation in something called the Registry. Over a period of time and as more programs are installed, the registry can dramatically increase in size. When your computer is turned on, the operating system will read the registry and the bigger the registry is, the longer it will take the computer to start up. This often goes unnoticed until the problem becomes severe.

The computer operating system will maintain something called Indexing. Think of this as a telephone directory, organising records in a logical order so that you can find the information you need quickly. As before, the more information you store on a computer, the longer it will take to be indexed as the computer starts up and performance will be impacted. Again, this is often not noticed initially until the computer becomes slow to start up or is unresponsive after start up.

When a computer stores data on a hard drive, the hard drive will store that data in any free area of the drive. These free areas are not necessarily together and will be spread across the entire drive. As a result and as more data is stored on the drive over time, the more unorganised the hard drive becomes (this is called fragmentation). Although the computer will remember where the data is stored, fragmentation will result in slower performance due to the hard drive hunting for the relevant data. If fragmentation is not addressed and maintained, the performance of the hard drive can be significantly reduced.

The processing power of a computer will not slow down over time. Remember that the components inside are the same as they were when the computer was new. A computer which has slowed down is likely to be the amount of programs installed over time which impacts on the operating systems performance. In addition, the operating system Registry and Indexing routines (if not maintained correctly) and/or a severely fragmented hard drive can further impact computer performance.

There are various techniques to diagnose problems and optimise performance issues associated with the above, which will inevitably occur over time. It is also possible to virtually eliminate these problems altogether by replacing the computers hard drive with a Solid State Drive. These drives work differently to a traditional hard drive and do not suffer from performance related issues due to the way that data is stored on them. For more information on different hard drive types, please read the article titled 'Traditional Hard Drives vs Solid State Drives (SSD's)'.

If you would like further information on performance issues, please send an email to info@computer-active.net or send a message using our contact form here.

 

Computer Performance (Hard Drive & Memory Configurations)

The following article is simply a performance comparison between using a Traditional Hard Drive vs using a Solid State Drive (each with 2 memory configurations). This is to give you an idea of the performance gains that can be achieved with the right configuration. Before reading this article however, it is recommended that you read the article titled 'Traditional Hard Drives vs Solid State Drives (SSD's)', which explains the differences between drive technology.

Before we go any further, lets spend a moment talking about computer hard drives and computer memory, because so many people get confused between them or think they are the same thing. The computer hard drive is where the operating system resides (Windows for example) and where your documents and other information is stored (Word documents, music files and photographs etc.). The computer hard drive retains all of this information, even when the computer is turned off. The computer memory (known as RAM) temporarily stores programs and other information whilst you are actually using them. This is because computer memory is very fast and this improves computer performance. When you have finished using a program or closed a document, the memory is cleared and reused for another task or tasks. The computer memory is cleared when the computer is turned off.

The table of test results below was created using a computer several years old, but with a fresh installation of Windows 8.1 and Office 2013. The results do show that significant performance gains can be made with an increase in computer memory and/or by using a Solid State Drive, even with a fresh system.

The tests were run 3 times each to provide a good average. You can see that with more memory (RAM) added, performance generally increase. The same is true with the inclusion of a Solid State Drive in leiu of a traditional hard drive. In real life, a computer will be installed with many applications and files over time and this would highlight much greater performance increases.

If you would like further information on memory and/or hard drive configurations, please send an email to info@computer-active.net or send a message using our contact form here.

 

The Importance of Recovery Discs

Virtually all new computers these days come pre-installed with the operating system and other software required for you to get up and running quickly. This makes life easier, but the downside is that most manufacturers do not include any recovery discs, probably to keep costs down. This poses a significant problem because if you need to reset your computer back to factory defaults (in the event of a hard drive failure for example) where do you start!

Fortunately, most computers will come with a manufacturers recovery procedure and hidden on the hard drive will be the recovery files. But this is not much use if the hard drive has been replaced and this is where most people fall foul. This is because the onus is on the computer user to create the recovery discs when the computer is new. However, even though most computers will prompt the user for this procedure to be completed, very few people actually do it.

If a computer requires a factory reset which requires the recovery discs and these have not been created, what is the result. Quite often this means trying to obtain the recovery discs from the computer manufacturer, or reinstalling the computers operating system and all of the programs manually. Both of these situations are time consuming and it can be very costly. In addition, if you cannot obtain the correct recovery discs, this often causes further problems due to something called Drivers.

Every computer has various hardware components and for each of those components to work with the operating system, a compatible Driver is required. Think of Drivers as backgroung applications that you cannot see but are essential for your computer to work properly. Different computer manufacturers with use different components and it is essential that the correct Drivers are used. If you don't have the recovery discs with all of the Drivers that are required for the computer, it can be difficult to source them, very time consuming and costly.

The bottom line is, always make sure you have (or have created) the recovery discs for your computer as soon as you possibly can. It can save you a lot of time, hassle and money.

If you would like further information on recovery discs, please send an email to info@computer-active.net or send a message using our contact form here.