Boot up, already, computer!

Why do computers take so long to power on?

For one reason, when booting-up, a computer must retrieve data from the hard drive and send it to memory, which takes time because of the drive itself and the pathway involved. Many systems today still use magnetic-based hard drives; the new technologies slowly replacing magnetic drives are based on solid state technology.

The magnetic-based drive is an electro-mechanical device with spinning platters and moving read/write heads. Think of the old record player where the arm follows the grooves in the surface of the record. The analogy is close, except there are multiple platters in a drive that hold data on each side and the read/write heads are extremely close to each platter, but do not actually touch it. How fast the platters spin and how fast the read/write heads can find data on the disk have an effect on how fast the computer performs. A 7,200 RPM drive will typically find and read data quicker than a 5,400RPM drive.

Solid state drives are based on nearly the same technology as USB flash drives. The slowest SSDs are much faster than the fastest magnetic drives but much more expensive on a per-byte basis. Can users simply install an SSD and expect better performance? Many users would see better performance but the system would still have the same pathway limitations that placed bottlenecks on the older magnetic-based drive.

One company, OCZ, has created an SSD design that bypasses the typical system bottlenecks by tapping into the faster pathway offered by the newest data bus technology. The SSD is actually a card that is installed into an expansion slot where it takes advantage of the faster throughput of PCI-Express. OCZ calls the SSD RevoDrive and it is priced within reach of many users.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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