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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I asked about this probably a year ago, but computers change so quickly that I'm gonna ask it again.

I gotta do something about my computer situation. I run engineering programs all day. The main problems occur when the computer is handling large matrices (like thousands by thousands) and doing numerical integration and numerical differential equation solving. Some of the output files can be 5-6GB (not MB!?). Other than using MS Orifice and GT, I don't really do anything else with my computer.

My computer is a desktop unit about 2 years old. The following are what I know of its specs:

512MB RAM (yeah, I know that's not enough)
Windows XP Pro
Pentium 4, 3 GHz
80GB HD

I need A LOT more speed or I'm never gonna finish my dissertation. Being cheap in general, and a grad student, I'm not anxious to spend a zillion bucks on a computer. Also, I'm a really good computer USER, but am about 10 years removed from being a computer expert. I don't even know what half the specs mean nowadays.

Would an upgrade to 2GB RAM make a large difference? Is there any real hope of getting a lot more speed out of this system? I need to at least double or triple the speed.

If I want to see a real difference, do I need to buy a new CPU? What's the best approach here? Contact HP or Dell and tell them what I'm doing and let them recommend how much RAM, what type of processor(s) to get, etc.? What would be the most I could hope for, for say $1000, $1500, and $2000 respectively?

Thanks in advance.
DBD
 

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Bite The Pain
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MacPro with two dual core xenons at 3 ghz with at least 8 gigs of ram. Youll be the envy of the science world.
 

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Sumthin' Witty
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Upgrading to 2 gigs of ram and adding a second larger hard drive are probably the cheapest ($300 or so) and best thing you could do for that machine. A new cpu that would make any noticeable difference would be a dual core or the upcoming quad core processors which would require a new main board and different type of ram at a much greater expense.
 

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NRA Member
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The limitations of how much you can get out of your current computer depend largely on the motherboard.

A step you can take for free, if your motherboard supports it, is flashing your BIOS to the latest version. Download the BIOS and instructions from your BIOS maker's website. This probably won't speed things up, but it wil get you ready to get the most out of the steps below.

The first and cheapest step would be to add RAM memory, depending on how many memory slots you have on the motherboard. I have the best luck keeping all the memory modules the same size and type. So if your motherboard has only 2 memory slots, get 2 1-gig modules. Refer to the book that came with your motherboard and buy the fastest memory it will support. Kingston is a good brand that won't break the bank.

You might also benefit from more CACHE memory if your motherboard supports it, but that is a bit more complex subject.

(Adding RAM memory will only speed things up if currently the programs you are running write to the disk like it was RAM, but of course much more slowly. If your programs are not RAM-limited, more memory won't help.)

Next most complex step would be to also replace the CPU with the fastest that your motherboard will support. Again, refer to your motheroard documentation.

But to really soup things up, you will have to get a motherboard with an architecture that support the newest 64-bit CPUs that run in parallel.

-ET
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Originally posted by Iron666Maiden
MacPro with two dual core xenons at 3 ghz with at least 8 gigs of ram. Youll be the envy of the science world.
And fail my quest of getting through school because I'll be broke :clown: Just for curiosity, how much would it cost to have a system like that, including allowing the use of windows?

I think I need to stick with a winders machine because ALL of my programs except MS Orifice are windows-only programs. I have no interest in trying to run windows on a Mac. Remember, I'm a good computer user, not a computer expert.

Thanks guys for the recommendations so far.
 

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Were it me: (in order of ease and cheap)

1. When doing the math stuff, end (NOT minimize) all unnessary programs. Try to run just Windows and the application. Even better would be, if possible, put the app on a bootable disk and run DOS. In other words, try to have nothing but the app running.

2. I'd find out the maximum memory the mother board can handle, and the max speed, and order that amount from newegg or tigerdirect. Kingston and Critical are good inexpensive brands. Don't be cheap and try to save the 512 unless it works in.

3. Add a second hard drive. The bigest, fastest one you can afford and that the machine will handle. Have the app use it as a cashe, page swap disk.

4. Unless you realy know how to ugrade (flash) the BIOS don't bother. You could wind up with a boat anchor. Backup everything and take it to a competent computer repair shop or geek. Try an check to see if it will actualy help. It may not.

5. Don't bother with a new 64 bit, dual core, high zoot CPU. If the program isn't written for it, it can't use all those extras and it's a waste of money.

Depending on what you are trying to do, no PC may be able to handle it (at least one that any normal person can afford). A buddy of mine, when he would get ticked at IT and needed a break, would run a medium to large matrix invert and/or transform on the Co. mainframe. Big mainframe. In minuets that matrix op would bring the mainframe to its knees, begging for mercy. Sucked up all available resourses and asked for more. Drove IT nuts but they eventualy got the message :supergrin:.

So, do the simple, cheap stuff first while you are saving for a killer machine that might acutaly do what you want.
 

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There are two groups I would talk to.

The first would be the company which wrote the program you're using for your computations. I work at a hospital, and the vendors want to know the parameters of our hospital when we purchase their system - how many patients per day, how many lab/xray orders per day, etc. It's called sizing. It helps the vendor recommend the hardware for their application. I would have to think your vendor would have suggestions on hardware specs and what would help the most.

I would also talk to your department. They may have computers available to handle your computational needs. Wouldn't hurt to ask. You can't be the first one who's had this issue.

You should also look at what apps are running in the background of your computer. Every computer cycle taken up by some unnecessary app is one less that can be working on your calculations. Those background apps are running 24/7 which can add up.
 

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Ancient Tech
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If you add some decent RAM and a larger HDD, your hardware will be maximized at stock clocks.

Then, tuning the OS by disabling many of the startup items will optimize the machine.

Beyond those things, overclocking is another way to increase the amount of work that PC can do in a given time.

Other than that, you'd have to replace the CPU/MOBO ect., which gets real expensive real quickly.

I'd add 2GB of Corsair PC3200 and a 250GB Seagate. That will help a lot, as will skillful use of the msconfig function...
 

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I'd also consider a RAID setup since the size of your files will obviously be using a swap file.
 

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First, don’t flash the Bio’s. It’s common to see this suggestion on these types of forums, but it is a process that should never be taken lightly. While Flashing the Bio’s usually works, when it does fail, the computers main board is irreparably destroyed. I recommend flashing or upgrading the Bio’s only when there is a problem with the system. It is not something to do, just in order to do it.

Now for your excellent question. I will be honest and say that for a two year old computer, its stats are excellent. Three gigs is a great speed for a processor.

You could consider upgrading to a duel core or four core processor in future, but I don’t see an immediate need for it. Bear in mind that the extra cores only allows the computer to do "more things" at the same time. So you wouldn’t see a speed up on your current software. "Next generation" software will be a different story because it will be written to take advantage of 64 bit and duel core.

I do recommend more ram. As much as you are comfortable buying. Buy good brand name memory and you should be fine. You will find your best prices online. I recommend www.newegg.com they have always treated me right.

Hard drives only help you if they are faster. A larger hard drive won’t do you any good if it’s the same RPM or has similar seek times. Remember, a hard drive is no more than a fancy file cabinet. A little research should lead you to a list of faster drives.

A RAID array is only good if you use hardware RAID. This requires a RAID card and two or more hard drives, depending upon the "type" of RAID you use. So this option may be a bit pricey.

Now, what you need to do is go to START>RUN>(type) MSCONFIG and hit ENTER. This brings you to the windows configuration utility. Here is where you can shut off any hidden programs that start up automatically when your computer boots. Just use some common sense and GOOGLE to help you determine what you don’t need running in your STARTUP TAB.

Also, (right click) the COMPUTER ICON, PROPERTIES>ADVANCED> Then hit PERFORMANCE. Setting "adjust for best performance" makes your desk top look less fancy, but does free up some processing power and memory for better uses.

This should give you a good start.

K


WARNING!!!! (TO THE PIN HEADS OUT THERE)
MSCONFIG IS A HIDDEN ADMINISTRATIVE TOOL FOR A REASON. SCREWING WITH ANY OTHER SETTINGS BESIDES THE "STARTUP" SECTION CAN CAUSE SERIOUS PROBLEMS AND LOSS OF DATA. CONSIDER ALL CHANGES MADE TO BE INSTANTANIOUS.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
 

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Cool Cat
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Add/upgrading to 2 GB of RAM and larger 120GB to 200GB hard drive set for a huge swap file. Crucial.com sells great RAM at good prices. Use their selection tool and you cannot go wrong. If the PC is not under warrenty you save around 50% for the same chips DELL or HP etc.. will sell you with thier overpriced warrenty clause.

Adding too large of a Hard drive introduces the possiblity of an EIDE bus timing issue as each new generations of drive can introduce that possibility. (which can lock up the systmem at boot and possibly wipe out the data on one or both drives} This would be dependant on your motherboard IDE controller, maybe if a BIOS upgrade addresses the IDE controller go for it, check the web site's documentation for this.

One can use GHOST to dupe the old drive onto the new drive. Then runnig the old drive as the swap drive and settng the programs to cache out to the older second drive might be the way to go, if possible. Removing the smaller drive altogether usually works out better for performance reasons.

Check you start folder for things like fastfind, MSoffice, Adobe gamma, etc and remove them, everything but you anitviri and firewall and anything the math applications loaded there.

MSCONFIG does not exsist in W2k or XP, at least not on my COMPAQ versions.

PM me for a more detailed evaluation. ;) I was a COMPAQ service coordinator before the HP/COMPAQ merger! :soap: :steamed: :moonie:
 

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Glock Lover
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The question as to whether memory, CPU, or disk will solve the problem, always lies in what the statistics read! Memory is almost ALWAYS a good idea for a computer these days. Operating systems seem to chew up 256MB very easily, and then the other running services (on Windows) seem to gobble up an additional 256MB without even trying. I suggest a bare minimum of 1GB or RAM for any "professional" desktop running Windows 2K or higher with at least a P4 or Xenon Processor.

If you really want to look at what's the root cause, you need to check your CPU utilization. If your programs are making your computer "compute bound", then that means your CPUs are not powerful enough. (Compute bound would be a CPU constantly at 99% busy with > 75% of that time spent in USER mode.)

If you're machine is 99% busy, but spend >40% on for the SYSTEM or KERNEL, then you're having I/O issues. Since you're writing out 8GB or more of data, I'm sure your machine is spending lots of time with I/O writing out the file(s)! This means a faster or larger drive, or even MORE MEMORY (if you're swapping/paging too much). If you have multiple drives in your system, move your PAGING (virtual memory) away from your DATA disk! Also, put the Operating System (OS/Windows) on one drive, your data disk on another. You should also make sure they are on separate "controllers" in your machine (if it supports this). That is, if you have two SATA or EIDE connectors, make sure your data disk is on a separate cable than your PAGING/SWAP/OS disk.

On Unix (Linux) systems, it's easy to get at the diagnostic information. On Windows, it's a little harder. But I agree with what Blitzer and HVAC writes... you should look at memory first. It's almost always the cheapest option, but I always recommend trying to determine the root cause. If your machine is just plain CPU bound (> 99% busy with < 20% system), memory isn't going to help that much.

Ok, I'm going to shut up now.
 

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Originally posted by Blitzer

MSCONFIG does not exsist in W2k or XP, at least not on my COMPAQ versions.


No, unfortunately windows 2000 didn’t include that command; however both XP Pro, and XP Home, should both include msconfig. It is installed by default.

I’m not sure if it is included in Media center.

K
 
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