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A "screaming" CPU and RAM


Can someone explain to me how a CPU and the RAM works and what the different tabs in the Task Manager (TM) are really good for?

I'm a quadriplegic and so I've got a lot of applications running all the time including Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software which (supposedly) takes up a lot of RAM.  I've been frustrated with how slow things are so I recently upgraded my RAM to 1.5 GB.  I've got a 3.00 GHz Pentium 4 and a 60 GB HD (the computer is a Toshiba Satellite P25 laptop).  Someone told me that by upgrading (I previously had 750 MB of RAM), my system would "really scream".  However, I really haven't noticed that much of a difference.  I know that lots of junk (spyware, etc.) can slow things down but I actually just got it back from the factory where they put in a new HD because the old one died a couple of weeks ago, so there's no junk on it right now.  (It came back with the factory software reloaded: Windows XP Home.)

The problem is that when I do different operations like transfer a large file, it slows things down.  What puzzles me is that the TM Processes tab shows the "System Idle Process" to be at 95 in the CPU column.  Doesn't that column show which % of the CPU is doing what?  If so, why is 95% of it idling while there is an operation going on?  And what does the Mem Usage column tell you? Also, on the Performance tab, the green CPU Usage scale shows that less than 15% is being used and I don't know what the PF Usage scale is telling me.  It would seem that the system should throw everything it's got at getting done whatever is processing but it doesns't seem to do that.  Also, if several processes are happing at once, how does it determine how much of each resource goes to each?  Finally, what do all the numbers at the bottom of the Performance tab mean (handles, threds, Physical mem, cache, Kernal mem, paged, etc.)?

Anyway, I would really love it, if one of you really smart people would jot down here, 1) the basics of reading and using the Task Manager and some real practical stuff on how it can be used to evaluate and increase performance and 2) (this is probably more important than 1), is to show a nice concise list of all the things that can be done (and how often they should be done) to get the maximum performance and speed out of a PC or laptop.

I just have this feeling that my ignorance is keeping me from getting as much as I can out of my system and I would really like to know how to make it "scream", at least as much as it's capable of- and I'm sure there are lot of others out there that would too.


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1 Solution

Those are all good questions, and I will attempt to address only some of them (esp. since I am not among the really smart!).

First, you may find the following link useful for more information on many these topics:


As a general rule, if you run Task Manager and see that the memory usage is near (or greater than) the RAM that you have currently got, then it's a hint that you may need more memory (RAM). I am not sure what it was in your case, but possibly it may have been less than 750 MB, thus not a major improvement by adding more. However, as you run more programs simultaneously, more RAM is a good thing, and can't hurt.

As to why the CPU seems fairly idle while you are copying large files, this is because the disk (the hard drive) is much slower than the CPU itself, so most of the time the CPU is just waiting for the disk to finish, hence the idle time. At the same time, this slows down anything else you may want to do (such as launch a new program) because those things also need the disk. If the Task Manager has a graph showing how busy the disk was, it might be near 100% during those file operations. As an aside, when you click on the "Processes" tab in Task Manager, it shows you a list of programs running on your system, plus columns with additional info such as CPU time. You can add even more columns to that table by clicking on View in the manu bar and then "Select Columns". I have found this useful sometimes.

In general your computer will be only as fast as the slowest link, and the links are mainly, the CPU, the RAM (memory), the disk, the network, and in some cases the video card.

As to what you can do to speed up your system, I will avoid the obvious mention of getting a new system. You already have a fairly new system with plenty of RAM. It is a laptop, and laptop disks are usually significantly slower than desktop models. With what you've got, I'd suggest the following:

 (1) Keep backups of your important files.

 (2) Empty your Temp folder every so often.

 (3) Avoid installing unneccesary programs, and watch out for Spyware/Adware/Viruses.

 (4) Don't open too many windows at the same time

 (5) Empty your Internet Explorer (or other browser) cache every so often.

 (6) Did I mention backup your important files?

Hope this helps some. Others may have other tips as well.

Good luck.
Couple of additions already:

When I said "If the Task Manager has a graph showing how busy the disk was..", I meant "If the Task Manager haD a graph showing how busy the disk was.."

Also, you may want to examine the small icons next to the clock in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. If some of those seem unnecessary, consider disabling them (e.g. if you don't use Real Player a lot, why have it be running all the time?). This may improve performance in small ways.
Just a thought, if your transfer rate is slow and its not using any very much of the CPU and you have 1.5 GB of memory than your 4200rpm or 5400rpm (depending on the model) hard drive isn't cutting for what you want it to do.  Try a 7200rpm hard drive, that should speed it up!  On newer laptops I usually consider the hard drive the slowest part.
From where to where do you transfer files?
a) From one folder to another    b) From one folder to a network connection
If a, then indeed concider the Harddrive. If b, of course check out your network.

And concerning TM? If it doesn't go higher than 15%, then either the program doesn't require more or your having a different I/O problem.

If you can get back on my first question, I will see what I can do.

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