How Fast Is Your Computer

How Fast Is Your Computer

by Mitz Pantic from

For many years, PC Pitstop has been the first stop for computer users looking to compare the speed of their systems to others. PC Pitstop’s free PC Matic and OverDrive scans calculate a World Rank that compares your speed to similar PCs from around the world.
–PC Pitstop.

It used to be simple to answer the question, “how fast is my computer?” You just looked at how many megahertz (MHz) a computer had. But these days computers have multiple cores, 64-bit processors, alternative types of RAM, fancy hard drives, and giant caches. Figuring out your computer’s speed relative to other computers requires a degree in calculus.

I can’t change that, but I can tell you how each part of your computer contributes to its total overall speed so you can make a rough estimate of your computer’s true speed.

Doing Math Billions Of Times A Second

In a normal computer, the chief indicator of overall speed is the speed of your Computer Processing Unit (CPU), which is usually indicated in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). Hertz is a term that means “per second.” Mega means million and giga means billion, so here are the technical definitions of MHz and GHz:

Megahertz: millions of times per second
Gigahertz: billions of times per second

So what exactly in your computer is happening millions or billions of times per second? Computer scientist call it a cycle.

During each cycle, your CPU can do one thing or one predefined set of things, called an operation or an op. For example it can add (combine) one plus one and get the answer, two. It can also do a whole bunch of other things, but almost all of them are very simple.

Yet, doing simple things millions or billions of times a second adds up quickly. It takes thousands of simple operations for your computer to open the Start menu, but even 10,000 operations takes a 2 GHz CPU only 1/20,000th of a second.

But don’t be fooled: computers with higher CPU speeds—called clock speeds—aren’t necessarily faster than other computers. There are other things that speed up your computer because your CPU doesn’t work alone.

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This excerpt appears with permission from

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