Favorite computer myths

Henry David Thoreau said you should always challenge the wisdom of your elders, and try things for yourself before you take someone else’s advice. It might sound a little backwards, but that’s the way it comes across on the page, although he was definitely more eloquent than I.

This experiment with the CF card is turning out to be a perfect example of that. Just about every promise I was given by the naysayers has proved to be wrong, from the “it’ll last a week” threat to “it won’t boot a CF card” prediction.

If I had listened to any of them, I would have missed out on one of the best improvements I’ve ever personally made to a computer. Short of painting it chili-pepper red.

So it looks like I get to add that to my list of favorite computer myths. The list is short, but distinguished. ;)

  1. You can’t put that CF card in a Pentium! At a time when SSDs are still over a hundred US dollars for a relatively wimpy size, dropping US$45 on a card and adapter was a quick, cheap and painless way to get the same thing done at less than half the price. It is 100 percent compatible, thus-far reliable, and the Pentium’s BIOS has never even blinked. Totally silent, totally heat-less and a speed improvement too. Go out there and get one of your own.
  2. Those old computers are huge wastes of power! Some of them were. But to be honest, I find it hard to believe that a quad-core, 12Gb, dual drive, dual video card machine — something along the lines of this, which probably required its own power substation just to idle — is somehow more efficient than a K6-2 450 with a mid-grade 180W power supply. Think about what you’re saying before you say it: Is my 14-year-old Pentium laptop, with an AC adapter pulling roughly 40W, really much more of a drain than your dual core desktop machine? I doubt it. And this page doubts it too.
  3. More memory makes your computer faster! No, more memory means a memory retailer just made money off of you. There are very specific circumstances that must exist before adding memory will make your computer faster, and Reacocard did the best job summarizing them here. If you want actual, in-your-face scientific proof that it doesn’t work, you can look at my experiment here, or any of a number of other similar experiments elsewhere on the Web; Google is your friend. Don’t feel bad if you were suckered into thinking more was better; I was too. Windows was designed to keep you spending money, and it still is.

Feel free to disagree on any point, of course. I would guess that you and I are both equally stubborn and intractable, so unless you can offer facts and links — and not just personal anecdotes — your argument could fall on deaf ears. Thoreauvians are like that. :mrgreen:

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11 Responses to “Favorite computer myths”


  1. 1 anon 2010/08/06 at 11:05 AM

    oh i love myths!
    4. your two years old computer is slow because it’s old.
    5. it’s normal to wait for five to ten minutes for your computer to boot.
    6. it’s ok to be in the need of reformatting your pc every so oftern because
    7. it’s natural for your operating system to selfdegrade to the point of unusability within a year or so.
    i can think of many more, but they’re specificly linux related myths, then again, those are my favorite ones.

  2. 5 Kaleb Elwert 2010/08/06 at 2:22 PM

    I would like to say that more memory can definitely increase the speed of a computer if you don’t have enough and the computer is constantly using swap. I know you, k.mandla already know this, I just wanted to point it out. I do know that adding more just for the heck of it will not speed it up, though, as your article is still valid.

  3. 6 YankeeDDL 2010/08/06 at 5:15 PM

    I’d like to add my 2 cents here, on the memory myth. I think we need to be a bit careful.
    As recently as last year there were laptops sold with Windows installed and 512MB of Ram.
    My personal experience says that the further you go back in time, the more likely it was to stumble across a PC with not enough RAM (my glorious 386DX had a ‘whopping’ 8MB when I bought it, and 96MB when I trashed it: the step from MS DOS to Win95 took a heavy toll on it. Looking back … how foolish!).
    Even modern PCs that come with 2GB will easily slow to a crawl running Windows7 and few programs.
    Yes, we’re talking about highly inefficient MS Windows here, but lower the bar a little and Linux will, eventually, stumble too (yes yes, the height of that bar will depend on the distribution).
    My point being: it really depends on the conditions whether adding more RAM makes a difference (which is also what you said), but I have the feeling that those conditions apply to quite a lot, perhaps the majority of the PCs in use today.

    Lastly, about noise and power consumption on old PCs: I have one more benefit to add to the fanless/quiet speech; a benefit that I discovered at my expense. Fans, like HD, and CD/DVD drives are the only mechanical/moving parts on PCs these days. If a fan breaks, it’s no fun (pardon the pun ^__^). Replacing the fan embedded in a heat pipe, scraping and replacing thermal paste from CPU, GPU and, possibly, chipsets … it’s not really for the faint of heart (or perhaps it is on some laptops … not mine :)
    Oh, and did I mention the ‘soundtrack’ that comes with a slow death of a fan?

  4. 7 demonicmaniac 2010/08/06 at 7:26 PM

    About the memory myth.
    Swap has already been mentioned but there’s another thing.
    Filesystem caches and buffers. Memory never lays bare and it certainly speeds up file access if the data is cached and buffered. It’s the difference between waking up the disk for seek/read/write and a random memory access. Tweak your system with the background_ratio. Standard is something like 20 or so and 5 seconds writeback, push that ratio to a 70 or 80% and you only ever need to access the disk every few minutes instead of seconds. Memory makes a world of difference. One handy trick i use is fbgs, render a pdf into images and display them with frame buffer image viewer. have it render the images to /dev/shm tmpfs in ram and after the initial render you have instant access to each image and a memory to memory transfer instead of random seek. you can not have too much memory, ever.
    my 2 cents

  5. 8 Sid Metzel 2010/08/06 at 10:36 PM

    Personally, I like to have enough memory that swap will never be used (at least under normal circumstances).

  6. 9 spc 2010/08/08 at 1:46 AM

    Congrats and keep it up mate :D


  1. 1 Links 7/8/2010: OLPC XO Laptops, Growth of Free Software | Techrights Trackback on 2010/08/08 at 8:18 AM
  2. 2 Memory’s in the corners of my mind « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2010/08/14 at 12:36 PM

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May 6, 2011
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