Section 1.1. Finding Out Your PC s Horsepower

1.1. Finding Out Your PC's Horsepower

Video store clerks never interrogate their customers about their VCR's voltage or motor speeds. But try to buy software at a computer store or online, and you're expected to know these intimate details about your PC's inner workings. The System Requirements fine print for most software, including Windows XP, lists terms like these:

  • Processing power . This refers to your CPU (Section 1.4), which stands for Central Processing Unit and is your PC's brain. Engineers measure a CPU's clock speed how fast it thinksin GHz (gigahertz) or MHz ( megahertz ). The bigger the number, the faster your CPU thinks. For example, Windows XP requires a 233 MHz CPU, but works faster if your PC's got a 500 MHz or faster CPU.

  • RAM (Random Access Memory) . Memory (Section 1.6), a temporary storage area for Windows to work in, is measured in megabytes (MB). The more RAM you pack into your computer, the more programs Windows can run simultaneously . Windows XP requires 128 MB of RAM, but works best with 512 MB or more.

  • Video . Most software, including Windows XP, says it requires a "Super VGA" or higher resolution monitor (Section 3.1) and video adapter (Section 3.8.2), the internal device feeding all those pretty pictures to your monitor's screen. This cryptic requirement means very little. Nearly every computer sold in the last decade sports both a Super-VGA monitor (if it in fact ships with a monitor) and a Super-VGA video adapter. Some graphics-hungry programs, like games , also want to know the video adapter's brand, model, and amount of memory.

  • Hard drive (hard disk) space . You may already know the size or storage capacity of your hard drive (Section 9.2), your computer's holding tank for stored programs and files. However, most software wants to know the amount of free space left on your hard drive. After all, your new software needs some elbow room. Windows XP, for instance, consumes two or three gigabytes of space; most programs require much less. Most hard drives today hold between 40 and 120 GB of space.

  • CD drive reading and writing (saving) speed . Here, bigger numbers are better. Today's compact disc drives (Section 10.14.1) are fairly speedy, reading information at a speed of about 52X (the "X" means 52 times faster than the original CD models) and burning (recording) at about 32Xplenty fast for most software and file-saving tasks .

Note: The first CD burners took 74 minutes both to read and write to a CD. So a 52X CD recorder burns a CD in less than 90 seconds.
  • DVD drive reading and writing speed . Again, bigger numbers are better. Today's DVD drives (Section 10.14.1) both read and write to DVDs at 16X. DVD burners can also read and write to CDs, making them a handy "do-it-all" drive.

  • Software version numbers . Age discrimination saturates the computer industry, and software often refuses to work with older, previously released versions of other programs. If that hot new Freeway Designer software requires Traffic Simulator v3.0 and you're still simulating traffic with Version 2.0, Freeway Designer won't run.

  • Operating System and Service Pack . It's not enough to know that your computer runs Windows XP, Microsoft's newest operating system. Microsoft has released two additional upgrades to Windows XP known as Service Packs (see Section 15.4) to fix XP's security holes and other shortcomings.

If your PC doesn't match every requirement listed on a box of new software, the software probably won't work well or at all. So, how do you know exactly what's inside your PC?

Reading your computer's receipt or packing slip often provides clues, but you're not lost if those things have fallen behind the desk.

Some computer manufacturers, including Dell ( and Gateway (, affix serial numbers to the case of every computer they sell. If you spot a number- bearing sticker on the case of your Dell or Gateway PC, visit the manufacturer's Web site, head to the site's Customer Support area, and type in the sticker's number. (Dell calls its serial number a Service Tag .) The Web site displays your computer's packing slip, listing the specifications of every part it contained when sold.

Tip: Can't read the serial or Service Tag number stamped on the sticker? Visit the company's Web site, anyway. You can usually download software that extracts the number from its hiding spot on one of your computer's chips, and, with your permission, ships the number off to the company's Web site. Armed with your PC's tag number, the site then displays your PC's specifications.

When suitably prodded, Windows XP also coughs up specific information about your PC. Table 1-1 shows how to make Windows XP divulge the information System Requirement lists most frequently mention. Figure 1-1 shows how to print a handy list of your PC's system information that you can carry when shopping for new parts or software.

Table 1-1. Locating your PC's System Requirements information

The Information You Need

How to Find that Information

Operating System, Service Pack number, Central Processor Unit (CPU) type and speed, and available Random Access Memory (RAM).

Start Right-click My Computer Properties. The General tab lists the information.

Hard disk size and amount of free space.

Start My Computer. Right-click your hard drive icon and choose Properties. The General tab lists the information.

CD driveburning (recording) speed.

Start My Computer Right-click CD drive Properties Recording tab. In the Desktop CD Recording section near the windows bottom, click the "Select a write speed" drop-down menu to see your drive's available recording speeds. (If you don't spot a tab marked Recording, Windows XP can't burn CDs on that drive.)

DVD driveburning (recording) speed.

Windows XP doesn't recognize DVD burners; it simply lists them as DVD drives (or sometimes CD-burning drives). To find out your DVD drive's recording speed, you need to look at your PC's documentation, poke around the menus of your DVD-burning program, or visit the drive manufacturer's Web site and look up the drive's model number.

Program version number.

Open any program and choose Help About.

Display type, resolution, and number of colors.

Start Control Panel Display Settings tab.

Video card memory in MB (megabytes).

Start Settings and Help Control Panel Display Settings Advanced Adapter.

DirectX version, a set of utility programs often used by games.

Start All Programs Accessories System Tools System Information Tools DirectX Diagnostic Tool System tab.

PCs: The Missing Manual
ISBN: 0596100930
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 206
Authors: Andy Rathbone

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