BitDepth 532 - July 11

Sluggish laptop? Vulnerable iPod? Here are some tips...
Sluggish systems and scratched iPods

The solution to your laptop's woes might be just over an inch wide. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Last week I was asked to look at a laptop that was slower than I ever thought possible. It was a Presario M2000, labelled Compaq but manufactured by HP, the current owner of the brand.
It's not a bad computer by any measure. The finish is pretty even if the machine is a bit clunky in design and unnecessarily heavy. It ships with an impressive array of ports and connections, including WiFi, but every M2000, evidently, isn't identical.
To allow flexibility in setting prices, they are available with either Pentium or lower cost Celeron processors, hard drives of different sizes and speeds as well as varying RAM configurations.

The one I saw was the worst of all possibilities. It matched a lower speed processor, with a slow hard drive and way too little RAM. This base level model shipped with 256MB of memory, of which 64MB is set aside on startup for buffering video to the screen (that's what integrated video memory means).
Was it any wonder, then, that the computer's operations weren't simply sluggish but in actual slow motion? Opening the My Computer folder, for instance, was like looking at a time lapse movie of a flower opening.

A check on the system properties showed that on startup, Windows XP had created a 2GB scratch file before launching a single application.
This is where some folks agonising over poor performance on their computers can get a little lost, so let's backup a bit.
The best parallel with the real world I can offer for the way computers sometimes stumble handling routine tasks is to compare the hard disk with a file cabinet and RAM with your desktop or working surface.

RAM, like laying everything you need out in front of you, is a fast way to access information. Your operating system loads into RAM on startup as do any applications or documents you open.
It reads this information from the hard disk, which is as slow (relatively speaking) as getting up from your desk, opening a file drawer, finding what you need and bringing it back to where you're working.

If you don't have enough desk space, or RAM, your operations will be much slower, because you'll keep having to move stuff off your workspace to return it to the file cabinet to make room for new things you take out of it.
The same thing happens on a RAM starved computer, and to keep track of everything, it creates a file on the hard disk, known as a swap file, which it references when it needs to move data to disk or retrieve it (swapping working data for inactive data).
This is an amazingly frustrating way to work and can be avoided easily.
The solution for the M2000 was an extra 512MB of RAM, for a total of 768MB, which will significantly expand the space available in working memory and reduce the need for such a large swap file.

Laptops, with their slower hard drives are particularly prone to these memory related stalls. If you're experiencing annoying lags while you work, as you open more applications or more web pages, then it's almost certain that your system is starved for working space.
Modern operating systems like Windows XP and Mac OS X make large memory demands on their own, so the minimum you should consider is 512MB of RAM for satisfactory performance with these system versions, with 1GB of memory as an optimal configuration for trouble free computing.

At, a new competition invites viewers to submit photos of their scratched iPods, with the winner getting a free paint job and refurbishing of their unhappy music player.
It's no secret that the Apple MP3 player makes some steep trade-offs between practicality and beauty, with the skins of the attractive iPods taking a beating in careless or unsuspecting hands. For a brief moment, Apple even shipped some of its midrange models with no case at all, rethinking their position when a rash of scratched and cracked iPods began to make news.

Unfortunately, the cases that ship with today's iPods are a proof of purpose at best. Two rectangles of cloth stitched together do not an iPod case make.
The best solution for iPod scratches is abstinence, and slipping a sheath of some kind over these devices is a crucial first step.
For those iPod owners with candidates for the ColorEnvy competition, several websites offer solutions that promise, with a lot of elbow grease, to restore scuffed iPods, others offer more homegrown solutions, some involving that cure-all for damaged shiny things, Brasso.

The range of iPod cases is too wide, seductive and cost effective to be neglected though. From thin, almost invisible plastic second skins to lush leather cases, there's a protective case for every iPod on the market.
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