High-tech gadgets are no longer just useful – they are essential to survive the demands of modern life.
But it is only when a computer crashes or grinds to a halt – destroying files or losing photos – that we realise how much we rely on it.
Here, The Mail on Sunday explores the world of computer storage – and how you can boost its memory and reliability without breaking the bank.
Advice: Web psychologist Nathalie Nahai says do not be rushed
IT’S NATURAL TO HAVE A PHOBIA ABOUT TECHNOLOGY – AND EASY TO OVERCOME
Web psychologist Nathalie Nahai believes a fear of computers is quite natural.
But she argues the phobia can be easily beaten.
Author of Webs Of Influence: The Psychology Of Online Persuasion, she says many people become fearful after hearing scare stories of photos and computer files accidentally getting deleted or cyber criminals stealing data.
She also believes many people are embarrassed at not being tech-savvy and looking stupid as a result.
Nathalie says: ‘By learning the basics of computing in a friendly environment, you can ease any anxieties you have. With proper help you should not feel rushed and have the confidence to ask questions rather than worrying about looking silly.’
Computer self-help manuals often read like foreign language books but YouTube tutorials are easier to follow. Websites such as GCF LearnFree and BBC WebWise should also help. The next step might be to attend a basic computer course. Councils often hold free lessons at local community centres and libraries.
Charity Age UK offers free training courses nationwide. Adult education classes are also great for learning. Websites Hotcourses and Floodlight have details of computer-related courses in your area.
Boost memory speed
The part of a computer charged with handling your everyday tasks – such as surfing the internet and using apps – is random access memory (RAM). Overloaded with work, it can sometimes slow down or even crash.
Kerry Harnes is chief operating officer at computer memory parts supplier Mr Memory in Worthing, West Sussex.
She says: ‘To understand RAM, think of an office desk surface. RAM is all the items on the top – pens, files, calculator and even that mug of coffee – used for any tasks in hand.
‘If the surface gets too full you need more space, otherwise the computer slows down to cope with handling lots of different things at once. Fortunately, fixing the problem need not mean buying a new computer – you just have to invest in some extra RAM.’
Although you can take your computer to a specialist to add more RAM it is a task most of us can do ourselves. It is usually no more complex than changing a battery in a clock.
Often it is a case of unscrewing a panel at the back of your computer after making sure it is switched off. You then take out your old RAM and install a greater amount of memory to make the processing speed run faster.
There are videos on websites such as YouTube that can guide you. Experts such as Mr Memory also provide help on the RAM options designed specifically to fit your computer – and the kind of memory you might need. You should expect to pay about £50 for eight gigabytes of RAM.
Harnes adds: ‘Upgrading your machine with extra memory is easy and the most cost-effective way of speeding up your machine. It does not affect computer storage so there is no need to make any back-ups.’
The minimum RAM for most computer users is eight gigabytes. An activity such as streaming TV from Netflix might use one gigabyte of memory, three gigabytes in high-definition. But just turning on your computer can eat up a gigabyte, too.
Boosting RAM for a mobile phone is more complex.
Sit on a cloud
The cloud is a buzzword that leaves many of us bemused. But it is just a term for storing information using the internet.
Traditionally, computer storage was kept inside a beige box connected to the computer that sat under a desk. But now much of this is outsourced to a cloud – data is piped over the internet to vast computer warehouses that store mountains of data in often remote locations.
The main players offering cloud services include Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive. They usually offer a limited amount of free storage but charge if you want more.
Memory: Kerry Harnes says it is easy to upgrade
Those using iCloud get up to five gigabytes of storage for free – then 79p a month for 50 gigabytes or £6.99 for two terabytes (two thousand gigabytes).
Google Drive offers 15 gigabytes of free storage but £1.59 a month for up to 100 gigabytes. Dropbox costs from £7.99 a month for one terabyte of data storage but stores for free up to two gigabytes. Microsoft OneDrive offers five gigabytes for free but you must pay £1.99 a month for 50 gigabytes.
You might fit 300 photos on a gigabyte. A few pounds a month does not sound much but soon adds up. If you cancel a contract, data in your cloud vanishes. Stuart Miles is founder of gadget review website Pocket-lint. He says: ‘Free cloud storage can be ideal for apps you rarely use. If you have wi-fi access you can simply download these for use off the cloud. This way your device – whether it is a mobile or laptop – has lots of free storage.’
It is possible to set up your device so it automatically stores information on a cloud – which can then be accessed using other computers or tablets and even your mobile phone.
You need to go into the settings of your computer and click on the cloud tab – for example, those with an Apple computer simply press iCloud. You can then cherry-pick what you like to be stored using the online service.
Invest in backup
A hard drive is the device that permanently stores and retrieves information on a computer – using something known as read-only memory (ROM).
If the short-term memory is all the items sitting on a desk, then the hard drive is the drawer and filing cabinets where any paperwork is stored. Just as in an office the drawers can get cluttered – sometimes so badly it can be difficult to close them properly. This is when it is necessary to reorganise some of the files.
This data – everything from computer start-up procedures to personal files and photos – is usually stored on a magnetised hard disk inside the computer.
The disk whirls around at super-fast speeds of around 120 revolutions a second and contains millions of microscopic points on it that the computer can read and decipher as messages. The faster the disk is able to spin around then the quicker data can be read.
Unfortunately, as it relies on mechanics a hard drive can break. It is therefore vital to invest in an external hard drive as back-up just in case your computer storage breaks down, gets lost or is stolen.
Peace of mind: A few simple steps will protect your device and its data
An external drive simply plugs into your computer and copies all the information – effectively creating a duplicate of your data storage. Examples on the market include the slim Seagate Seven that hold two terabytes and costs £85. Another is the £130 LaCie Rugged that holds two terabytes.
Those with a phone should consider a plug-in memory stick, such as a £50 Leef iBridge that stores 16 gigabytes and clips on to the mobile.
Focus on brain power
The brain inside a computer controls how well the memory works and is known as the central processing unit (CPU).
It is possible to have four of these units – also known as cores – inside one computer. The brain needs its own storage space to handle the commands it gives out, which is known as cache.
It is often cheaper to upgrade equipment as a new processor unit can cost £200 – and may require an expert to fit it. It is therefore vital to ensure your computer has the right central processing unit before you buy it – investing in the best you can afford.
For example, companies such as Intel sell dozens of different processing units.
But when shopping keep an eye out for the latest units, such as an Intel Core 8, which can accommodate high-definition graphics for gaming and video presentations. Many other less expensive processors are enough for simple tasks such as surfing the internet and using your computer as a word processor.
Websites such as Notebookcheck and PassMark offer comparisons of CPUs but it can be a maze best left to the tech-savvy in your family.
Also consider the hard drive. It can cost four times more to change from a hard drive to a solid state drive but this means it is less likely to break and will give you a faster operating speed.
With a solid state drive, data is stored on memory chips – much like USB memory sticks – inside the computer rather than the more fragile spinning disks that come in a hard drive.
Computer experts can change internals to solid state memory units for perhaps £200.
Before doing the work it is vital to ensure any data on your computer is backed up on an external storage unit – otherwise it will be lost.
Compact: A hard disk drive can store all your data
RAM TO CACHE…THE JARGON EXPLAINED
Random Access Memory (RAM)
This is the working memory of a computer system. It stores information currently being used – such as data, results and programs.
When it gets full it is moved to a separate temporary storage space known as virtual memory – that slows a computer down. When a computer is switched off RAM is lost.
Read-Only Memory (ROM)
This is the permanent memory inside your computer used to store all the important information that is required to ensure the software runs smoothly, such as program controls and system functions.
It includes details that allow the computer to start up.
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The brains inside the computer that sends out signals to ensure everything is doing as it is told.
Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
A storage device fitted inside the computer that uses rapidly rotating disks coated with magnetic materials to hold long-term memory as the main storage hardware.
The computer operating system, software and files are all stored in this component. Data can also be kept on external hard drive disks.
Solid State Drive (SSD)
Semi-conductor chip circuits inside a computer that hold memory information.
They have no mechanical components so are less likely to break down than hard disk drives but can be four times more expensive.
This is a small part of reserved space in the computer used by the central processing unit brain to boost speeds of retrieval in software programs and for internet browsing. It is pronounced ‘cash’.
Rather than storing information on your computer you can send it across the internet to a data storage warehouse elsewhere – known as cloud computing.
When a computer is doing a lot of things at once – perhaps if more than one program is running – data is moved from the Random Access Memory to a holding bay known as Virtual Memory. The process slows the computer down.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online