This blog is intended to help the average user secure their PC and their digital life. Before jumping in and implementing the computer security measures that we discuss in other posts however you might be well served by taking a few minutes to evaluate your current computer hardware. While most good security measures don’t make overwhelming demands on your hardware you can still run into trouble if you don’t have enough of the right resources.
Here are the main factors you’ll want to consider:
A. CPU – Most modern Intel and AMD CPUs with clocks over about 1.6 GHz will have enough power to handle the security overhead of Full Disk Encryption (FDE) without adverse performance effects. The author has used FDE even on an inexpensive netbook computer sporting a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor. Faster CPUs are of course better but that doesn’t mean that you need to upgrade to the latest Quad core processor. A more important factor will be your computer RAM.
B. RAM – RAM is the grease that lets the CPU work efficiently. Without enough of it your computer will literally seize up and become unusable. All modern operating systems and programs like to have a lot of RAM. The more you have the better the system will run. Here’s an example of what happens when you don’t have enough RAM:
A friend recently asked me to drop by to help her setup a new wireless router. The router setup should have been quick but for her incredibly slow computer. Despite being only about a year old and having a peppy 2.8 GHz Celeron CPU it was taking nearly 20 minutes to boot up! Simple tasks like opening a web browser would take 5 to 10 minutes. My friend thought it was lost cause and was planning to buy a new computer as soon as her budget allowed. At first I thought the machine must have a virus or some sort of malware, but once I got the system powered up it became apparent that the biggest problem was a lack of RAM! Whoever built the machine only installed 256 MB. What were they thinking? It’s not nearly enough Windows XP effectively? I didn’t have any RAM modules with me that night but I arranged to get a 2 GB module to her the next day to replace the puny 256 MB one already in the system. She called me later and was absolutely amazed and delighted at the difference! She said it was like a new machine! Booting was fast and programs and web pages loaded almost instantly. For a $50 investment in RAM she saved herself the cost of buying a whole new machine!
Bottom line is this. If you’ve got less than 1 GB of RAM in your machine you owe it to yourself to go out and get more RAM before even thinking of buying a new machine. Of course you’ll want to read your owner’s manual or consult with a tech savvy friend to be sure you’re getting the proper type of RAM to match your computer. You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t buy more RAM than your operating system can use. For example, the widely used 32-bit version of Windows XP will only utilize about 3 GB of RAM regardless of how much is installed. Most computers will not be able to add exactly 3 GB however so you may be better off installing a pair of 2 GB modules and sacrificing the extra 1 GB until such time as you upgrade your OS. If you’re already on a 64-bit OS like Ubuntu or Windows 7 then look at your motherboard capacity, the applications you run, and your budget and buy accordingly.
C. Disk Space – With the proliferation of Terabyte hard drives at throw away prices there’s almost no reason for most home users to be short of disk space these days. That said, I can imagine that there are still some of you out there that are using old machines with relatively small hard disks, which after years of use are now reaching the breaking point. Fortunately, adding disk space is cheap and easy. Its even easier than adding RAM since you can use external USB drives so you never even have to open the case! I’ll talk more about this in another post.