Popular Tech Myths: Part 2

pc-world-logo

We’re back with another exciting installment of popular tech myths! We’ll take another look at PC World Magazine’s analysis of some long-held beliefs that might not be as accurate as they seem. Last week we talked about magnets and hard drives, the security of Internet Explorer vs. its peers, and the impact price has on a HDMI’s performance. As promised, this week we’ll discuss the money-saving potential of laser printers, what exactly mobile service bars on your cell phone are telling you, and how much defragging your system really benefits you. We may even talk about airplanes. Only one way to find out! Like last week, we’ll name the myth, then discuss the reality.

Laser printers will save you money in the long run:

Sounds logical, right? You’re deciding what printer you should get and you think to yourself, “well the laser printer costs more, but the money we’ll save from not buying ink cartridges for an inkjet printer will make up for it easily.” Once upon a time you may have been right. But today’s more efficient ink management and more cost-effective printers have really made big strides in becoming a more economically viable option. PC World notes the Epson B-510DN inkjet printer will run you $600 retail, and will cost you approximately 1.3 cents per page of black text – compared to a laser printer such as the Oki C610dtn, which runs $700 and will cost about 1.1 cents per page. I’ll save you the trouble of making that calculation; it will take about 5000 pages to make up the difference between the two. So, as always, the decision depends on the needs of your business environment. But buyer beware! With inkjet printers you often get what you pay for – and a cheap printer can cost you a big bundle in low-yield, costly ink cartridge refills.

More signal bars equals more service:

This one seems even more obvious. There’s a set of bars at the top of my cell phone display, and more bars equals better service. That’s what it means. Right? Well not quite, it turns out. Those little bars indicate the strength of your cellular signal. Same difference, right? Not quite, again. What it literally indicates is how strong you signal is as it connects to the nearest tower. If you’ve got full bars, you have a clear, strong connection to the closet reception tower. But that doesn’t mean your service is necessarily going to be better. The trick here is that there may be many others connecting to that same tower, and all that traffic can and will slow the system. The result: even though you’ve got full bars, your reception is spotty because so many others are vying to use the tower’s limited network resources. PC World put this to test in 2009, and found that bars are a pretty bad indicator of the quality of mobile service. Predictably, this was especially the case in densely populated areas such as major cities. For example, their testing in San Francisco ended up that only 13% of their test had signal bars corresponding to the actual signal quality. So while it’s certainly true that no bars means no service – you can’t have service when you can’t connect to a tower – full bars does not mean great service.

Defragging regularly is essential to maintain system speed:

The logic behind this one is sound as well: As your hard drive writes files to the drive platter and fills it up, it has to spend more time skipping around to find those files again in the future. The result is that the heads take longer to find those files and slows down the system the more fragmented the drive is. By defragmenting and re-organizing those files on the drive platter, the drive heads take less time to find the files. Right? As with the inkjet/laser discussion, the advancement of technology has reduced the impact of this issue. PC World notes several main reasons why defragging isn’t as big an issue as it used to be.

First, hard drives are bigger these days. When drives were measured in MB’s, fragmentation of files had a much larger impact on the system – but larger hard drives means there is a generally smaller percentage of the drive’s space used, resulting in less work for the drive heads. Here this humble author takes certain issue with PC World’s reasoning – being that plenty of people still manage to fill their larger hard drives. My home desktop has a 300GB hard drive, and I’m currently using almost 85% of that space. But let’s move on.

Additionally, more RAM and modern OS’s make a difference. Windows 7 for example uses a file allocation system, prefetching algorithms, and utilize the system’s RAM better to significantly decrease any delay from fragmentation. Vista and 7 also utilize auto-defragging that occurs when the system is idle, resulting in little need for the user to actively set a defragmentation to occur. Furthermore, PC World tested what they state was a heavily-used, never defragmented system before and after and found little to no performance or speed differences in the system. So again, like most things, your mileage may vary. Got an older system you’re filling to the brim? You might want to defrag every now and then. But if you’re running the latest OS’s and not making much of a dent in you hard drive’s capacity, you probably don’t need to worry much about it. Of course, you could also just get a solid state drive and not worry about fragmentation at all!