7 of the Biggest PC Hardware Myths That Just Won’t Die

Students in computing class with teacher fixing hardware

From PCs to Windows to smartphones, the technology we use every day is surrounded by myths that never seem to go away. These myths are so believable because they all have a grain of truth to them — maybe they even were true in the past.

Don’t buy into all the myths out there. They could lead you astray when you’re buying a new PC, building one, or just upgrading the hardware you have right now.

More RAM Will Always Speed Up Your PC

More RAM definitely doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t always help. Adding more RAM — or getting a computer with more RAM — will only really help if your computer is starved for RAM. Yes, modern operating systems will use spare RAM for caching — but that cache is only so helpful. If your computer is getting along fine with 8 GB of RAM, you don’t really need another 8 GB of RAM for extra cache space.

Before deciding to upgrade your PC with more RAM, be sure to check that your computer actually needs it by monitoring how much RAM is being used. Going from 8 GB to 16 GB will only really help if you’re running heavy virtual machines, demanding PC games, and something else that needs more memory than that 8 GB offers. More RAM isn’t always better, and you’re often better off looking at other specifications when you purchase a computer — don’t just focus on the amount of RAM.

A CPU With More Cores is Always Faster

When it comes to your computer’s CPU — or the CPU in any device, like a smartphone — the number of cores isn’t the only important thing. Dual-core CPUs were a revelation when they became mainstream in home PCs, and companies have followed up with quad-core, octa-core, and CPUs with even more cores.

Each core is a separate execution unit, and more cores allows your computer to run multiple different programs at the same time.

But it’s not just about the number of cores. If you have a single-threaded application, it can only run on one core at a time, so a faster four-core CPU will run it faster than a slower eight-core CPU. Many applications are still single-threaded and can’t take advantage of all those additional cores to speed up their execution.

Sure, given a quad-core CPU with identical speeds to an octa-core CPU, the octa-core CPU will be better. But sometimes you’ll see an eight-core CPU with slower speeds than a quad-core CPU, or even a quad-core CPU with slower speeds than a dual-core CPU. Cores aren’t the only thing that matters — the CPU’s speed is also very important, and there’s a good chance you’ll be better off with a faster CPU with less cores.

Central Computer Processors CPU concept

64-bit Software is Always Faster

Modern CPUs are 64-bit, and modern operating systems have become 64-bit, too. But much of the software you’ll run on a modern operating system like Windows is still 32-bit.

That’s not as bad as it sounds, because 64-bit software isn’t always faster than 32-bit software. 64-bit software does offer a number of benefits, from allowing applications to use more RAM to improved security. But that doesn’t mean 64-bit software is necessarily faster. Computing-intensive applications may see more significant improvements, but not all programs will.

The move from a 32-bit application to a 64-bit application won’t necessarily give you a free performance boost.

Computer Chip

You Always Want a Faster CPU and Graphics Card

Shopping for a laptop or desktop computer? You might want to get the fastest CPU and graphics card possible within your budget range — but that isn’t necessarily the best idea.

Faster CPUs and dedicated graphics cards just use more power. For a laptop, a laptop with a speedy Core i7 CPU may have significantly less battery life than a laptop with a slower Core i3 or i5 CPU. Even if you’re building a desktop that will sit on a desk all day, you might want to avoid those Core i7 CPUs and dedicated NVIDIA or AMD graphics cards. Unless you’ll actually need all that power — and especially graphics horsepower, if you don’t plan on playing demanding PC games — it will just run hotter and consume more electricity. When buying a computer for someone who doesn’t need all that power, consider getting something lighter and more power efficient.

nvidia titan

Macs Are Always More Expensive Than PCs

The “Mac tax” has become smaller and smaller over time. Yes, Apple’s Macs are expensive compared to the low-end, inexpensive Windows PCs and Chromebooks you can buy. But, once you start comparing Macs to higher-end Windows ultrabooks, you’ll find comparable prices and specifications. Once you start comparing Apple’s Mac Mini to similarly lightweight, small Windows PCs, you’ll also find similar prices. And Macs are PCs — they contain most of the same components you’ll find in a typical Windows PC.

Yes, Apple’s Macs may be a bit more expensive in some cases — but not by much. If you’re looking for the type of computer Apple sells, they’re surprisingly comparable in price. If you’re looking for a type of PC Apple doesn’t sell — an inexpensive $300 laptop or a gaming computer — then Macs will definitely seem overpriced compared to what you’re looking for.

macbook

Building Your Own PC Will Always Save You Money

Building your own PC won’t always save you money. Years ago, it certainly would. If you’re building a higher-end gaming PC, it might. If you’re just building a desktop PC, you may actually be able to save money by purchasing a pre-built PC. Be sure to do the research yourself.

That’s not to say building your own PC is a bad idea. It allows you to choose all the components you want and get the specific build you’re looking for. But you’d be surprised — if you just want a typical desktop PC that isn’t a high-end gaming PC, building your own PC might actually cost you money as you buy all the individual components. This isn’t always true, of course — sometimes building your own computer might save you money, depending on the sales going on and the components you choose.\

Building your computer is fairly easy, and can be a good learning experience if you want to do something geeky — but it’s not all about saving money.

Personal Computer Assembling

MAC Address Filtering Helps Keep Your Wi-Fi Secure

Some people swear by MAC address filtering to secure their Wi-Fi networks. Each network interface on a computer, smartphone, or any other network-connected device has a unique “Media Access Control address.” This address is set at the factory before your computer or its network hardware gets to you.

MAC address filtering assumes a MAC address actually is unique for each device, and it only allows access to your Wi-Fi if you’re using a device with a specifically approved MAC address. So far, so good — but it’s not that simple. It’s easy to change your device’s MAC address and spoof another MAC address. The MAC address is also broadcast when you use Wi-Fi, so it would be easy for an attacker to sniff Wi-Fi traffic and change their MAC address to match an allowed one if they already have access. The real myth is that MAC address is tied to hardware — a MAC address isn’t tied very strongly to hardware at all.

Instead of using MAC address filtering, encrypting your Wi-Fi network with secure WPA2-PSK encryption and a strong passphrase is the best solution. If an attacker can get past that, MAC address filtering won’t stop them. If an attacker can’t get past that, you don’t need to use MAC address filtering in the first place.

Ethernet cable on the network card concept of communication and internet


There are other myths out there, too. For example, overclocking isn’t always a good idea — it’ll make your CPU run hotter and use more power. This can cause it to break down faster over time. If you don’t need the speed — and you probably don’t — you shouldn’t mess with overclocking. You may even have to pay extra for a CPU and motherboard that supports overclocking.

Image Credit: KlausRenzo on Flickr, Peter Werkman on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.