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Now browsing: Hometown News > Computer/Technology > Sean McCarthy

What your computer does when you're not doing anything
Rating: 3.33 / 5 (9 votes)  
Posted: 2013 Apr 05 - 08:53

One of the things that many people are surprised to learn is that even when "nothing is happening," their computer is still extremely busy just keeping things alive.

I don't know how many times I have been discussing something with a person as their machine sits "idle" when, all of a sudden, "chug chug chug," the hard drive starts working furiously. Or even more surprising, the machine suddenly crashes, even though no one was "at the wheel." Invariably they look at me and ask, "Why did it just do that?"

Sometimes people have a hard time accepting that even though they are not pushing the mouse, typing away or actively doing something, their machine is not "resting." The reality is that even when your computer appears inactive, it is still very busy with general housekeeping.

There are tasks like monitoring the keyboard for input, painting the image on the display (dozens of times per second) or watching to see if the mouse moves. The list of chores goes on. Seriously, the list goes on and on and on!

The tasks that your computer is constantly performing in the background are necessary for the function of the computer and are controlled, for the most part, by the operating system Windows. Just because we, the users, aren't giving the computer any input or are not paying attention to what's going on the display does not mean that the computer gets to take a break until we come back. Nope. As long as there is power to the machine and it's turned on, your computer is very busy indeed.

Understanding that your computer is busy doing something all the time can help ease the fear that something is wrong. I know that when a computer user spends a small fortune on a new machine, it can be pretty disconcerting when, for no apparent reason, their new machine starts chugging and groaning.

Many people are also surprised to find out just how much brain power it takes for their computer to move the mouse. People don't realize that even something as simple or basic as moving the mouse pointer takes so much of the computers resources. Often I will see someone move their mouse in big swirls just to make sure the machine is working not realizing that moving the mouse will actually distract the computer, drawing its attention away from the task at hand.

Let's see just how much "brainpower" it takes your machine to move your mouse. Click the task bar with the right mouse button and then click Task Manager. In Task Manager, click the Performance Tab and take a look at the CPU Usage History. This will display your computers "brain activity" on a graph that is updated every second or so. Move your mouse in big arcs about the screen. You can see how hard the computer has to work just to move the mouse.

Now, next time your machine is busy and you wonder if your machine has crashed, you may be tempted to "test it" by swirling the mouse around. Remember the performance monitor and resist the urge. If your machine was close to crashing, "swirling the mouse" can, and often does, push it over the edge and actually cause the crash you were trying to avoid.

Frankly, I'm often amazed that modern machines still run at all, what with all the stuff they have to do.

Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (772) 408-0680 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).

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