The silicon lottery: why some laptops perform differently than others

Sarim Khan, Staff Writer

The bright, blue screen of a laptop shines in Patriots’ faces. Frustration pierces through their eyes by each and every second in what feels like a millennium. The taunting loading animation spins–an endless cycle– and class has already begun.

Some students, in an attempt to get some homework done, spend half of the class period logging in, others get loaded into their computers within seconds of entering their password. On the other hand, some students barely make it to their next class before needing a charge. So, what is the reason for the disparity in the performance in these laptops?

All the laptops vary in their hardware configurations. As a result, the laptops perform differently from one another. To see the difference in performance, one must look at the contrast of the hardware in the three most common laptops among the student body, which are the Dell Latitude 3310, 3379, and 3380. 

The main differences of performance in computers comes down to three things. The first is the computer processor’s core count–more cores means that the computer can better distribute the workload to be as efficient as possible. The second key difference in the computers is the type of storage used. Some computers use a solid state drive (SSD), which is a type of flash storage. Due to their nature, SSD’s are able to access data much faster than the latter type of storage. A hard drive (HDD) is typically slower than a solid state drive because it has physically moving platters that store the data.  The platters in the drive need to spin in order to access the data, unlike a solid state drive, which can immediately access information. Finally, the battery’s health, which tends to be reduced due to extensive usage, can affect how long the laptop lasts.

The Latitude 3310 uses a four core Intel Core i5 processor, and has 8 gigabytes of memory (as do all the other laptops), which allows it to hold programs and other items such as documents in short term storage for quick access. The 3310 utilizes a 256gb solid state drive for storage, which allows it to boot up quickly. The 3310 also possesses a touch screen. These laptops are brand-new, meaning that their batteries tend to last for a longer period of time.

On the other hand, some students report that their laptops cannot keep up with their workload.

“I barely manage two hours of use,” Junior Diego Chinn said. “The smaller battery leads to less usage time.”

 The sleek, compact Latitude 3379 utilizes a two core Intel Core i5, which is two cores less than the 3310. The 3379 uses a 512gb solid state drive for its storage, which gives it the same advantage of loading programs and windows itself very quickly. The 3379s have a touch screen, can be folded into a tablet, and have a backlit keyboard. These features combined with the aforementioned design features leads to a shortened battery life in these models.

 Like the 3379, the Latitude 3380 uses a two core, Intel Core i3 processor. Having a low core count processor combined with a 500gb hard drive tends to make the 3380 perform differently from other members of its kin. It has less processing power and a mechanical drive that takes more time to access and write data. As a result of the generally long wait times to use these computers, many of them have been recalled and replaced with newer model units such as the 3310’s. Students have reported generally positive experiences with the replacement units.

I like how it (the 3310) has a touch screen and how fast it is,” Junior Madeleine Bascao said. “This laptop is much better than the old one (3380)”. 

Whether you’re making a graph in Logger Pro, doing some math homework, or typing an essay in Word, it is important to understand the key components of the laptops: the processor, and the type of storage. These critical components make all of the difference when it comes to the usage of the laptops by students.