Intro – know your tool


From the translation tips page you can learn all sorts of tricks how to translate faster and better, but how about the machine you are working on? Knowing that, how to optimise it and keep it running smoothly without catching any viruses is also important.

So first, a brief explanation how the computer works, to get you onto the page.

The motherboard – intelligence


They say that computers double in speed every couple of years. This is due to many factors. For example, in the design of the motherboard. For Windows/Intel, this might have gone up from Pentium 1 to 2 through to 5. The individual components on the motherboard (that big flat disk with all sorts of things stuck to it) could have improved in speed and quality, but overall the design is better. It’s like a smart person who looks for smarter ways to do things, so they can accomplish the same task in fewer steps.

Harddrive – storage space


Then you need a place to store all your files and programs. Think of it as a bookshelf. If you open up a big file, or some program, or your digital dictionary, for example, it is like pulling books off your shelf. The faster your harddrive the faster programs and files will open on your computer. An SSD drive is more like a flash drive, storing data in light. It does not have a moving disk like a standard harddrive does and can therefore retrieve data from the bookshelf much faster.

bookshelf-translation-tipsIf you have the disk spinning harddrive, one thing to remember is that whenever you install software or copy files to your computer, it will often splatter the individual pages of these books throughout your bookshelf. Don’t ask me why. If you delete some files (remove pages from your bookshelf), more space will be created, but when you copy new files to your computer, the pages might be splattered even more, filling up all these little spaces. This is called “fragmentation”. Therefore, for harddrives with spinning disks, it is good to check the file fragmentation once in a while.


A first round defrag, at 95%. The red sections before I started are torn up pages from the books. If you see any green “unmovable files”, it means you have some files open. Make sure to shut down all programs and files before starting.

When doing so your computer will tell you if it thinks it should be “defragged”. Defragging basically means that the computer reorganises all the loose pages splattered throughout your bookshelf, piecing them together as whole books. This way the disk does not need to spin so much from one section of the bookshelf to another, collecting the individual pages of your book and compiling it as one just so you can view it on your screen. This can speed up your computer. Note that since SSD drives do not have such a spinning disk but zap the data from light, and it is not a good idea to defrag such disks because it apparently wears them out.

Ram – multitasking


RAM is also very important, and stands for Random Access Memory. You can imagine it like the number of arms and hands on a body. If you have low ram, or only two arms and two hands, you might pull out a book from your bookshelf (after first piecing it together if it is severely fragmented), leaf through it and read it, but if you need to look at a second book (open a second large file or some big program), you first have to put your first book back on the shelf (always putting each page back in its allotted, fragmented spot), before grabbing or piecing together your second book, so that you can hold it in your limited number of hands and read it.

This can make your ram one of the most important factors in the speed of your computer, especially if you like to have a lot of programs running or files open at the same time (such as translation memory software and your dictionaries).


For example, not only do I run my own translation agency and still translate, but I like to dabble in all sorts of projects, developing webpages, graphic design and even video editing. For this I purchased a Macbook Air, running both Windows and MAC at the same time. I use the MAC side for the graphics and video editing, but find that my Chrome browser works faster on the MAC than any browser in Windows. My browser can easily have 20 tabs open at any time, each tab holding a webpage consuming its own ram. Each operating system needs about 2gb ram to operate properly, so the 8gb ram that my computer has can quickly be consumed if I have a lot of programs and files open.


Menumeters is a very light program which can show a lot of system information in the top bar. You can set what you want to see. To the left of the ram pie shows download and upload speeds, and to the right the CPU usage of the four processors (including a bit of its history). Clicking on any of them creates a dropdown box showing more details (in this case the ram).

For this I downloaded and installed menumeters, which shows the total ram usage and free capacity for both the Windows and MAC, as well as CPU usage. If I click on the little icon, this dropdown appears showing more detailed info. If the blue part of the pie starts to fill up towards 100%, I notice that the computer starts slowing down, because its number of arms and hands are getting fully preoccupied holding all the open books. So if I want to do some heavy graphics or video work, I may have to close some translation files and programs (doesn’t matter whether in Windows or Mac) to help the computer.

When you buy a computer they often have minimum ram, because most people don’t understand all this and the end price is lower. Be prepared to invest a little into upgrading your ram and you will find your computer can run a lot faster. There are also different qualities of ram, some operating faster than others, so pay attention to this. A sluggish computer means many precious seconds lost over time, and eventually income.

CPU – speed of thought


And lastly we have the processor speed. You can have a lot of arms and hands (ram), capable of pulling out and holding a lot of books from your bookshelf at the same time, and you can have an intelligent motherboard capable of doing more in fewer steps, but at the end of the day it is the processor which performs the tasks and calculations, such as if your translation memory software has to look through all your previous translations in search of similar sentences to help make your work faster.


For this I also like to use software showing me CPU usage. For Mac I like to use the same Menumeters. My Mac has four processors and it shows the usage for each of them. Clicking on this icon also shows more info (above picture). On my Windows side I like to use the Task Manager (Start > Control Panel > Performance Information and Tools > Advanced Tools > Task Manager), its icon shown below. If for example some process (program) in Windows is consuming a lot of ram, the Windows icon will light up as bright green (in the example below, it shows up as half light green as I was opening up VLC). If I go to the Mac side, this might be fully consuming one of the four processors, showing up as fully red in the icon.


If your processor(s) is busy with some task and fully preoccupied, it will slow down other tasks that your computer is trying to do. Whenever I notice that any of these icons show high CPU use, I immediately check it out. You never know, it can be a busy virus!

In Mac you can go to the Activity Monitor, while in Windows the Task Manager does the same thing, showing all the processes running on your computer. You can press the CPU column (press the column header) to sort the processes in order of how much CPU they use. For Windows (double click on the Task Manager icon to open the software – you can set it to make it always visible in the task bar) I have sorted the processes to show the highest CPU usage at the top, working its way down (which is why you will see a little down arrow in the CPU column). In my case (picture below) it shows 98% being used by System Idle Process. This is actually a measurement of how much is NOT being used, so the higher the number the better.


On the Mac side, since my Windows is running within the application Parallels, all the CPU used by my Windows gets consolidated into the Parallels app, showing up as prl_vm_app in the activity monitor (below picture). Therefore, if I want to find out which process within Windows is using so much CPU, I have to go to the Task Manager in Windows to see a breakdown.


Often when I see a jump in CPU usage it can be because my virus protection software is updating, or possibly I have opened a few webpages at the same time and the browser is busy downloading all the bells and whistles. That is why I have disabled Flash/Shockwave in all my browsers, because they are almost always just advertisements and tend to consume a lot of CPU.

For this reason I have also gone through a few virus protection software, because I noticed that a lot of them are resource-consuming monsters sucking up all my CPU during their occasional scans and upgrades. They are obviously not designed very well. For Windows I found Bitdefender does the job while working quietly in the background to not disturb my computer’s capacity, so that it can do its important work of earning me money.

If you do see a lot of unusually high CPU usage and find out which process is hogging it, simply type in the process name (such as prl_vm_app running Parallels and Windows on the Mac) and run a search on the net. There are tons of webpages which explain in detail the source of that process, potential dangers with it, possible remedies and so forth. This will be explained in greater detail in how to keep your computer clean, lean and mean.

If you have an older system, you can check out my computer tips when I was running XP.



Head Honcho at KENAX
After translating and managing translation projects for more than 20 years, I'm happy to teach others the ropes and move on to other interests. My greatest perk from this profession is that it has given me the freedom to work when and where I want, and eventually to loosen the straps and travel freely around the world.

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