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IB DP Computer Science Study Notes

6.1.2 Evaluation of Computer Systems' Resources

Understanding the diverse range of computer systems, from large-scale mainframes to portable personal digital assistants (PDAs), necessitates a comprehensive evaluation of their system resources. This analysis encompasses not just the hardware and software capacities but also considers the functionality, performance, and suitability of these resources based on the intended use and technological advancements.

Types of Computer Systems

  • Mainframes: Used primarily by large organisations for bulk data processing, critical applications, and transaction processing.
  • Servers: Serve multiple users within a network and manage network resources.
  • Personal Computers (PCs): Versatile systems used for a variety of tasks from simple document processing to complex gaming.
  • Sub-laptops (including netbooks and ultrabooks): Focus on portability and basic computing tasks.
  • Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs): Early handheld devices, primarily for personal management tasks.
  • Smartphones and Digital Cameras: Modern personal devices, capable of a range of functions including communication, photography, and entertainment.

Evaluating Computer System Resources

1. Primary Memory

  • Relevance in Different Systems: In mainframes and servers, large primary memory (RAM) is essential for handling multiple simultaneous operations. In contrast, for devices like PDAs and smartphones, the emphasis is more on the balance between memory size and power consumption.

2. Secondary Storage

  • Storage Needs: Servers and mainframes require extensive storage capacities for data management, often employing multiple hard drives or storage solutions like SAN (Storage Area Network). PCs and sub-laptops also require substantial storage but typically in the form of a single hard drive or SSD.
  • Portable Devices: In PDAs, smartphones, and digital cameras, storage (often flash-based) is crucial for holding applications, media files, and photographs, balancing space with physical device size and power efficiency.

3. Processor Speed and Type

  • Performance Considerations: The processor determines the speed at which a computer system can operate and process data. High-speed, multicore processors are vital for mainframes and servers managing extensive tasks, whereas, in PCs and sub-laptops, a balance between speed, core count, and energy consumption is key.
  • Mobile Devices: For smartphones and digital cameras, processor efficiency also matters, as it impacts battery life and device heat management.

4. Bandwidth and Network Connectivity

  • Network-Dependent Systems: Server performance is greatly influenced by network bandwidth, crucial for data-intensive operations like web hosting or cloud-based services.
  • Wireless Technologies: In mobile devices, the evolution of wireless technologies (e.g., Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G/5G) has drastically affected functionality, enabling faster data transfer and improved online capabilities.

5. Screen Resolution

  • User Interface: PCs and sub-laptops focus on balancing resolution with screen size for optimal display. In contrast, smartphones and digital cameras prioritise high-resolution screens in smaller form factors for better image and video viewing.

6. Graphics and Sound Processors

  • Importance in PCs: Advanced graphics and sound processors are crucial in PCs for gaming, video editing, and multimedia tasks.
  • Mobile Devices: In smartphones, integrated graphics processors enable high-quality gaming and multimedia usage within limited space and power constraints.

7. Cache Memory

  • Enhancing Performance: Cache memory plays a significant role in improving the processing speed by storing frequently accessed data. It's vital in servers and PCs for faster data retrieval.

8. Disk Storage

  • Capacity vs Speed: The evaluation of disk storage in computer systems varies, focusing on capacity in servers and mainframes, and a balance of capacity and speed (SSD vs HDD) in PCs and laptops.
  • Technological Advancements: Rapid advancements in technology can render existing hardware obsolete, impacting the evaluation of system resources. This is particularly evident in mobile devices, where hardware must evolve quickly to match software developments.
  • Resource Scarcity: Resource limitations can affect a system's ability to perform certain tasks. For instance, inadequate RAM in a PC can hinder multitasking capabilities.
  • Cost-Performance Trade-Off: Balancing the cost against performance needs is critical, especially in consumer-oriented devices like PCs and smartphones, where pricing plays a pivotal role in consumer choice.

Evaluating computer system resources is a multifaceted process, taking into account the type of system, its intended use, and the technological landscape. This evaluation is not static but evolves with technological advancements, user expectations, and software requirements. For IB Computer Science students, understanding these differences is crucial not only for grasping the fundamentals of computer hardware but also for appreciating the broader context in which these technologies operate and evolve.


Resource limitations in digital cameras, particularly in sensor size, processing power, and storage, significantly impact their functionality compared to smartphones with advanced camera features. Digital cameras, with their larger sensors, are typically better suited for capturing high-quality images, especially in varying light conditions. However, they often lack the advanced computational photography capabilities found in modern smartphones, such as AI-enhanced image processing, facial recognition, and augmented reality features. Smartphones, while having smaller sensors, compensate through software enhancements and multiple lens options, offering versatility and convenience. Therefore, when evaluating digital cameras, it’s crucial to focus on optical quality and performance, whereas, for smartphones, the evaluation would lean more towards software features and overall integration with the phone's ecosystem.

Advances in network connectivity, such as the roll-out of 5G networks and the expansion of fibre-optic broadband, profoundly affect the resource evaluation of computer systems. For example, with the advent of faster and more reliable internet connections, the emphasis on network-related resources like Ethernet ports and Wi-Fi capabilities has intensified. In PCs and laptops, the presence of advanced wireless connectivity options and the support for the latest network standards are essential for optimal online experiences, cloud-based computing, and streaming services. For servers and mainframes, robust network connectivity is crucial for managing large-scale data transfers and maintaining high-speed connections to multiple nodes. These advances have shifted the focus from purely internal resource capacities to external connectivity capabilities, recognising the importance of staying connected in a globally networked environment.

The evaluation of storage resources in cloud servers compared to personal computing devices differs significantly in terms of scale, accessibility, and functionality. For cloud servers, the primary focus is on storage capacity, scalability, and data redundancy. These servers need to store vast amounts of data securely and ensure consistent access for multiple users, often simultaneously. Technologies such as RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) for data protection and SSDs (Solid State Drives) for faster access play a critical role. In contrast, for personal computing devices like PCs and laptops, storage evaluation is more about the balance between capacity, speed (HDD vs SSD), and the user's specific needs (e.g., large files for gaming or video editing vs documents for office work). Additionally, personal devices now increasingly rely on cloud storage integration, which shifts some focus from physical storage resources to internet connectivity and cloud service reliability.

Battery life is a crucial factor in evaluating the resources of mobile devices due to its direct impact on the device's usability and convenience. For laptops and smartphones, which are designed for portability and on-the-go usage, having a long-lasting battery ensures that the device can operate for extended periods without needing a recharge. This is particularly important for users who rely on these devices for work, travel, or extended periods away from power sources. When assessing a device's resources, battery life becomes a key metric, alongside other features like processing power and storage. Additionally, advancements in battery technology, such as the development of lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries, have allowed for lighter devices with longer battery life, significantly enhancing portability and user experience.

The evolution of processor technology significantly impacts the evaluation of resources in PCs by continually raising the standards of processing speed, efficiency, and multitasking capabilities. Modern processors, with advancements in multi-core technology and parallel processing, have drastically improved the speed and efficiency of PCs. When evaluating a PC's resources, it’s essential to consider the number of cores and the processor's clock speed, as these factors determine the machine's ability to handle multiple tasks and run complex programs smoothly. Moreover, newer processors often come with enhanced features like integrated graphics and advanced power management, further influencing the overall system performance and energy efficiency. Thus, the evolution in processor technology requires a shift in how we assess computing resources, prioritising multi-core efficiency, energy consumption, and parallel processing capabilities over just clock speed.

Practice Questions

Describe how the evaluation of system resources in a digital camera would differ from that in a personal computer. Discuss the implications of these differences in terms of the functionalities and performance of both devices.

A proficient evaluation of system resources in digital cameras and personal computers reflects their differing functional requirements. For digital cameras, the primary focus would be on the camera's sensor quality, lens resolution, image processing capabilities (like the speed and quality of image rendering), and storage capacity for high-resolution images. These features directly impact the camera's core functionality - capturing and storing high-quality images. Conversely, personal computers require a more holistic resource assessment. Key aspects include processor speed for general computing tasks, RAM for multitasking efficiency, storage capacity for data and software, and graphics processing units (GPUs) for rendering images and videos. These components collectively determine the PC's overall performance in a variety of tasks ranging from basic office applications to gaming and media production. The distinct evaluation criteria for these devices underscore their tailored roles in technology usage, with each optimising different resource sets to best meet their specific operational demands.

Evaluate the importance of balancing cost and performance when assessing the resources of a sub-laptop. Give examples to support your evaluation.

When assessing the resources of a sub-laptop, balancing cost and performance is vital due to its intended use-case scenarios and target market. Sub-laptops, like netbooks and ultrabooks, are designed for users requiring portability and moderate computing power at a reasonable cost. For instance, a student or a travelling professional would prefer a sub-laptop that offers decent processing power for productivity applications, long battery life for extended use, and a lightweight design for ease of transport, all within a budget-friendly price range. High-end resources such as top-tier processors or large amounts of RAM would significantly increase the cost, making the device less attractive to its target audience who may not require such advanced specifications for everyday tasks like browsing, word processing, and light media consumption. Therefore, a balanced approach in evaluating these resources ensures that the sub-laptop remains both functional for its intended purpose and financially accessible to its intended users.

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Written by: Alfie
Cambridge University - BA Maths

A Cambridge alumnus, Alfie is a qualified teacher, and specialises creating educational materials for Computer Science for high school students.

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