If you think your computer is acting too slow, it should come as no surprise. Most computers have slowed down dramatically over the past decade, as software companies continue to run rampant with features, and manufacturers insist on cramming more memory, more processors, and more graphics chips into smaller and smaller spaces.

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But contrary to popular belief, computers aren’t actually getting slower. If you rely on average performance, yes, they’re slower. But if you know how to measure it properly, the gains are staggering. Just about all modern computers sold today run the same operating system, the same applications, and the same benchmark tests.

They run exactly the same, in other words. And because of this, there’s very little variation in performance between one machine and the next. So any slowdown you see is due largely to differences in hardware. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gives us great flexibility in designing and building computers. But it also means we have no idea how much faster computers could be.

The 2010 edition of the PCMark benchmark test, for example, includes many tests that measure how quickly a computer can boot into a desktop, load a Web page, and copy multiple files. Based on those tests, the average computer in 2010 runs around 3.5 times faster than the fastest computer in 2000. That’s nice, but it’s hardly something to brag about.

The 2011 benchmark test is different. It includes tests that stress different parts of the computer, and it includes new ones that measure how well a computer runs things like Excel and Photoshop. Because it includes a wider variety of tests, it gives us a much better idea of how much speed the average computer really has.