Please help me understand why my CPU is so slow??

Hi Guys, I'm new and confused here. I've been living with the same computer since 03, and I'm ready to pull the trigger on something new. But a part of me really wants to understand what I'm buying and how my money is being spent.

A little background info, I'm not extremely computer literate. I know a few things, enough to build my own homebuilt, find components I need, etc. But that's about it. Once you start talking about stuff like north bridge or LM2 Cache, it's all greek to me. I built a pretty solid system back in 2003 consisting of a P4 2.53, Gigabyte mobo with agp8x, Radeon 9700 pro, 1.5gb ram, etc. Later that video card bit the dust and I put in an ATI X700pro. It's running windows 7 right now and overclocked to 3.2ghz pretty stable.

My question is, why is this computer so miserably slow? The processor speed doesn't seem too bad. But it seems like even trivial tasks will consume 100% CPU usage. I'm talking about stuff like viewing a simple youtube video, or playing a song in itunes. I understand it's just a single core, but do simple programs like firefox really need more than 3GHZ from a core to run? I am not running any memory or CPU intensive programs in the background. But even running msn messenger in conjunction with watching a low-res youtube video totally bogs the system down.

I am about to upgrade to a system built around an I5 quad core. But I am really struggling to understand what the difference will be. For example, watching a video on youtube. If my single core running 3.2 ghz can't even handle it, how can a 2.6ghz core do it? (I get there are multiple cores, but how many can firefox utilize at one time?)

Basically what I am asking is, is there more to the story than the processor speed? Something I am missing here? Will I get the same crappy performance/lag from a quad core processor running an application that can only use a single core?

Sorry if this isn't the right forum to ask this. If you guys have any articles/sites where I can read and learn more about this stuff feel free to post them up.
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More about please understand slow
  1. Theres plenty more to it then CPU speed, that P4 will easily be less than a quarter of the i5 your considering, and yea, things like cache (geek talk :p) also help as well, as well as extra cores, plus other hardware like amount of ram and GPU can help ease things off the CPU.
    You will easily see a MASSIVE upgrade with your new system :)
  2. CPU performance is determined by a lot more than just clock speed. A modern quad running at 2.6 GHz will completely BURY your P4. It's all about multitasking. Your single core P4 has to cope with every single task you throw at it, and it can only do one thing at a time, as it were. With a quad, even if Firefox only uses a single core, you still have three more just waiting to execute other tasks.

    Also, Windows 7 has multi-core awareness, meaning that it will pick up multiple cores and try to spread the workload across them instead of loading a single core. Thus your user experience should see a dramatic improvement compared to a P4.
  3. As has been said, most modern CPU's have more then one "core", or unique processing unit. A quad CPU (in theory) can do 4x the amount of work as a Pentium 4.

    Of course, its not that simple, as from a lower-level standpoint, a Pentium 4 is far slower on an instruction-to-instruction basis; that is, a newer CPU can do more work at the same speed. Other things, like CPU cache (think of it as super high speed RAM built on the CPU itself) also plays a small factor in overall performance.
  4. you have a old cpu and little memory..
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