Black Computers Faster - It's Official!

This article originally published in the April 1995 edition of Australian PC Review.
Reprinted with the permission of the author, who happens to be me.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


Confirming the suspicions of computer makers and users down the years (largely unvoiced for fear of public ridicule), a new study has confirmed that colour is a powerful factor in computer performance.

One of the most closely guarded secrets of high performance computer manufacturers is that a simple change in the colour of a computer's case, from the regulation beige to jet black, has a significant impact on the performance results. Both ordinary instruction per second and floating point results show a boost from 7 to 16 per cent, with graphics performance following suit.

This is not news to anyone involved with high-powered machines. Think about it. If you've ever been in a room full of fast workstations, how many of them are beige? The NeXT might not have been very popular, but it was certainly fast, and what colour was it? Matte black. What colour's the monster machine that sends this magazine's pages to the imagesetter? Black, naturally. What's the favourite case colour for laptop manufacturers always trying to squeeze the last ounce of performance out of their miniaturised creations? Black. What colour was the Sinclair ZX81? Black. Well, three out of four ain't bad.

New study

Dr. Amanda Butts, from the Nimbin-based Centre for Applied Pharmaceutical Research, recently released a research paper on the subject. In controlled tests where 30 computers ran benchmarks for one week, 10 with beige cases, 10 with black cases and 10 with no cases at all, the black computers consistently beat the beige ones and the caseless machines' results oscillated around the beige machines' scores.

"Modern computing," said Dr. Butts, "has long since passed the point where individual bits of storage or operations per second of processor speed make any difference. In the olden days, when a fast processor did 500 operations per second and a kilobyte was a lot of RAM, case colour was an undetectably small factor in computer performance. The fact that older computers were often built in open plan racks, homebuilt cases or other peculiar enclosures contributed to the paucity of real data on case colour effects - in the absence of a case, a user with a black T-shirt on could have had some effect but probably not enough to measure.

"Let's face it, there just wasn't enough to work with.

"But these days hard drives run to hundreds of megabytes, processors do scores of millions of instructions per second and eight or more megabytes of RAM is common."

The most logical explanation for the DCC (Dark Case Colouring) effect relates to the well-accepted effects of computrons, the elementary quanta of information. Molecules in a solid object move more rapidly when heated, and, eventually, the object melts. The melting is caused by the loss of computrons, driven off by the heat; without the computrons and their information on atomic matrix location, the atoms don't "know" where they're meant to be. This is why computers need fans, and big computers need air-conditioned rooms; if they were allowed to get too hot they'd lose computrons and stop working (they'd never actually melt, though; once the computrons start to boil off, the computer shuts down). The use of computron beams for cooling, or the imposition of order on chaotic systems is still in the experimental stage.

Interestingly, it appears that the benefits of DCC are largely directed at Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC) hardware - processors like the Intel 80x86 series and the Motorola 680x0. Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) chips like the Digital Equipment Corporation Alphas used in Silicon Graphics workstations have been demonstrated to benefit more from pastel shades, particularly mauve. It could be that processor complexity is directly linked to the spectral position of the ideal case colour; the RISC chips' comparatively simple architecture puts them at the top (violet) end of the visible spectrum, whereas the CISC chips' greater detail pushes them right off the top of the visible range into the ultraviolet (UV) and beyond - which, of course, appears to the naked eye to be black.

Spectrograph analysis of the radiated energy from black CISC computers will of course prove or disprove this hypothesis, but it raises some other important questions - can UV radiation be implicated in the reported incidents of dangerous radiation emissions for computers, and could a UV-emissive coating applied to a standard beige or other coloured case provide the accelerative properties of a black case to users of other machines?

It's also interesting that the complexity-modulated DCC hypothesis appears to hold even in the case of mechanical equipment - for example automobiles. Compared with even a RISC CPU, a car is a very simple system - larger and more varied, but with a simpler schematic, even if you take into account the low-powered processors in modern engine management systems. This means the ideal colour for a car would have to be lower in the spectrum than the ideal colour for a computer - probably quite a bit lower, right down at the red end. And we all know red cars go faster!

What you can do

It's clear that DCC is a real, measurable phenomenon, and every computer user will naturally want to take advantage of it. So what should you do?

Well, spraypainting your existing computer's case will help, as long as you spray on the inside as well as the outside, but a more elegant solution is to purchase a purpose-built black case and transplant your computer's innards into it. It's certainly simpler than previous go-faster schemes - refrigerating your computer room, spreading peanut butter on your motherboard and so on.

If you try this out and get any results you'd like the world to know about, tell us! We await with bated breath some real-world tests of the theory.

Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)