Performance is a rather intangible concept. When we look at computing technology, it’s seen as a worthy goal – but how do you quantify it?

Our first thoughts may be about speed. Here, performance is the ability to work or play with increased swiftness. That could be measured in the time taken to open an image, make some changes and resave the picture. Or how quickly a game plays, judged by its framerate. Faster processors help here, as could faster storage technology (not to mention software that’s not bloated or suffering from bad coding).

A huge amount of power packed into a high-performance laptop is useless if it doesn’t last long enough to get a day’s work done. So we include battery life as a performance attribute, too.

Perhaps you want a computer in your living room, to serve as a media centre for playing games, films and music. Here, I’d argue that silence is every bit as much a performance goal as speed. We want that machine to perform discreetly in the lounge; we want to hear the music or soundtrack, not the fans and hard drives whirring.

If going fast on the relative cheap appeals, you could look at overclocked gaming PCs that push a processor to its limits, such as the dangerously dubbed Wired2Fire Hellspawn XFire. This kind of performance tweak will stress the system more, and require extra cooling. Expect higher running costs, too.

Performance in the sense of speed and silence, meanwhile, is available in the form of Cryo PC’s undervolted media centre, the Alto.
In the tablet space, performance is less tangible again. It’s about instant-on access. It’s about a silky interface that performs under the slightest touch. It’s about battery life long enough that you needn’t fret about finding your next charging point. And sometimes, it’s simply about ensuring the device performs only as you want it to; here, performance is about freedom from hostile malware that’s out to grab your personal data and tap into your finances. Check out our review of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1.