There's an interesting question on
Quora doing the rounds at the moment. It's entitled:
"What's the fastest algorithm to find the largest number in an unsorted array?"
Traditional O(N)
To repeatedly find the largest value of any array supplied to a function is O(N). You have to look at each element once, since you're checking if it is a new maximum. However can we do better?
I postulated this left of field idea in response to a comment from the original poster, which stated their lecturer asked them "what is it that an array automatically has which may be used to improve on this?"
"How about setting the array 'Base' address (pointer to the address of the first item) to the largest number? After all, all you want is the one dereferenced pointer value. Not to sort or search the array. So you're then effectively always reading the value at address array[0]. Therefore O(1) each time"
In principle, this is the same as other answers appearing which propose storing the index of the maximum location as you build the array.
The Building
Building an array somewhere is at least an O(1) operation. This lower bound is defined using the Omega asymptotic notation. So
\[\Omega(1)\]
The Reading
Here is where it gets interesting. Normally, to find the maximum value of an array by iterating through each element, we'd get a $O(n)$ algorithm as we iterate through each item and compare it to our maximum. i.e. the algorithm (in C#):
public static int Maxi(ArrayList array)
{
var maxValue = 0;
for(var i = 0; i < array.Count; i++)
{
if ((int)array[i] > maxValue)
maxValue = (int)array[i];
}
return maxValue;
}
Is an $O(n)$ algorithm.
Efficiency Step
My proposal was essentially to create the efficiency, by the combination of the two operations into one. So you would build the array but keep hold of the maximum value as you build it. You can encapsulate it in a class, we'll call it MyMaximus, just for fun and it is essentially:
public class MyMaximusArray
{
public int Maximum { get; private set; }
private MyMaximusArray()
{
}
public static MyMaximusArray CreateFrom(int arrayLength)
{
var result = new MyMaximusArray();
var random = new Random();
var array = new ArrayList(arrayLength);
for (var i = 0; i < arrayLength; i++)
{
var value = random.Next(int.MaxValue);
array.Add(value);
if (value > result.Maximum)
result.Maximum = value;
}
return result;
}
}
Now, just reading the Maximum property gives you the maximum value. You can alternatively substitute the value of Maximum to be the index in the static function and you have what I was suggesting.
The expectation is you'd substitute a reduction in array build time on building for the read time when locating the maximum item in the array. This is particularly suitable where the data doesn't change.
How Much Quicker?
So, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Hence, I wrapped the two of these this up in a little console app with a ticktimer which read the ticks at the start and end and output the result, including for the subphases of building the array and reads of the maximum. For those people unfamiliar with ticks, they are a measure of 1/10,000 of a millisecond (1/10,000,000) which is sufficient for most applications.
The tests were each run three times, over a logarithmic scale from 1 to 10,000,000 and an average taken across the three.
The algorithms were then modified to behave as if they would be written to once and the maximum read many times.
The results were pretty conclusive:
Build Time
The expectation would be the 'search optimised' algorithm (MyMaximus) would perform worse than the regular algorithm when first building the array and sure enough it did, though surprisingly, not as much I thought. Both algorithms on this stage of the process would be O(n), with only a difference in coefficient. The 'doubling' due to the introduction of the if comparison didn't quite occur, though I speculate this may be due to JIT optimisation on the .NET platform.
Maximum Value Search
Here is where the MyMaximus version was expected to make the gains according to the maths. This also behaved as expected:
The blue line is following the axis because it genuinely was zero. Here are the actual data points:

Maximum item search times (ticks) 
The reason it is zero is that I am running this on a 4 GHz system, with a 20x clock multiplier and 1866MHz ram. All in all, this means it can carry out a CPU cycle including memory access (the slowest part of this process) therefore one read instruction occurs every 0.000000000526 of a second, which if a tick is 0.0000001 of a second, will never register. Hence, this result.
Total Time
The combination of build and run fulfils the full scenario. Here, we expected the MyMaximus read to achieve similar asymptotic performance on the single run, but perform substantially better on the continual searches, tending towards $\Omega(n)$ the more searches that happened.

single run comparison 
Total Search Performance by Size of Array
So overall, the performance of MyMaximus versus a regular search resulted in a small and I'd argue insignificant (chisquared another day) win in the single search case. What happens in the case of the array being queried for it's maximum multiple times? The expectation is that the average will start off about the same when building the array, but the performance of the queries will be much faster with MyMaximus.
To test this, I created the same setup, but this time asking for the maximum 1000 times per array size. The end results seemed to live up to that expectation:
So what exactly happens?
It's pretty straightforward. The lower bound of the MyMaximus algorithm is $\Omega(n)$ whilst the lower bound of the regular algorithm is $O(n)$ and that's the best you can do. So MyMaximus tends to the lower bound over time, whilst the regular algorithm does not.
Conclusion
The context of a particular algorithm is as important to the asymptotic complexity as the individual optimisation itself. This is well a known idea in Electronic engineering, as logic circuitry, such as NAND gate representaitons of other circuitry, are often evaluated to remove unnecessary gates and save money. Here you're doing it to save time, which in this era of cloud computing, also happens to save you money and indeed, losses if customers are not put off.
In any case, the question on Quora had an academic slant. Just be aware there's more there than meets the eye :)