Upgrading Older PCs

Customers frequently ask us if they can or should upgrade an older computer instead of buying a new one. Sometimes it is appropriate to upgrade an older PC, but depending on the upgrades desired it can actually end up cheaper to purchase a new PC, which has all-new components.

How To Evaluate Your Situation

As a starting point, evaluate your current system. 386-class PCs are difficult to upgrade, and cannot be upgraded very far. 486-class and Pentium-class computers fortunately have more potential. You should find out the speed of the PC, which is normally visible early on while the PC is booting. After it has booted, if you have Windows 95 you can right click the My Computer icon and choose Properties to discover how much memory the PC has. If you open the same icon and look at the Properties of the C: drive you can find out how big your hard drive is, and how much space you are using now.

You will also need to assess your future needs. If you are looking to watch DVD movies, run the latest 3D games, or use voice dictation software, upgrading a 486 will not cut it. If you want to install Microsoft Office 2000 and Windows 98, plan to have at least 600 MB of space-and that is not counting any free space afterwards! Make sure your PC has enough memory to run these big programs as well. Don't bother running Windows 98 Second Edition (the only upgrade you can buy nowadays) with only 32 MB of memory; you will want more, and the more the better. If you are going to upgrade, we recommend at least 64 MB of memory.

If You Could Upgrade Only One Thing...

Memory, memory, memory. If you regularly run lots of programs at once, or run large programs like 
Microsoft Office, and have less than 64 MB of RAM in your computer, you will probably be surprised at the speed increase just from adding more memory. Why? If programs ask for more memory than is physically in your computer, Windows will use the hard drive to simulate additional memory. While today's hard drives are fast, they are still around 1000 times slower than RAM.

Knowing When To Buy New

After evaluating your current PC you may discover that to gain another few years of service you will need to add a larger hard drive, more memory, a CD-ROM, and a faster processor (CPU). At this point you would have spent several hundred dollars and are still using your old case, power supply (the fan inside is the main concern here as fans are usually the first component to fail), floppy drives, keyboard, mouse, etc.

If the prices are close enough it makes sense to purchase a new PC, with a warranty, that is based on new technology from the ground up. Even with the same components this setup will run faster, since the interfaces to the components (such as the hard drive) can run at a faster speed.

A new PC can also let you take advantage of newer and faster standards for video cards, memory, and hard drives. New computers include ports for the USB bus, which makes it easy to connect peripherals such as scanners, mice, modems, cameras, and printers.

November 1999

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