Do I Need A New Computer?

Category: Hardware

Our computer is three years old, and my teenager says it's obsolete. He wants us to buy a new computer with more speed, more memory, etc. Can you give me some pointers on how to determine if I really need to buy a new computer?

Need a new computer?  The HP Model 33 Teletype

Is Your Computer Obsolete?

A few years ago I saw a cartoon of a guy proudly driving home with his brand new state-of-the-art 386 computer in the back seat. In the background was a huge billboard advertising the 486. The message: his computer was obsolete before he even got it home.

Technology is always changing... it's hard to be sure if the system you have will support the newest software and peripherals. So how do you know when it is indeed time to buy a new computer, or when it is best to ignore the commercials that tout the latest "gotta-have" technology?

You May Need To Buy A New Computer If...

  • ...your processor speed is less than 1.0 gigahertz (GHz). Most operating systems and application software these days demand a lot from your system. A speedy processor will help you browse the Internet, run your word processor and play games with ease. On a Windows PC, click the Start button, then Control Panel, then System to see your processor information. If the speed is listed in megahertz instead of gigahertz, see if any friends need a new anchor for their fishing boat.
  • ...your computer has less than 512 megabytes (MB) of RAM memory. Again, the System Properties window will show how much RAM is installed. I recommend at least 1GB (1000MB) of RAM for smooth and speedy performance. Go for 2GB of RAM if you're running Vista.
  • ...you are running a version of Windows that begins with a "3" or a "9" (Windows 3.1, Win95, or Win98). These versions lack the security features and technological advances required for safe computing and protection from identity theft. If you have a Mac that's NOT running OS X, the same applies.
  • ...you have a monitor that's 14-inch or smaller. Most websites will not display properly on an old 14-inch monitor, and the larger 17-inch models are now standard. (I have dual 22-inch widescreen monitors on my desk!)
  • ...you try to install a program and you get the error "Operating System not supported."
  • ...you try to upgrade the Operating System and get an error message that the hardware is not supported.
  • USB ports...your computer has no USB ports. Most peripheral devices such as the mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner and external hard drives now use USB connections.
  • ...your computer has a 5.25 inch disk drive! Actually if you have even a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, you may qualify. Software has outgrown the floppy disk, and the mere presence of a floppy drive on your machine may indicate that it's time to take it out back and shoot it.
  • Radio Shack TRS-80...your computer says Radio Shack anywhere on the packaging. I had lots of fun on the TRS-80 we had in high school, but that was almost thirty years ago. I actually own an HP Model 33 Teletype (pictured above), which was the first computer terminal I used. It could go online with a 300-baud modem (about 10,000 times slower than broadband today) and saved programs on paper punch tapes.

All of the above scenarios warrant shelling out the dough for a new computer. There are cases however, where you might have a relatively new computer, (less than 3 years old) and it is acting up enough to make you want to replace it with a new one. Before you do that, let's look at a few ways you can "soup up" a fairly new machine:

Your Computer Is Running S-l-o-o-o-w-w

This is probably the number one complaint heard by Help Desk techs worldwide. If your computer is less than 3 years old, there are a myriad of reasons for the slowdown in performance. For instance, you may not have all the latest security software installed. Operating Systems, device drivers, anti-virus programs and other applications have frequent updates releases to their original product. Keeping up with the latest releases or patches of any software you are running, is a good way to keep your computer free from viruses and spyware that can slow it to a crawl. See Make Windows XP Run Faster! for some great tips on speeding up your system without spending any money.

Hardware also has updates, called firmware updates. Check with your hardware vendors to make sure that your computer, wireless router, cable modem, printer, etc... all have the latest firmware updates. A cable or DSL modem that's overheating can throttle your Internet speed. If you find that turning off the modem and then waiting an hour or so boosts your surfing speed, you may need to replace it.

Sometimes a slow running computer is one that is lacking memory. As applications get more feature rich, more memory (RAM, not hard drive space) is required to run them. A lot of times, computers will be sold without the maximum capacity of RAM that they can actually run. Again, check with your computer's manufacturer. Find out if the memory is expandable, and how much RAM you currently have intalled. Upgrading RAM is a fairly easy and inexpensive way to speed up your computer. See these companion articles for help with understanding and adding RAM: Adding Memory and Low Virtual Memory

Your Computer Is Running Out of Space

You are noticing degradation in your computer's performance, and you are also noticing "Running low on disk space" messages. Low disk space can slow a machine down, and also cause problems running applications. Hard drive space is getting cheaper and cheaper these days; the newest computers often come with 100GB (or larger) hard drives as a standard. You don't have to buy one of these new computers though; you can replace a smaller hard disk drive with a larger one, or add a second hard drive. But before you do any of those things, see my article Clean Hard Drive for tips on getting rid of the junk and clutter on your hard drive.

Your Computer Has Less-Than-Great-Graphics and So-So-Sound

The characters in that cool, new game you installed, have herky-jerky movements or maybe there's a tinny sound when you blast the bad guys. Or perhaps the photos you download from your digital camera have a grainy, dull look when opened on your computer. On a relatively new machine, these problems can often be remedied by multimedia upgrades. Upgrading your graphics card or sound card can add a whole new level to your computing experience. A newer monitor will make everything look crisper. Just make sure the upgrades you purchase are compatible with your system; your vendor can tell you if they are or not.

It's important to know when to let go of an old clunker of a computer. It's just as important to realize when your computer needs a "tune-up". The goal is to find a happy medium between being able to experience the latest that technology has to offer, but not being pressured into throwing a perfectly good system away because of slick sales ads, feature envy or industry hype.

 
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Posted by on 9 Jul 2007


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Most recent comments on "Do I Need A New Computer?"

Posted by:

Mike
13 Jul 2007

If versions of Windows starting with a 3 or a 9 need to be replaced, so much more so with the version starting with "M" (WinMe). I always called that Microsoft's greatest operating system disaster since DOS 4.0. That is, until Windows Vista came out. :-D

A computer that's "old" by people who want to sell you a new computer is often an excellent candidate for installing Linux. Linux is more secure than Windows will EVER be, and doesn't require nearly as much hardware. And I am awed by how readily it just installs and just works. A week ago, I did my first hard drive install of Linux ever (Ubuntu 7.04, "Feisty Fawn") and it went slick as a whistle. It found all of the hardware (including the winmodem) and set everything up. I hardly had to do a thing until it was time to set up the users and passwords.

An "old" pc with a 500 mhz processor and 128 MB of RAM (256MB, so much the better) would make a fine Linux PC for writing letters, doing calculations, checking email, listening to music and many other things for several years to come.


Posted by:

David
17 Jul 2007

If someone has used a computer and has not done any maintenance, that can certainly affect performance. Adding to your list, its amazing how a little Disk Cleanup and Disk Defrag can help open things up. I know some dispute Defrags use but after several years, it can make a difference.

The other thing to note if you are buying a new computer, it will likely come with Vista. While it is very nice, it does require certified drivers for all your devices. If they are not available, you may suddenly find your scanner and printer have to be replaced too. So look before you leap.


Posted by:

Lefty Mills
17 Jul 2007

You said "the mere presence of a floppy drive on your machine may indicate that it's time to take it out back and shoot it." I don't agree as I put a floppy in my new computers. I keep my passwords on a floppy disk. Even if my harddrive is stolen, my passwords are safe. My computer uses a floppy to boot into Puppy Linux. Otherwise it boots right into Windows. No delay like you get with Grub.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You might want to think about flash drives...


Posted by:

Robert T Deloyd
17 Jul 2007

I messed around on an IBM 570 laptop 300Mz PII processor(with 390MB of RAM) that I bought for $130 and took the 11GB hard drive out and stuck in a 2GB IDE Flash drive. Loaded up Win2000 onto it to see if it would fly, and it did! That was the whole reason behind getting this laptop. It only has a 300MHZ PII processor but with the Flash drive it loads Word for Windows almost instantaneously, where my other laptop with a much faster 2GHZ processor and a 20GB hard drive takes a while. A real test would be to install Open Office, which is a hog and takes forever to load, on the IBM 570 to see how fast that loads. My idea is to change old computers to IDE Flash and use USB thumb drives for storage. The Win2000 with service pack4, Firefox, and Word 2000 only take up 1.3GB giving me 700MBs leftover. Surfs the web just fine! A 4Gig Flash would be much better! I like breathing new life into old machines... //bob


Posted by:

Bruce
17 Jul 2007

Just to second Mike's comments. Most Linuxes with KDE desktops will run on sub 1GHz processors and 256MB RAM. GNOME desktops (e.g. Ubuntu, Mint) need only 196MB RAM.

Then you have the lightweight distros such as Puppy, Austrumi, DSL, which will run on sub 500 MHz machines - so even those old Pentium II and K6-2 machines need be considered redundant.


Posted by:

Paul
17 Jul 2007

Bob, the 33ASR photo brings back memories. Our first timeshare service (GE) was with such a machine at 110 baud. Later, a lab data acquisition system I purchased used the 33ASR as the system console. Reloading the system from the large roll of paper tape using such a machine which sat in a dusty lab environment was always such a tense operation -- one bit off and start over!

I own a Dell with W98 that I intend to convert to Linux for just the reasons Mike indicated. The only thing holding me back is no experience at all with Linux.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Start with Ubuntu, I think you'll find it pretty smooth. http://askbobrankin.com/ubuntu_linux_feisty_fawn.html


Posted by:

Peter
19 Jul 2007

Hi Bob, can you help? I've got a 512mb usb2 flash drive that has got formated as RAW. It says Q+plus Technologies on it, but they don't seem to exist. I trawled Google and found recommended software and tips to make it format, but it just error messages that it can't be formatted. The best sounding tip was to try to partition the drive, but again it wont do it. I can see the drive, but, as a RAW drive, and nothing seems to touch it. Any ideas? Peter (member since the late 80s, thanks, I wouldn't be as competent today if it wasn't for the Bus).

EDITOR'S NOTE: Click Start, Run, then enter the diskmgmt.msc command. Rightclick on the flash drive, and select Format. If that doesn't work, it's probably defective.


Posted by:

Chris Turner
17 Aug 2007

I have a cable modem that is nearly six years old, soon. I pay a few extra dollars a month for a 8Meg internet connection and lately i heard of talk of newer faster modems. I was wondering is it time to get a new modem And if so, which modem would you recommend?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I had a cable modem that started acting flaky after a few years, so I do think they have a limited lifespan. Check your speed at http://speakeasy.net/speedtest and see if you're getting what your ISP claims.


Posted by:

mystery
01 Sep 2007

My computer is running slooooooooowwwww and every website I go on it comes out to big what do i do?


Posted by:

Tim
03 Jan 2008

Hi Bob, I have 2 hard drives on my system. An 80gb on the C: drive and a 120gb on the F: drive. The 80 gb was added becasue I thought the 120gb was on the way out. It turned out to be my power supply. My question is does the F: drive 120gb need to have windows on it. It has windows xp. Thanks for any help.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You only need Windows installed on the boot drive, which seems to be your 80gig (C:) drive. So if you want to remove Windows from the F: drive, that's fine.


Posted by:

Craig
25 Feb 2009

I agree with 'Lefty Mills' about the floppy drive. If Bob, what you say is true that no one is using the floppy disks anymore, his data would be much safer on the floppy. Everyone has the 'flash' drives. So if someone were to take his hard drive and the floppy, they could not get that information. I use both and will continue to do so...


Posted by:

Dave in Indy
25 Feb 2009

I'm not affiliated with them nor have I used them but Pacificgeek.com has refurbished desktop PC's in the just above $100 range. I wouldn't mind getting one of their refurbed Dell GX-280 desktops for a spare PC. They come with XP preloaded, a small amount of ram and a small HDD (256 mb / 20 Gb respectively but they are easilly upgraded), no input devices either, but these machines are only about $109-149 depending on configuration. That's cheap!


Posted by:

Natural Herb
30 May 2009

It's really great to post my comments on such a blog. I would like to appreciate the great work done by the web master and would like to tell everyone that they should post their interesting comments and should make this blog interesting. Once again I would like to say keep it up to blog owner!!!!


Posted by:

eltude pardieu
16 Jul 2009

I am a newbie when it comes to computers so please answer my question with basic terminology. I have a Dell Dimension B100 desktop computer. It came out in 2003 so its not ancient but its fairly old. I am running windows XP and have 512mb of ram. It has 2.53 GHz I think, and 100+ GB hard drive. I am currently deciding on whether or not I should buy a new desktop computer or upgrade my current computer. Only problem I have no idea what to buy and if it costs more than a desktop, than I might as well buy a new computer. I have deduced that I need a monitor (current one is too bulky), ram (where to buy), and a graphics card (kids want to play game). So any ideas?

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can upgrade the RAM and the graphics card, but you'll still have a 6-year-old computer, with all its problems. Sounds like yo'd be happier with an entry-level Dell, Gateway, etc.


Posted by:

Allen Thomas Cousins
22 May 2013

my computer will not come on,but my tower come on .


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