Do I Need A New Computer?
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?
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.
- ...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.
- ...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.
Posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Jul 2007
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Do I Need A New Computer? (Posted: 9 Jul 2007)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved