The Best Upgrades for Your Computer?
If you have an older computer that just can’t seem to keep up with modern apps, should you junk it and buy a new one or upgrade its capabilities? If you can afford only one upgrade, which will give you the most improvement for your money? The answers are highly dependent upon your specific circumstances, but here are some general guidelines...
Advice on Upgrading Your Computer
First, ask yourself whether your computer is too slow for you or for someone else. Did you think, “Gee, my computer’s slow” before your spoiled nephew with the new Mac Airbook said, “Gee, your computer’s slow?” If you’re getting done all you want to get done, and fast enough for you, you may not need to upgrade.
Some upgrades get more work done faster, while others just make work more pleasant for you. A bigger monitor may be just what your tired, watery eyes need. A more ergonomic keyboard or mouse is another comfort upgrade; not that comfort doesn’t improve performance, but it’s mainly the comfort that counts. Years ago, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. My doctor suggested surgery, but switching to an ergonomic keyboard with the split/curved key layout completely eliminated my pain.
Upgrading a monitor is a significant investment. But if you're often using two programs at once, or find your limited screen real estate is slowing you down (switching from one app to another, or always scrolling), a larger, higher resolution monitor may be a good investment. See my related article HOWTO: Buying a Computer Monitor for some tips on what to look for, and which monitor specs really matter. You should also check out Dual Monitors: Six Good Reasons to Upgrade and consider to potential benefits of adding a second screen to your desktop setup.
Keep in mind that you may need a better graphics card to match the capabilities of a modern monitor. A dedicated graphics card can take some computing burden off your CPU, making actual computation faster; but the increase in CPU performance won’t be very large.
More RAM provides significant performance boosts at reasonable cost, up to a point. If you have too little RAM for the types of applications and the size of data files that you use, a lot of time and CPU power is wasted swapping data from RAM to disk and back again in “pages.” On the other hand, excess RAM just sits there idle, a waste of money that makes no discernible difference in performance.
A rule of thumb is that general home users need 4 GB of RAM; business and power users, 8 GB; and only the busiest video editors, database administrators, or gamers needs more than 8 GB of RAM. See my article HOWTO: Upgrade Memory to Boost Performance for more tips on upgrading your system's RAM memory.
Increasing the size, thoughput and access speed of hard drive storage is a tempting upgrade option. A traditional magnetic hard drive that spins at 7200 rpm is much better than one spinning at 5400 rpm. Solid-State Drives (SSDs) are the bleeding edge of mass storage technology, but they are still very expensive compared to magnetic hard drives. But here's something to consider… right now, a 2 TB magnetic hard drive costs about the same as a 100GB SSD drive -- roughly US$100. But if you've only got 50GB of data, the SSD is a better buy, even though it holds 20X less data.
The sweet spot for you may be a hybrid drive – one which has several hundred megabytes of SSD to hold the most frequently used data while storing seldom-used files on traditional magnetic media. My articles What is a Solid-State Hybrid Hard Drive? and HOWTO: Upgrade or Replace Your Hard Drive go into more detail on these topics.
If you're thinking about a new hard drive because you're running out of space to stash your stuff, first try a little spring cleaning, and see how many gigabytes of garbage you can eliminate. Unwanted software, temp files, and duplicate files can chew up a lot of space. A careful pruning of music, photos, and video files may yield big gains as well. See HOWTO: Clean Up Your Hard Drive for more tips and free software you can use to get the job done.
Deciding whether to upgrade or buy a new machine can be difficult. If you can install upgrades yourself, just add up the costs of planned upgrades and compare it to the price of new machines. But that simple cost analysis ignores half the cost/benefit ratio. You really don’t know how well an upgraded computer will perform until after you buy and install the upgrade(s), so it’s impossible to compare it to a new machine.
Generally, I would buy new rather than spend more than a third of new’s cost on upgrades. What upgrades have you done on your computer? Are you glad you did?
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 25 Apr 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- The Best Upgrades for Your Computer? (Posted: 25 Apr 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved