Time to Upgrade Your Computer?
A reader asks: 'My Dell computer is almost 4 years old and is starting to feel slower than when it was new. Is it time to buy a new one, or should I upgrade it? I'm currently running Windows Vista, if that factors in somehow...
Upgrade or Buy a New Computer?
The decision to upgrade or replace an old computer should be driven by two rational factors: need and cost. Unfortunately, many people fall prey to marketing hype and "keeping up with the Joneses" thinking. Before you choose between upgrades and buying a whole new system, make sure you really need to do either. Here's my advice on this topic.
Even a five year-old computer is all you truly need for simple tasks like word processing, email, and Web browsing. If you don't need to do more, and the old system's hardware is fine, then it makes little sense to spend money on upgrades or a new system. A lot of computer performance problems can be eliminated for free with simple maintenance.
So before you gut or junk that PC, do what you can to tune it up. Defragment your hard drive, and check it for corrupted files and bad sectors. Disable running processes that you don't need. Shorten startup time by running a registry cleaner regularly. Make sure your operating system and all of the software drivers you use are up to date. Scan your system for malware using a good anti-malware program. These steps can revitalize a pokey computer dramatically. See m related articles Seven Reasons For Computer Crashes and Speed Up Your Startup for tips on doing these maintenance tasks and speeding up your older computer.
Hardware Upgrades to Consider
Adding RAM may improve performance, but only up to a point. Four gigabytes of RAM is the most that will help the average home user; additional RAM may go unused. For graphics and processor intensive applications, up to 8 GB may be a good investment. See my advice on How to Upgrade Your Memory for more tips on how much memory you should have, how to select the right type of memory, and how to install it yourself.
Upgrading your graphics card makes sense if you want to play the latest video games or watch HD movies on your computer. But if you just want your screen to refresh faster, try changing your display's color quality setting to 16 bit (medium) instead of 32 bit (highest). You might not even notice the difference. Getting rid of your background image can also help a lot.
You don't need a bigger hard drive if your current one is less than 80 per cent full. But a faster hard drive can boost performance significantly. A hard drive that spins at 7200 rpm can read and write data 33 per cent faster than a 5400 rpm drive. However, upgrading a hard drive usually means transferring all of your data and applications to the new drive, which can be a pain. If you want to copy everything from the old hard drive to the new one, see my article on How to Clone a Hard Drive. A simpler option is to install Windows on the new drive using your Windows Setup CD, re-install any important software (from a disk or download) and restore your personal files from a backup. See The Best Way to Back Up Your Files for help with that.
So when buying a new hard drive, how big should it be? Check the size and available space of your current drive by clicking on Start -> Computer, right-click the drive icon, and select properties. For most users, a 500 GB (gigabyte) drive will be a good choice.
A faster CPU is warranted if your system bogs down on calculation-intensive operations like large databases or editing video. But if you want faster gaming, a high-performance graphics card is a better investment.
Time and Money
Buying a new PC is probably the better choice if your current system is more than four or five years old. Upgrade components compatible with older PCs can be expensive and hard to find. The cost of upgrading a CPU, hard drive, and graphics card can easily approach the cost of a new computer.
One other factor to consider is that Windows XP is close to being obsolete. Although XP is still running on about 40% of all computers, and Microsoft will continue to release XP security updates through April 2014, a recent Microsoft study reports than Windows 7 is about 5 times more secure than XP. I'm not sure I buy that, but it's something to consider. More importantly, there is no easy way to upgrade directly from XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8, so if your computer is older, and still running XP, a new computer with Windows 7 or Windows 8 is a good move.
I know Windows 8 is the latest and greatest, but at this point I don't find any compelling reason to recommend it over Windows 7. It's new, so there may yet be some bugs to work out; and the radically new user interface will have a bigger learning curve. If you're currently on XP, Vista or Windows 7, and looking for a new computer, you can still find Windows 7 computers for sale at Dell, HP and other vendors. Microsoft will provide support for Windows 7 through January 2020, so I wouldn't worry about it becoming obsolete before your new computer. But if you find a great deal on a new Windows 8 computer, and you don't mind spending some time learning the new interface, then that's a fine choice, too.
If you do buy a new PC, consider what to do with the old one. The resale value of computers older than three years is pretty low. You may want to keep it in the closet as a backup system. Before you recycle it or donate it to a charity, make sure all data is permanently erased from the hard drive. Here's my advice on how to Completely Erase a Hard Drive.
What's your opinion? When is it better to buy new instead of upgrading an older computer? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Jan 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Time to Upgrade Your Computer? (Posted: 24 Jan 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved