Here's How to Upgrade Your Old Computer

Category: Hardware

If you have an aging personal computer that's struggling to keep up with modern apps and operating systems, should you junk it and buy a new one, or upgrade its capabilities? What about the Windows 7 deadline that's approaching? 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 Old, Slow Computer

First, ask yourself whether your computer is too slow for you, or for someone else. Did you think, “Gee, my computer is slow” before your annoying friend with the brand new computer said, “Your computer is SO slow!”? If you’re getting done all you want to get done, and fast enough for you, you may not need to upgrade. But if you're not satisfied, or if you're worried about the Windows 7 "end of life" deadline, read on!

Some upgrades do 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. Twenty five years ago, my wrists would be on fire by the end of my work day at IBM. I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. My doctor suggested pills and surgery, but switching to an ergonomic keyboard with the split/curved key layout completely eliminated my pain! When I type on a "normal" keyboard now, I can feel the discomfort right away.

Best Computer Upgrades

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. But you should also consider ADDING a monitor. Check out my article Dual Monitors: Good Reasons to Upgrade and consider the 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, or a dual-monitor setup. 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.

Upgrading Memory and Hard Drive

Here's one zero-cost option for speeding up an older computer. Consider moving away from Windows, and switching to the Linux operating system. Linux tends to require less in the way of hardware resources, so it can be a good option for older computers that bog down with newer versions of Windows. Ubuntu Linux is a user-friendly Linux option that you should consider. You can even try it out before without installing.

More RAM memory 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 at least 4 GB of RAM; business and power users, 8 GB or more; and only the busiest video editors, database administrators, or gamers need 16+ GB of RAM. But modern versions of Windows can work with up to 2 TB (terabytes) of RAM memory. The operating system you have is very important when considering buying RAM. See my article Does Your Computer Need More Memory? 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 expensive compared to magnetic hard drives. But here's something to consider… right now, a 1 TB (1000 GB) magnetic hard drive costs about the same as a 120 GB SSD drive -- roughly US$25. But if you've got less than 100 GB of data, the SSD is a better buy, even though it holds less data.

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 Tools to Tune and Optimize 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 About Windows 7 Computers?

One more factor to consider is the Windows 7 support timetable. Microsoft says: "After January 14, 2020, if your PC is running Windows 7, it will no longer receive security updates. Therefore, it's important that you upgrade to a modern operating system such as Windows 10, which can provide the latest security updates to help keep you and your data safer. In addition, Microsoft customer service will no longer be available to provide Windows 7 technical support."

IMPORTANT: That does NOT mean that your Windows 7 computer will stop working on January 15, 2020. It does mean that you won't receive any further Windows security updates. Probably. Microsoft relented on that threat when Windows XP "expired" several years ago, and issued a few additional security updates for serious widespread threats that cropped up soon after the end of the XP support date.

You can't count on any extension of the Windows 7 end of support date. Back in 2014, I did strongly advise those still running XP to abandon ship, out of concern that going forward without security patches would be dangerous. I know that many people did continue to use XP for some time, along with updated anti-virus protection, and had no problems. In fact, StatCounter reports that XP still has a worldwide market share of 1.44 percent.

That said, if you're still running Windows 7, your computer is probably approaching the point at which you'd be considering a replacement. Windows 7 is a ten-year-old operating system, and lacks many of the new security features available in Windows 10. Most notably, the Controlled Folder Access and Ransomware Data Recovery features in Windows 10 provide protection from the growing ransomware threat. I recently replaced a Windows 7 computer with a newer one running Windows 10, and my wife didn't seem to notice much difference.

So here's my advice for Windows 7 users: If you're thinking about a new computer, it will come with Windows 10, so you're covered. If you're not ready to upgrade your hardware, I do recommend that you upgrade to Windows 10. It's not critical that you do so immediately, but I wouldn't go too far into 2020 before doing so. The malware threats are becoming more vicious and sophisticated.

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...

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Most recent comments on "Here's How to Upgrade Your Old Computer"

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

As you say, Linux runs faster than Windows on old computers. I changed years ago and am still running ten year old computers with no worries!
Depending on the hardware, some versions of Linux designed to use less resources will run better than others.
A non-techie user will need a bit of hand-holding though, so best if a Linux user is nearby to help out with initial setup and problems. A dual-boot install is easy nowadays so that Windows can also be used in an emergency.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

I was going to add my two cents for using Linux as a replacement for Windows 7,but BillK beat me to it.I would encourage everyone to try Linux as an alternate to the Windows OS.Versions such as Ubuntu,Mint and Puppy Linux are good versions for new users.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

I have a 9 year old laptop, with Windows 10, into which I needed to install an accounting program for a volunteer position. That program turned out to be an absolute resource hog and slowed my laptop right down. I increased the RAM from 4 to 8Gb and replaced the HDD with a SSD. The transformation was amazing. My laptop worked at a speed faster then I had ever seen before. Plus it boots up much quicker. Definitely a worthwhile improvement, I'm planning on keeping the laptop for some time to come. Sorry this is a bit long.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

You mentioned SSDs, but I that should be emphasized. I have replaced hard drives with SSDs for friends in, maybe, 20 cases. They were universally thrilled with the speedup. Doing a clean install in the process is usually a good idea, to delete the manufacturer's crud and crud that built up over the years. SSD prices have come down dramatically. The average user probably doesn't need more than 240GB or so ($30 at Best Buy).

You didn't mention that people can still upgrade W7 free.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

My oldest (working, barely) laptop came with 1/2 GB RAM and ran Windows Vista Basic (lower than Home). It now has (maybe?) around 1 GB RAM and runs (barely, slowly, haltingly) Linux Mint. How do I upgrade it? Don't anyone DARE say give up on it! I've got older desktops that I'm going to "fix" - someday.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
07 Oct 2019

Another upgrade that wont ruin you, especially if your computer is several years old, is to upgrade the CPU to the latest and fastest our motherboard can accept. Those are easily available, often second hand from dismantled boxes, on Ebay.
I recently upgraded my desktop box from a single-core AMD Athlon 64 to a quad-core Phenom, and the result has been a dramatic increase in speed, for a measly US$32 ;-3)

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

I use a 2009 HP Z400 as my main computer. Windows 10 64 pro, 12GB ram. Throughput not speed was my reason to choose, processing 4k video. After adding a video card I realized it was also good for gaming, and it plays anything at 1080p.
It supports M.2 and NVME with an adapter, NVME gets 1GB/sec read/write speeds in real world, which is slow by comparison but fast by any measure. I have 8 SSD drives, SATa M.2 and NVME in combination of memory, high demand games and video library, and some cheap SSDs in a cache/buffer role, knowing they are sacrificial.
It scores solid middle of the pack in most downloadable benchmark comparisons.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2019

Linux Mint would run better with 2GB RAM.
With only 1GB, try LXLE Linux

Posted by:

Bill Pfeifer
08 Oct 2019

My computer was getting way too slow, so here's what i did: First, made sure i had the installation files for all programs that i wanted to keep, then cleared the hard drive (deleted all partitions), and installed Win 10 Pro, freshly downloaded from Microsoft. It activated OK, and i restored all personal stuff from my backup. The speed difference is remarkable. Don't know if it's from some old programs that i don't use anymore, or from a bloated registry, or from the gazillion updates and patches since Win 7 Pro, but it's fine now.

Posted by:

08 Oct 2019

One note is that you can try Linux before installing, BUT using it off a DVD ROM drive it will appear Very slow. That is mostly because of the Delay of the DVD ROM. don't let that throw you off. A fresh install on your own disk will be MUSH faster - and you can set up a dual boot n many cases to allow you to use windows if you need it.

(I have been using Linux for everything for nearly 20 years)

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
09 Oct 2019

I have a great computer guy who set me up in 2010 with W7 Pro desktop that's high-end and designed to last 10 years of non-stop 24/7 usage. Intel server motherboard. It gets constant use and is still great, fast enough, and decent storage at this point (558 GB used and 372 GB free). He told me almost two years ago that I should have upgraded to W10 but I believed the bad hype and never called him to discuss. I'll call him later this week to plot my next move. I know a tech guy who will remotely install W10 for $200 per computer (I have a ThinkPad that needs W10, too) or maybe my guy will come over and do both. Is $200 reasonable for a remote install?

Posted by:

Rick Krieger
09 Oct 2019

I agree with Sam, I have replaced two old hard drives with SSD s and I couldn't be happier. Made my old machine boot up in seconds not minutes.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2019

Main reason I have not moved to Windows 10....I have a couple of legacy programs that will NOT be accepted by Win10. I am slowly working to put the info in the best one to excel which would transfer. but it is a slow job. Hate to lose the program as it is very old and has NOT been updated in years. I gather it works off Access. When I switched to Win7 I lost all my family tree info.

Posted by:

Byrdie Pillinger
11 Nov 2019

I have a Windows 10 upgrade available for both my Windows 7 Pro Dell desktops... BUT I have an older Adobe CS6 suite (dreamweaver, Acrobat Pro, photoshop, illustrator along with others) that I use A LOT. They did not run on Windows 8, I assume they will not run on 10. Any suggestions?

Posted by:

Billy Ross
12 Nov 2019

Hi Bob,
As a non techie, I have tried to get Zorin OS 11 Core onto my PC, using a DVD supplied by OS It has install/live DVD on the DVD, and 32-bit Software.
It comes up with a mass of icons with 3/4 indecipherable (to me)letters(?) under each, but I have no clear way of knowing what to do from there. Can anyone help/advise please? And/or should I try some other Linux system. Also why is there not a 'simple' way to just download these, or at least a DVD containing the system that works 'Straight-out -of-the-box'. Many thanks for educating me and supplying such valuable info.

Posted by:

25 Nov 2019

Bob says "Generally, I would buy new rather than spend more than a third of new’s cost on upgrades." I think a good part of this depends on:
A) Whether you can do them yourself (or have a friend - basically, will you have to pay labor, as well)
B) How old the machine is. If it is very old, upgrading part of it will probably just result in a bottleneck somewhere else.

Also, to Lee: same problem here - I wound up running WinXP in an emulator - neither 7 nor 10 would run my software (no, not even 7 in "XP Mode"). Try running VirtualBox on any OS - you can install whatever OS version you require for your software to run.

Posted by:

16 Jan 2020


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