Here's How to Upgrade Your Old Computer
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.
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
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Oct 2019
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