Time to Upgrade Your Computer?

Category: Linux

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.

Upgrade My Computer

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...

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Most recent comments on "Time to Upgrade Your Computer?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Peter Ridgers
24 Jan 2013

I may not upgrade my PCs but I may have to upgrade my brain. In my last post the the last sentence should read "none of my PCs is LESS than 6 years old".

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

I'm not sure if it's just me or do these 'my computer's slowing down' topics crop up about 6 months after every windows release?

98 to XP, XP to Vista/7 and now 7 to 8.

Yes we are also noticing a slowing down of our 7 based computers. NO we don't fancy 8.

Oddly enough I installed ubuntu as a dual boot on one of the laptops and now use it for surfing, email and all the connected computer stuff. And I am one of the people who tried linux a few years ago and swore I'd never use it again as 'I didn't need another time consuming hobby' etc. etc.

The biggest problem is that the vast majority, of our software will not run on linux. There are alternatives to most (firefox and filezilla are functional on both) but the emulators for running windows software on linux are somewhat buggy - some will disagree but that's our experience.

When Mr Gates decides that a lot of us don't want to turn our computers into big mobile phones and re-thinks windows for '9' we may re-think but for now it's 7 and ubuntu.

Thanks for all the great info,


P.S. I do have a tablet which runs android and I love it - I just want my computer to be a computer.........

Posted by:

Lee McIntyre
24 Jan 2013

I'm considering purchasing a new machine, but not for the reasons you might think. My senior-citizen wife does not relate well to technology, and is constantly asking me, "Should I update Flash?" "It says Adobe crashed. What should I do?" "If I click 'here,' will I get a virus?"

So, I'm thinking of the Telikin computer? It's targeted to seniors. Runs Linux. It's described at www.telikin.com. I'd be interested in your take. It's very expensive, but if it solves the problems my wife has using our Win7 machine, I'm gonna get her one. Your thoughts, Bob? ... Anyone?

(Remember: It's NOT target to anyone who reads this newsletter! It's targeted to seniors who feel cut off from friends and family because they're not adept at doing the things you and I take for granted, such as mouse manipulation, installing updates, backing up data, etc.)

Posted by:

Sharon McBain
24 Jan 2013

Rather than buying a new computer, they may need a cleanup or backup all the files they want onto a storeage device. Format the system and reload a clean copy of Windows Vista or Windows 7, then do a Windows UPdate. Load the only files back onto computer that you want and keep the old files on the storeage device (eg. CD Rom) Your computer run faster and keep it maintained regularly with maintenance of up-to-date reg cleaners, firewalls and antivirus programs

If you don't feel like you can do this take it to a computer tech who will do it for you, it is cheaper than buying a new computer. But again maybe you are looking for an excuse to buy a new computer.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

You said: "a new Windows 8 computer, and you don't mind spending some time learning the new interface, then that's a fine choice, too."

I just recently (this month) I needed to replace my computer, so I bought a new Toshiba laptop. It came loaded with Windows 8. I have experience with operating systems going back to DOS, pentium, Windows. I struggled with that computer for two weeks, and I have decided to see if I can return it. I should have researched it before I bought it, but I thought, with my experience with Windows I could just move ahead. WRONG. I managed to fix this Win7 computer, but if I require a new one I will switch to Apple MAC.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

Bob How can you say backup? How can you do backup? If you do not have access to a 3.5 floppy then good luck. I've Googled it and the best I can come up with is that I should enrol in a Microsoft program to become a wizard. Why in the name of, can they not allow us to use an external drive or usb to complete the backup process is beyond me . Thanks though for a you do for me/us. Best regards, john.

EDITOR'S NOTE: What? Who still uses 3.5-inch floppy disks? What backup program are you trying to use?

Posted by:

bob price
24 Jan 2013

Computers do not "slow down" they "bog down". We install mountains of s/w then wonder why it slowed down. Load a ton of concrete into your car's trunk and it will affect performance. Take out the concrete. Same with computers. Use any number of free programs that show what junk you have loading every time, and then uninstall 75% of them.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

If you have a reasonable amount of RAM the best value for money upgrade is an SSD. If cost is an issue use a small one and keep the old C: drive for data storage.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

I have an option to purchase Windows 8 for $14.99 that expires Jan 31, 2013, since I bought a new Laptop with Windows 7 in a few months ago....
Should I upgrade to Windows 8 or keep Windows 7, as have heard negative reviews about Windows 8.
Should I pass on being one generation ahead, as I have an 8 yr old dell Laptop with Windows XP which will be extinct soon and if I was one generation ahead, the Dell Laptop, XP would not be facing the extinction...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Faced with that choice, I'd buy Windows 8 for $14.99 and not install it now. If you ever want to install it later, you've only spent a few bucks.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

If you're an older person who uses the computer merely as an occasional tool (eg to keep in touch with friends/family, play games alone, write letters etc) it will be best to delay the upgrade to Wndows 8 as long as possible. Windows 8 is such a radical departure from the logic and familiarity of earlier operating systems that older users will have to devote considerable time and energy merely to use the tool again and the danger is they may simply give up. If you want to update your parents/grandparents machines please bear this in mind. Cheers Rick

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

This article hit home with me as I've just been salivating over the newer, faster, flashier computers out there, plus I don't like to be left behind in technology. My computer is over 5 years old, but I bought it "big," with 4GB RAM and a huge hard drive and a GeForce 8500 graphics card. It (sadly) came with Vista, but I was able to upgrade to Windows 7 a year and a half ago and have been very pleased with the performance, until lately, when it has seemed to slow down. (There was a huge Microsoft Update on January 10th --- did it affect anyone else's computer? It actually destroyed my ability to Hibernate as now that setting just turns off my CPU, never did before.)

I think I'll add another 4GB RAM and see if I can struggle through another 12 months of antiquated tech, then go for the whole enchilada next Christmas. By that time Windows XXX will be out, for sure!

Posted by:

24 Jan 2013

Though, it has been awhile, since I have posted ... I am still reading all of your newsletters and loving it. Thanks for sharing with us, your vast knowledge.

As to the topic, at hand ... I know personally, how to take care of my computer, by upgrading, defragmenting the hard drive, routine virus/Trojan Horse/Worm scans, so forth and so on. But, I know it is time for me to upgrade/update my computer. I am still running Windows XP Pro and while I love it and am completely familiar with it ... The time has come to start using Windows 7. I am NOT interested in Windows 8. I simply do NOT want to have an intense learning curve. At least, Windows 7 has some similarities to Windows XP, where the learning curve, wouldn't be as intense.

As for a "new" computer, I have been looking at used computers online. I know of an online website that will sell "off lease" computers, with a 6 month warranty, which is very good. Most website will only give a 90 day warranty. I just know, that the time is right, for this move. Hopefully, I can find an "off lease" desktop computer with Windows 7 Pro. I have learned to love the Pro editions and NTFS. Once you understand what the NTFS can do for you, your computing becomes much easier.

My only regret, when moving to Windows 7, is I will be losing some of my most favorite games, since I have been playing most of them, since Windows 98SE. But, that is progress for you. :)

Posted by:

25 Jan 2013

Some hours later I have taken your advice and backed up with Easeus. This is all new to me so I ask everyone's forgiveness regarding the previous post / rant? My salient point though remains. A Windows backup without an available 3.5 floppy would try Joab's patience. Best regards all.

Posted by:

25 Jan 2013

For backup, we use what is called a "Clickfree" backup system. Works very well with no setup or clicking necessary unless you want to adjust your options. Plugs into a USB port. Also, does more than one computer. Just plug it in and it automatically backs up. Likely, the easiest backup there is. Takes a while first time thru. They come in different capacities.

As a side note. It would take 100's of floppy discs to backup today's computers. However, we have a Sony Mavica camera that uses floppys for memory. It works so well that we still have floppy drives in our computers for the camera.

Also, good info on the upgrades Bob. And from all the posters too. That is something we have been putting off and probably need to do. I'll refer back to this page when I do.

Posted by:

John McQ
25 Jan 2013

It's probably true to say that all your articles are of value & certainly worth reading. The current one exemplifies the good advice that you constanly give rather than the 'off the cuff'answer.

Posted by:

25 Jan 2013

Bob, I always read your emails because of advice like this.

My PC is running XP and Ubuntu (just in case), but have no intentions of upgrading. I'm using less than 80% of my 250gb hard-drive, and with scheduled system cleaning to maintain it with backup every Sunday it runs fine.

Posted by:

Frank Randall
26 Jan 2013

To keep my PC (running XP) clean I use Glary Utilities & Soluto with Smart Defrag 2 to sort out my hard drives.
NB when installing these, as with all software, don't blindly click "yes" or "next" but read what it's asking unless you want a new homepage, default search engine, etc.

Posted by:

Robert Moulton
26 Jan 2013

I bought a Tiger Direct kit to run Windows 7 - haven't gotten around to 8 yet though I've worked with it some. But, for keeping business documents and as a printer server, I still run an IBM (not Lenovo) Netvista Pentium III that I bought refurbished in 2001. I upgraded the processor and maxed the RAM (512MB!), at one point I replaced the power supply and switch. It runs Windows 2000. It's glacially slow booting, but otherwise does the job just fine. It has outlasted 2 other machines. So, I totally agree - it's what you want to do with the machine, not the latest and best technology that should drive the decision to buy.

Posted by:

29 Jan 2013

Bob, thanks as always for your wonderful articles.
Regular maintenance is a must for all PCs
My first computer was a clunky old HP (I can't remember the model number) with a 500mhz CPU and 32mb RAM and a 10gb hard drive.
In the 3 years I had it I upgraded to 512mb RAM (the max it could hold) and added an 80g 2nd hard drive.
When it came time to replace it due to a series of hardware failures I decided to build my own.
With a lot of research I realized it was not terribly difficult to do.

This was my first build:
- Intel D915PGN Socket 775LGA Motherboard
- Corsair TX650W 650 Watt Power Supply
- Windows XP Pro x32 w/ SP3
- 3.6ghz Intel P4 with Hyper Threading, 2mb L2 Cache and 800mhz FSB
- 2g Corsair XMS Dual Channel DDR RAM (PC3200)
- NVIDIA GeForce 9400 GT with 1g DDR2 RAM
- LaCie Double Layer DVD±/CD-RW drive with Lightscribe
- 74g Western Digital 10,000 rpm SATA150 Raptor Hard Drive with 16mb Cache (C: drive)
- 400g Western Digital SATA150 Hard Drive with 16mb Cache (D: drive)
- Mitsumi 7-in-1 Card Reader/Writer and Floppy Drive

This PC served me well for more than 8 years and as a hardcore gamer I seldom had any problems with it.
With regular maintenance any PC will last for many years and serve you very well.
I recently built my newest PC and it's better than the first build.

Here are (some of) the specs:
- ASUS M4A87T AM3 AMD 870 SATA 6Gb/s ATX AMD Motherboard
- Rosewill Green Series RG630-S12 630W Power Supply
- Windows 7 Ultimate x64 w/ SP1
- AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz 3 x 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Processor (4th core not unlocked)
- ADATA XPG Gaming Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Dual Channel Desktop Memory
- SAPPHIRE 100297L Radeon HD 5830 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card w/ ATI Eyefinity Technology
- 74gb Western Digital 10,000 rpm SATA150 Raptor Hard Drive with 16mb Cache (C: drive)
- 1tb Western Digital 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive (D: drive)
- LITE-ON Double Layer DVD±/CD-RW SATA drive

NOTE: The 74g Raptor drive in my new build is the same one that was in my 1st build.
It it still running strong and I make back-ups on a regular basis in case it fails.
I also omitted a floppy drive on my new PC as they are quickly becoming obsolete.
I anticipate that with regular maintenance this one should last me into year 2020, maybe even close to 2025.

Posted by:

Dr Keshav Sharma
30 Jan 2013

Nice question about purchasing a new PC etc. What Bob has suggested holds good. Being a very senior IT consultant, I may add that use your PC/Laptop till the end. My researches have shown that a very vast majority of users use their PCs for word processing, surfing on Net and similar simple tasks. Only professional use their PCs for Video editing or other number intensive tasks. So my advice is not to be taken in by the hype that PC manufacturers spread. I have a number of PCs and laptops and some of these machines are more that 8 years old and still working fine. Proper maintenance and good care is needed. Definitely, PCs have their life, but with a little care we can prolong it. Need based purchases are best. Good luck.

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