Upgrade Your Old Computer

Personal computer technology keeps speeding forward at a breakneck pace. Depending on how quickly a manufacturer rolls out new machines, it's only a slight exaggeration to say that the PC you purchased last month is already obsolete. If you bought late in a given cycle, chances are good that a newer (and maybe even less expensive) model has already replaced it. If you're one of those folks who always buys the latest and greatest, well, more power to you. Most of us, however, live in a world of limited budgets.

If your PC is getting long in the tooth, you have several options. You can, for example, upgrade your current system by adding new components or replacing some of its existing ones. Or you can just buy a new machine.

But before you decide what to do, it's a smart idea to do a bit of soul-searching and take a hard look at why you're unhappy with your existing PC. Is it too slow? Does it have reliability problems? Do you want to play the latest PC games, work with images from your digital camera, or edit video from your camcorder? Those are good reasons to consider an upgrade or new PC purchase.

However, you might also want to consider the possibility that your existing PC does meet your needs. Despite the seductive call of new, ultra-fast PCs stuffed with the latest features and tons of storage space, the bottom line is that many of us just don't need that much PC power. If most of your time is spent sending e-mail, surfing the Web, doing household bookkeeping, or even writing the next great American novel, you really don't need the blistering speed and bells and whistles of the latest models.

On the other hand, a few judiciously selected upgrades could help you ease into more-sophisticated computing without busting your budget. And although the computer companies won't like to hear this, upgrades can allow you to put off purchasing a new system for months, perhaps even years.

How Old Is Too Old?
Before we look at the types of PC upgrades you might consider, it's important to talk about which computers are worth upgrading. The best measure is the age of your PC. If your computer is less than two years old, it's a good candidate for upgrades. If your PC is much older than that, there's really no point in trying to upgrade it. PCs that are three, four, or more years old are simply unable to take advantage of the newest components such as hard drives or graphics cards.

In some cases, specific upgrades, such as processors, aren't available for older PCs; in others they'll work, but at slower speeds. For example, while you can install one of the newest mega-space hard drives in your old PC, it won't work at maximum speed. Some older PCs also require special upgrade components, such as memory chips, that are difficult to find or so expensive that upgrades just aren't economical.

When to Buy New
Aside from the age of the PC, there's no hard and fast rule for when upgrades just aren't worth it. But if you decide to upgrade most of your PC's components with higher-end options, the price can quickly approach the cost of a brand new PC. In that case, you should opt for a new computer, which will give you a system where everything is designed to work together using the latest technology.

In addition, some applications require superfast systems. That's particularly true for editing video from camcorders or playing the latest eye-popping computer games. These require very fast processors, oodles of RAM, and big high-performance hard drives. Admittedly, you can get by with an upgraded system, but you'll have to live with compromises. You can, for example, edit video on an older, upgraded system, but you'll spend time twiddling your thumbs while the system catches up with you. And you won't be able to use some of the more advanced video effects that would be a piece of cake for a brand new system.

From PC World Magazine