The Age Old Question: Get a New Computer or Upgrade
Article by Rick Leinecker, September 6, 2006

The most common computer question I get goes like this: "My computer is kind of old and slow - do you think I should upgrade it or buy a new one?" And as simple as the question sounds, it's not always an easy one to answer. I'm going to give you general guidelines for answering that question.

The most important thing to determine is whether your computer does what you need it to do. If you write letters and surf the Internet and it does the job adequately, then leave well enough alone. Don't fall victim to the advertising schemes of computer manufacturers. They love telling you what their new models can do to coax you into a new purchase. I have seen so many people buy the latest and greatest and never even use the new features. They just write letters and surf the Internet - exactly what their old systems were doing.

The next question is whether an inexpensive upgrade will give a computer enough for it to perform adequately. I've found that the three most cost-effective upgrades are memory, storage space, and CD or DVD drives. I'll talk about those three upgrades now.

Memory upgrades can make your computer run much faster and smoother. The memory I'm referring to is technically called Random Access Memory (RAM) and usually comes in the form of memory sticks that are inserted into the computer's motherboard. The speed increase results from having more internal memory with which to perform calculations and operations. Without the extra memory, your computer uses the hard drive similarly to memory in a technique called virtual memory. But virtual memory that relies on hard drives is much slower than RAM. By giving your computer the breathing space with extra RAM, you can see a dramatic increase in the speed of your computer. I just checked prices, and a memory upgrade can cost anywhere from $75 to $150. This is much less than a new computer and should be seriously considered.

Another cost-effective upgrade is to install an additional hard drive. It doesn't take long to fill up a hard drive, especially if you like pictures, videos, and music. (Mine are almost always full!) Most computers have the capacity for two hard drives. It's easy and cheap to add a second. I just checked on 300GB hard drives and saw prices that range from $80 to $200. So for roughly $100 you can get enough storage space for all of your videos, pictures, and music files. This is an upgrade that is well worth it and I recommend adding a second hard drive if you find that you are always running low on storage space.

Extra memory and an extra hard drive are practically no-brainers. Adding a CD or DVD drive is almost as easy. They're cheap and can really make your life easy if you need to copy CDs and DVDs, or you want to create your own media presentations. Prices at the present time range from $50 to $200 for a DVD burner (which will also burn CDs). The last one I bought cost $80 and works very well.

I'm reluctant to do other upgrades. That doesn't mean I won't, but I'm much more careful. I've had computers in the past where I started upgrading here and there, and before I knew it I had spent more on upgrades than a new computer would have cost. I almost never upgrade to a better video card or sound card. You can also get a new keyboard and mouse. You can change monitors. You can add the latest whiz bang peripheral to speed the computer up. I have found, though, that you get all of this if you are choosy when shopping for a new computer.

The last thing I want to mention is the speed of the computer. If your computer operates at a slow speed, this is very difficult and expensive to overcome. For today's applications, you should consider a new system if yours is slower than about 1.5 Gigahertz. (Remember rule one: don't upgrade if it does what you need.) That's my general rule and based on my own experience - others may have their own criteria.

Those are my thoughts on computer upgrades versus buying new computers.