Jul 09 2009

Three-Year Tune-Ups

Six options for extending the life of older PCs.

Like any machine, a computer’s performance can decline over time. Yet even after years of service, these unique tools can still be restored to top form — and in many cases will perform better than new with a few relatively minor improvements. Consider these six options for extending the service life of aging PCs:

Option 1: Clean House

Reduce the operating overhead on an older system. Perform a disk cleanup by right-clicking the system’s hard drive and going into the Properties menu. This will clear temporary files that not only take up space but also degrade system performance and slow disk-maintenance utilities.

Benefit: Improves system performance at zero cost. You’ll gain a noticeable increase in performance and buy more time before a physical upgrade is due (hardware upgrades typically cost less over time, making future upgrades less expensive).

Option 2: Start Over

When a machine is too far gone to clean up but too new to replace, one option is to start over completely — wipe the hard drive clean and install everything from scratch. This won’t take hours of labor; most systems ship with recovery media or diagnostic partitions, and many times, reloading from ground zero involves nothing more than hitting a key during startup or inserting a recovery disk and following on-screen instructions.

Benefit: Costs nothing, and the computer is restored to like-new performance.

Option 3: Increase Memory

The first and most painless upgrade option is to increase the system’s memory. Simply remove the side cover and look near the processor for the memory slot. Most notebook designs make it easy to upgrade (best-case scenario: remove a cover on the bottom of the notebook). The cardinal rule when upgrading memory is to arm yourself with the appropriate knowledge beforehand. Take this short test before making your purchase:

  1. What type of memory does my computer require?
  2. How many memory slots are available in my computer?
  3. How much memory can my computer hold?
  4. How easy is this going to be?

Benefit: Boosts speed because less data is cached in virtual memory. Most upgrades take less than 10 minutes to perform, even for an inexperienced user.

Option 4: Increase Storage Capacity

With the proliferation of multimedia in both home and business applications, it’s no wonder that storage needs often outgrow a machine’s initial capacity. For desktop users, adding an additional internal hard drive takes only a few minutes and typically doesn’t affect the existing system drive. Depending on your notebook model, it may be possible to add an additional hard drive by using an available expansion bay.

Benefit: Lets you keep more on your system and delete files less often.

Option 5: Upgrade the Video Card

While most people generally associate graphic accelerator cards with computer gaming, they’re a necessity for many business applications. To replace the video card on a desktop, simply uninstall the old video drivers, shut down, pull out the old card, replace it, then reboot and install new drivers.

Benefit: Improves the performance of demanding applications.

Option 6: Upgrade the Processor

Although upgrading processor speed is the most advanced solution, it is the ultimate answer for dramatically improving performance without buying a new machine. Many PCs ship with mother­boards that can support much higher clock speeds, making upgrading as simple as removing and replacing the existing processor. Other units may come already maxed-out or with soldered processors, which would require that the entire motherboard be replaced in order to upgrade processor speed. If this is the case, you’ll need to research what else is involved.

Benefit: Delivers the highest performance.