Laptop and Desktop Hardware Upgrades - are they worth it?

Laptop and Desktop Hardware Upgrades - are they worth it?

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The cost of computer hardware may have reduced significantly over the years while concurrently becoming more powerful, but replacing your desktop or laptop is still a big outlay, particularly if you are on a fixed, limited income. A lower cost alternative may be to upgrade your software and/or hardware.

For those of us still using Windows XP, Microsoft will cease supporting this operating system on 1st April 2014 - just 4 months from now. You'd be a fool if you used Windows XP to access the Internet after this date. Any Microsoft security upgrades after the 1st of April will be carefully checked by hackers to see whether that software on Windows XP is vulnerable and if so, these weaknesses will be exploited to gain access to your computer. You have been warned!

If your computer is under five years old, then it may well be worthwhile upgrading the operating system to Windows 7. (I wouldn't recommend Windows 8.1 as the user interface has changed dramatically from earlier Windows versions.) Provided your old computer had a medium quality processor (CPU) when new, it should be more than adequate for web browsing. You can purchase a Windows upgrade disk for around $100. While the amount of RAM required by Windows 7 is about the same or less than that needed by Windows XP, the same can't be said for many commonly used programs. I'd recommend an upgrade to at least 2GBytes of RAM, but no more than 3GBytes if you have a 32 bit operating system. (You may need to fit 4GBytes of RAM, but be warned that you won't be able to access all of that RAM. A 32 bit operating system can only access 4GBytes of RAM and some of that is used by the video card.) 2GBytes of RAM costs about $25 and the extra RAM can really make a difference to the responsiveness of your computer.

Even if you aren't running out of room on your hard drive, upgrading this is worth while - mechanical drives don't last forever. The easiest way to upgrade your computer operating system is to exchange the old hard drive for a new one, install the new operating system, then transfer files from your old hard drive. A 500 Gigabyte notebook/laptop hard drive will cost around $60 and a 2 Terabyte desktop drive around $100. It isn't that hard to change these over on desktops and laptops, so you shouldn't be charged much by your local computer repair shop to do this work. It may be more cost effective to buy a new laptop/desktop if you need to upgrade your operating system however, given the operating system upgrade cost is likely to exceed the RAM and hard drive cost, even before labour is factored in.

Then there's Linux. There's an overwhelming choice of distributions (called distros), with some specifically designed for low powered hardware. I installed Salix on a 3 year old underpowered netbook and it now gets much more use.

Lighthouse background

Some structures can last a very long time with the occasional upgrade. The lighthouse pictured began service in 1869 and remained operational for over a hundred years, during which time it was upgraded and relocated, before being brought home for use as a maritime museum. It was prefabricated in England of iron plates and shipped in pieces. The British architects intended keepers live around the base of the tower in rooms made of iron. The heat of our summers made this impossible and quarters were prepared between decks of the staying. The poem below by one of the construction workers, was found in a time capsule, discovered during one of the lighthouse moves:

Our Lighthouse

When the sun doth gild the southern skies

Above these lonely isles

There is no need for this our lighthouse

Nor can't be seen for many miles

But when the storm and wind doth howl

Upon the ocean wild

The mariner will see this light

Which will beam out so mild

That fancy paints the lights of home

That cottage by the sea

Where dwell his loved ones all secure

From wind and wave while he

Doth work and toil to earn their bread

and die if needs must be

He then will bless this kindly light

And think mayhaps of us

Who built this light that such as he

Might rest secure while it flashed

Its rays across the sea


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6 Replies

  • Sorry Neil , I don't agree.

    Why upgrade old and failing hardware, power supplies, mechanical hard drives, fading monitors, with new parts and software that are now old technology.

    iPad minis are about $300 and some Androids are even cheaper...

    Go mobile... millions of Apps ... many are free...

    Sorry I have to iPad, just informed me it is time to take my Ramipril, I have a number of messages from my sister waiting, she wants a Facetime call, there is a storm warning in Ontario, BBC is telling me about a B52 flying over a disputed island, my package is waiting in the post office, and Dominos pizza has a special tomorrow!!

    Don't throw good money at an old computer....time marches on.

    Go mobile.

  • I had a hard time processing that my 7 year old MacBook Pro is considered ancient and not worth fixing. I replaced it. When I was growing up things were made to last forever, or at least a very long time. Not true any more. Very sad. At the same time, I think Chris is right when it comes to technology. There were upgrades for my

    i pad before I had even figured out the basics of using it, and it's not a year old yet, but there are already newer models.

  • The hard truth of declining PC sales this year says that Chris is right. While some of the sales drop was due to the underwhelming success of Windows 8, many have found that a tablet provides all the computing power that they need.

    It used to be the case that software bloat outpaced hardware advances, forcing an upgrade every 3 or so years, just so that you could run a basic office suite and browse the Internet. That hasn't been the case for a while now.

    For those that don't have the means to upgrade, they now know that they could well get a few more years of life out of their current hardware with perhaps an outlay of around $200. If they need to buy a new hard drive, they can re-use the old one, simply by buying an external USB drive case for a few 10's of dollars. Great for back-ups. RAM is not likely to be compatible with a later purchase however.

    For those that are ethically uncomfortable with replacing a functioning computer, they now know the approximate cost of an upgrade, compared to spending a bit more to get something new which has the advantage of a warranty. Sadly, Windows computers slow down from the moment you buy them as more and more applications insert themselves into the start-up routine and run in the background, the hard drive gets fragmented and the crud builds up. There are ways to combat this, but that's a topic for another day.


  • It is an interesting discussion. Based on my exoerience I'd make a few comments, as ever we have overlapping opinions some agreements, some disagreements, but that is part of the richness of life.

    1: i now do a significant amount of my internet facing time (mail, browsing, facebook, twitter and banking) on my iPad and I'm happy with that.

    2: My web site maintenance is done on Linux with browser checking on my iPad, Linux and XP in a virtualbox on Linux.

    3: filesharing around the family (music, photos and docs) is run from my Linux server.

    4: any printing direct to a wireless printer(happens to be a Samsung colour laser, but plenty of others).

    5: in my professional life I was engaged with a number of financial institutions that run very important applications on Windows/NT over two years after it's service stoppend and at least on (that I can remember) that ran AIX 4.3 four years after end of service. I wouldnt see April as a 'drop dead' date to get off XP but would try to do it reasonably soon after.

    6: upgrading PCs, I've done this since 1985 on a regular basis. Last year I swiched the hard drive in my wife's PC and my sons PC to SSDs. Very cost effective upgrade that has probably given both another couple of yearsnd possibly the best one I've ever done.

    The bottom line, in my opinion, is your mileage will differ depending on your usage and your experience. Everyone is right in some way.


  • Interesting insights Rob,

    I very much hope you are right about Windows XP, but I expect this will be an irresistible target with the huge installed base (much bigger in both percentage and absolute terms than was the case for previously orphaned Windows Operating Systems). Then again, perhaps China will be able to negotiate an extension with Microsoft? Watch this space.

    I project managed operating system upgrades on both desktops and servers (Windows and Unix) for many years. Operating systems that were out of support were only allowed to remain on corporate networks provided they had specialised firewall hardware between them and the network. The hardware was a custom Linux box that did packet inspection to hopefully block any malware. These were mainly needed to support diagnostic machines that were running 'embedded' versions of Windows - typically on radiology machines.

    I just came across another potential trap for those considering an upgrade of what was a high end laptop/desktop when purchased. Check first if Windows7 drivers will support your hardware!

    Solid State Drives (SSDs) certainly do provided a very welcome boost in performance, but this is something only reasonably technical people would attempt. You'd also need to seriously consider whether that's a better investment than just buying new hardware, though in this case, you are replacing a mechanical device that is probably near end of life with something that should have a longer life than your already aged hardware.

    There are many paths with different paths (and sometimes several paths) right for different situations.


  • A useuful article intended for iphone and ipad but with some general info about keeping your phone/tablet secure

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