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Upgrading your computer

As your computer ages, you’ll find an increasing number of programs out there that are difficult to run.  Either they take a long time to load or they’ll perform slowly once running.  This is most evident in computer games, though you’ll find it happens for just about any program that requires a lot of hardware capability.

The rule of thumb that I use is that every three to four years you’ll need a serious overhaul of your computer.  Between that time, it’s always a good idea to stay up to date by pursuing a small number of minor upgrades.  Let’s talk about what you can do during that period:


A basic upgrade that costs under $100 is an addition stick of RAM.  The best way to go a few years down the road is add the same amount of RAM that you started with.  So you might have a 512MB stick in your computer right now, but soon it will be good to have two 512’s for 1GB worth of memory.  RAM upgrades are ideal for a few percentage points of performance improvement, going as high as 10% if there are programs that demand lots of RAM.  It’s a good basic hedge that you can use to keep your computer competitive.

Hard Drive

While not strictly a hardware improvement, increasing your storage capacity with another hard drive, or replacing your hard drive with a bigger one, is always a good idea later on in your computer’s life.  As programs and games get bigger, and as you continue to download music and movies, you’ll find that you will run out of hard drive fairly quickly.  You don’t ever want to have less than 10% free space left because Windows needs free space to run virtual memory.  When buying a new hard drive, always go as high as you can in terms of storage capacity to the point where it becomes too expensive.

Video Card

A good interim solution for gaming systems is a video card upgrade midway through your computer’s life.  Right now this is a bit of a sticky issue with the phase-out of AGP slots imminent.  In a few years, no one is going to make AGP video cards.  When that happens, you’ll need to purchase a new system that supports PCI Express.

The Overhaul

When the time comes, you’ll have to invest in a new motherboard, CPU, and RAM.  These all fit together in one package from overhaul to overhaul.  Sometimes you may need a new case to provide additional power.