From the Kenosha News on 10-16-05

Is it time to upgrade or replace your computer?

     If you’re thinking about upgrading or replacing your computer, you need to ask yourself why. Often, people get new computers because their old one is slowing down or no longer works properly. Before you spend money on a new computer, check a few things to determine if it’s really necessary.

     First, how old is your computer? If it is three or less years old, it should be performing reasonably well, barring any hardware failures. If it’s over five years old and you need to run the current version of your software or connect to newer hardware, it has probably outlived its usefulness.

     Before you upgrade or replace your computer, check for spyware and viruses that might be slowing it down or causing it to act strangely. Make sure your anti-virus is current and working. Do a full scan in safe mode. Then get spyware detection software like AdAware or Spybot Search and Destroy. Run it often and delete all the items is detects.

     If you’re experiencing other odd behavior or you’ve had a virus that indicated it may have compromised your computer’s security, it’s time to re-load Windows from the original CDs. You could try to do a Windows “repair,” but if your computer is really messed up, a full re-install with a disk format is probably warranted. Better yet, if your computer has “rescue CDs” containing the original setup and software, that’s the best way to restore it to health. Remember that either of these processes will erase your data, so be sure to save your documents onto separate media (CDs, USB memory device, etc.), and make sure that you have the installation CDs for all of your software. Expect the re-load process to take a few days.

     If a software reload doesn’t speed up your computer, it may be time for a RAM (memory) upgrade. If your computer has less than 128Mb, it’s a prime candidate. An upgrade to 256Mb or more will make a world of difference. You’ll need to contact your computer’s manufacturer or a qualified local vendor to tell you what memory will fit your computer. Installing memory on a desktop is not difficult, but it does require opening the case. Installing memory on a laptop depends entirely on the model and how it’s constructed. A Thinkpad laptop has very simple access to upgrade memory, whereas a Mac iBook makes adding RAM difficult for an end-user. Your manufacturer may be able to walk you through how to install the upgrade; call their tech support.

     One upgrade I always avoid is a hard drive upgrade. Replacing a hard drive requires you to re-install Windows and all of your software plus save and restore your data, so it’s generally more work than it’s worth. If you’re running out of space to store files, it’s time to clean out unwanted software programs. If that doesn’t help enough, consider an external USB or firewire hard drive.

     If you’re certain that a new computer is the best solution for you, next week’s column will discuss what to look for in a new machine.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 10-16-05