From the Kenosha News on 7-24-05

     Decide if it's time to upgrade or replace your computer

     A fairly common question that readers ask me is if I think they should upgrade or replace their computer. Following is a series of questions that help users determine what the right strategy is.

  1.      How old is your computer? If it's over five years old, it's technically obsolete, but that isn't necessarily a reason to replace it.
  2.      Is it experiencing problems? If you're starting to get crashes, failures, or flakiness AND your computer is fairly old, it could indicate hardware issues. However, before you decide your computer itself is failing, you should know that software, operating systems, and viruses are more often a problem than hardware failures, especially if you have a reputable brand name computer.
  3.      Is the computer out of warranty? If the warranty is still active, have any suspected hardware problems fixed under the warranty. If the warranty has expired, that's the threshold at which it might make more sense to replace than to upgrade.
  4.      Can you still use it to do what you need to? If your computer helps you accomplish what you need to, that's far more important than having the most recent hardware, software, and operating system.
  5.      How is the performance of your computer? Is your main complaint that it's slow? Or are you running out of space? What limitations are making you consider an upgrade?

      Basically, if your computer is running reliably and doing what you need it to, you shouldn't need to upgrade or replace it, even if it's quite old. You should, however, make sure you back up your data faithfully since chances of a hardware failure increase as the computer ages.

      If your computer won't run the software you need or is doggedly slow, it is probably time to upgrade or replace it. I only recommend RAM (memory) upgrades since those are easy, fairly inexpensive, and pose nearly no danger to your computer. Processor upgrades are only recommended if you have a fairly new computer with other expensive features and you really need to keep it up to speed for heavy-duty graphics work or gaming. Hard drive upgrades are especially painful since they require re-installation of the operating system, re-installation of all your software, and backup and restore of your data. I'd recommend acquiring an external USB hard drive for auxiliary storage before I'd upgrade a hard drive.

      If you think you need to upgrade multiple items on your computer, it may be more cost effective to replace it, especially if it's out of warranty and not capable of running the current operating system (Windows XP or Mac OSX Tiger, for example.) When you replace the whole computer, you'll be starting with a clean system and a new warranty. You'll also have more time to set up the new one, make sure all your programs run, and move you data to it, all while continuing to use your older computer. The transition can be as fast or slow as you choose.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 7-24-05