Understanding Computers
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  Hardware Upgrades
In a another column, I spoke about software upgrades, but I never mentioned hardware upgrades. That's because it's a lot easier to talk about software. Hardware standards change constantly. Many new parts don't fit in older machines. Significant hardware upgrades are usually impractical.
A significant upgrade to the Central Processing Unit (CPU) or even the Random Access Memory (RAM) may require an upgrade to the system board. The new system board might require a different power supply connection. Even if you change the power supply, the new system board might not fit in the old case. To top it all off, your old video card, modem, even the keyboard and mouse connectors may not fit in the new system board. New Hard Disk Drives (HDD), or hard drives, won't work on old system boards. Sometimes old hard drives won't connect to new boards. You may as well throw in a couple of Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports for that digital camera you got for your birthday and a new Operating System (OS) that understands them while you're at it.
As they say on the infomercials, "Wait there's more." Some proprietary, or brand name, computers can only be upgraded using Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts. Aftermarket parts just won't fit in these computers and the OEM parts are expensive or difficult to get.
By the time you buy a new CPU, RAM, system board, power supply, case, HDD, and OS you have bought a new computer. This is coming from a guy who just bought a thirty year old bicycle because it suited his needs perfectly
So when should you buy a new computer? When the cost of making your present computer adequate to your needs approaches the cost of setting up a new one. Some of the factors in this decision include the ease of obtaining compatible parts, and whether the time that needs to be spent optimizing the old system approaches that of setting up a new one. Pay special attention to the condition of the hard drive. Beware of noisy, old or slow HDD. Hard drive failures are devastating.
There are many bargains out there, in both new and used equipment. While the price of a new leading edge computer remains fairly constant, only rocket scientists and internet game players will ever use more than a fraction of their computing power. The rest of us can get by comfortably with much less powerful systems. You can get a feel for prices by reading Monitor or one of the other free computer magazines or perusing the newsgroups like ott.forsale.computing.
Some simple do and don'ts for buying a new computer. Don't rely on brand names. Computers aren't like cars, brand names seldom mean much, especially when you're buying a desktop. One of the most famous names in computing has consistently marketed some of the most disappointing PCs ever made. See "Open Architecture" on the Articles page of our website www.UnderstandingComputers.ca to learn more. Know what you want it for before you buy. You don't need a monster PC to play solitaire or surf the web any more than you need a Ferrari to drive to the corner store. Don't be in too big a rush to buy. Today's cutting edge will be tomorrow's bargain.
Last but not least, don't shop on price alone, especially for new equipment. Reputation is more important than size. One of our clients reported paying for a Gateway computer the day before the mail order giant closed its Canadian retail outlets without notice. The computer sales market is very competitive and profit margins are quite slim. The first corner to get cut is service, the second is quality. Good shops cut their overhead first and their service last. Pick a shop that specializes in computers and has been in business for a few years. Talk to the service staff, see how long they have been with the company. A high staff turnover is a sure sign of a troubled company. If you aren't comfortable, try somewhere else.
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