Save a Bundle on a New Computer -- By Rejuvinating Your Old OneIf you're hearing the Jeopardy! theme play in your head as you wait -- and wait -- for your computer to boot up, you've probably already started thinking replacement.

Poor and slow performance often leads consumers to conclude they need to junk their old PC or Mac and buy a new machine. According to research firm gap intelligence, here's what it costs to upgrade to new a computer, based on manufacturers' recommended configurations:

  • Average selling price of a new PC desktop tower, 4GB RAM: $462
  • Average selling price of a new 15.6" display, 4GB RAM laptop: $510

Hundreds of dollars may seem like a reasonable price to pay for peace of mind and convenience. But doesn't $50 to $100 sound like a better bargain?

That's the price range for some quick and easy fix-it steps that could get your existing computer humming along like new again.

Life-Saving Measures

Sadly, millions of computer users junk their systems prematurely, when all they needed were small hardware upgrades or software maintenance. In 2007, for example, more than 40 million computers were dumped, at an average age of just 2½ years, and often, the only thing wrong with them was that they need larger hard drives, according to a facts and figures list from iolo technologies.

Taking simple steps like installing a larger hard drive or more RAM, as well as software maintenance on the system, could extend the life of a computer by a year or two, says Chris Cope, CEO of SlimWare Utilities.

Common Signs of Trouble

Frustration often tends to peak when it takes five minutes to boot up a computer, launch programs, or process data, Cope says. And Web surfing that is anything less than lickity-split or results in a browser crashing is considered intolerable.
The root causes of these problems often can be found back on that too-small hard drive, which can be suffering from memory fragmentation or simply being chock full of useless files and outdated software.

Other common impediments include programs that automatically launch when a computer starts or runs in the background, sucking up the available RAM, Cope says.

Simple DIY Fixes

Delving into a computer with the intention of becoming a fix-it guy or gal is not as daunting as it may seem. For four of these five performance-enhancing fixes, no screwdrivers, grease, or wrenches are required (and for the last one, don't let the tiny little screwdriver involved intimidate you -- it's worth the effort).

Cope offers a few easy steps consumers can take to improve the speed and efficiency of their computer:

  • Clean out your browser history, cache, and unnecessary plug-ins or programs. How-to instructions for each browser -- Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc. -- are easily found online. Also, do a search on each plug-in and program to determine whether it's a keeper or a throwaway.
  • Weed down the list of programs that launch when the computer is fired up, or run in the background. To change these programs back to software that only runs when you ask it to: Right-click on the Windows Start button at the bottom left of the screen; in the search box, type "msconfig"; click on the "Startup" tab; and remove programs you no longer need to automatically ignite when starting up the computer. Useless programs not only take up hard drive space, but may also update automatically and consume more of your computer's resources.
  • Defragment your hard drive. Imagine your hard drive is a bookshelf, with all the pages of all the books scattered haphazardly along it. Try to read a chapter, and you're jumping back and forth every time you turn the page. Defragmenting puts the pages in order, thus speeding up the computer's ability to read them. To do this: From the Windows Start button, type "defrag" in the search box; click on "defragment now"; and set the defragment process to run on a schedule of at least once a week.
  • Replace your out-of-date drivers: If printers, monitors, or devices attached to the computer suddenly stop working, try updating their drivers and that of your computer. Drivers for a particular device are usually found in the support section of the manufacturer's website.
  • Consider doubling your RAM. This hardware upgrade -- replacing a few chips -- usually costs less than $100 and can greatly improve the speed and efficiency of the system.

When You Need a Hand

Of course, there are other remedies besides the total DIY route. A number of software utilities are on the market, designed to enhance the performance of computers by deleting files no longer in use or repairing fragmented hard drives.

PC Magazine lists a few noteworthy utilities, including a couple winners of its Editors' Choice Award:

Iolo System Mechanic 10 ($49.95, 4.5 stars) scored high marks for its top-notch tune-up capabilities, but also for its Program Accelerator (which smartly realigns all of a program's dependent files on the hard drive so that the PC finds them faster), useful desktop widget (which delivers at-a-glance system information), and Whole Home Licensing (which does away with install limitations). SlimWare Utilities' SlimCleaner also scored an Editors' Choice Award for its unique approach. Not only is it free and license-free, but it uses aggregated data from its user base to recommend the optimal settings for your PC; it even rewards you with badges for contributing accurate information. AVG PC Tuneup 2011's ($29.99, 4 stars) overall performance and real-time system monitoring makes it another to turn to when it's time to clean up a PC.

When It's Really Time to Let Go

Despite all these moves that can bring a computer system back up to snuff for a while, eventually advances in technology will make it worthwhile to buy a new computer.

A low score on the performance meter in Windows 7 justifies buying a new system after attempts to extend the life of a computer have failed, says Cope.

"But in this economy, everyone is trying to extend the life of their computer," he says.


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wp41e

This is not always practical. Older motherboards may have upgrade limits (like a limit on RAM) some use the older IDE ATA 66 hardrives which are becoming scarce and may not be compatible with the newer SATA drives. Also Some older types of RAM are becoming unavailable. Newer video cards have their own interface and are not compatible. It really depends on how old you machine is, what you use it for and how much you're willing to spend.

March 05 2012 at 12:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
gopispoison666

Simply adding memory doesn't give the performance boost it used to under old Windows, unless you are critically short of it. If you have a desktop system with standard components, it's relatively easy to swap out the motherboard, processor and memory. If your system is more than three or four years old, that might be the way to go. Of course, if your system is 10 years old or more, it's wise to buy or build a new one. Keep in mind, though, that Windows 8 is going to be designed around a bunch of new hardware, so if you're not content with Windows 7, it might be best to suck it up for a while and wait.

Linux, as mentioned below, can run on much lighter equipment than Windows. It does have a learning curve, however. I built a UBUNTU (linux flavor) desktop for $150 a couple years ago with an Atom dual core processor and 2 gigs of memory, a used hard drive I had laying around and no DVD or CD. The OS installed from a thumb drive, and the system is perfectly adequate for most uses. UBUNTU comes with an office package and browser and is ready to rock and roll. However, there is a learning curve associated with it, and it's not as user friendly as Windows. Installing programs can be a bit of a challenge. Plenty of information is available online and free, but you do have to spend a little time learning things if you want to do more than cruise the web or keep a spreadsheet or type an occasional letter.

March 04 2012 at 11:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gopispoison666's comment
Setanta

research window 8 kill switch and wonder what exactly is that all about--

March 04 2012 at 4:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Setanta's comment
gopispoison666

Hmm.. not a particularly pleasant idea, imho. Microsoft already makes Windows installation and maintenance a nuisance with all its anti-piracy strategies, which, I believe, makes them more and more vulnerable to competition from open source OSs and programs. If I were running a business, you can be damned sure I'd be using an open source package rather than Office or WordPerfect. Those two pieces of bloatware are really quite obsolete now.

March 05 2012 at 12:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
violinnut2011

Replace your operating system with a Linux distro. Some Linux distributions can run on a Pentium 3 processor with a couple hundred megabytes of RAM. Linux is also far more secure than Windows.

March 03 2012 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zattico

you an also add an external flash drive to move files music and some other things to to free up space on your hard drive

March 03 2012 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mac Graphics

I recently did just that. My old iMac was starting to feel slow, and I discovered that it had only 1GB of RAM. I got a 4GB upgrade from ramjet.com and now this thing just screams. It honestly feels 4x faster! Best money I have spent on this thing, and less than 10% of the price of a new iMac.

March 02 2012 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
William Keeley

There are several things that can be done to rejuvenate your computer without spending a single dime.

1. Filesystem check.
2. Registry clean and clean out junk files with Ccleaner (free to use - full version - no adware).
3. Use Malwarebytes antimalware to check for malicious software. Do the same with Spybot Search and Destroy (Both are free and can be uninstalled afterwards).
4. Defragment the disk.

March 02 2012 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
William Keeley

There are several things that can be done to rejuvenate your computer without spending a single dime.

1. Filesystem check.
2. Registry clean and clean out junk files with Ccleaner (free to use - full version - no adware).
3. Use Malwarebytes antimalware to check for malicious software. Do the same with Spybot Search and Destroy (Both are free and can be uninstalled afterwards).
4. Defragment the disk.

More tips are found in my book, "Tech Tactics Money Saving Secrets."

March 02 2012 at 5:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
William Keeley

There are several things that can be done to rejuvenate your computer without spending a single dime.

1. Filesystem check.
2. Registry clean and clean out junk files with Ccleaner (free to use - full version - no adware).
3. Use Malwarebytes antimalware to check for malicious software. Do the same with Spybot Search and Destroy (Both are free and can be uninstalled afterwards).
4. Defragment the disk.

More tips are found in my book, "Tech Tactics Money Saving Secrets" now on Amazon.

March 02 2012 at 5:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply