Short and quick answer:
Toss it and buy a new one.
Medium effort answer:
Take it to your local computer expert, pay them a decent fee for their knowledge and efforts to fix it up. They may recommend some minimal hardware upgrades too. Pay for these upgrades (hardware cost plus service fee for the guy upgrading it).
The long, do-it-yourself answer: (Be honest, do you know enough to perform hardware upgrades or sophisticated software configuration changes????)
I’m frequently asked by family and friends what can be done about speeding up an old computer, but in a cost effective manner. The answer to this question (when cost is considered) changes over time because the price of software and hardware components change at difference rates. Also, each individual’s time is also worth a different dollar value. If you make a decent amount of money, seriously, don’t waste your time. Pay someone else to do it for you.
If your time isn’t worth much or if you insist on doing it yourself, in spite of being able to afford the cost of someone else doing it for you, then here’s what I recommend:
For the last few years, (~2007 through now (2010) and for the foreseeable future) I recommend the following:
- How old is your computer? If it’s more than 5 years old, it’s probably not worth the time, effort, and cost to fix it. My recommendation is to save yourself the trouble with minimal payoff and just buy a new (or a newer used computer). You can keep your old computer as an emergency backup or just give it to a school or charity (wipe your hard drive clean before doing this!!!!!)
- If it’s still somewhat modern, then you can upgrade some of it. Here’s what I consider the bare minimum of worthwhile for an upgrading effort:
- A CPU that’s at least 2Ghz fast.
- A motherboard that can accept 4GB of RAM (or more), but has much less at the moment. (read on to find out how to know.)
- Assuming you have a computer that fits the bare minimum upgrade worthiness, here’s what you need to do:
Max out your computer’s memory (don’t confuse memory with hard drive space!!!!!!!!!!!!). As you’re using your computer, every time you run a program, that program has to be copied from your hard drive into your RAM, plus any data files you load must also be copied from the hard drive into the computer’s memory so that the program you’re running can use the data. Your O/S (operating system) (Windows, Mac OS/x, Linux, or whatever you’re using) has already been loaded into memory, and so have dozens of other processes that you’re unaware of. They all occupy memory space, PLUS they all consume extra memory while they’re working. This memory runs out quickly. When this happens, your OS stops everything for a moment, copies a big chunk of it out to your hard drive, then loads another chunk back in from your hard drive, to work with THAT. You’ll notice this slow down as your hard drive light starts flashing and you’ll hear crunching and churning sounds coming from your computer as everything slows way down. The more memory your computer has, the less often it needs to do this.
More memory doesn’t really speed up your computer, it results in your computer spending less time slowing itself down. OK, OK! Let’s call it a “speed up”.
memory used to be very expensive, but today, it’s dirt cheap. Put the maximum amount of memory in your computer that your computer is capable of taking. The next obvious question is: How much memory can your computer take and what type of memory? Well, it’s different for every computer, but there’s an easy way to find out. Go to memory.com, crucial.com, or kingston.com. All of them know about virtually every computer ever made. You just fill out a simple form telling it the make and model of your computer and it will tell you the maximum amount of memory your computer can take AND type TYPE of memory your computer can take. You can even purchase that memory right there on their site.
What about the memory your computer already has? Whatever your computer already has, it likely will need to be pulled out and replaced. In most cases, it’s not the highest capacity per memory module available. You’ll have to remove it to make room for the higher capacity memory you’ll be buying. You can try to sell it on ebay or Craig’s list, but old memory isn’t worth much. You might be better off just donating it to a local school or charitable organization that might be able to use it and they’re usually at least 5 years behind the times with their technology. Be sure to get a receipt for the give-away so you can write it off on your taxes!!!!
Most computers these days don’t have a motherboard in them that can take a newer CPU, but if yours does, upgrading your CPU will give it extra horsepower. Contact your computer maker to see if this is possible and to find out WHICH CPU(s) your computer can be upgraded to. This may not be cost effective because in most cases where it can be upgraded, it’s usually limited to only a slightly faster CPU and won’t make much of a noticeable difference. Consult your local guru to find out if it’s much of a speed difference.
Hard drive technology has been the fastest advancing technology in the last 5 or so years (this article was written in February 2010). 5 years ago, a 100GB hard drive was about as big as you could get and it was a couple hundred dollars. Today, only 5 years later, it’s hard to find a hard drive that small. You can now get a 2.5TB (or 2,500GB) hard drive for about the same price AND today’s hard drives are MUCH faster than those of 5 years ago.
A 5 year old computer won’t likely support the latest type of hard drive (SATA… called Serial ATA). 5 years ago, the standard in hard drives was called ATA and those drives used a different kind of data plug and a different kind of power plug. Newer SATA drives may not work in your old computer. Contact your computer maker to find out what kind of drives are supported AND find out what the maximum size drive your old computer will support. No point in buying a 2.5TB hard drive if your computer can’t use anything more than 500GB.
If your computer has an unused, internal expansion slot (most computers have 2 or more), you may be able to get a SATA expansion card, THEN you can plug in the latest and greatest hard drives.
A side note on purchasing decisions for hard drives: Always wait until the last possible moment to upgrade your hard drive (just before you run out of space or just until you need it) because the longer you wait, the cheaper the drives are and the bigger they are.
Quite honestly though, upgrading your hard drive won’t give you much of a noticeable difference in speed. Defragmenting your old drive will have a much greater impact. Of course, a newer hard drive will be faster than defragmenting your old one, because it’s bother faster AND already defragmented, but the speed difference between a new, unfragmented drive and an old defragmented drive won’t be much. It’s probably not worth the cost of the new drive and the aggravation of installing it. If you need the extra space, then by all means, upgrade the drive (or just buy an external USB drive… It’s much less effort if all you need is more space).
Upgrading Windows in most cases will NOT speed up your computer. Usually, newer versions of Windows need more and more memory, which will just slow you down on an older computer. However, reinstalling your existing Windows will greatly improve the speed of your computer. This is because the more you use your computer, the more junk and broken software you’ll have on it and this slows down your system. A fresh install makes a big difference. But, this comes at a cost of your time and patience. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got the original installation media AND the Windows activation key. You’ll need to back up your data. Also, you’ll have to reinstall EVERY program you intent to use, so make sure you’ve got the install media for ALL of your software AND all of the CD keys and serial numbers and such they all need for installation and activation. ALSO, some software you have is likely just an UPGRADE of an older version and you may need the OLDER version too. Make sure you’ve got your ducks (or discs) in a row before you head down this path.
If you’re going to upgrade Windows, you may want to go ahead and make the switch from 32bit to 64bit. Be careful though, if you use OLD software, some of it may have problems or not work at all on 64bit. Newer software shouldn’t have any problems with 64bit Windows.
Why 64bit? If you have 4 GB or more of memory, 32bit Windows simply can’t make use of it all. 64bit Windows can use it all. Also, 64bit might be a tad bit faster in some situations. Of course, having access to more memory means less hard drive thrashing, but 64 bit code is generally a tad bit faster. This tiny speed bump is not likely noticeable, but the extra memory speed bump may be. Switching from 32 bit Windows to 64 bit Windows means you’ll have to purchase a 64 bit version of Windows. It also means a FRESH install, so again, with the warnings in the section above of upgrading and getting all your software installation media ready applies here too.
To sum it up:
- The best bang for your buck is maximizing your RAM.
- If you’re not going to install a fresh copy of your existing Windows or if you’re not going to upgrade to 64 bit Windows, then at least defragment your hard drive.
- Upgrading your CPU, if it’s even possible, may not produce much of a noticeable speed up and will usually cost more than it’s worth.
- Your time and effort may be better served by getting a newer computer. The older your computer is, the less likely it’s capable of receiving newer equipment and just becomes a burden. Don’t waste time putting leather seats and new tires on a Pinto if you can get a Jaguar for just a few dollars more.
One final note: Windows XP is ancient history, in spite of the fact that most people are still running Windows XP. Microsoft will NOT be supporting this operating system soon. Additionally, we’re TWO generations beyond that version. Don’t be taken in by the old adage “Well, it worked 5 years ago and it’ll work now.” One critically important thing you’re forgetting: Hackers know MORE today than they did 5 years ago about Windows XP and they KNOW HOW TO BREAK INTO YOUR WINDOWS XP COMPUTER!!!!!!! If you’re going to access the internet from your old computer, then for the love of all that is decent, UPGRADE TO AT LEAST WINDOWS VISTA and preferably, to Windows 7 (for security and performance reasons, NOT for usability reasons). Microsoft will continue supporting Windows Vista and Windows 7 for many years to come and will continue providing security updates for them.
DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER 6.0!!!! or anything older. You MUST upgrade to at least IE7. IE8 is the current version as of this writing. If you run IE6, you’re essentially shining a spotlight on the clouds with a sign reading, “Please hack my computer, it’s wide open!”. I recommend against using Internet Explorer at all (any version). My recommendation is the latest version of FireFox.
Realistic Sum Up:
When you take into consideration the realistic security concerns, the bare minimum you should consider running on today’s internet is:
- Windows Vista 32 bit (I recommend whatever the latest version of Windows is and a 64 bit version of it)
- Internet Explorer 7 (I recommend whatever the latest version of IE is, or even better, the latest version of FireFox)
The minimum hardware you need for Windows Vista and IE7 without significant slow down is:
- 2Ghz or faster processor.
- 2 GB RAM. (I recommend maxing out your memory).
- 100GB hard drive, defragmented, with at least a dozen or more GB free. (Bigger drives are better but won’t speed anything up.)
So, in spite of the fact that you can upgrade your old computer to speed it up, if you can’t upgrade it to at least the specs listed just above, I strongly recommend avoiding the temptation to upgrade your computer and just buy something new (or something newer). The cost in the long run will actually be lower and your stress levels now and in the future will be much lower. You don’t need the heart ache of someone hacking your computer and the problems in your offline life it will make and you don’t need the repeated virus infections you’re sure to get running less secure versions of Windows and Internet Explorer.