upgrade   When should I upgrade my computer?

Tips & Hints

Updated 2 September 2004

One thing's certain about computers, the super fast computer you bought 18 months ago now looks very slow. So the temptation to upgrade is pretty strong. Done properly, an upgrade can be a cost effective way of extending the life of your computer.

Before upgrading, it's important to look at the costs and risks. Upgrading one aspect may lead to upgrading other parts, you can end up replacing the entire system. Often, buying a new computer is the most cost effective option.

Why do you need to upgrade

The most common reason for upgrading is that the computer isn't running as fast as it was. It may be that you don't need to upgrade at all, you may solve your problem just by cleaning up your hard drive and uninstalling any software that you don't use. It is possible that you have a virus or spyware slowing the machine.

Not being able to run new software is the other main reason. Before buying specifications closely, ignore the minimum requirements and check your computer meets the recommended specification. If you need to upgrade more that two components then start shopping for a new computer.

Is it worth upgrading?

Having decided on what you need to upgrade, check out the cost of the upgrade. Brand name computers capable of doing the things most people need sell for less than $1,500. We have a table that shows what computers are worth upgrading. If you have a Pentium II or earlier it is time to look for a new computer.

Warning! If you decide to upgrade your machine yourself, invest in an anti-static strap before you open the case!

Upgrading Software

The most common upgrade we are currently asking about is to upgrade a computer from Window 98 or ME to Windows XP. We think Windows XP is better, but we generally don't recommend upgrading systems to it. Most 98 and ME machines simply don't have the specifications to run Windows XP well.

Many people make the mistake of upgrading to overcome problems in their system. This is usually a mistake as problems may be due to undiagnosed software or hardware faults. Upgrading your operating system often makes the problem worse.

Increasing memory

While no help if your hard drive is full, adding memory is the cheapest and most effective upgrade. There are at many different types of memory and you need to check which one will work in your system. When you buy the memory, make sure the dealer is prepared to replace it or refund your money if it doesn't work.

Larger hard drive

Hard drive sizes and speeds have increased dramatically in recent years, a bigger hard drive can add years of life to many two or three year old computers. To get the most out of a new hard drive you need to replace your old hard drive and reinstall everything onto the new hard drive, this is a long, time consuming and not always rewarding task. Many older computers have problems with larger drives so you need to check this in your system manual (you do have it don't you?)

New motherboard

This can be a good way of upgrading an older system, but watch the costs. Normally a new motherboard will also require a new CPU and memory as well. A new motherboard, memory and CPU can be had for around $600.00, but if your case, power supply, video card or hard drive are not up to the task it's time to look for a new computer.


One of the best upgrades you can make is a bigger monitor. The increased size and space available on the screen makes computing a lot easier and even pleasurable. If you are working in design type industries (graphics, web, engineering, architecture, etc.) You should buy the biggest and best monitor you can afford.

If you want to free up space on your desk, then an LCD monitor is the way to go. Most monitors will work on newer machines without any trouble. The beauty of an upgraded monitor is that it can be put on a new machine when your retire the current one.

Other upgrades

You should have a 56k modem, even if your phone line doesn't support higher speeds, it will be more reliable.

If Internet access is your main reason for upgrading, check the availability of broadband access in your area. This may deliver the benefits you want without upgrading the computer. Depending on your current plan, broadband access is sometimes cheaper than dialup.

CD-ROM and DVD drives have dramatically improved and dropped in price over the last few years. A new, faster CD can be great for playing games and installing software. DVD burners are not standard and cheaper than a CD burner was two years ago.

Video cards can improve performance of design programs and games. Again it is important to be careful that it is worth upgrading because spending $700.00 on a top line card is pointless when you are running an older computer or one not compatible.

Buy a new machine

While upgrading looks attractive, a new computer can be bought for well under $1500. For this, you get the latest video card, hard drive, memory, operating system and technology. In many cases, retiring the old box is often the best choice.

Keep in mind that computers have an effective life of around five years before they start becoming unreliable. Their economic life is much shorter, say three years. If you are simply short of hard drive space or the computer is running just a little slow, that hard drive or memory upgrade is money well spent. On the other hand if you find your trusty 486 isn't up to it, start looking for a new computer, you'll probably be amazed at the price drop over the last eight years.

Upgrading is a great way to extend the life of your computer. But you need to plan carefully and watch your dollars. Before upgrading, talk to your local computer shop or technician, they'll have a better idea of the costs and whether it is worthwhile upgrading your old system.

Originally posted 10 October, 2001

PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
Phone 0415 967 017
ACN 082 635 765
ęPC Rescue Pty Ltd, 2005