Breathing new life into your PC

Written by rick broida Google
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Breathing new life into your PC
(Getty Premium images)

With a few strategic and affordable upgrades, you can give your PC a performance and/or productivity shot in the arm.

— Rick Broida

Is your PC getting a little long in the tooth? Does it take forever to boot? Maybe you’re plagued by virus-like symptoms, such as a flaky Web browser or unwanted pop-ups. Issues like these often drive people to start shopping for a new machine. Although the time may come when you have no alternative (like when hardware components start failing), don’t put the old gal out to pasture just yet. With a few strategic and affordable upgrades, you can give your PC a performance and/or productivity shot in the arm.

Add more RAM

One easy and inexpensive way to improve an older PC’s performance is to install more RAM. How does this help? More RAM means more room for programs to run, and less time accessing the hard drive, which is a comparative slowpoke.

For example, suppose your laptop or desktop is a few years old. If you bought a lower-end model, it might have only 2 gigabytes (GB) of RAM. By doubling that, you can enjoy a fairly significant speed boost. Windows and Mac OS alike run much more smoothly on 4GB than they do on 2GB.

Depending on the type and configuration of your system, this upgrade might be as simple as adding a memory module. Head to and use the Crucial Memory Advisor Tool to find out what RAM you already and what your upgrade options are. (You don’t have to buy the actual modules from Crucial; once you have the information, you can shop around for the best prices.)

One important consideration: If you run Windows XP or a 32-bit version of Windows Vista or Windows 7, there’s no value in installing more than 4GB of RAM: the operating system can’t address any more than that. But if you have a 64-bit OS, consider upgrading to 8GB for maximum performance benefits.

Add a second monitor

Breathing new life into your PC
(Rick Broida)

An ideal upgrade for any computer of any age: add a second monitor. Sure, you’ll need to clear a little extra space on your desk, but the benefits far outweigh the hassles of relocating.

With a second monitor, you get to keep two apps running full-screen at the same time. This may not sound like a huge deal, but think how handy it would be to have, say, your Web browser and word processor visible at all times. Or your e-mail client and an important spreadsheet. Or a PowerPoint presentation and your image-editing program. You get the idea.

This approach not only saves you the time and hassle of switching back and forth between windows, but also makes multiple windows visible simultaneously—great for when you need to, say, drag and drop data from one to another.

Best of all, monitors are cheap. Just make sure your desktop or laptop has a spare video output (most models do), and make sure the monitor is compatible with that port. VGA is the standard, but many newer PCs rely on DVI or HDMI. Check the manual if you’re not sure what you have.

Install an SSD

Breathing new life into your PC
(Rick Broida)

Few upgrades can breathe new life into an old laptop like an SSD. Solid-state drives have no moving parts, instead relying on the same kind of flash memory used in USB thumb drives. That makes them significantly faster than traditional hard drives. They also consume less power, good news for laptop users looking to squeeze extra runtime from aging batteries.

The flipside is that SSDs have a higher cost-per-megabyte than regular drives. If your primary upgrade goal is to increase your available storage, you’re definitely better off with the latter. But if you can get by with, say, 128GB or 256GB, you’re in for big boost in boot speed, overall performance, and battery life.

You’ll want to shop around, but you can routinely find 120GB SSDs for around £100, with 256GB models selling in the £150 range. Make sure the interface (usually SATA III) is compatible with your laptop, and look for drives that come as part of a kit. These often include transfer software for moving everything from your old drive to the new one, plus an external drive enclosure so you can continue to use the old drive for extra storage.

Reinstall Windows

The ultimate PC upgrade isn’t an upgrade at all, though it’ll sure feel that way when you’re done. If you’re willing to invest a little time and effort (but no money), you can make your PC as fast and hassle-free as the day you took it out of the box.

How is that possible? By erasing the entire hard drive and reinstalling Windows. This isn’t a quick procedure—you’ll need time to make backup copies of all your important data and an external hard drive to temporarily house all that data. You’ll also need a Windows installation disc or whatever system-restoration discs were provided by your computer manufacturer. (For a full step-by-step tutorial, see the Resources area below.)

This is a hassle, no doubt about it. But if your computer is a few years old, you won’t believe the difference. What was once a pokey, troublesome machine will seem brand new—and that “new” PC won’t have cost you a penny.

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