Upgrading your PC can often save you hundreds or thousands of dollars over the cost of a new computer.
Computers represent an expensive investment. There are numerous pros and cons to buying a laptop or a desktop, but desktops have one particular trait that few laptops can compete with: modularity. Parts can easily be swapped out of your desktop PC with regularity, and they are often less specialized and less expensive. Online search engines are there to help you find what you need at every internet computer parts website (why should they make it difficult for you to spend your money?). The truth is, most people buy a new computer not necessarily because they need one, but because they don't realize there is an inexpensive part that can be purchased for a fraction of the price of a new computer. Maybe their computer has a bottleneck such as slow startup speed, lack of space, or other issues. But, before buying a new computer, you should look and see what is available to supplement your old one.
My Personal Computer
I purchased an HP Pavilion D4000y PC in 2005. The computer was one of the fastest 32 bit computers available at the time. It had a 3.6Ghz Pentium 4 twin processor (only the newer ones have 4 CPUs). If I remember correctly, there was an optional 3.8Ghz version that was an extra $800. However, the faster processor and other 64-bit options were cost-prohibitive for me at that time. My computer came with a 160 gigabyte hard drive and 1 gig of RAM in two chips (with two other open slots).
I Can't Fit all My Movies on This Thing!
One of the first things that triggers the "new computer" impulse is a lack of space. This is a terrible mistake, because hard drives are updated constantly. When I purchased my computer in 2005, I believe it would have cost an extra 200 dollars to get the 320 gigabyte hard drive available. Near the beginning of 2009, I started to realize that I would need more space. I went looking and found a 1.5 terabyte (1500 gigabytes) hard drive for about $120 dollars in shipping. I found this deal on http://www.newegg.com/ which is a valuable parts website that usually has great prices. Don't be afraid to shop around, however, as there are many other great computer parts websites. I will provide a list at the end of this article.
To purchase a new hard drive, simply talk to a representative to figure out what is compatible with your computer design (SATA, etc.). Parts websites usually do not include the cables with the hard drives, so you will need to purchase a compatible cable of the appropriate length. The hard drive will then need to be initialized in order to be used on your system. You will be surprised how much space a new hard drive can give you! If it's been five years since you purchased your computer, then count on space increasing by 5-10 times the amount of your current drive.
I Hate How Slow My PC Is!
Over time, your PC will slow down, especially if you connect it to the internet with regularity. Having enough space helps, but there is also an opportunity to expand the RAM (random access memory) capability of your computer. This is a relatively cheap upgrade that can add another 2-5 years to the life of your computer. Essentially, increasing RAM speed increases your computer's multi-tasking ability, or how many tasks it can juggle at once and how quickly. Once again, you will need to use the helpful and readily-available internet search engines in order to determine what your computer has, what it can use, and what it will need.
*Update: Here is an excellent tool that you can download that will check and see how many RAM modules you have and how many open slots you have, along with your potential maximum space: http://www.crucial.com/systemscanner/
I failed to do this properly, because I bought the maximum number and size of chips that I could for my PC. Read The Next Sentence Carefully! If you have a 32-bit Windows computer, you will probably be UNABLE to use more than 3.3 gigabytes of RAM. I purchased 4 gigs and frowned in dismay when I pulled up dxdiag (a helpful diagnostic tool) and found that my computer was only reading 3.3 gigs. This is the built in hardware limit for 32-bit Windows PCs. Check your specific hardware system if you are running AMD or Macintosh/Apple computers as well. I basically have one chip sitting idle most times now and using at peak times 30% of its power. The good thing is that RAM chips for older computers are currently not expensive, and can run you between $14-$35 each right now, depending upon your computer's requirements.
My Monitor Died!
To a certain point, there are other modular pieces that you can easily replace. CRT monitors are being thrown away by the bushel right now, and you can pick one up for twenty dollars or less, or even free if someone's moving out. Flat-screen LCD monitors are coming down, too. Monitors and keyboards are two reasons to pick a PC, because their failure does not mean a terrible expense to send a broken laptop back for repairs. They can also be upgraded if you find a good deal that has a nice feature you like.
The last simple upgradeable item is a video card. These cards improve with rapidity as well. I have not added one to my computer yet, because I am not a habitual gamer, but certain internet and gaming situations can require more video processing than what comes standard with your computer. Most video cards now even have their own built-in processors! If you enjoy gaming or otherwise have a need for better video, consider buying a card before dumping your savings into a hot new Alienware or Vaio system.
You may consider upgrading your motherboard as well. Once you have reached this far, you are essentially buying a new computer: this is the cardiovascular system of the entire box. Not all boxes support all motherboards, however, and you should carefully consider whether your old equipment will be incompatible with the new motherboard. You can extend the life of your computer even further by swapping out motherboards, but it's time consuming and can be frustrating if done improperly. By the time you add an extra hard drive and video card, big monitor and faster motherboard, you may need a new power supply, as well. You might be able to save 50% or more off the retail price of a new system, but you should consider how much you like tinkering with your computer before you go for something as big as a motherboard.
Now, I Know I Need a New Computer
There is a point when your old computer just isn't going to work anymore. If you have already exhausted all of the simple upgrades, then your computer is likely at the point when it cannot handle the high-memory demand operating systems of today's world. You have done well if you made it 8 years; you are probably an upgrade wizard if you made it twelve or more. When purchasing a new system, remember to consider future upgradeability to save yourself money when you go through the same process. Buy the large tower/box. It makes working with the system and swapping out parts much easier (more room!). It can also give you some extra bays for hard drives and DVD drives and burners, as well as making cleaning out dust easier. Don't bother getting the biggest monitor or hard drive available. The vendors make the money back by jacking up the price for better goodies, and you lose. In fact, get the smallest hard drive and monitor that you feel you can use, and settle for less RAM (but be careful to make sure you have lots of upgradeable slots) if you can. I would try to buy the best processor that you affordably can, however, because they usually are paired with the most up-to-date motherboards and have greater potential for longevity. Here are some resources for online computer parts stores.
There are many others as well. Don't be afraid to shop around, and happy upgrading!