Bringing New Power to an Aging PC

Sometimes, it seems like the life expectancy of a personal computer is about the same as for dairy products. The minute you buy a new PC, you learn it’s already outdated because a slightly faster central processing unit (CPU) or one with more memory just came on the market. All too often, people feel pressure to junk their current working PC in favor of the latest, greatest model.

Yet a PC can last a good deal longer than a container of heavy cream with just a little maintenance: tender loving care not required. Even when you decide to purchase a new system, you can put the old one to use as a backup, pass it along to your child (or parents), or set up a home or small office network so you can use both computers and share an Internet connection between them.

If the older system doesn’t have quite the punch it once had, there are a number of things you can do to boost performance without spending a bundle of money. No great amount of technical expertise is required to get better results either.

Consider these ideas:

Add more memory: A few years ago, many PCs shipped with 128 MB of memory installed. This isn’t enough to let you multitask or have many open windows at once. Doubling the amount of memory to 256 MB – or beyond – can make the system seem much speedier. Note: if you aren’t sure how much memory you have installed, go to Windows Control Panel and double-click the System icon. At the bottom of the General tab that opens, you will see your memory listed along with your Windows version information.

Change your hard disk: After a few years, even the most capacious hard disks can become nearly full. You may want to replace your existing hard disk with a larger capacity one or simply add a second hard disk.

Start fresh: If you don’t think you need or want a new hard disk, consider reformatting and installing Windows fresh. Over a period of time, your current installation can develop problems and slow down. If you use Windows XP, for example, you can use your Windows XP setup disk to reformat your hard disk and install Windows fresh before you add any necessary applications to the system. You will be amazed at how much faster the new installation will operate.

Upgrade the CPU and/or motherboard: Depending on the type of case you have, you may be able to swap your current motherboard and CPU for speedier ones that also work with more hardware, like the IEEE 1394 port(s) needed by many digital video cameras as well as the faster video cards (display adapters) today.

Flash your BIOS: No, this is not an x-rated act. The BIOS (Basic Input Output System) is the programmable part of your motherboard that works with your PC hardware. You can often extend the life of a PC if you upgrade – or flash – your BIOS to keep it up-to-date for the latest Windows versions and hardware.

Check system requirements: Go to Microsoft’s Windows site at and determine what the system requirements are for your version of Windows. Try to update your hardware so that your PC exceeds these minimum requirements.

Add adapters: If you have a motherboard where one or more of the components like video or sound are integrated directly onto the motherboard, consider getting and installing separate adapters which will usually be more powerful than their integrated cousins. For example, you can speed up your system when you add a 128 MB or more video adapter to replace the integrated video chips on the motherboard. Likewise, you can boost your PC’s audio quality considerably when you add a sound adapter to take over the job done by audio chips on the motherboard.

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