Revitalising an aging desktop computer on the cheap

Don't trash your tired old desktop PC -- pump it up with a few inexpensive upgrades

Next, add more RAM. Shown here: lining up the RAM cards in preparation for sliding them into the carrier one at a time.

Next, add more RAM. Shown here: lining up the RAM cards in preparation for sliding them into the carrier one at a time.

Task 2: Install RAM

Time: 5 minutes

Cost: $80

Adding system memory generally offers good bang for your upgrade buck. Up to a point, the more memory you have for the operating system, applications and data, the faster the system runs, because it avoids having to use slower virtual memory that shuffles data onto and off of the hard drive.

Adding memory is a no-brainer, and the modules are available at a variety of online locations. Kingston, for instance, has a memory search page on its Web site: Plug in the name of your computer or motherboard maker, and Kingston will suggest memory modules that fit your system. Then do an online search for the correct modules; you'll often find them at prices that are much better than what you'd pay if you bought directly from the manufacturer.

My desktop PC has four slots for 400-MHz DIMM (dual in-line memory module) memory; it came with a pair of 512MB RAM sticks for a total of 1GB. To save money, I'm going to keep using those two 512MB memory modules. Then I'll fill up the system's other memory slots with two new 1GB modules that cost about $40 each, for a total of 3GB of RAM.

That's less than the 4GB that the system can hold, but it's three times more than what I started with. Going up to 4GB would mean I'd have to throw out the two 512MB memory modules and buy two more 1GB modules (my system can't take anything larger than a 1GB module) for another $80, which would blow my budget.

With the machine off and unplugged, line up the RAM cards and one at a time slide them into the carrier. Press gently but firmly until you hear a click that tells you the card is properly seated. When they're locked in place you're done.

Instead of doing all our upgrades at once, we're going turn on the computer and test it in between each task, which makes it easy to figure things out if something goes awry. Don't bother closing the case, though -- we have much more to do.

Plug in and fire up the system. Its start-up routine should automatically detect the new memory, but it doesn't hurt to double-check by selecting Start --> All Programs --> Accessories --> System Tools --> System Information and looking in the System Summary list for Total Physical Memory.

Results

My PC now has 3,072MB of memory. It's enough to raise the system's PerformanceTest 6.1 benchmark score to 325.8, a 12% increase. Not bad -- the system starts up in 1 minute, 55 seconds -- a big improvement, and there was no perceptible change in its energy consumption. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Task 3: Install new hard drive, software and external drive enclosure

Time: 2½ hours

Cost: $94

The second cheap thrill for upgraders is to get a new hard drive. I chose the Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB drive, which is available for $65 at some online electronics retailers.

It can hold four times the stuff that the original drive could hold, and it will run rings around its predecessor. On top of numerous advances in disc technology over the last four years, the new drive has 32MB of buffer memory (four times that of the original drive), so it can hold more frequently used data and won't keep the rest of the machine waiting for it.

After powering down and unplugging your system, slide the old drive out of its cage and unplug its data and power connections. Then set it aside; we have plans for it, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Your new drive may not fit in the cage perfectly, but chances are you've got an extra set of plastic drive rails conveniently stashed inside the system's case. Screw them onto the new drive, slide it into place and plug the power and data cables in.

If you don't have an extra set of rails, you can use the ones from the original drive or buy some online. They only cost a few bucks, but it can be confusing trying to choose the right ones for your drive -- there are dozens of rail designs that all look alike to me. If all else fails, use adhesive Velcro or duct tape. It's not as elegant, but it works and nobody will see it.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Brian Nadel

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?