Computers: What would we do without them? Many of us take these devices for granted, whether we use them to finish a presentation or watch a show on Netflix. Even though they’re marvelous machines, we still find reasons to get angry at PCs. Maybe the Internet is not fast enough or simple functions seem to lag. So the question is: Is it time to replace your computer? Or can you give it a boost and keep it for a few more months—or even years?
A computer is sort of like a car. Once you get one, you stick with it for a few years, until it breaks or something significantly better comes along. Unlike smartphones and tablets, which are typically replaced on a yearly or bi-yearly basis, PCs can last a lot longer in the current computing landscape. Before you go ahead and dump your aging PC, let’s break a few things down. Here we’ll primarily discuss laptops and desktops. And for the sake of the argument, we’ll include tablets in the notebook (or ultraportable category), though you can’t really mess with this particular type of product when it comes to replacing its innards. Read on to help make a judgment call about your PC.
Laptops are used for anything from work to media consumption and hardcore gaming. Unfortunately, they’re not exactly the most user-friendly machines when it comes to speed and not every component can be upgraded. First of all, getting inside a laptop is really hard and its usually advisable not to. In fact, if you have one of the newest laptops—say the brand new MacBook that only has one port, the Retina MacBooks, or one of Microsoft’s Surface tablets—then you’d be better off not even considering upgrades, because there’s not a lot you can do on your own.
But if you have an aging laptop that’s starting to show its decline, these are the three components you can easily replace yourself (or ask for help from a professional.) These elements are likely the ones responsible for your troubles.
- RAM Memory is a crucial element of any computer, especially in a laptop. Chances are you can easily upgrade RAM. If possible, try to double it. Go to 4 gigabytes or 8 gigabytes of RAM. Install 16 gigabytes if you have the extra money; it’ll be worth it. As a rule of thumb, 8 gigabytes should be plenty for everyday use. Of course, every laptop has limitations, so don’t be surprised if the fastest RAM produced today isn’t compatible with your model.
- The Hard Drive Remember these three letters: SSD. They stand for Solid-State Drive. It’s much more expensive than your traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drive) though prices have been dropping steadily over the last few years. SSD performance is remarkable. We’re looking at almost instant boot times for most PCs regardless of the operating system; the same goes for waking them up from sleep. Not to mention, a switch to SSD will have all your apps running faster than ever.
- The Battery This can be the single most annoying piece of technology. Some notebooks and tablets have amazing battery life, at least at the beginning. Some batteries even age gracefully. But older models are probably not worthy of being called laptops anymore, as they’re desktop wannabes, worthless if the power cord is disconnected. If this is the case for you, swap the old battery with a newer model and go for the official models rather than knock-offs. One thing you could consider buying to prolong battery life is an external battery that can power up laptops.
What You Can’t Upgrade
What you can’t replace on a laptop is the processor and graphics card. These are soldered to the motherboard, which means they usually require an expensive replacement because you’d need a new motherboard to fit your notebook’s design. In this case, you are better off investing in a new computer.
Tablets are not user-serviceable—period. Also, the newest MacBook Pro notebooks come with soldered RAM (meaning it’s stuck to the motherboard and can’t be upgraded) as well as a custom type of SSD, which means only you need to pay particular attention to the specs.
PC tinkerers will have a field day with desktops when it comes to upgrading their internal components. You can swap out the parts you don’t like with relative ease and practically rebuild your PC every few years so the machine stays up-to-date and ready to deliver better performance.
Unless you buy all-in-one computers, such as Apple’s iMac, where not everything is upgradeable right away, then you’re in for quite an upgrade quest. You can:
- Change the screen to one that’s bigger and has a better resolution
- Swap the motherboard for one that has a new-gen chip on it
- Add faster graphics
- Significantly bulk up your RAM
- Add additional hard drives
- This is where you’d want to combine SSD speed and HDD capacity. Use the flash memory for your system and core apps, and the traditional hard drive for everything else. Choose SSD-only if you can.
The main drawback to investing that much money, time, and effort into upgrading a desktop is that you may end up with a stupendous computing machine that you can’t take with you. But if you need a home computer that can do intensive work-related operations and also plays top games and other graphic-rich types of apps, then a desktop is never a wrong option.
Upgrading a desktop isn’t difficult, even if you’re not well versed in computers or a fan of tearing open one. But before you do any significant work on it, make sure you’re running a clean operating system and back up your sensitive data to an external hard drive. In fact, backing up your data is the one thing you must do regardless of your computer choice, or whether or not you speed up or replace the PC with something better.
When it’s Time to Replace Your PC
- Tablets If your favorite kind of computer is a tablet with a keyboard attached, then you will likely have to upgrade to a newer model every few years. There’s really no other way to improve speed. Even if you’re on the latest iPad or Android model, or if your last-gen Surface Pro blasts at full speed, in a few years they’ll feel slow compared to everything else that’s out there.
- Laptops When replacing a laptop, there are many other factors to take into account in addition to speed. When compared to a desktop, a laptop is at greater risk of being lost or stolen and can sustain heavy damage (think spilling coffee all over it or dropping it on a solid surface from considerable height). These are all scenarios in which you most likely have to replace rather than upgrade.There’s also one other factor to consider when thinking about replacing your computer. Your old notebook can be someone else’s new or first PC. Your old device can be passed on to a family member after you purchase the next best thing. If that’s not an option, selling the old PC should help out with the budget for the new one. You may also want to look into PC donating programs.
- Desktops As for desktops, there really shouldn’t be any reason to purchase a brand new station anytime soon, unless you have a harder-to-upgrade all-in-one. You should be good for years by replacing various parts of your existing desktop with newer and better models. If you have no idea how to upgrade, ask a friend or hire someone to do it. You may still save money overall.
Finally, let’s not forget that there’s only so much you can do when it comes to upgrading a PC. There will come a time when you’re not able to improve it. That’s when you buy a new model.
What about the money?
Computers aren’t the cheapest items you can purchase, but they’re not always prohibitively priced either.
The important thing to remember for your next purchase is that in most cases the more money you spend on a new model now, the more future-proof it’ll be. The better the hardware, the better it’ll withstand the test of time. A top-of-the-line MacBook Pro is more expensive than an entry model. So is a Surface Book. But they’ll have faster processors and more memory and storage than the least expensive models. That means they should, in theory, age more gracefully than low-end to medium range configurations.
What about the cost of upgrades? If you do the upgrading yourself, you can keep the price down. The best part about upgrading a laptop or desktop is that you don’t have to buy new parts all at once. Just get more RAM or an SSD first—not both—depending on your configuration. Then, in a few months, perform another upgrade. By planning your PC budget accordingly, you won’t have to feel like you’re splurging on components. Spread the purchases over the period of a few months. And while you’re at it, you may want to upgrade computer peripherals as well, including external keyboards, mice, slow external drives and flash drives, and even printers. All these smaller purchases provide speed advancements. Don’t forget: If the Internet speed is a problem, then get a better deal from your ISP.
Finally, if you don’t plan to pass an old PC on to someone in your family or sell it to someone else, you should consider recycling its components with a specialized electronics recycling company. And who knows: There may be some cash for you at the end of the day.
Tips to Extend the Life of Your PC
- Don’t Ignore software Hardware upgrades alone won’t do the trick. Sure, they speed up your computer, but software can slow it down. Make sure you’re on a stable operating system that’s optimized for your device. And install a fresh version of it every once in a while. Check for viruses and clean up your PC often. There’s no point working with a laptop that was just upgraded but still crawls through certain tasks. The same goes for desktops.
- Prevent Physical Damage As long as you don’t do physical damage, high-end laptops and desktops can pay for themselves over time. Speaking of their physical integrity: You should avoid harming them. High-end specs combined with a good looking overall aspect will get you a great price if you decide to replace a machine and sell the old one to the highest bidder. Even if you’re giving an aging PC away to a family member, you still should make sure the device looks good and performs well.
- Keep it Clean Your computer is not safe from dust, hair, crumbs, and any other particles that can find their way into it. These seemingly harmless bits and pieces can affect both laptops and desktops and may mess with the coolers that prevent them from running too hot. Make sure you keep your PC clean. Wipe the screen and keyboard often and keep everything dry at all times. If needed, visit a specialist who’s qualified to clean up the interior of the computer which helps keep other components from failing because of accumulated dirt.
- Stay Away from Water Be mindful of where you keep your water glass to prevent flooding your laptop or desktop with any liquids. That’s especially true for notebooks. Because they’re not easily repairable, water damage may be fatal.
- Use Protective Gear If you can, always tuck your laptop or tablet in a protective case or bag. If there’s any kind of damage, the case could absorb some of the shock or prevent liquids from getting in. You can’t really protect desktops in a similar manner, but you won’t want to carry them around with you in the first place. Just make sure there’s plenty of air around your desktop unit so it vents properly and that it’s placed on a flat, hard surface.
- Say ‘No!’ to Viruses Do everything you can to avoid malware and viruses. In case you did contract one, clean up your hard drive and perform a reinstall. Your PC may feel slow simply because you contracted a digital disease. Frequently change all your passwords too.
There are many factors that affect the decision to speed up or replace a computer. The bottom line is that most of us can’t go about our lives without a PC. We likely need to Google. We want to be on social platforms and binge on movie and TV-streaming sites. Even home-related chores, including paying bills online, are more efficient with a PC. Whether you want to replace or speed up your machine, you likely can’t eliminate it from your life.