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Cheaply Update Most Desktop Computers with Faster Components 
Originally published on Suite101.com

A new video card, more RAM, bigger hard drive, faster CPU, or new operating system can make an old computer as fast as a new one for a lot less money.

Computers do not change speed due to aging or excessive use, but they do often slow down because of one or two programs that are running in the background or when they are running out of hard drive space. If a computer was fast once it can be fast again by simply reloading the operating system and the software from scratch, but this is not always an easy option to undertake.


A better approach may be a simple hardware upgrade with some new components. When the computer was new there were some choices to be made as to the speed and capacity of the various components, and those components can be replaced now for much less money than they would have cost when the computer was purchased new.


Newer, Bigger, and Faster

Computers can be upgraded with more RAM, faster CPU's, bigger hard drives, and advanced video cards that can speed them up far beyond their original speed and help them keep up with the demand that new programs, especially games, place on the aging resources.

Upgrade parts are generally very cheap compared to buying a new computer. Most computers were built with an eventual upgrade in mind and there are a variety of vendors that sell components just for that purpose. Two of the more popular online upgrade sites that offer excellent service and have an easy return policy are CDW and TigerDirect.


Major Upgrades

Major upgrades include the motherboard, power supply, and CPU or the main hard drive because these upgrades take a little more expertise and configuration than minor upgrades. On the flip side the major upgrades usually add more speed and capacity to a system than minor upgrades, although there are exceptions to this rule as well.


Minor Upgrades

Minor upgrades typically involve adding RAM or a video card or replacing an older CD ROM drive with a newer DVD burner or Blue-Ray player. These can usually be done by a novice if the new parts are compatible with the old system and care is taken to learn a little bit about the upgrade process before taking the computer apart.


Tools and Equipment

Most upgrades can be done with a Phillips screwdriver and the parts that come with the upgrade component when it is purchased from the vendor. Occasionally an adapter or cable will be required as well, depending upon the computer and the part being upgraded. A couple of nylon cable ties to keep the wires neatly routed, and a flashlight for better visibility can also help.


Static Electricity

Some parts are static sensitive and it is recommended that a static wrist strap be worn during the upgrade of these particular components. This is not always necessary if the proper precautions are taken to prevent static buildup, but if one is available it is highly recommended.


To avoid shorting out a component with static electricity if a grounding strap is not available it is important to make contact with the case of the computer while handling any components to ensure that the technician and the computer are at the same voltage. This is known as grounding and provides adequate protection in most situations.


The Process

The first step in doing an upgrade should be to do a full backup of the system to make sure any important files are secure and won't be lost if things go wrong. The next step is to turn off the power and unplug the computer from the power cord and remove the peripherals (optional) such as the keyboard, mouse, printer, and other devices that are attached.


Next comes the cover removal which varies greatly by system. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe this process. Once open, locate the part(s) to be replaced and remove them, taking care to note the cables and connectors that are used for the original part.


Using proper grounding techniques open up the new components and place them in the system where the old components came from. Secure the screws and cables, place the cover back on, and reconnect the peripherals.


Plug in the power and fire up the computer, being alert to any signs of a problem and being prepared to power off (or even unplug) the system in the event something is wrong. When Windows boots up it will usually detect the new hardware and install the necessary drivers automatically.


The Drivers

When Windows can't install the drivers on its own it becomes necessary to insert the driver disk that came with the new component. Usually this triggers an autorun program to start the installation process and things happen automatically with only an occasional confirmation dialog box. In rare cases that this is not the case there is usually technical support available to walk the end user through the manual installation of drivers.


Additional Resources

There are literally thousands of resources available to help anyone learn more about upgrading modern computer systems. Books such as Upgrading and Repairing PCs by Scott Mueller help technicians and end users solve nearly any upgrade problems, and articles such as Nicole Avery's How to Add RAM to Your Laptop can help with particular issues.


Upgrading a computer can be a rewarding task that builds confidence and improves the speed and capacity of the system at the same time. Anyone can learn to do minor upgrades and save a ton of money over paying a technician to pop in a stick of RAM or install a new video card. The simple act of installing an upgrade component may even lead to a rewarding career in computer repair.

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TQF.US Computer Services owner Norm Dickinson
is on the Board of Directors for the
Norm is a 30-year veteran of the IT world and genuine computer guru, offering local businesses a single point of contact for all of their computer-related needs.  TQF.US is Dell Partner Direct authorized and offers professional sales, support and installation of products from Dell, Microsoft, Intel and other top brands.
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This website can be found at both http://www.tqf.us and http://www.fastfastcomputer.com.