A major upgrade is the replacement of at least the motherboard, cpu (Intel or AMD processor) and RAM. Upgrading the video card and hard drive are often also recommended. This will result in a significant and noticeable increase in the performance of your computer. A major upgrade gives you the performance of a new, faster, computer while saving some money by using the existing case, power supply, floppy drive and other components (such as CD/DVD drives). Many new motherboards have better sound and video built into the board than even 2-year old cards provide. Upgrading is, therefore, a spectrum ranging from replacement on a single component to the entire computer.
What can you expect from upgrade of each component?
CPU. This is the brain of the computer. It consists of an Intel (Pentium or Celeron) or AMD (Athlon or Opteron) processor. Upgrading the CPU will provide only limited performance improvement without a suitable motherboard and RAM that can keep pace with it.
MOTHERBOARD. If the CPU is the brain of the computer, then the motherboard is perhaps the heart. The motherboard provides a circulatory system (if you will) that handles the internal transportation of information between the various components of the computer. The motherboard should be matched to the CPU for optimum performance. We recommend the following motherboards, all of which are reliable:
- INTEL: A well-known brand name. Comforting and a solid performer.
- ASUS: A lot of board at reasonable prices. ASUS boards are very high-tech and preferred by many serious gamers who want to get the absolute best performance out of their computer.
- MSI: Somewhat less expensive than Intel and ASUS, MSI manufacturers relatively inexpensive motherboards that are suitable for most computer users.
MEMORY (RAM). Memory (usually called RAM) is a temporary work area where information is stored for quick access by the CPU and some peripherals. Consider memory to be like your desk, where you place your typewriter, pencils, documents, etc. Memory is "volatile" and is cleared whenever you turn off or restart your computer, so each time you start your computer, it has to go to the storeroom (hard drive) to get the office equipment and documents you need to use. If you do not have enough memory, your computer will use the hard drive to keep the computer operating, but performance will be very slow - like running out of space on your desk and having to move things to and from your storeroom every time you want to do something. 256MB of memory is pretty much the absolute minimum for using Windows XP or 2000, and 128MB for Windows 98 or ME. Except for very basic computers, we recommend matched pairs of DDR RAM, for the fastest response.
- We strongly recommend upgrading the CPU, motherboard, and RAM at the same time if you want to see a very noticeable improvement in your computer's performance. These three components work closely together and you will only see a partial improvement if if only one or two of these components are replaced.
HARD DRIVE. Because RAM is "volatile" memory that is erased when the computer is shut down or restarted, including by a power failure, programs and data are more permanently stored on a hard drive. If RAM is your desk, then the hard drive is the storeroom. Whenever you start up a program, it is copied from the hard drive (storeroom) to RAM (desk) where it can be accessed much faster by the CPU. A newer type of hard drive connection called SerialATA, or SATA, allows more data (greater bandwidth) to transfer to and from the hard drive, somewhat like a larger hose allows more water to move through it. The price of SATA drives has dropped recently and there is little if any difference in price between an older (IDE) hard drive and a SATA drive.
You can also use external hard drives that connect to a computer through a USB cable. This is an excellent way to add more storage space, backup your entire hard drive, and/or transfer large quantities of data from one computer to another. External USB hard drives are also a good way to provide additional hard drive space for notebook computers.
VIDEO GRAPHICS CARD. These cards generate the display that you see on your monitor. For most uses, a card with 64MB of Video RAM is acceptable, although we recommend a 128MB card. For uses where extreme graphic detail and speed is important (graphic artists, video editing, and serious gamers) a 256MB video card is recommended.
Some video cards, such as the ATI All-In-Wonder series, have "video capture" capabilities which allow you to record your videotapes onto computer files, which you can then edit and burn onto DVDs. Specialized video capture cards are also available, which supplement your regular video card, although these cards tend to be problematic and I do not recommend them.
SOUND CARD. These cards generate the sound that comes from your speakers. Most current motherboards have sound built into the board, and is often better than most of the mid-to-high end sound cards of 2 or more years ago. For this reason, most people do not really need a specialized sound card in their computer. Most sound cards even provide Dolby® 5.1 surround sound. However, if you want to hear very high quality sound from good computer speakers, that rivals many stereo systems, then a good sound card and speakers is the way to go.
CD/DVD BURNER. CDs and DVDs have replaced floppy diskettes as a means of moving files between computers. A 700MB CD holds almost 500 times as much information as a 3.5" floppy. A DVD is essentially a larger CD, and can hold about 4.7GB of data, or about 8 times more than a CD. CD's are dirt-cheap, and can be bought in packs of 50 or 100 for about 12 to 20 cents each. Generic DVDs run around 50 cents each in packs of 25 or more. Both are excellent for backing up data on your hard drive.
Until recently, files could only be put onto CDs using CD-burner software. Recent advances in "packet writing" now allow you to drag-and-drop files to CDs as though they were just another hard drive.
CD's can also hold music and a CD burner can easily make backup copies of music CDs. Because movie DVDs are encrypted for copyright protection, they cannot be copied unless special decryption programs are used. You can also copy your old LP records onto your computer, use special (and inexpensive) software to remove most or all of the pops, clicks, and other noise, and then burn them onto CDs. I have processed over 400 records in the past few years and will be happy to walk you through the process.
THE CASE. A modern case should have:
- at least 2 USB ports (4 preferred) on the rear of the case, and 2 USB ports on the front of the case, for easy plug-in of cameras, iPods® and other removeable devices.
- good ventilation and fan placement. Adding one or more additional fans on higher-powered computers is also very desirable (and cheap, at less than $20/fan).
- at least a 300W power supply (350W is my recommended minimum)
- easy access to the internal components
Additionally, cases need not be plain-Jane biege anymore. Cases are now available in different colors and front panel designs, with clear or tinted panels so that you can see the inside of the computer, and even neon-lighted fans to spiffy up your computer. The following are some examples of case graphics: