Upgrading PCs can beat buying new

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Computer users are adapting to gloomy economic news by boosting PCs without having to cut back at the supermarket.

Mike Gibbens, of Arrowtown-based Pure Solutions, services computers around the Wakatipu Basin.

He’s getting more calls from customers for upgrades as simple as installing additional memory. This is still cheap and can improve performance dramatically.

These customers complain continual security upgrades slow their ageing machines.

Like many enthusiasts, I keep up with rising software demands by upgrading a desktop machine every two or three years.

Upgrades really suit only desktop machines. Even if you buy a new desktop computer you save over a laptop because the separate monitor can serve adequately for 10 years or so.

Upgraders sometimes add only a new central processor, but usually replace both this and motherboard. Between such changes they may add a bigger hard disk or a new video or sound card.

Gibbens hasn’t been changing many motherboards because the labour cost brings this closer to new-PC prices – except for specialist machines for tasks like graphics. The falling kiwi dollar will narrow the gap, however.

It should take less than an hour to replace the motherboard but perhaps another hour to fix the software.

Windows may show the notorious blue screen after board change, requiring a repair installation (rather than a full one). Then Microsoft will probably ask for the Windows serial number.

Complications can emerge. Latest motherboards typically want PCI Express video cards. An old AGP one becomes obsolescent. You may also require a new power supply of at least 300 watts, or perhaps 500 watts if you have a thirsty video card.

A main-centre firm may charge $80 or more for installing the new motherboard and $130 or so upwards for full set-up including software and registration. This depends on what it encounters.

One upgrade advantage is that your old software and files should still be there for you after the change.

Windows 7, which is coming soon, may tempt people to seek more power. But Gibbens advises patience. He hears Windows 7 may be less demanding of hardware than the present latest Windows, Vista.

One route to economic computing is to upgrade the motherboard yourself. This requires manual and how-to book reading, dexterous fingers, an interest in technology and preferably a mentor who knows bits from bytes.

It would be an ideal focus for a small user group.

One of the key dangers to this expensive equipment is static electricity. Tinkerers must wear anti-static wristbands linked to the computer case, with the computer plugged into a power point but with the electricity firmly switched off.

Enthusiasts must buy processors and motherboards that match and pay close attention to necessary cooling.

This tinkering can be as addictive as pre-computerised car engines used to be. It leads many enthusiasts into hotting up PCs. “Clockers”, the equivalent of petrol heads, change the central processor to run faster.

This can be to the extent they add liquid cooling systems. As with petrol heads’ big exhaust pipes and lowered chassis, a “hotted” PC often comes in war paint – perhaps a transparent case and flashing LED lights.

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz