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What should I do: upgrade my computer or buy a new one?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / January 13, 2012 7:34 AM PST

What should I do: upgrade my computer or buy a new one?

Hi everyone, could you please give me some advice. My main desktop computer
(running Windows XP) is six years old, and I'm pondering whether to
get a new one or just upgrade my existing one. In your opinion, at
what point in time would upgrading hardware components on an older
machine be non-beneficial in terms of cost and updated technology. If
I were to upgrade my current PC, what are the most critical components
to upgrade in order for me to make a substantial improvement to the
overall performance of the system and ensure its longevity. If I were
to get a new system, what should I be looking for? I haven't looked into
a new PC in a long time. Please advise me on this situation. Thanks.

- Submitted by John Allan B.
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get a new computer
by socalboy5168 / January 13, 2012 8:07 AM PST

You didn't mention your specs, but since it's 6 years old, definitely get a new computer. You probably can't upgrade to any modern hardware. If you're good with computers, you can build your own and it would be a lot cheaper.

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cheaper to build?
by Bewick / January 20, 2012 9:22 PM PST
In reply to: get a new computer

Was true once but not necessarily now.

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Make new friends...
by tfitzmauro / January 20, 2012 11:38 PM PST
In reply to: get a new computer

BUT, depending on how much you use & love your software, you may not want to toss the old. I am extremely happy with my new computer, for web, speed, etc. I still use my old laptop for some applications, simply because they don't run on the new model. Yes, some are more than 6 yrs old and are used because they work for what I do. I've run into horrible problems at the office with new versions of Microsoft products and purchased Corel products that don't seem to change in such confusing ways. I'd say that you need to decide what you use that computer for before you let it go.

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Office 7
by robertapenn / January 22, 2012 10:02 AM PST
In reply to: Make new friends...

I'm a writer and the Word program in Office 7 is a nightmare. It doesn't respond much of the time, is extremely slow & crashes often. I'm using a Toshiba Tecra, about 2 1/2 years old, and love the computer but wish I could go back to a different office. I skipped the whole XP experience so don't know about it.

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New Computer or Upgrade?
by ceciliob / January 21, 2012 1:31 AM PST
In reply to: get a new computer

Some aspects a new computer will have that maybe are hard to get in an older machine:

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Definitely buy new
by MARK_W_G / January 13, 2012 9:29 AM PST

Definitely buy something with a second generation Intel processor (core i3, i5 or i7). These also come with a faster hard drive then your 6 year-old. The difference in speed will be phenomenal. Watch for specials at Frys.

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Yes, Definitely Buy New
by wwgorman / January 21, 2012 9:58 AM PST
In reply to: Definitely buy new

As Mark suggests you should get the new Intel based processor, at a minimum the i3. However, buy Windows 7 Professional either as an upgrade when you buy (probably the least expensive way to upgrade the software) or purchase an upgrade copy separately. With Win 7 Pro you get the XP Virtual Mode with an i3 or higher processor and you'll be able to run your old hardware and programs as well as any new hardware and programs made for Win 7 and above Windows versions.

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Even dual core laptops are pretty good for most applications
by Bruce Myers / January 22, 2012 12:20 AM PST
In reply to: Definitely buy new

I guess it kind of depends on what people want to do, but
these days even the lower end laptops do a pretty good job unless you're
playing advanced video games or doing video editing. A
typical dual core processor with 4 GB of ram will simultaneously run Photoshop,
In-design and Corel Draw. I do it all the time with very few
issues. That said an I3 or I5 processor
is that much more these days either. I
have an I7 processor in my main laptop at home but it often doesn't seem that
much faster than my dual core processor laptops for many applications. I not an expert for sure but I'm thinking
that if your software is 32 bit, a quad core processor while it would multitask
better, it may not be all that much faster for that particular
application. I'd be interested to hear what
you understand about that.

The one thing I've found that doesn't last so well on
laptops is their keyboards. I usually use wireless one these days most of
the time because they have a better feel and are easy to replace if they do
wear out.

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dinky laptop keyboards
by robertapenn / January 22, 2012 10:06 AM PST

Space bar on Toshiba Tecra keyboard has had to be replaced once, will probably have to be replaced again. This is in just over 2 years. it is my primary computer, well now it's my only computer.

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by jayplesset / January 13, 2012 9:39 AM PST

If by the word, "upgrade" you include replacing the motherboard, processor and memory, then you can build your old system into a "new" system, without having to buy new CD/DVD, case, power supply, etc.

If you're at all handy, replacing the entire guts may be far less expensive than buying a whole new system. I've done it many times.

Depending on what you want to use it for, expect to spend around $100 for a motherboard, $75 to $100 on the processor, and $50 to $75 on memory. You might want a new/bigger drive, too. Another $75. Add $100 for Windows 7, and you're there....

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Get the OEM version for everything and save.
by Alain Martel1 / January 20, 2012 11:14 AM PST
In reply to: Upgrade....

When you get Windows 7 and other components, remember that if you assemble the computer, you qualify as an OEM. This makes you legaly elligible to get the cheaper OEM version.

OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacter. Assembling the computer is "manufacturing" it.

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by Bewick / January 20, 2012 9:23 PM PST

Actually if you have kids or grandkids then you can qualify for the even cheaper "educational" software.

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by lknepler / March 3, 2012 6:37 PM PST
In reply to: OEM

How do I get "educational" versions?

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The OEM option
by pbtla / January 21, 2012 11:16 AM PST

Now this is really useful information! I'm having a whole bunch of components delivered on Monday to upgrade my partner's machine --his work has developed to the point where his old system simply wasn't up to the job. I'm definitely going to look into the OEM option; I've always wanted to be the OEM and Only...!

Obviously, on the original question, I'm advocating upgrade of components, self-installed. I've now built some ten computers from scratch, and they've all worked very well (sometimes taking longer to achieve than other, of course.) I once bet myself that I could build a new machine using nothing but old components I had lying around from previous jobs. Surprise, I actually built two (I donated them to worthy causes). It's very practical, and actually a lot of fun for anyone of a Certain Age who grew up on Erector Sets and crystal set radios from the Boy Scout Handbook.

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Buy, then you can have 2
by phoghat / January 20, 2012 11:23 AM PST
In reply to: Upgrade....

Buy the parts and put them together yourself. It's easier than you might think and far cheaper than buying a whole new one. See Tom's Hardware for recommendations on how to go about it, depending on what you want to do with it in the first place, i.e. just surf, all around home computer, gaming, and so on, recent articles include how to build a sub - $500 gaming (which can do more than just game) computer.
That being said, Install some Ubuntu on the old machine, and use it as a spare/HTC/server/music storage/whatever.

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don't forget
by srplus / January 20, 2012 11:39 PM PST
In reply to: Upgrade....

New Power Supply! And of course there are the random things you might find come in handy like video card and wireless, etc.

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by huzedat / January 21, 2012 3:09 PM PST
In reply to: Upgrade....

The motherboard/processor went out on my 3-year old computer. What I ran into was that the new motherboards have one IDE connection and several SATA connections, but no floppy drive connection. Some only have SATA connections. At best I could use only one HD with my DVD-RW. If I needed more, I had to buy SATA, but I would be limited to two more because of the power supply's connections. The power supply in a 6-year old machine won't support SATA. So, you would have to replace the power supply, too.

Most of the new motherboards wouldn't accept my RAM, so they won't accept 6-year old RAM, either. That's something else you would need to buy.

With my 3-year old computer, about the only things I would end up salvaging were the case, one HD and the DVD-RW. For the cost of upgrading, I could buy a new bare-bones that included a 1T SATA HD, a faster SATA DVD-RW, better RAM and Windows 7.

Do the research. There are several on-line retailers you can check to get specs and prices. Then choose whichever costs the least and meets your usage needs.

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Portable or Desktop
by westa65 / January 13, 2012 9:41 AM PST

With the way technology has evolved over the past 6 years - its unlikely that were would be a lot of value in keeping many of the components of your existing system.

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Power Supply
by Hforman / January 15, 2012 6:11 AM PST
In reply to: Portable or Desktop

You can't just say that he won't need a new power supply if he is replacing old components, especially the hard drive, with newer components unless you really analyze it. Also, he'd have to watch connectors, such as power since many of the newer technologies require different ones.

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Power Supply
by nylentone / January 20, 2012 10:27 AM PST
In reply to: Power Supply

I used to work at a terrible IT consulting company that would sell "barebones upgrades" to customers where we would use their existing case, power supply, and hard drive. The labor it took to perform the upgrades ate up the savings from reusing components, and the power supplies and hard drives would pretty much always fail a year or two later anyway, sometimes blowing the motherboard (in the case of the PS failures)!

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by cinemike / January 20, 2012 7:17 PM PST
In reply to: Portable or Desktop

I would NEVER replace my desktop with a laptop. I have a laptop (Dell Inspiron), but I find it slow and impractical, especially for typing. The keyboards of both of my last two laptops have been atrocious - too sensitive, giving unwanted keystrokes if one's finger lightly glances a key. They are also too narrow to give a comfortable typing position. Currently I use a separate keyboard and mouse to make my Dell functional, but that totally negates the reason for having a laptop. If you only want one computer... it is a desktop every time for me.
I too have an old (5 years) desktop (a Sony Vaio) and will soon have to replace it. The answers to this question have, in general been very helpful to me.

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Replacing a desktop with a laptop
by Rob10 / January 21, 2012 12:04 AM PST
In reply to: Laptop???

If the OP wants to go mobile, than a laptop makes sense. If it's only going to be sitting on a desk, replacing a desktop with a laptop is a terrible idea. They have a lower expensive/performance ratio because everything has to be miniaturized and there is a battery with associated charger, components tend to fail sooner because of heat, tiny screen compared to what you would likely get with a desktop, keyboard options are set and cramped, the list goes on. Of course you could add an external monitor and keyboard, but added expense and extra deskspace defeats the purpose. I used a high end Dell laptop on loan from my Mom for a while until I bought a new desktop. Let me tell you, it was SUCH a relief when my desktop arrived!

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Never thought I'd like a laptop
by tfitzmauro / January 21, 2012 5:57 AM PST
In reply to: Laptop???

I totally agree that the laptop is useless for full-time typing, I also need a real keyboard (which I have both at work & home) but the Lenovo laptop is great for travelling and working on things like photo slideshows, videos (anything you have to use a mouse for anway.) Anyone who actually learned to "type" doesn't rest their wrists on something and has a properly positioned keyboard - you won't find that on a laptop.
I teach a second grade computer class, which is primarily a keyboarding and word processing class. They are always amazed that I can "do that without looking." My question to them is "do you look at the controller when you play games?" "No, then you can write on a keyboard without looking!"

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laptop can be desktop replacement
by photobug56 / January 21, 2012 11:18 AM PST
In reply to: Laptop???

Yes, laptop keyboards are awful, and I too use a separate keyboard when my laptop is at home. And a separate, wireless mouse. But affordable laptops can have very good screens these days, and very fast processors. Unless you are doing work that is very processor or video or disk intensive a well chosen laptop can keep up with the work and can go with you when you travel.

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Laptops have many advantages over desktop computers
by Bruce Myers / January 22, 2012 12:38 AM PST
In reply to: Laptop???

A laptop does give one the ablilty to be much more moble if you chose to. If you have a presentation to make or even a movie you want to show your friends, they are great to take along and plug into a projector or large screen monitor. Also these days the power and price is about the same as a desktop but with a laptop you can use an additional monitor quite easily without adding an additional video card. Once you get used to having two monitors you'll never go back to using one, espeically if you do any graphic deisgn work. I agree about laptop keyboard being rather bad and not lasting very well, but an external key board really isn't that expensive.

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Laptops have their places
by TreknologyNet / March 3, 2012 11:45 PM PST

The machine I've been using now for several years is an HP NX6320 Laptop, with a docking bay. My decision was based purely on power usage. A 60W power supply is more attractive than a 600W version. It runs a real IBM clunky keyboard and 1600*1200 external screen. So my total continuous computer power usage is about 100W.

It keeps up with the 'net, plays streamed video and has it's internal screen arranged so that I can lay down in bed and watch a DVD, hopefully falling asleep.

I also am setting up old laptops as mini-servers. One is a print server. I send everything to it as a PDF file, and then when I'm ready to run the big expensive resin printer, I can dump the whole batch in one run, not waste power keeping the printer warm when it has little to do.

Another old '98 machine is still my telephone answering machine. It works, why "upgrade"?

I've also built a gaming+ machine intended to handle video in real time--6 screens, 3 keyboards and all the video hardware you can imagine. If I'm using this in winter, the room shouldn't need a heater.

All my comments above are based on bang per kWh. This needs to become a more serious part of the equation as the Greenhoax effect continues to take hold of the Western World artificially inflating energy costs.

If a 15W machine can do the job required, why have 2.4kW on standby all day?

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by Bewick / January 20, 2012 9:28 PM PST
In reply to: Portable or Desktop

And, unlike in the films, portables cannot run for much more than 2 hours on battery alone when connected to the internet. After 3 years the battery will likely only manage 30 minutes. From one who knows - for the last 15+~ years. Then again the laptop/netbook, connected to mains, takes up far less space and can be put away.
I would also venture that laptops seem less susceptible to software problems. Not immune - just less susceptible.

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by CoolHandDude / January 13, 2012 9:49 AM PST

At six years old your PC is a Dinosaur. Now is the time to upgrade to a new PC. Why? Hardware and Software has progressed to a Advanced State of the Art since you bought your PC six years ago.

CPU's: Specifically the Intel i7 Processor and its Multi-Cores. Memory, Hard Drives: See SSD's, Graphic Cards, Optical Drives, NIC's, USB 3.0, Motherboards, Sound Cards, Windows 7 and soon Windows 8. All have made major advancements.

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Choices in processor's
by Rampage434 / January 20, 2012 9:33 AM PST
In reply to: Progress

I7 right, 900 for a procssor, could check out AMD.

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What planet are you on?
by drronlech / January 20, 2012 10:21 AM PST
In reply to: Choices in processor's's regular price for the i7-2600k is about $314. I finally gave in last year and built a top of the line machine. i7-2600k, P67 Chipset, 16 GB PC 1600 Ram, 3- 2TB WD Black HD's, Blu Ray burner, DVD burner, ATI 6780 graphics, Samsung 24" LED/LCD, G15 keyboard, G9x and Cyborg Rat 3 Mice, Logitech surround sound speakers. Of course I dont pay for an operating system since Im a MSFT Partner and on their Technet program. I usually upgrade or update after I file my taxes since the previous PC sits next to it as well as using 2 monitors. I do utilize a USB switch for keyboard, mouse,etc. My current system would retail for well over $5000 but cost me around $1200. Pays to build it yourself. The worst machines Ive ever built had AMD processors, but that should end soon.
Now Im watching for the 2011 processors and the ivey-bridge processors and their respective motherboards as well as DDR4 memory.

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