Given the age, have you done this -> http://reviews.cnet.com/Clean_up_your_laptop/4660-10165_7-6648292.html
As to cheap, I have a few of those under 599 laptops from Staples in the office which are just fine. No games or such but cheep.
As to Mac, I may pass on the Pro and go with the black Macbook. So far it looks like that and a copy of VmFusion to host XP Pro SP2.
I'm currently in possession of a Dell Inspiron 9300 laptop, running Windows XP SP2, which I've had from new - I bought it in August 2005, so it's pushing 3 years old; 3 years of fairly rugged, college-style use. (Think everything short of me dropping it.)
Despite having really high specs even for today (it's got 1 GB RAM, a combination DVD/CD writer, discrete graphics, a 2 GHz processor), it's never been a particularly robust system, even with regular (okay, fairly sporadic) virus cleaning and spyware scanning. It's had its motherboard replaced once to correct a loosened headphone jack that caused sound to stop working, and which has since worked itself loose again. The DVD part of the combo-drive stopped working long ago. Burning CDs, once iffy, is now such a hit-or-miss proposition that it isn't worth it to try anymore. Attempting to use more than two or three programs at once is asking for some sort of fatal system crash.
But, up until this past week, all of this was tolerable or at least workaroundable.
One day, while I was surfing the internets, everything slowed way down and a loud fan, which I had never heard before, kicked up a high-pitched whine. Freaked out, I restarted the computer - which took even longer than usual, and usual is a LONG time - and the noise and performance detriment went away. For about an hour.
The upshot of this is that whenever I use the computer for a length of time, something similar to this problem happens. If I'm really careful and don't use any sort of internet functions (websurfing, AIM, e-mail), sometimes I can get an hour and a half out of it, so so far taking notes in class hasn't become a problem, though I'm just waiting for that to happen.
I guess my questions are threefold:
1. What's causing this, and is it worth fixing given that school finishes for the year in mid-June and I intend to get a new laptop come September?
2. If the computer should stop working altogether, what recommendations can you make for a cheap temporary replacement?
3. When I buy the new good computer, I'm going to get a Macbook Pro. Is it worth it to wait until September for the planned Montevina refresh, or should I think about trying to get one when this one conks out?