Give your PC a face lift

Junking an old PC used to be our sole option. Today, you could add a little extra RAM, hunt around for a good graphics card, get an external hard drive or a couple of budget components from the market and have a PC that will stand you in good stead for at least another couple of years. In this month's workshop, we show you how to give your PC a facelift.

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By  Vijaya George Published  November 21, 2002

I|~||~||~|In modern homes, it isn't unusual to have two PCs. When a new PC is purchased, the old one is often passed on to the younger members of the family. Most youngsters, today, however, do not look upon the computer as a mere word processing unit that will help them get their class assignments done. Rather, the computer is a major source of entertainment. Playing games, downloading MP3s, dabbling in imaging software, chatting, exchanging and sharing files over the internet, and much else has become a part of our daily life. Unfortunately, most of these tasks require a good deal of RAM, fast processors, a lot of hard disk space, and good video and sound cards. An old Pentium II 233 MHz equipped with an antique video card will take the flavour out of computing and multi-tasking. As a result, the old PC may lie unused at home.

The solution to such a situation does not always lie in purchasing yet another new PC. Instead, an upgrade will suit you just perfectly. Depending on how much money you can spare and what the profile of the user is, you can choose which particular components you would like to upgrade on your computer. In this workshop, Windows Middle East teams up with PCS to take you through some important points that you must keep in mind when considering an upgrade. The market is teeming with hundreds of different brands as well as unbranded IT products that you could purchase depending on your budget. However, for this workshop, we have stuck to some popular products in the market.

||**||II|~||~||~|Budget

One of the main reasons why many people opt for an upgrade instead of a new PC is to save on money. If you don’t have more than a hundred dollars to spare, consider upgrading only the RAM (random access memory) on your PC. This is the easiest and most effective method to improve the overall performance of your PC.

If you have a few extra hundred dollars to spare, most people will suggest that you purchase a new PC and avoid the hassle of an upgrade. Fair enough! However, if you are game for a bit of a challenge and want to get to the guts of your computer, this is the right opportunity to consider revamping your PC. Picking and choosing industry-standard components and peripherals, and assembling them at your home, may not be very easy but the advantage (over purchasing an assembled computer) is that you can be assured that the products are genuine. This way, you eliminate the chances of using counterfeit hardware that will eventually slacken the performance of your PC.

||**||III|~||~||~| Memory
If your computer begins to slow down when you are multi-tasking or working on graphic-intensive applications, you know it’s time for a RAM upgrade. It is also the first choice for most people who want to upgrade their PCs with minimum budget.

There are different types of RAM. While gaming enthusiasts may prefer the very expensive RDRAM, the more popular choice in the market today is DDR. DDR is cheaper than RDRAM but more expensive than SDRAM. However, it operates at twice the speed of SDRAM. SDRAM, which used to be popular previously, is gradually being discontinued by the industry.

Memory depends on what performance you want to get out of it. Today, most applications are heavy and graphics oriented. So you should at least have a minimum RAM of 256 MB that can be upgraded to 512. But if you only use your computer for typing word documents, even 128 MB RAM should do just fine.

Keep in mind that in most cases, a motherboard takes only one type of RAM — either an SDRAM, DDR or RDRAM. If you only plan to upgrade the memory on your PC, you will need to check which RAM your motherboard supports and use that one. If you intend to purchase a new motherboard, it is recommended that you go for one that supports DDR. Even as we speak, new DDR modules with a bus speed of 333 MHz are being shipped to the region. So far, DDRs could support only a maximum of 266 MHz.

Most memory modules today come with a lifetime warranty and memory module distributors will assure you of the same. However, we suggest that you make an informed choice when you purchase a memory module. For example, Spectek is one of the most popular brands on the market. As a result, re-marked versions of this brand are also available and there’s no way to tell the difference. There are good alternatives from vendors like Twinmos and Simple Technologies. In an attempt to fight the counterfeit market, vendors like Twinmos advise customers to look for a hologram with the company’s logo on the first chip of its module.

||**||IV|~||~||~|Motherboard and CPU
Upgrading the motherboard on your PC is a big budget decision and switching from a PII to a P4, is indeed bigger. For the more adventurous, there are cheap, yet good alternatives to the Intel Pentium such as AMD. Motherboards that support the PII and PIII are radically different from that of the P4. To start with, motherboards for PIIIs and Celerons use a 370 socket whereas the P4 comes with a 478 socket.

If you are considering a P4 motherboard and plan to make future upgrades to it, go for one that has a bus speed of 533 MHz. Any higher speed is always backwards compatible. The idea behind this is that entry level Pentium 4 processors today range from 1.8 to 2.2 GHz, and these support up to 400 MHz bus speed only. But if you need to cross to the next step and purchase a 2.4 GHz in the future, you will need to have a motherboard that supports at least 533 MHz bus speed. The difference in price between a motherboard that supports 400 MHz and 533 MHz is approximately $25.

Before purchasing a CPU, ask yourself a couple of questions:
1. How much speed do I need?
2. What is my budget?

Depending on your user profile, you can pick a processor that suits your budget. One with a lower clock speed will cost you less and may well suffice for your computing needs. But if you are used to working on several heavy applications at a time and want a fast processor, go for the 2.8 GHz P4 because it supports hyperthreading. Hyperthreading helps when you are multi-tasking between different applications. This feature is only supported by P4 2.8 GHz and above.
We also recommend that you purchase a boxed product rather than a tray product. In the case of a tray product, it isn’t always possible to distinguish a genuine chip from a counterfeit one. Purchasing a boxed product will eliminate such worries. Moreover, a boxed chipset often includes a fan as well, as in the case of the Intel processor. The fan plays a critical role in ensuring that your computer functions well. AMD also released boxed versions of its Athlon and Duron processors in the region a few months ago. Both come with AMD fans as well.

||**||V|~||~||~|Video card
Sometimes, you don’t need to upgrade your processor. A gamer might just need to upgrade his RAM and graphics card, if he has a P3 machine. Most old motherboards come with an AGP slot, where you can insert your graphics card. However, some motherboards today come with an onboard Intel graphics card and do not necessarily have an AGP slot. There are others that come with an onboard Intel graphics card as well as an AGP slot. It is recommended that you choose a motherboard that comes with an AGP slot irrespective of whether you go for an onboard graphics card or not. This is because an onboard card borrows memory from your RAM. It can also currently use only a maximum of 64 MB RAM. Rather, having an AGP slot on the motherboard will give you the option of choosing your own VGA card later if you take a fancy to video editing, gaming or other graphic-intensive computing activities. When purchasing a graphics card with 64 or 128 MB.

If you plan to eventually connect your computer to your television, pick a graphics card that has a TV out option as well.

Chassis
Upgrading to a P4 is a big decision. If you upgrade to the P4, you have two choices. You can either change your chassis/casing or change your power supply. Changing the chassis is often a better option. A mid-tower casing is recommended and is said to be the most appropriate as it comes with sufficient number of slots to incorporate a CD-RW, DVD combo (etc.) and has provision for an extra cooling fan as well. When you switch to a P4, you will need to place an additional cooling fan as the heat dissipated from this processor is much higher. Different types of chassis are available to the consumer today. Several come with covers these days that prevent dust from collecting.

Hard disk
Earlier, hard disks came with 10 or 20 GB. But today, most programmes are getting bigger. 30 or 40 GB of hard disk space could help.
There are several credible internal hard disk brands in the market from vendors such as Samsung, Western Digital and Maxtor. If your budget allows for an HDD with 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute), go for this as you can exploit your system better. While a 5400 RPM can also serve your purpose, the difference between the two is only approximately $12.
If an additional internal hard disk drive is too troublesome, go for an external hard drive. External hard disks are available from companies such as Maxtor.

||**||VI|~||~||~|Monitor
If you do have extra budget and still want to fiddle around with your computer, get old things replaced. A 14" monitor, for instance, is as antique as they get. A 17" monitor is the most popular CRT size. If you have a space crunch at home, go for an LCD — a 15" would have the same viewing area as a 17" CRT.

Sound
The basic 2.1 sound card is almost outdated now but it should be fine if all you listen to on your computer are the occasional midi files. Chances are, with a fantastic P4 machine, you will be willing to pay a little extra for a good 4.1 or 5.1 sound card. If you are an ardent gamer, you will need either of these sound cards because only these two come with a 15-pin DIN socket.

Optical drives
Most people today want an optical drive that can do a little more than just read a CD. A CD-rewriter has almost become a necessity today. If you already have a CD-reader, leave it as it is and get yourself a CD-RW (approximately $65) or a CD-RW/DVD combo (approximately $145).
Most mid tower casings come with additional slots. If you do not intend to watch DVDs on your PC, purchase an extra CD-RW drive only. If you already have a CD-RW, just a DVD drive (approximately $45) will do to help you copy data from one CD to another.

Other possible upgrades
Sound, speaker and headphones are paraphernalia that can be changed. Also consider ergonomic purchases such as well-designed keyboards, cordless mice as they offer better ergonomic solutions and are aesthetically pleasing. Changes can be made to ethernet and fax modems as well.

This is just a brief idea on what to look for and what kind of upgrades you can do to get the maximum out of your computer. If you have never assembled a PC before, go to the March edition of the Windows Middle East, 2002 for a guide on how to assemble a power PC. Good Luck!||**||

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