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The Upgrade Dilemma

The shiny new computer parts in all those newspaper and magazine ads look tempting, but upgrading is not for everyone. Only you can decide if the advantages of a particular upgrade are worth the time and money that goes into making it work.

Even the oldest computers may not require upgrades if they meet your needs. That old 286 IBM PS/2 still makes a good basic word processor, for instance, and many people might say the formula for typing hasn’t improved enough to warrant spending money to change. Buying something new will add a lot of gizmos, but chances are none of them will make you think better or write more lyrically. Just because something “better” is available doesn’t necessarily mean the old machines are suddenly worthless.

Newer components, however, might allow your computer to perform tasks you didn’t realize could be so easy. Better graphics, more storage space for data and software, substantially faster operation, and fancy sound playback are just a few of the reasons many people consider upgrading. Updated hardware might be necessary to keep up with multimedia software, stay compatible with friends and business associates, or to navigate the Internet at a reasonable speed.

The current market for new computers makes upgrading a more difficult choice than it once was. Prices for good computers have fallen from the 1500 neighborhood to 800 and even lower. Often, these sub-500 PCs lack the bells and whistles of their more expensive brethren, but even relatively stripped-down models might be better than older computers with upgraded parts. While it once made financial sense to spend hundreds of dollars for upgrade parts rather than thousands of dollars for a new computer, the math today is different. It doesn’t take long before an upgrade bill starts to approach new computer prices.

What this means is that upgrading makes the most sense for users who have specific needs their computers are not fulfilling. Usually, one or two upgrades will do the trick in such cases. For older computers that have all-around deficiencies, upgrading is a bigger chore and doesn’t often compare favorably to simply getting a new computer.

The solution to the problem lies in knowing exactly where to spend upgrading resources and when to stop. One upgrade can easily lead to others. Programs that run thanks to your speedy new CD-ROM drive, for instance, can churn pretty slowly without some additional RAM. Many users confront this slippery slope of ever-increasing upgrade daydreams.

It may be best to choose a realistic, limited goal and then explore the various alternatives to reach it. One idea for owners of older systems might be to review hardware requirements listed on boxes of software they want to run and compare them to the components they already have. If the price tag for making the necessary upgrades starts to get scary, forget the a la carte menu and take a look at new systems.

Another factor to consider is how much the old machine might be worth if it were sold to help buy a new model. These days, it is difficult to sell anything less than a Pentium-based computer, but you just never know what a classified ad might bring.

Almost certainly a complete system will fetch a better price than selling parts as you upgrade piece by piece. Another reason for keeping the old system intact is to have a spare; even new computers aren’t as reliable as their price tags indicate.

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