Computer Upgrading pt 1
by Alan Zisman (c) 1991
originally published in INPUT, May 1991
Rumour has it that there are 70 million or so
computers world wide running
DOS, and more each day. And more packages of Microsoft Windows being
each month than Macs. But of those 70 million, are you one of the tens
of millions feeling left behind by Windows and the other 'power
Do you shudder when you see the words "minimum hardware requirements"
the back of software boxes? Then maybe this article has the answer
been waiting for... how (or whether !) to upgrade your DOS box for less
money if you're not afraid to open the case, and can find a Phillips
I'm assuming you've got a 'classic' PC... maybe a
Turbo-XT clone, maybe
an older AT or clone. And you've been feeling like the PC world has
ignoring you for the past year or so... hyping software that you can't
run on the machine that you proudly invested so much in a few short
ago. Maybe you went to your dealer to see what kind of trade in your
was worth... and it wasn't.
Well, before I join the crowd urging you to give your
to a charity (a good idea, actually, and write me c/o INPUT. I'll give
you the address of the school where I work), take a minute and ask
why do you want a change. If you use your computer mostly for word
and you're comfortable with the look and feel of the DOS text mode and
DOS commands, maybe you should stick with what you've got, and with
you know. Maybe upgrade your software. Try Microsoft Word version 5.5
Quattro Pro for the feel of menu bars and mouse control without the
and expense of changing your hardware. Check out GeoWorks Ensemble for
a graphical user interface and slew of applications that promises to
even on your computer. (Don't think of how much faster it'll run, and
much nicer it will look on someone else's computer).
But maybe I haven't convinced you. You've seen the
splashy, high resolution
colour demos running down in the store, you've read the ads in the
press, you've heard the buzzwords... "multitasking"... "superVGA"...
you're convinced that you've got to get ready for the future. Now !
should you do?
Well, basically, you've got two choices. You can buy a
or update the one you've got. Your choice may depend on what you think
you want, how much you think you can afford, and how handy you think
Buying up is getting cheaper by the minute, it seems.
I saw an ad today
in a Vancouver paper, for a new 12 mhz 286 clone system with 40 meg
drive, 1 meg memory, a monochrome VGA card and monitor for about $750
in Canada). To do it yourself, I've also seen 286 motherboards being
for under $200. If you were happy with your graphics card and hard
with memory running at $50-75 a meg, you could get away for a fraction
of the cost.
Either way, though, you really wouldn't be getting
ready for the next
generation of software. Your 12 mhz machine would run faster than your
Turbo-XT, and it would run Windows. But it wouldn't really run any of
splashy new Windows applications very well. And it certainly wouldn't
you multitask them... have more than one application running at the
time. And a lot of tasks using Windows would seem to take FOREVER...
than before you upgraded your hardware and software.
(Because Windows paints your whole screen, in graphics
software is always going to run more slowly than the equivalent
program. I love working within the Windows environment, but there's no
getting around the speed issue--- like in "Alice", you have to run
as fast just to stay in the same spot).
Maybe instead of that $175 286 motherboard, you should
have bought the
$450 386SX one. It'd be faster, and would have the 386 name, right?
if you can afford it, it probably is a better investment in your
for the future". New software like Windows, takes advantage of the
superior memory management (the 286 chip was wheeled out in 1982, after
Whether you upgrade to a 286 or a 386, if you want to
run Windows software,
get at least 2 meg of memory. If there's room on your motherboard, get
4 meg or even more. Windows will thank you, and with memory at record
prices (that some claim will be rising soon) it's a cheap fix. Your
bet is to add memory right on the motherboard. If you have a memory
configure it as Extended memory. This will let you give your
some room to breathe, speed everything up, and let you run more than
Around now, you should think of your hard drive. (You
do have a hard
drive, don't you?) Many XT-type computers have 20 meg hard drives with
access speeds of about 70-80 msecs. You can use them in your updated
but beware ! Windows itself takes about 5-6 meg of room, and that's
you add any new applications. Excel will take up 2.5-5 megs, Word for
or Ami another 2-3 meg, CorelDraw almost 7 meg... oops, we've used up
meg or so already ! And Windows and friends make a lot of disk reads,
if you're tight on memory. Running your fast computer with that old
drive will feel like driving with the emergency brake on. You can do
So, while you're thinking about replacing your hard
drive, well, how
about your floppies? All that new software comes on high density disks.
Customer support usually can pull a low density version out of its hat.
but they make you feel like a second-class citizen. And make sure your
power supply is hefty enough to safely run everything. Maybe 150-200
(40 meg hard drive... about $400, high density floppy and new power
each about $100).
How to decide? Check your local prices. Vancouver is a
prices may be higher where you shop. Replacing drives, cards, even the
motherboard isn't that difficult-- I'll be writing about it in the next
issue. You can do it one piece at a time. And you get the satisfaction
of knowing that you built and customized your own computer, and that
technology takes its next swing, you can do it again. On the other
as prices continue to tumble, if you need to replace all those items,
may be as cheap to buy a complete package, and have someone to complain
to if (when?) something goes wrong. And if you do that, drop me a line
about your old system.