When is it time to replace old faithful?
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Computer Player, May 1998
If you?re a computer owner, it probably seems like
every issue of the
Computer Player, your one-time proud purchase has fallen yet another
behind the current state of the art. We?ve spoken before in this column
about how with computers, more than with many other consumer areas, the
urge to buy can keep some of us in a continual state of upgrade terror.
How can you determine when it?s time to upgrade?
And when you do decide it?s time to buy, when is it
a whole new system and when can you get away with replacing some of the
components in your current system?
The advertisers who make it possible for us to provide
this free publication
probably would like me to answer the first question with ?Right now!?.
No matter how old your system is, there are better systems out there,
you?ve never been able to get so much power at any given price point.
while that has almost always been the case, things have changed
It used to be that there was a computer for $2000, a model for $2500,
a model for $3000. But now there range of choices has expanded
there are now acceptable choices at $1500 and even $1000 price
But the other side of the drop in computer prices is
that many users
have decided that they can safely buy a system that?s further from the
top of the line? those $1500 and $1000 systems are pretty similar to
systems for sale at a higher price last year, or even before that. Many
users are finding that they don?t need this year?s design for running
Of course, different users have different needs. If
you?re being paid
to work with Adobe PhotoPaint editing large graphics, it may pay to
in the fastest computer you can get, with lots of RAM and a huge hard
every time you have to wait for the Gaussian Blur effect to finish is
you could be using to complete another project with a more powerful
But most of us are doing some word processing,
browsing the Web, and
playing some games. And that means we can get by with less. Let?s try
? I?ve got a 166 MHz Pentium machine, with 32 megs of
RAM, and a 2 gig
hard drive? a pretty standard machine when I bought it, late in 1996.
my life be dramatically improved moving to (say) a 333 MHz P-II? Not
On the other hand, at about 100 megs a pop, my son?s games are close to
filling up the hard drive. $300 (more or less) can buy a 4 gig second
drive, and may be a worthwhile addition. Later on this year, it may be
worthwhile upgrading the RAM to 64 megs. (If I had 16 megs, I?d
upgrading to 32 right away?RAM is at historic low prices, and upgrading
from 16 megs is worthwhile for most users).
? A computer generation before that, I had a 486-66. 500 meg hard
8 megs of old-style 30-pin SIMM memory. Accelerated VLB-local bus video
card. It?s a bit slow running Windows 95, especially trying to run an
suite component or two. Some newer games will run, but most either need
more hard drive space, more RAM, or a faster processor. We tried out a
demo of last year?s version of Electronic Arts? Triple Play baseball
and watched the ball slowly leave the pitcher?s hand and float over to
home plate. What should I do?
I could try to upgrade the system a piece at a time.
But where to start?
For example, I could replace the 486 CPU with an Evergreen P5-133,
for about $150 would double the processor power. But I?d still want to
upgrade the RAM. I could buy 4 meg 30-pin SIMMs, but they?re more
than more common, newer styles of RAM? about $20 per SIMM. $80 for 16
but better to budget $160 for 32 megs (I?m up to $310)
And I need a bigger hard drive, so I?d better budget
$200-$300 for that.
(Up to $610). I could keep on using my 2 meg accelerated VLB video
and might as well, since VLB video cards are getting hard to find.
Of course, that 2x speed CD-ROM is another bottleneck.
$150 for a 20-24x model. So I?m up to $760? assuming I want to keep
my old and dirty keyboard, mouse and monitor. If I want to keep on
those, I?d probably be better of shopping around, and trying to make a
deal on a new, low-end system, from any of the many fine businesses
in this issue. (No, they didn?t pay me to say that!)
If your system is somewhere in between these two, you
have a range of
options. Upgrading your RAM and hard drive can be a cost effective way
to keep a Pentium 90-133 in the running for a while longer, for
perhaps springing for a faster video card (particularly offering 3D
for those new games), as well as a faster CD-ROM. But add much more,
again you?re in the ballpark of getting a new, low-end system.
If you do get a new system, don?t try to give the old
one to the kids?
they don?t want it?their games won?t play on it. Instead, think of
it to a charity, or to the Science Council of BC?s Computers for