Upgrading computer much like needing a new
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
How old is your PC (or Mac)?
When I was a kid, we had a neighbour who got a new car
every year. The
rest of us thought that was going a bit overboard, even at the height
Detroit?s hysterical model changeovers every Fall.
But is it getting to be like that for computer owners?
New models don?t
come out just once a year, but every few months. People joke that as
as your new computer comes out of the box it?s obsolete. That?s not
of course, but like many jokes, the humour can be a little too close
Last winter, I replaced my seven year old car with a
new version of
the same make and model. There were some styling differences, but not
many differences in performance or features.
Buy most new PCs and you may not get an styling
changes. But unlike
with my new car, new PCs offer real performance improvements. Faster
Bigger hard drives. More RAM.
But should you care?
That depends what you?re doing with your computer.
Remember, just because
there are newer models, that doesn?t mean your old computer somehow no
longer works. It still continues to run the same software just as well
as it ever did. Of course, new versions of software are constantly
put out on the marketplace, often requiring more and more hardware
But just as you?re still driving the same route to
work, many of us
are doing the same couple of chores on our computers. Will a newer car
get us to work any faster? And will a newer computer let you word
or even surf the Net any better?
I had that last car from 1991 to the beginning of
1998. Over that time,
my computers evolved from a 12 MHz 286, with 40 meg hard drive and
monitor to a 25 MHz 386, which went from 2 megs to 8 megs of RAM. That
morphed to a 66 MHz 486 that ended up with 16 megs of RAM and a
huge 1 gig hard drive before it was replaced with a Pentium 166 with
the RAM and hard drive space of the 486. Four computers over seven
Nicer monitors, but still word processing, basic bookkeeping, and a bit
of graphics and page layout.
Yes, my online activities have evolved over that
pages are clearly more demanding than text-based CompuServe access at
beginning of the decade. But here, the limiting factor is more modem
than the actual computer. I?m not convinced that using the P-166 rather
than the 486 makes much difference when accessing the Net.
Even so, I recently retired the Pentium. As I?ve said
before in this
column, it?s games that drive the home market? not the Internet, not
applications. I review games in this paper, and I?m the parent of a 15
year old who plays games (on computer and ?systems?) a lot. And the
that were starting to appear were listing my computer as the ?minimum
system?. And they mean it! Several of this season?s new sports games,
Electronic Arts? Madden 99 football game would install and run on the
but not in any way that you?d want to play. A few games even refused to
So I went shopping. My choices:
- a new notebook. This would have been expensive
(especially with a nice,
active matrix screen), and even a top of the line notebook would have
at best, marginal as a game playing system.
- A new Mac. But too much of what I work with
involves PC hardware and
and while a high-end Mac can emulate a PC, it loses too much in the
becoming at best, marginal as a PC-game playing system. Besides, I
a new Mac only a year ago, and even though it isn?t a perky G3, I
justify replacing it that quickly.
- A new PC desktop. These still over the most bang
for the buck,
though they?re cool, I really don?t need a portable system that often.
And the most upgradeable, with optional sound cards, 3D accelerators,
So (to cut to the chase) I bought a Pentium-II-400 from a Vancouver
Computes! advertiser. 128 megs RAM, 10 gig hard drive. I splurged
a little on a 17? monitor, making everything a bit bigger for my aging
eyes. I expect to be happy for at least a couple of months, and fully
to get the same two years or so of useful life out of it as with all
I think I have more reason to upgrade than my old
neighbour with his
annual new car. But am I just as much a dupe of market