With technology changing all the time it’s easy to be left behind by hanging on to that old desktop or laptop too long. Many people aren't sure when it's time to buy a new computer, and when can they get away with upgrading an old one. While the decision can be affected by several different factors, you'll want to consider the computer's speed and whether it has slowed, how much memory you have and if you have room to increase it, whether or not it has the correct ports for the external devices you want to use, and if it has the processing power that you need.
If your computer has slowed over time, it might simply need maintenance. Hard disk defragmenting puts files back together in one place on the drive to optimize their retrieval time. Using a registry cleaner can speed up booting into your desktop and quicken program access by removing orphaned entries that point to missing resources, files and folders. You can also use a startup manager to identify and disable extraneous programs and processes that needlessly run in the background.
A computer might also slow down over time due to lack of hard disk space. As a disk (or array of disks) reaches its capacity, the system has to work harder to shuffle data, creating a bottleneck. Adding an additional disk can solve this problem and extend the life of the system. Hard disks are normally good investments, as they can usually be used in future systems, even externally.
A somewhat related factor in computer slowing could be insufficient Random Access Memory (RAM). Even within the trimmest systems, there are several programs that typically run in the background to keep a computer secure, such as an anti-virus program, firewall, and anti-spyware or anti-adware programs. The desktop, wallpaper, any open programs, and necessary system processes also use RAM. To top it off, gaming, video editing, and other multimedia software requires far more memory than word processing or spreadsheet programs. You might think it’s time to buy a new computer when all that's needed is more RAM.
Unfortunately, motherboards do not support limitless amounts of RAM. After determining that your memory is indeed low, you’ll have to consult the manual of your motherboard to see how much RAM your system supports. If you’ve hit a memory ceiling, you’ll need a new computer or motherboard if you want more.
Another inconvenience that can make someone wonder if it’s time for a new computer is seeing pixilation or skipped frames during streaming media playback. Online video requires fast graphics cards that can process massive amounts of data quickly. Quality graphics cards have their own on-board RAM and graphic processing unit (GPU) to avoid taking up system RAM and processing resources. Generally, the more on-board RAM a video card has, the easier it makes life on the rest of the system. If your computer performs fine for everything but streaming media, you might just require a graphics card upgrade.
The port on the motherboard that supports the graphic card or cards can be one of several types. The AGP type has given way to the newer PCIe slot, but within each of these categories are various versions and flavors. Before checking out the hottest graphics cards, look at the port on the motherboard to determine what kind of card the system supports. If the specification only supports legacy cards, you won’t be able to upgrade your system with the newest ones.
If your computer is missing that which has long ago become standard, such as USB ports, AGP or PCIe graphics ports, Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk support, or the ability to support at least 2 gigabytes of RAM, it’s time to buy a new computer. In doing so, you can better future proof your purchase by choosing a system that will support at least twice as much RAM as you currently require, along with offering the latest standards for all major components.
That said, if the only functionality missing is Firewire support, consider getting an internal Firewire card, assuming your motherboard has an available IDE slot. Laptops can support Firewire using the external PC Card slot. An alternative is getting a USB-to-Firewire adapter.
If the computer has plenty of hard disk space and RAM, if it has the best graphics card it will support, is defragmented and maintained, but just doesn't cut the mustard in overall performance, the central processing unit (CPU) is likely older and too slow for your needs. You still might not need to buy a new computer, however. Check your motherboard manual to see if you can upgrade the CPU. If not, the good news is there are plenty of great new systems to choose from at reasonable prices.