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Windows 7 Setup Part 3: The Right Tool for the Right Job – Getting the most Bang for Your Upgrade Buck

This is part 3 of a multipart series on setting up Windows 7 on YOUR computer.   You can see parts here at Just Another Mobile Monday and at iTechGear.org. Now that you’ve determined that Windows 7 is right for you, and you’ve figured out what version of Windows 7 you’re going to install, we need to take a serious look at your existing hardware.  I’m going to assume that you’ve already taken a look at the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and have an upgrade report that you are referring to while we go through this.  If you haven’t run the Upgrade Advisor on your existing PC, then you need to do so. Ultimately, we’re going to divide your computer’s components up into 3 camps – The stuff that’s OK (and doesn’t need to be upgraded), the stuff that SHOULD be upgraded, and the stuff that you’d LIKE to upgrade.  For many this may be a financial decision, but for those with a bit of flexibility in their budgets, your computing experience just gets better with a little more horse power.  Let’s dive in and take a look...
PC Kit
Upgrade or buy new? Let’s take a look...
 

Upgradeable Components
Unless you built your PC from scratch or from a kit, and most of us didn’t, then you have to think about what you have in your PC.  Without getting into upgrading your motherboard (unless you are a super techie, you may as well buy a new computer at that point), most people will consider upgrading one, some or all of the following:

  • CPU
  • Graphics Card
  • Sound Card
  • Hard Drive
  • RAM
  • CD/DVD Drive
  • Monitor

  Let’s consider upgrade possibilities for each.

CPU – This isn’t the mid to late 1990’s any more. For those that remember, CPU upgrades, while technically possible, aren’t as easy as they used to be. You used to be able to buy a graphics or math co-processor (when those were separate chips) and give your spreadsheet and graphing a speed boost; but modern Pentium and Core2Duo, among other chips have this stuff built in. While its technically possible to upgrade to a faster or more powerful CPU today, its more complicated.  The chips are bigger, have more pins, and depending on the motherboard and brand of PC, may not be replaceable. Don’t bother considering this one, kids. If your current PC isn’t 1gHz or faster, its going to be easier (and cheaper in the long run) to buy a new computer.  We’re going to file this component under “the stuff that’s OK.” 

Graphics Card – Many desktop computers and ALL laptops have their “graphics cards” integrated into the motherboard. If that doesn’t give you enough power, you can always consider a graphics card upgrade for your desktop computer. Laptop users are out of luck and stuck with what they have in this area.  Many graphics cards come with enhanced processing power, including GPU’s (graphical processing units) and dedicated video RAM, giving your PC the ability to play advanced role playing games, watch picture perfect video and generally support large monitors with near (or at) HD resolutions. You have to really think about the age of your PC, the type of available interface slots you have in it, and the cost of the upgrade. Some of these cards can add a lot of life and ability to an existing PC, but can be expensive. For example, cards can cost anywhere from $96.99 for an ATI Radeon HD 4850 512GB, to $494.99 for an Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB Single PCB. If the graphics card in your desktop has less than 256MB of video RAM, consider a lower end card upgrade (like the ATI Radeon HD 4850) unless you’re going to do some REALLY serious gaming; and then again, a new PC might be a better idea.  As such, we’re going to file this component under “stuff you’d like to upgrade.”

Sound Card – Unless you’re an audio/videophile, or are going to do some serious multimedia work, most computer consumers are going to be satisfied with the sound components that came with their desktop PC.  Again, laptop users don’t really have an upgrade path here.  However, like your graphics card, depending on the interface slot types on your mother board, you can upgrade this component too. Cards can cost anywhere from $19.99 for a Diamond Xtreme Sound 5.1/16 bit Sound Card, to $199.99 for an ASUS Xonar D2X 7.1 Channels 24-bit 192KHz. In most cases a decent set of desktop speakers with a floor based subwoofer will go a lot farther; and is a better buy. As such, unless this is a must upgrade for you, we’re going to file this under, “the stuff that’s OK.”

Hard Drive – Whether laptop or desktop, EVERY computer can benefit from a hard drive upgrade, regardless of operating system.  Better, faster, stronger is the key here, so if you’re in the market for a quick PC upgrade, this is low hanging fruit. The best way to add longevity to an aging PC is to buy the biggest, fastest (within economical reason) hard drive you can find. In most cases, 500GB drives or larger can be had for around $100 for a desktop and about $150 – $200 for a laptop. Just make sure you get the right interface type for your PC (SATA, PATA or EIDE). We’re going to file this one under the “stuff that should be upgraded.”

RAM – Like your hard drive, RAM prices are cheap and this is also an easy way to bring new life to your existing computer. My favorite online source for RAM is Crucial.com (originally part of Micron Computers). They have online tools to help insure you get the right kind of RAM for your computer. As such we’ll file this under, “stuff that should be upgraded.”

CD/DVD Drive – If you don’t have a DVD drive in your PC, you’re not going to be able to install Windows 7, as it comes on a DVD. If your PC doesn’t have a DVD drive, it may be too old for realistic upgrading; but if a PC purchase within the last 3 or so years didn’t include a DVD drive, now may be the perfect time to correct that situation. For example, you can get a Samsung SH-S223C_BE DVDRW Drive for $29.99 or a Lite ON DH-4O1S-73C Blu Ray 4x ROM for as much as $74.99. We’re going to file this component under “stuff that should be upgraded.”

Monitor – Unless you have an extremely high end monitor with enhanced connectivity and multimedia options you’re not going to have to worry about a “monitor driver” per se. Windows 7 is likely going to have what you need. If it doesn’t, Windows Update should. This is an easy upgrade, as the benefit can be passed on to any and all PC’s connected to it, old and upgraded or new. There are a number of off brand monitors that provide a great deal of value for a reasonable price. For example, you can get an eMachines E202H WMD 20″ LCD Monitor – 1600 x 900, 10000:1 Dynamic, 5ms, 16:9, VGA, DVI for $109.96; or a VISON V221WD Black 21.6″ 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor for $119.99. While the prices here are very reasonable and make a lot of sense, I’m going to put this component into the “stuff you’d like to upgrade” category.  Neither having or being without this upgraded component is going to effect the performance of your PC.

Conclusion
Adding new life to your aging PC can be easy and somewhat affordable, provided you shop around and choose your upgrade components wisely.  With new PC’s costing between $200 to $1000,  balancing cost and value is entirely in your hands.  In the end, keep your eye on the Windows 7 hardware requirements and make use of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.

Series:

Windows 7 Setup Part 2: Eanie-Meany-Miney-Moe – Choosing the Right Version of Windows 7

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