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Computer Upgrade

January 18, 2015

A few years ago, I decided to try something different.  I’d never owned an x86 PC.  I was familiar with SPARC equipment at work.  I also had a SPARC workstation at home.  I ran Solaris and Opensolaris on it.  I wanted to learn about x86 PC hardware.  I wanted to know if upgrades were possible on these computers.  I even had thoughts of selling the upgraded computers.

I found a web site that claimed to be a liquidator of personal computers.  They had some x86 PC desktops at very attractive prices.  I began to make a few purchases from them, over a period of several years, learning as I went.  These were Dell and IBM desktop computers.  One I recall must have been somebody’s unsold stock.  It was an enormous Dell box that was mostly empty inside.  It asked me a series of questions when I first powered it up, finally giving me a Windows NT login screen.  I also bid on a few desktop computers from work, and took home some of them.  Almost everthing I bought needed an upgrade of some sort.

Memory was the easiest thing to upgrade.  It’s also the easiest way to improve performance of a PC.  The difficult part is finding the right memory for the computer.  Fortunately, most of the information I needed was available on the web.  Old computers often had only a CD reader and a small disk.  CD and DVD burners, and larger disks were available at reasonable prices.  They were even easier to install.  Often I needed to upgrade Windows to the current version.  I purchased upgrade kits or OEM versions, whichever was cheaper.  Windows is a major cost.

Along the way, I learned a few things.  I was impressed with how easy it was to replace components in x86 PC desktop computers.  You can always upgrade the disk or optical drive in these.  Replacements are relatively inexpensive.  Other components do have limitations.  I never upgraded a CPU, even though it would be easy to do.  That’s because the motherboard will only accept a few CPU models, none of which are much faster than the one already installed.  The motherboard also limited the amount of memory that could be installed.  Older motherboards could not be upgraded to have sufficient memory.  Some computers had non-standard components that were not available in the retail market.  I recall having to discard one rather nice computer because I could not find a replacement power supply for it.

Some components are available, but their cost is too high.  One is the CPU, of course.  You’d have to replace the entire motherboard to get sufficient performance increase and memory capacity.  In effect, you’d only be reusing the case and power supply.  That sort of upgrade is not reasonable.

I soon determined that the economics of upgrading old computers were all negative.  Even with the upgrade, it would still have a slow CPU, a part that can’t be upgraded cheaply.  Nobody would buy the upgraded computer when they could buy a brand new one for only one or two hundred dollars more.  It just doesn’t make economic sense.  Even if I got the old computer for free, it would still cost me too much to upgrade it.

An upgrade might make economic sense if you do it yourself, but only for low-cost components.  If you have a service shop do the upgrade, you will surely lose money.  Always compare the value left in your old computer to the cost of a new one.  Always consider the age of your computer.  Particularly if you have to upgrade the Windows version, your best option is generally to replace it with a new one.  Old computers are worth practically nothing.


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