A Conversation for Upgrading Your Computer

What do I *need*?

Post 1

Cheerful Dragon

This is a question that everybody should ask before doing anything to / with a computer, regardless whether it's buying a new one or upgrading their current one. Unfortunately, few people do ask this question. Either they don't know enough and are afraid to ask, or they're dazzled by the hype surrounding the latest operating system, soundcard, graphics card, whatever. Here are some points to bear in mind:

Operating system. This can be a problem area, but I'm willing to bet that most people don't actually *need* any of the extra functionality that comes with things like Windows XP. When I bought my new computer a few years ago, I held out for Windows 98, even though it was reaching the end of its 'life', because I knew that it did everything I *needed*. For me, all the extra 'functionality' was just bloatware.

Soundcards / graphics cards. If you're going to use your computer system as a DVD player, or to play games that have really good graphics and sound, then by all means go for the top of the range. If that's what you want to spend your money on, fine. However, I have a soundcard that is no longer state of the art. Combined with a 5 speaker system it does just fine. Similarly my graphics card is no longer state of the art, but it's good enough for my purposes.

Hard drive. Decide how much disc space you need for items that *must* reside permanently on your system. Add space for expansion - you'll always be getting more applications / games or creating more documents or whatever it is you do. But bear in mind that most things can be backed up. I have a 40Gb hard drive which I *know* I'm never going to fill. I'm using less than 1/10 of that at the moment!

CD / DVD player. Computer software is always on CD and some applications come on DVDs. So a CD player is essential and a DVD player *may* be advisable. A CD writer is a good thing to have for backups, so go for a CD-RW drive. You can get drives that combine CD-RW and DVD in one. It's up to you if you think one of these is worth it.

I can't offer any thoughts or recommendations on motherboards. Bear in mind, though, that some of them come with audio capability, so you may not need a soundcard. Having said that, the audio capability of a motherboard is probably not as good as a dedicated soundcard.

What do I *need*?

Post 2

Cheerful Dragon

Almost forgot:

Monitor. The smallest you can get these days is 15 inch, but I recommend going for at least 17 inch. Even with that size, watching DVDs is like watching a portable television. If you're going to use your PC for that, bigger is better - as long as you have room for it. A bigger monitor also enables finer picture resolution. Having said that, it's not essential if all you're going to do is play games or write documents. 17 inch is fine for that.


Post 3

Researcher 233452

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Post 4

Researcher 233452

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What do I *need*?

Post 5


that's not very nice smiley - erm
^. .^
= ' =

What do I *need*?

Post 6


Motherboards seem to have vastly improved functionality over what was typically seen in the past. Some of the stuff that you can get is really impressive. Bearing in mind that this is the central component of the machine and will limit you in terms of absolute speed, what CPU you can use, how much memory and of what type you can use, it is worth spending some time looking around at reviews to get a feel for what is available for what sort of price. No motherboard will have everything you want built-in, but a quick scout around should provide you with some that contain what you need:

IDE raid controller (so data can be extra safe)
Network Interface Card (NIC) mostly 10/100MB/s but some are gigabit ethernet (fast!).
On-board sound- usually good, but not *very* good. Good enough for games or movies I think, but not for an audiophile.
Support for at least a gig of RAM.
4 or 5 USB slots.
8 speed AGP slot.
4 or 5 PCI slots.

This should have you well on the way. Bear in mind also that if you are upgrading an older board you will have to get memory (RAM) as well because it probably won't be compatable with newer boards. Just as well memory is cheap at the moment!

What do I *need*?

Post 7

Fruitbat (Eric the)

And you didn't even touch on the wondrous Mac....still, I suppose you don't know much about that.

The newer Macs are super-fast, which is only an issue for someone working in sound, graphics or video. To anyone else, speed isn't an issue;

High-end graphics cards and displays are an issue, because screen area is vital for some programmes. Fortunately, we have the Cinema Display, Studio-display and the HD-Display for video-work. Twin monitors is also an option.

Macs come stock with Stereo cards and ultra-wide ethernet.

Your point about what people will really use the computer for is the kernel of all of this; I"m still using a tower G3 (what I can afford) and have OS X.2.6 in it. I'm aching for the new G5....because I want to work in video/3D. Right now my G3 does me well because I'm mostly writing.

...though there's nothing like a stable OS to make every users' life a more relaxing place to be. OS 9.2.2 is still around, but OS X is a treat on the eyes and on the 'oh, cool' joycentre.


What do I *need*?

Post 8

Cheerful Dragon

I wrote about what I know, which is PCs. Here in the UK, Macs are conspicuous by their absence in the shops. We had a glut of commercials when the iMac came out and, being used to being able to change bits to suit myself, I thought it was ridiculous to cram everything in with the monitor, thereby forcing the user to have the screen size the manufacturer wanted them to have. Other than that, we get ads for Mac notebooks and bits of software, but little else. They are obviously happy to leave the UK out of their sales area.

What do I *need*?

Post 9

Caveman, Evil Unix Sysadmin, betting shop operative, and SuDoku addict (Its an odd mix, but someone has to do it)

17-inch monitors are not what they used to be.

In the days when 14" was the normal size, a 17" monitor was very heavy, ludicrously expensive, and typical resolutions were 1600x1200, which was great if you could find a graphics card that would support that. (We had a graphics subsystem on the old mainframe that could, but it cost several thousand pounds back then)

Now that we have even cheap (under GBP30) graphics cards that will happily crank out 1600x1200 and beyond, there are few 17" monitors that will display an image that size. I've even seen 19" monitors that max out at 1280x1024 (and in one case, 1024x768).

LCD monitors are very nice, and much clearer than a typical CRT. One thing worth mentioning for the uninitiated is that a 17" LCD is actually larger than a 17" CRT. In LCD screens, the 17" refers to the matrix size (which is the bit you can see pictures on), whereas in CRT's, 17" refers to the diagonal physical size of the tube, which includes the bits of the glass tube you can't see hiding behind the plastic surround. There's typically 1" to 1.5" difference.

So yes, size does matter.

What do I *need*?

Post 10

Cheerful Dragon

When I said that 17" was the smallest monitor I'd go for, I was thinking of a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, 'cos that's what I use. It's fine for my purposes - writing documents, etc. Mine will, in theory, go up to 1280 x 1024, but I don't need that resolution. In fact, text size becomes uncomfortably small on some icons, title bars, etc.

As for LCD monitors, yes they are nice. They are also expensive and not in everybody's price range. Like I said, it depends on what you *need* as much as on what you want - and on what you can afford.

On the subject of hard disk drives...

Post 11


...you can always add extra hard disks later on, almost all motherboards have at least 4 "channels" for hard disks - most computers have one taken up by the main disk (C:\) and one by the cdrom drive - but that still leaves two extra channels for extra disks, and hard disks are inexpensive these days (a decent 40GB drive can be had for around £55 - £60).

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