Q. I have a mid-range Windows 7 desktop computer that I bought five years ago. I'm about ready to make the upgrade to Windows 10 and I feel like it needs better hardware to run well. Should I upgrade my current system or just buy a brand new one? If I'm upgrading, what do I need?
-Gary from Houston, Texas, listens to Kim's national radio show on 950 AM KPRC
A. The recommended lifespan of a computer is about four years, Gary. If you keep it in good shape, of course, it can last longer and still do the job, especially if you regularly follow these three steps to speed it up. But you do have an increased risk of hardware failure, especially with the hard drive.
That being said, after years of increasing bloat, Microsoft made the bold decision to have its new operating systems be MORE efficient. That's mainly because it was aiming Windows more heavily at the mobile market and weaker mobile hardware, but it works in your favor for desktops and laptops as well.
Any computer that runs Windows 7, 8, or even later Vista machines, should be able to run Windows 10 just as well. This author is running Windows 10 on a system with a high-end Core 2 processor from 2008 and it runs just fine. Of course, other parts of that computer have been upgraded over the years.
Let's take a look at what upgrades you'll want to make and how it will compare cost-wise and trouble-wise to just buying a new computer.
To find out what upgrades you need, grab a free program called Speccy. This will give you important information about your computer like what processor you have, how much RAM is installed, whether your motherboard supports SATA and much more.
First, look at your processor, specifically if it supports 64-bit operating systems. If it is 32-bit only, then you really need to upgrade it. Windows 10 has a 32-bit version, but it's really meant to be run as 64-bit. Also, if you want to have more than 3 gigabytes of RAM - and you do - you need a 64-bit operating system.
If a processor upgrade is in your future, it's better to just buy a new computer, especially if you have a laptop. Even with a desktop, you'll need to hunt down a part that works with your motherboard, or upgrade your motherboard, too. Then you'll have to install it all.
It's going to cost upward of $175, and take up a few good hours of your time, or more if you've never done it before.
If your processor is OK, then focus on the RAM. You'll want 4GB to get the most out of your operating system. RAM makes your computer snappier when you're re-opening or switching between several programs. It isn't that expensive ($50 or less for 4GB), and it's fairly easy to install. Learn the steps to upgrade the RAM in your desktop or laptop.
If you're doing any upgrading on a computer over three years old, you really should replace the hard drive just to be on the safe side. Even if your files are protected with a secure backup service, you don't want the hassle of dealing with a dead hard drive if you can help it.
Plus, you can probably double or triple your storage space. Just $60 will get you a 1 terabyte hard drive, which is more than most people can fill in a lifetime. You just want to make sure that your motherboard supports Serial ATA, or SATA. Speccy should tell you under the motherboard section if you have it.
SATA is the current standard, and you want your hard drive to work with a newer computer when you do get one. Plus, having SATA lets you consider getting a solid-state hard drive. Click here for a refresher on the advantages and disadvantages of an SSD versus a conventional hard drive.
An SSD is one of the best upgrades to make an old computer feel new, and Windows 7, 8, and especially 10, are built to take advantage of what an SSD can do. Even with an older processor, this author's computer starts up in 15 seconds with Windows 10 running on an SSD. Even better, after starting, programs open in a few seconds the first time rather than taking 30 seconds to a minute.
SSDs have fallen in price considerably over the last year. A 120GB SSD like the Samsung 850 EVO will set you back just $75, and a 250GB is under $100. Granted that doesn't sound like a lot of space, but it's probably close to what you have now and the speed is worth it. Plus, you can always pair it with a 1TB conventional drive if you need a place to store large files.
Don't forget that if you're installing new drives, you'll need to set aside time to reinstall Windows, reinstall your programs, get your settings back the way you want them, transfer your files and so forth. Figure a day or two, on and off.
From what we've covered above, if you're starting with a decent processor, you can have a nicely upgraded system for $100 to $200, and a day or two of time and effort. Of course, just like an old car, you might find yourself having to make an increasing number of repairs and upgrades over the next few years as more and more hardware fails.
So, let's look at how a new computer compares.
When we say "new computer," you might think of a rig costing $500 or more. However, that's not necessarily the case anymore.
We're seeing a crop of new, cheap computers that cost less than $300. In fact, the $130 Intel Compute Stick, which runs Windows 10 and plugs right into your HDMI-compatible TV or monitor, will match a budget computer from four or five years ago. It's fine for basic computing tasks, like email, web browsing and even streaming online video. Learn more about the Compute Stick and other small, cheap PCs.
Of course, for that little money you're not getting stellar performance. Good budget desktops and laptops start around $350 to $400. That's a bit more money, but they're more than a match for an older computer, offering faster speeds, better built-in graphics, 4GB of RAM or more, 1TB hard drives and other goodies. It's also a good jumping-off point if you want to still do some upgrades like adding an SSD.
The other benefit of buying new is that it comes with Windows 10 pre-installed, a warranty and should last for the next four years without any major problems. Learn more about buying a new computer with our New Computer Buying Guide.
As a final bonus, if your old computer is still working, you don't need to get rid of it. Throw a free lightweight operating system like Linux Mint on it to turn it into a hassle-free second system.
If you are getting rid of your old computer, don't forget to wipe your information to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.
Now, you have a clean machine that you can donate, or recycle it using this site. You could hand it off to a friend or relative if they need a basic computer to use, too.
If you have an older computer you're thinking about replacing, do you plan to upgrade or replace it after reading this Tip? Let us know in the comments.