“Future-proofed” technology. Yeah, right. The best you can hope for is buying a machine that works for you now and comfortably into the foreseeable future. What I’m trying to do in this story is help you extend the life of what you own – or you’re about to buy – and help you not feel like a doofus. (and if you’re a more advanced user, there are still a couple tips in here for you to consider as well)...
The Choice to Upgrade There are differing philosophies out there: One is to scrap your entire machine after about four years and start over. The logic is that new tech has made so many improvements in that time, you’re getting a more efficient, powerful – and likely sexier-looking –rig. The other major mantra is maintain – upgrade pieces of your PC and keep that thing running as long as humanly possible. Neither way is really wrong…and this story is one attempt to help fill in some of those blanks. Like how to extend the life of what you have and when it is time to pull the ripcord.
Of course, you can upgrade your machine along the way, but there are a couple things to keep in mind as you build out your next rig: Not everything can be upgraded the way you’d like after you set it up at home. Just to get you started thinking about this right, here are a couple go-to tips that I’ve picked up over the years.
1- HAVE YOU UPDATED LATELY?: This is something that’s easy to overlook, but make sure that you’ve updated your drivers for hardware and your BIOS. That alone can occasionally give you a nice little performance pick-me-up….so you might not even need that new component just yet. The trick, obviously, is knowing what parts you have inside your PC. (And the HP Support Assistant that comes on your computer can keep on top of those driver updates for you).
2- CHECK YOUR PARTS: It’s nice knowing that your PC has 8GB of RAM, but what kind of RAM is it? How fast does it run? You need to be able to do a little detective work before you dip into your wallet to buy upgrade parts. After all, you need to know if a part you want to buy will even work in your PC. A quick one-stop shop is the HP support Assistant app that comes on every HP computer. That gives you a good snapshot of what’s on your system. Another step is looking up your computer on HP’s support page.
I prefer to dig a little deeper. You can call up the BIOS page when your PC starts (you have to usually hit the “esc” or a function key with lightning-fast reflexes on boot up), you can crack the case and try eyeballing parts, but I prefer to use a free downloadable app called, CPU-ID. It gives you tons of detailed information about your computer including Motherboard info, RAM specs and a whole lot more in a pretty easy-to-read format. The only real curveball might be getting more detailed info about your hard drive. What I usually do is go into windows explorer and on the C drive (or whatever hard drive it is you want to replace), right click, select “Properties” then click on the “Hardware” tab. Then, I take the name of the drive (like, “st9500420as”) and then do a search on vendor sites. That tells me everything I need to know about the drive. With that info in-hand, it’s your head-start for finding new parts.
3-SAVE YOUR PENNIES…: Whenever you buy a new desktop computer, create a mini savings fund for new parts you might need down the road. Like a new graphics card (See tip #4). If you save up $400 every two-to-three years, that should provide you with enough a generational GPU jump to keep you in the game.
4- GRAPHICS TO GROW ON. I don’t mean to be condescending here. In fact, I’ve gotten careless and made this mistake before as well. Make sure before you buy any graphics upgrades that your computer has the ability to run the card. That is, Make sure your PC’s motherboard has the same card slot that your new wondercard requires. Second, make sure that it will fit in the case of your PC. You’d be surprised how many times I’d have a double-stuffed card that couldn’t fit in a chassis. As an addendum to this graphics card madness, I know it's tough to make sense which graphics card is on top of the heap. I found this incredibly handy Graphics Card Hierarchy list at Tom's Hardware. Check it out!
5- FIGHT THE POWER, PART ONE: Regardless of what you’re upgrading, follow these steps to avoid damaging your gear: 1) Unplug your machine (and remove battery if it’s a laptop). 2) Press the power button to discharge anything that might still be in the system.3) Before you install or remove parts discharge any static electricity you might have. Touch a grounded object or even a piece of metal.
6- BACKUP YOUR DRIVERS: NO Joke! If you’re upgrading PC parts, also plan for the worst-case scenario. Y’know, just in case your PC isn’t up-and-running properly on the first try. So, make sure to save all your files and the latest drivers onto an external personal media drive – JUST IN CASE! (You can get 1TB drives for under 100 bucks these days).
7- SAVE YOUR BACKUP DISKS: You know that annoying reminder that pops up, asking you to create backup discs for your system? They do that for a reason. If, God forbid, something goes wrong, you have all the files you need to try and bring an ailing PC back from the dead and in its original factory-made state. Create these discs the second you buy a new computer so that you have an uncorrupted, virus-free version of your computer ready at all time.
8- WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, BACKUP EVERYTHING!: Y’know, while I’m giving you all these backup tips, please live by the “3-2-1 rule” for your important personal data. That is, Three different backups of your data on two different media types and one place, online. Don’t stash all your important files in just one place. You’re only asking for trouble. Trust me on that one.
9-FIGHT THE POWER, PART TWO: Don’t go cheap on power management. Get a damn good surge protector. Monster Power is one good way to go. For instance, here is one solution that I found.
10-THE ELECTRICITY BILL: Something more people need to factor into their upgrading decisions is the power supply unit (PSU). That one part determines how much juice gets distributed to the entire machine. If you try plugging a turbo-charged card into a PC with a small PSU, it simply won’t work – or at least not properly.
Bear in mind that there are entire sites, books and full time businesses based around this topic. I’m just barely grazing the surface here. Are there any awesome tips popping up in your mind? Let’s hear em!
Stay tuned. Soon I’ll be strolling through HP’s online store to give some practical examples of what you can be doing to get the most out of your next purchase….and help you plan ahead for the next level of upgrades you might want to prepare for down the road.