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5 Computer Hardware Upgrades to Improve Speed, Memory & Performance

By Jason Steele

computer dual monitorsWhen I first began my career in IT in the mid ’90s, we generally expected new computers to be obsolete within a few years. Thanks to improving technology however, we can now get a few more years out of computers before they break down or can’t keep up. That’s good news for your budget.

Even better, rather than investing in a completely new machine every time you want to make an improvement, you can snap up some new innovative tech products that will act as sensible and affordable upgrades on their own.

1. Get a New SSD Hard Drive
A traditional hard drive in your computer is basically a modern version of the old floppy drives. You remember those, don’t you? You can hear the spinning discs as the machine reads data, and while they’re moving quickly, they’re not the fastest option. The next generation of hard drives abandons the spinning discs in favor of a stack of microchips, much like the memory card in your camera or USB storage device. With no moving parts, a solid state drive (SSD) is significantly faster, more reliable, and more energy efficient than those spinning platters.

When you replace your primary hard drive with an SSD, you will notice a dramatic difference from the moment you turn your computer on. Booting up will take a fraction of the time it used to – it can take only ten seconds! You’ll open and close applications almost instantaneously. The frequent pauses while your computer looks for data will all but disappear. Even an older, low-end computer will perform better. SSDs are even small enough to upgrade a laptop computer.

What’s the downside? Gigabyte for gigabyte, a solid state drive costs about 30 times as much as a traditional drive. A 64GB SSD will cost around $100, but it’s certainly large enough to store your operating system, dozens of applications, and your office documents.

2. Pick Up a Multi-Terabyte Hard Drive for Peanuts
One of my favorite lines from Back To The Future is when Marty asks Doc “What the heck is a gigawatt!?” Many non-techies have a similar reaction when they first see a term like “terabyte.” A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes, which itself is 1,000 megabytes. A megabyte is how much an old floppy drive could hold, while a data DVD can hold about 5 gigabytes.

Why do these numbers matter? Today you can purchase a two-terabyte hard drive for a mere $80. That’s enough memory to hold hundreds of movies or a substantial percentage of all the music ever recorded. Once you have an SSD for your operating system and your programs, a two-terabyte drive is a low-cost addition to your computer that will ensure that you have plenty of space for pictures, movies, or whatever you can’t bring yourself to delete.

Look at it this way: The first iPod released ten years ago had a mere five gigabytes of storage, while the latest iPod has 64 gigs. A two terabyte drive will have 30 times capacity of the latest iPod and 400 times what the original did.

3. Look At a New Monitor
With the boom in flat-screen LCD and LED television sales, the price of their cousin, the computer monitor, has plummeted. Ten years ago, a 21-inch monitor would cost $1,000, take up your entire desk, and weigh nearly as much as its owner. If you’re using an old monitor, you’re not just giving up desk space, you’re also missing out on energy efficiency, higher-quality video watching, and technology that will be easier on your eyes. Today, you can buy a 21-inch flat screen for under $300. And because your monitor will always be compatible with your next system, this investment will last longer than most other upgrades.

4. Float Your Screen and Add a Second Monitor
Once you find your new, more efficient monitor, you can free up even more space by mounting it on an arm. Monitor arms can attach to your desk or screw into your wall. With most arms, you can also rotate your screen easily, giving yourself the option to view documents in portrait mode. Work will be faster and easier when you can read an entire page of a document, and you’ll enjoy the flexibility for playing games and watching video.

Now that your monitor is floating above your desk, consider adding a second one. All Microsoft operating systems since Windows XP will support multiple monitors to expand your desktop even further. All you need is an inexpensive monitor cable that supports two outputs, and you’ll enjoy your high-tech home office even more.

5. Save on Energy
Major expenses can be hiding in your electric bill, especially if you use an older machine. Manufacturers have been spurring the move toward more energy-efficient gadgets, and you can choose products that will reduce energy costs. For example, a monitor lit with LEDs will last longer and consume less electricity than a traditional, florescent backlit model. Traditional hard drives come in “green” versions that consume less energy without sacrificing performance. SSDs are even more efficient, so not only will you save electricity – you’ll also prolong your computer’s battery life. Wireless keyboards and mice now use fewer batteries than they used to, and rechargeable models are easier to find.

Final Word

Newer isn’t always better. If you’re not tech savvy nor a careful shopper, you can end up with an expensive new computer with few – or none – of these new technologies. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or be an engineer to strategically upgrade your system to make it faster, easier to use, and more energy efficient.

What’s the latest upgrade you made to your computer? How much did it cost, and how effective has it been?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Jason Steele
Jason has been writing about personal finance, travel, and other topics on blogs across the Internet. When he is not writing, he has a career in information technology and is also a commercially rated pilot. Jason lives in Colorado with his wife and young daughter where he enjoys parenting, cycling, and other extreme sports.

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Comments

  • Jason V

    For #4, with modern desktop systems you’ll need a decent dedicated (non-integrated/Intel GMA series) video card, like the ones from AMD and nVidia. Split monitor cables are either old or manufacturer-specific. Onboard or very cheap video will often have limited outputs, whether you’re trying to connect two monitors or a monitor and HDTV or projector. Thankfully, nearly all modern laptops will have a monitor (15-pin) or HDMI output built in.

  • not given

    My first computer had a 20 megabyte hard drive.

    The only one I had that I upgraded was a 386, I went from 2 megabytes RAM to 8, added a modem and installed windows.

    I bought one of the last computers that came with XP. I’m wanting a larger monitor to make things easier to read, or so I can stream movies or TV shows while I do other things on the one I have. I want to expand RAM from 2 gigabytes to 4 and get an external hard drive.

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