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Evaluate computing needs before upgrading, replacing

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The hype about the latest, greatest and fastest in computer equipment is perpetual. But when should the business or home user seriously consider upgrading, or even replacing, an existing system?

Mike Green, owner of Aztec Computer Systems, said a buyer should evaluate his or her existing system before upgrading or replacing it.

"When I'm working with customers, I tell them 'The computer never changes, but people's expectations do.' What has driven and made a change in the market is the speed of the processor. It's gone from 8088, to 8086, to 286, 386 and then 486."

While the next logical step would seem to be the 586, he said, leading processor manufacturer Intel has trademarked the name Pentium. Now most processors are either Pentium I, Pentium II or Pentium III, or are compared to those products in describing their function and speed.

But if a computer is not the newest version or equipped with the fastest processor, does that mean it must be upgraded?

Green said it's not necessary for everyone to upgrade their existing systems. "If it has a limited use that performs a specific function and does it well, you probably don't need to upgrade."

However, multiple tasks, graphics-intensive games or programs and heavy usage may require a new or improved system.

On the business side, "as a company grows and a power user needs it more often, they're getting into a number of different applications and features. A responsible service company should help them do an analysis to determine whether or not it's more beneficial to upgrade or replace their current system. They might just need to add more RAM," Green said.

"The home (user) has to stay on top of things to see if he is taxing the computer he currently owns," Green said. "He is often the primary candidate for an upgrade."

Rob Neal, vice president of Service World Computer Center, said "Sometimes people have to upgrade because the software they need has minimum usage requirements on the packaging. The usual requirements are 1) A processor speed equaling that of a Pentium. 2) 32 meg of RAM and 3) A hard drive with five to 100 megabytes of free space."

Neal said people who play computer games a lot are the ones who require the "beefiest systems because they're graphic intensive."

The expense of an upgrade or whether an upgrade is possible depends on the way the system is constructed. Many computers purchased off the shelf have integrated circuitry, "meaning everything is fused onto the motherboard," Green said. In such cases, the hard drive and the random access memory, or RAM, are the only things that can be easily upgraded.

Neal agreed that it's not easy to upgrade an integrated system. He prefers open-architecture systems. "If you want a faster video card you just pop out the old one (replace it) and it's better and faster."

Neal recommended that users replace a computer when the upgrade needed is so extensive that the cost is close within a few hundred dollars to the price of a new one.

Neal added that there are benefits to keeping the old computer when buying another one to meet growing needs. "You can network and share printers and files, and play games between the two."

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