YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Tech 101 | Do It

Upgrading Makes Good Use of Old Computer

November 30, 2000|JEFF LEVY |

Computers become obsolete at an alarming rate--which means new machines often top many people's holiday wish lists. But with high-end computers nearing the $2,000 mark, they can be out of reach for many. An easy compromise: upgrade your existing box.

The trick here is to know what to upgrade and when to upgrade it. The single most cost-effective upgrade you can give your computer is to increase the amount of Random Access Memory, or RAM. RAM is where your work is done. The more RAM available to your system, the better the system will perform.

You have to know just how much RAM your computer can handle, and exactly what kind of RAM modules to use. Take a look at, which lets you locate the correct RAM for your computer by make and model. If you have a no-name computer, will help you find the right RAM based on information available on your system's motherboard or BIOS (Basic Input Output System) chip.

Upgrading your hard drive is also an option. The problem here is that new, faster hard drives come in large capacities such as 30 or 40 gigabytes. Older BIOS chips will have trouble recognizing these large hard drives. In the end, you will have a very fast hard drive installed in a slow computer.

One solution here is the drive installation kit available at The kit costs about $80 and includes everything you need to install a new hard drive and copy everything over from your existing drive. Since this kit uses its own drive controller card, you can install large hard drives that your present computer BIOS wouldn't otherwise recognize. The bottom line is you still end up with a large, fast hard drive running on a slow computer.

Upgrading your computer's microprocessor can make a big difference. You'll have to check the motherboard manual or the documentation that came with your computer. If, for example, your computer uses a Pentium III clocked at 733 megahertz, you may be able to upgrade to a Pentium III chip running at 800 MHz or even 900 MHz. You can't replace a Pentium II with a Pentium III without adding a new motherboard, and that usually means new RAM chips.

Where do you draw the line between upgrading and replacing? If you have a 486 or older, start fresh. If you have a monitor that you like, you can use it with a new computer system as long as the connector that plugs into the video input port on the back of the new computer has three rows of pins. Some pins will be missing in any of the three rows, but that's OK. It's the presence of three rows of pins that counts.

You can find new computers with modems and CD-ROM drives starting at $499 without the monitor. E-machine computers run in this price range. For a few hundred dollars more, you can purchase a fairly good system that includes a DVD or even a CD-RW (rewriteable) drive.

What can you do with your current computer should you decide to take the plunge and buy a new system? If you itemize your federal income tax deductions, donate that old computer to a school or any charitable organization. The L.A. Mission in Los Angeles, the Goodwill Computer Works store in Santa Ana, the L.A. Vets and other charitable organizations will take your donated computer and make good use of it.


Jeff Levy hosts the "On Computers" radio talk show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on KFI-AM (640).

Los Angeles Times Articles