Dr Keyboard - Computing Answers You Can Understand
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Fact Sheet 4: Computer upgrades

One of the simplest upgrades which gives the most improvement per pound spent is to add more RAM (Random Access Memory). You can buy 64 and probably 128 MB (megabytes) for under 100 and, if your machine currently has only 8 or 16 MB you'll notice a huge improvement in performance. You need to check what kind of memory your machine uses first - parity or non parity, EDO, SDRAM, 30-, 72- or 128-pin, SIMMs, DIMMs and the speed it works at. This should all be in your computer manual.

A new hard disc can also do wonders. 15 or 20 gigabyte devices now cost under 100, and current models work much more quickly than those available a couple of years ago. Installation can be as simple as opening your PC's case, slotting the drive into a spare bay (check which drive is the master and which the slave - the bootable disc should be the master) and connecting the spare connector on the cable to your existing machine. The process is the same to add a new CD-ROM or DVD-ROM - choose the fastest model you can afford. The price differential for the latest, fastest models just isn't worth it, and they offer no real performance enhancements.

Alternatively you could opt for one of Iomega's external add-on hard discs, either the two gigabyte Jaz or the 100 or 250 MB Zip, all of which have the advantage that you can easily swap them between different machines - a great way to transfer data, too.

Upgrading the processor can also be fairly simple. Open the case, pop out the old one and drop in the new CPU of your choice. If you have a 486 or old Pentium machine you can opt for one of the Overdrive processors produced by Intel and others which will give you a faster Pentium chip for under 100. If you already have a Pentium, you may be able to replace your old processor with a faster one which has the MMX multimedia extensions, but you should check with your computer manufacturer first to make sure that your motherboard can cope with the newest chips. If you have a regular Pentium you'll need a new motherboard to install a Pentium II or III, which isn't as difficult as it sounds, nor as expensive as you might think. A Giga-Byte motherboard and fast Celeron processor would together cost under 200 and breathe new life into your ageing 486 system. Pentium II or III systems are available, for slightly more money, but the Celeron is barely slower than the Pentium II or III and there's a considerable price difference.

The simplest upgrades you can perform are to change your monitor, keyboard and mouse. A 15 inch monitor will give up to 30% more screen 'real estate' than your current 14 inch model while 17 inch screens are around for well under 200 now, a new ergonomic keyboard like Microsoft's Natural Keyboard will ease your aching wrists and fingers, and a mouse like Microsoft's Intellimouse or one of the many Logitech models can be programmed to perform many routine tasks at the click of a single button. My current favourite is the Logitech Wireless mouse which, for around 35, is the best upgrade I've ever performed on my PC.

If you're not confident enough to attempt these upgrades yourself, local suppliers and big chains like PC World offer an installation service at very reasonable rates.