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April 24, 2009

What To Do With Your Slow Computer

A really common question I get is what to do with  a computer that’s slow and, sometimes, outdated. The answer depends on many factors, but I’ll give a few scenarios that might be close enough to home to help you make the right choice regarding your laptop or desktop computer.

Scenario 1:

The family computer is riddled with spyware and viruses

This is the computer I see most often. In some cases it’s just slow and unresponsive, but in other cases it won’t connect to the Internet at all. And most of the time the computer is not that old. I’ve received computers that won’t allow Windows updates due to spyware, and others that wouldn’t print until all traces of spyware were removed. Depending on the severity and number of problems the computer is having,  it can either be repaired or Windows can be reinstalled. But either way, this is a problem that can be fixed. So before throwing a perfectly good computer out the window, consider this:

  1. Most slow computers can be cleaned of spyware. If what you need it to do is connect to the Internet and send a few emails, it is still very capable of doing so. A good computer service company should charge about $200 to clean the computer right and get it back to you, spyware free and somewhat more protected from further trouble.
  2. Even if the computer has no hope of recovery from the Internet beating that kids put them through, Windows can always be reinstalled. If you can find those installation CD’s that came with your computer (though some computers don’t ship with installation CD’s, they’re installed on the hard drive) you can give them to your local computer guy and he can save your computer. This involves a backup, done by you or by the computer tech. Just make sure you’re not backing up a virus along with your mp3’s. If you have any questions about this process, please ask at the end of the article or give us a call.
  3. If buying a new computer still looks attractive, remember that your new computer won’t have any of your saved documents, music, photos, Internet favorites, and other possibly needed email and financial data. These things can be transferred from your old computer to your new one for a fee. Keep reading for info about buying new.

This is coming across as a rough guide; there are so many factors unique to each scenario. But in general what I’m writing are my findings and what your options are, for better or worse.

Scenario 2:

The computer won’t start.

I don’t mean the computer is slow, or that once the computer starts you can’t see your Windows icons. I mean he computer gets no power, no lights come on, no whirring sounds, nothing. There may be hope…

In most cases this is caused by one of two things. Either the power supply has blown or the motherboard has gone bad. The good news is that a new power supply is cheap to buy and cheap to have put in. You might be back up and running for about $90 parts and labor. The bad news is that a new motherboard is a pain in the butt to get together. If you can’t find a duplicate board you’re going to be running into some problems (to put it really simply). In either case you should have the computer tested. If it’s the power supply, tell your computer guy to put it in. If it’s the motherboard you might be better off getting a new computer.

Scenario 3:

It’s just too slow.

Computers today are being used to surf the web, primarily, and the web is growing – new technologies are being added to web sites, slow connection speeds are becoming a memory – probably faster than your computer can handle. Should you junk it for a new one? How about an upgrade?

Upgrading a computer usually involves adding memory. A common misconception is that you need a bigger hard drive. I’m not sure how that got started, but here’s a way to think about it: A hard drive is like a closet. You put you stuff in it. If you run out of room in your closet, then you need a bigger closet (see the previous article about backing up and storage devices). This has little to do with speed on the Internet. Even if you had a walk-in closet with shoe racks you wouldn’t be able to get dressed and out the door any faster. Memory on the other hand is like the little, flat drawer of a desk. You put in that drawer the things you need to grab, fast and often. A computer uses memory in a similar way. It puts things there that it needs to use often and the more room it has to put things, the faster the computer can be. Adding memory to an old computer can increase speed pretty significantly. Here are a few tips about adding memory:

  1. Call your computer manufacturer and find out how much memory your computer can take. Every computer has a limit.
  2. Ask the manufacturer what type of memory your computer needs. Write down whatever they tell you.
  3. Before buying memory directly from them, do a search on the Internet for your memory type. You’ll probably find it for a lot cheaper.

Scenario 4:

We really need a new computer!

Sometimes, no amount of care is going to help bring your computer back to life. At least back to the modern life it’s expected to live. The first place I tell my customers to look is www.Dell.com, and I’m not getting a cent for saying so. Their computers are cheap and they work as well as any other computer make that I come across. Check out their three tiers of computer prices and you should find a pretty good deal.

The ugly truth is PCs are not made to last. Every manufacturer is selling a computer made with hardware from different companies from all over the world, none of whom are trying to make a product that lasts forever, but want to keep their price down low enough to keep getting their business. Hard drives are particularly flimsy lately. But I’ve seen every part of a computer stop working, all by itself, for no good reason.

What I can tell you about buying a new computer is what to look for. If your computer will come with Windows Vista I suggest 2GB of memory, but you’ll be happier with 3 or 4GB. Your computer will run faster and will handle basic processes with ease. This, along with processor speed is what will increase both the speed and the cost of a new computer. The faster the processor the faster the computer is and the longer it will be able to keep up with the tasks to come. Don’t worry about hard drive size. Any 80 – 160GB hard drive is going to handle most music and photo needs for years. If you’re anticipating a lot of music, photos, and especially video, then consider adding extra storage. But an external hard drive can always be added later. A 500GB external drive will cost you about $100.

Then there’s mac. What can I say other than they’re the best computers made to date? Try this: “we have figured out the computer: it’s a mac.” If you don’t want to learn how to use one, stick with a PC, it’s what I use! If you’re still fresh at using the computer and are interested in a mac, head over to your local Apple store and try one out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

One more thing…

A main concern for me is the environment. The U.S. throws away so much technology every year, it’s staggering. The idea of throwing a computer in a garbage truck, just because it’s got spyware is insane. See what the cost is for cleaning it up first, and ask if it can be upgraded while you’re at it. If your computer can’t be saved your local computer guy might want to take it off your hands. I’ve gotten plenty of computers from customers that didn’t want to pay for repair, so I turned them around (wiped clean of course) and gave them to the YMCA. If you can’t give it away, take it over to Staples. They’ll recycle it for you there.

I hope this article has helped give some good information about what to do with a slow computer. Thanks for reading!