How to Add “Oomph” to Your Aging Computer
All in all, writing doesn’t require much in the way of computing power. The most demanding software you’ll probably run as a writer is your word processor, maybe the occasional spreadsheet. This kind of software doesn’t need much power to run along nicely.
That said, as time goes on, you may find yourself waiting longer and longer for your work-in-progress to load, for pages from the web to come up, or to switch back and forth between applications. If your computer is more than a couple years old, it might become less and less able to keep up with the demands of today’s software.
The answer to this is not to toss it and buy a new computer! For much less than the price of a new computer, you can easily upgrade your existing equipment to make it faster, increase its storage, even add new features.
Add more memory
Installing more RAM is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to give your computer an immediate speed boost. It can be confusing to figure out what kind of memory to use; the easiest thing to do is check at Crucial.com. Enter the make and model of your computer, and it will tell you exactly what kind to use (usually it looks like this: “DDR2 PC5300” — that’s the type of memory (DDR2) and the speed (the higher the number the faster; you can use faster memory on a slower computer and it will “downshift” to whatever speed your computer can handle, but you can’t use slower memory on a faster computer). You can order from Crucial, search the Internet for a better deal, or check out your local computer or office supply store.
Computer memory comes in “sticks”; nowadays, 512MB and 1GB sticks are most common. Crucial will have told you how many “slots” you have available to put memory in — usually it’s between 2 and 4 — and the maximum your computer can handle. If you’re running Windows XP, you should have at least 512MB; for Windows Vista and Apple OS X, you want at least 1 GB. All of them will run ideally at 2GB, so if you can, try to reach 2GB. But even another 256MB will show drastic improvements if you have less than one GB already.
To install on a desktop, turn off and unplug your computer. Open the side door — there’s usually thumbscrews at the back and the side slides off, but you might need a screwdriver if there are no thumbscrews. Look for the existing memory on your motherboard — it looks pretty much like the memory you just bought. There is a clip at each end of the memory stick — push it away from the memory with your thumb. You’ll need a little muscle to pull the memory out — as long as you don’t twist it or smack it against another piece, you don’t have to worry about hurting the memory stick.
Place the new memory stick in the slot. It only fits one way — if it’s backwards, the notch won’t line up with the guide in the slot. Push it firmly and evenly until it’s well seated, then close the clips. Again, you’ll need to use some muscle to close the clips — eventually they’ll snap into place.
You’re done. Close the computer, plug it in, and boot up. You should see the computer checking the new memory, but that might go by too fast (or be covered by the manufacturer’s logo). To double-check, right-click “My computer” and select “Properties”. At the bottom right of the window that comes up you’ll see system information, including the amount of RAM. If it doesn’t list what you think you should have, check to make sure the new memory is in all the way and the clips are completely closed. Note that many computers hold aside up to 256MB for the motherboard’s graphics processor, so it might list a little bit less than you have installed.
On a laptop, check your owner’s manual for the location of the memory door. If you’re lucky, it’s either directly on top or on the bottom, secured with a screw. If you’re unlucky, you have to remove the keyboard to get at the memory. In either case, follow the instructions to open the memory compartment, pull out the old memory and install the new as instructed above. Note: Laptop memory is different from desktop memory — it’s about half as long. You can’t use the same memory for both.
Add a new hard drive
If you’re running short of storage space, you can easily upgrade your hard drive. Desktops all use larger, 5″-wide drives; laptops generally use smaller 3 1/2″-wide drives. Check your user’s manual, or look in the device manager (check the system properties in the Control Panel in Windows) to see if you’re using a Serial-ATA drive or an IDE drive; newer computers use mostly Serial-ATA. The only other option is the size of the drive — nowadays you can get 500GB drives for almost nothing, so go as big as you can afford. Also pick up a hard drive enclosure — this is a little box with a USB cable attached. You’ll put the old drive in the enclosure so you can copy the data to the new drive. (If you know your computer has an extra drive bay, you can skip this.) Enclosures run around $25-75 US.
Turn off, unplug, and open the computer as above. Unscrew the screws holding the old drive in place. Keep those screws! The hard drive is most likely in a mount; unscrew the screws holding it in place and remove it. Again, keep the screws! Detach the cable (there may be two, one for data, another for power). Place the new drive into the mount, screw it in place, attach the cable(s) as they were to the old drive, place it into the drive bay, screw it down, and you’re done. Close the case.
Put the old drive into the USB enclosure and plug it in. If you can boot from USB, you can boot up your computer from the old drive and use a program like Norton Ghost to mirror it onto the new drive. (Or you could have done this before you started — put the new drive in the enclosure, clone the old drive onto the new one, then swap them.) If you can’t boot from USB, you can reinstall Windows or OS X onto the new drive, then copy your files over once you’re booted into the freshly installed operating system. This might be preferable, especially on Windows, as the operating system tends to collect a lot of “cruft” — useless files, little problems, and bad registry entries — over a long period of use. You’ll need to reinstall your software, too, so make sure you have either the original disc or the download files backed up before you reinstall.
Laptop drives are even easier to replace — there’s usually a door in the bottom of the laptop, held shut with small screws — unscrew it, open it, and slide the old drive out and the new drive in. Close the case, reinstall the operating system, and copy over your important files.
Add a DVD Burner
DVD burners are great for backing up large numbers of files, as well as for making DVDs of home movies, etc. They all burn CDs, too, so you can create music CDs as well as portfolio discs to hand potential clients.
You install a DVD burner exactly the same way as a hard drive — open the case, pull out a CD player, reconnect the cables to the DVD burner, and screw it in place. If you want to keep the old CD or DVD drive, replace it with the DVD and then look for the “slave” attachments — a second set of plugs a little bit further down the cable attached to the back of the new DVD burner. On the back of the old drive, pull out the jumper, a little piece of plastic with two holes that bridges two pins on the back of the drive) and replace it over the pins marked “slave”. Plug it into the second set of plugs, screw it in place, and you’re done. Boot up your computer, install the drivers and any software that came with the new burner, and enjoy.