Repairing and upgrading versus buying new IT hardware

Repairing and upgrading existing IT hardware versus buying new?

In times of financial austerity for individuals, organisations and the public sector, we are all looking at ways of making cost savings and stretching our budgets further. When it comes to decisions on repairing or upgrading existing IT hardware we can have some tough choices to make.

It seems like new systems are brought out almost every quarter by the big computer companies such as Dell, Apple, Compaq and Lenovo and keeping up with technological advances can feel like a losing battle. Ask yourself if you actually need these latest systems, and if they will improve your capabilities to a level that warrants spending a chunk of you or your organisations hard earned money on them? Can you just upgrade or repair where needed?

If your system is not broken, the most frequent issue that people experience is a slow running machine. This problem can be encountered for many reasons such as an inadequate hard drive or system memory, unused programs running on your system; and overheating hardware. All of these issues can be fixed at a relatively low cost.

To help you ascertain what area of your system is under performing, Windows includes a number of performance-monitoring tools. You can run these before and after making changes to observe how well they have worked.

If it is your hard drive that is underperforming, check how much of your hard drive is being used (Go to: This PC/My Computer - Right click on ‘C:’ - Properties). Anything over ~80% will make your system run slowly. This can be remedied by buying a new “solid-state” hard drive, or a larger compatible hard drive for your system. It is hard to tell unfortunately if your existing hard drive is failing altogether (although a tell-tale sign is if you’re hard drive starts making noises – Usually a clicking sound). Running a hard drive diagnostics tool can give you a good indication. You could also consider buying an external hard drive to back up and remove from your existing machine any large quantities of files, pictures or videos. With many of the recent advances pushing organisations and individuals towards ‘Cloud’ based back-ups, you could perhaps think about investing some of your budget in the relatively inexpensive monthly cost of ‘Google Drive’, whereby removing all non-essential files from your machine will free up space and enhance performance, as well as giving you the ability to share files across multiple devices.

A clear indicator of your computer not having enough memory is if it slows down every time you try to process large files, or if it freezes whilst multitasking. Your system’s memory temporarily stores information whilst tasks are being executed by differing programs. Therefore, the more programs you use, the more memory you need and the slower your computer will be if you don’t have enough. It is also worth noting that if your system memory is not sufficient to store the running programs, then it will relocate any background programs onto the hard drive, as a ‘paging file’, this will also slow down the responsiveness of your running software.

Your options to overcome this are to either add more memory, if you have empty memory slots within your machine, or upgrading your existing memory. There is theoretically no upper limit on the amount of memory that you can have with a 64-bit operating system, but in practical terms 4GB is more than enough for most people, although it is worth noting that eventually you will surpass the other hardware capabilities within your system meaning that only a percentage of your memory will be used.

It is worth periodically having a look at and ‘cleaning up’ your systems programs. Over time you have probably installed lots of software and you doubtless received a free bundle of the laptop manufacturer’s software that you did not even know was on your machine. It is worthwhile uninstalling the ones that you do not use, or need.

Many programs run background processes when you load your computer, which can slow down the system even though you are not using them.

To remove redundant and unnecessary programs, open Programs page via the Control Panel and have a trawl through the list of installed software. Ordering by the earliest date installed aids in the discovery of ‘bloatware’ (usually manufacture installed programs that you likely do not use or know about). Uninstall those that you do not need, taking care not to remove programs that your computer needs.

If your system is running sluggishly, freezing or shutting down without warning this is often no more than a build-up of dust that has got into your machine over the years / months of use. Imagine if you left a table in your home uncleaned for the same period of time that you have had your system, you would be able to see a thick layer of dust and dirt; this is the same for your machine. This dust builds up and results in the system overheating affecting performance. This can be solved by removing your machines cover to the system board and fan, (making sure that is unplugged and cool first) and very gently vacuuming (with the smallest nozzle that you have) the dust and dirt away. This usually helps with overheating and consequently machine performance.

Having worked in the IT hardware industry for over 20 years I can tell you that the vast majority of IT hardware problems are usually caused by one or more of the above problems. When hardware parts do finally stop working on a system they are usually the same reoffending culprits like power supplies and cooling fans for desktops and servers. Keyboards, AC adapters, batteries and cover plastics in laptops are all high use components as well.

Most hardware problems with systems usually fall within the ‘fairly easy to fix’ category, making it worthwhile to look at repairing and upgrading as a first line of enquiry.

With the age of people being ‘technophobes’ and worried about opening up their systems now a thing of the past, you should feel confident that with a bit of trawling through the internet to find informative videos, you will be able to competently remove and replace the offending part(s) without too much trouble.

Check out our guide: ‘The Parts Frog guide to finding the Dell part that you need’ and other interesting and informative articles here.

As stated in the title of this article when you are ‘in the dark’ and without a fully functioning system, the biggest decision you face is whether you should invest in a new system, or repair and upgrade your current system. If your machine has come to the end of its life, then it is advisable to invest in a new system, however with a bit of knowledge as demonstrated in this article, the likelihood is that you can repair and upgrade your system. This tends to be a cost effective alternative to save you money whilst increasing the performance and prolonging the life of your IT hardware.