Did you know the current upgrade cycle for a personal computer is about three years? An ‘upgrade cycle’ is the length of time someone typically owns a computer before buying a new one. With the unending changes in technology, it is inevitable that you will have to upgrade at some point in time if you still want a usable computer. In addition to the actual monetary cost of an upgrade, there’s also an environmental cost. Many charities will no longer accept computers as donations due to software piracy. Also, most areas do not have the capability to recycle computer components, even though they all contain trace amounts of gold, silver, and copper. As a result, your old computer will most likely wind up in the dump (although it doesn’t have to) when you replace it, and your money will be lining someone else’s pocket.
If you’re facing a computer upgrade and are starting to shop around, the goal is to choose a computer that will be efficient now and in the future for both you and your wallet. Something that will be fast enough to do what you need it to do, without going overboard, and without spinning your electric meter like a top. Something that you can add to and improve when the time comes, not just replace. With some planning and forethought, your next computer purchase will last you well past the normal upgrade cycle.
Get An LCD Monitor: An LCD monitor uses anywhere from 40-60% less electricity than a CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor of equivalent size. The only drawback is that an LCD monitor cannot be color calibrated as finely as a CRT monitor, but for most users this is definitely not an issue. Unless you use your computer for professional desktop publishing or image editing where screen-to-print color calibration is a must, opt for the LCD monitor.
Skip The High-End Graphics Card: A top shelf graphics card can use as much power as the CPU, or more! Do your ears perk up when you hear ATI X1950 XTX? Are you an avid gamer, videographer, or graphic designer? If not, then you probably don’t need a high end graphics card: your computer and programs will run just fine with a standard issue card.
Make Sure There’s Room To Expand The Memory (RAM): Have you ever been happily typing away on your computer only to have it slow down and take way too long to respond? Chances are, you saw the effects of too little RAM. All the programs running on your computer require a certain amount of memory to be available to run, and that’s called RAM. A slow processor with plenty of RAM will perform better than a blazing fast processor with next to no RAM. Therefore, it is to your advantage to select a system with that includes a generous allotment of RAM and the ability to upgrade it in the future. This leads to the next point…
Get A Processor That Is Compatible With 32 Bit & 64 Bit Systems: Here’s where it gets technical. Long story short, a 32 bit system will handle 4 gigabytes of RAM, while a 64 bit system can handle much more RAM (some say thousands of times more). Chances are very good that any computer you buy will be a 32 bit system, and it’s almost certain that your current software is designed to run on a 32 bit system. The problem is that it’s hard to do a big RAM upgrade when the system you buy comes with 2 gigs and it will only handle a total of 4. But, if you buy a processor that is compatible with 32 bit and 64 bit systems, you can safely run all of your existing 32 bit software now, plus you have the option of upgrading your current computer when the 64 bit time comes rather than getting a whole new system.
Opt For A Mid-Range, Dual-Core Processor: Think of your computer like a car. Now, tell me, which car is going to get better gas mileage: a 4 cylinder sedan or an 8 cylinder sports car? What about driving 55 miles per hour versus 90? The same holds true for your computer processor: the faster and more powerful it is the more electricity it uses. All that power has to come from somewhere, right? The trade-off of getting a mid-range processor is of course speed; just like the 4 cylinder sedan won’t fly like the 8 cylinder sports car, a mid-range processor is a little slower. Getting a dual-core helps to off-set this difference in speed without compromising your power bill.
Choose An AMD Processor: Two separate tests (one from late ’05 and another from earlier this month) both show that AMD processors use less wattage than equivalently powered Intel processors. Who knew? They also tend to generate less heat than their Intel counterparts. This is a double benefit, as cooler running processors last longer and result in less electricity used to run the fan.
Size Isn’t Everything: Look For A Hard Drive With Higher RPMs: I told you your computer was like a car. Hard drives offer two important specifications: size and RPMs. Size is pretty familiar to most consumers, but the RPMs are just as important as they determine how fast your processor can access your hard drive (and therefore your information). You can have the fastest processor available and still get bogged down by a slow hard drive. Even worse is the possibility of a 300 GB hard drive with a slow access speed. Most computer listings will have a section for the hard drive specifications, and it should say IDE, SATA, or SATAII and then the RPM.