How to transform your computer without spending a fortune
Whatever the age of your desktop PC or laptop, we’ll show you how – with a budget of £100 or less – you really can make a difference. A common misconception is that upgrading isn’t worth it, because of cheap new PCs and the high cost of add-ons.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, the price per gigabyte for both Ram and hard disks has never been lower. And you can buy a brand new DVD writer for less than £15 or a memory card reader for just £1.50.
More storage space
Everyone runs out of hard disk storage space eventually. So why not add some more? The simplest option is to add an external disk, connected to the computer’s USB or Firewire port.
It’s probably your only practical option if you have a laptop – and there’s the advantage that you can use the disk easily with different computers. But if you have a desktop PC and you are prepared to venture inside, an internal disk will be a faster, neater and more cost-effective alternative.
Before you go out and buy a new internal hard disk you need to check there’s room inside the case – is there a drive bay free?
Next you need to find out what kind of interface is used internally to connect the disk to the PC’s motherboard. If your PC was bought in the past six or seven years it will more than likely have a Sata interface.
Older PCs may have an IDE (also known as ATA, or Pata) interface – if that’s the case you’ll need to buy an adapter (cost around £25) before you can install one of the latest drives. Thankfully Sata drives are far simpler to install than their IDE predecessors.
Expect to pay roughly £50 per terabyte (that’s around 5p per gigabyte – about the same as for DVD-R discs). Some 1TB disks worth considering are the Seagate Barracuda, Samsung Spinpoint F3 or Western Digital Caviar Blue, each at around £50.
A 2TB Hitachi Deskstar costs around £55, while Seagate’s Barracuda Green is £70. Or, for just under £100 if you shop carefully, you can get a massive 3TB Seagate Barracuda XT or Western Digital Caviar Green.
Simple tasks taking forever and frequent hard-disk whirring is a sure sign of memory shortage. You are most likely to notice it when you are running several programs at the same time.
That’s because when Windows needs more Ram than is physically available, it will automatically switch to using space on your hard disk. Generally, if your PC has 1GB or less it’s worth upgrading to 2GB. If you already have 2GB, doubling that to 4GB should cost you around £25 or £30.
Upgrading your graphics
Even a relatively youthful PC can struggle to keep up with the latest games technologies. The high-resolution 3D rendering and sophisticated effects that add realism in games such as Crysis or Call of Duty require ultra-fast graphics processing.
Although most games allow you to turn off features and play at lower resolutions, you won’t really get the full experience without an up-to-date dedicated graphics card.
Some budget PCs in the past have saved costs by using integrated graphics, built into the motherboard. The chances are you will still find a special PCI-Express slot there, ready for upgrades.
Remember that today’s mid-range card will usually outperform yesterday’s high-end card. Check prices carefully as a card that’s getting on a bit may be heavily discounted in some stores but still full price in others.
If your CD-R or DVD drive struggles to read or write discs, replacing it with a faster and more capable optical drive can cost only a few pounds.
For example, an internal Liteon 24-speed DVD-SM writer (SM stands for Super Multi, which means it can write to any kind of blank DVD or CD) can be bought for just £13 including free delivery.
Or you could upgrade to HD, with models such as LG’s BH10LS30 Blu-ray writer coming in at around £70. This will read and write CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
Sony’s BD-5300S-0B Blu-ray writer can even write double-layer discs, with capacities up to 50GB, and costs around £80.
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