Should you update or replace slow computer? - East Valley Tribune: Business

Should you update or replace slow computer?

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Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009 3:22 pm | Updated: 12:40 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Q. I have a 2-year-old Windows computer that’s running really slow, and I’m trying to decide whether to update it or replace it since computers seem to be getting really cheap these days. Any suggestions? — Gene

Q. I have a 2-year-old Windows computer that’s running really slow, and I’m trying to decide whether to update it or replace it since computers seem to be getting really cheap these days. Any suggestions? — Gene

A. This very common scenario is playing out for millions of computer users every year, and understanding some basic variables will help you make the proper decision for your situation.

Far too many folks are opting to buy a new computer without understanding what is causing their existing computer to be slow. This often leads to the same situation a few months after buying a new computer; it’s slow again because the human behavior that caused the slowdown wasn’t changed.

There are so many malicious programs traversing the Internet that anyone who’s online on a daily basis can’t help but pick up some of this “grime” regardless of how careful they are. And it’s even worse for careless users (especially teenagers!).

Before you assume your old computer is too slow, make sure you understand what’s making it slow. Start by rebooting your computer and checking the number of running processes in the Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del then look in the lower left corner of the Task Manager window).

For desktop computers, a cleaned-up machine should have between 30 to 40 processes; laptops generally 35-45. The higher this number is, the more likely that getting the operating system cleaned up will return your computer to its old glory.

While you have the Task Manager open, click over to the “Performance” tab to see if your CPU Usage meter is jumping up and down or is running at a level higher than 10 percent.

This is generally another clear indicator of malicious or unnecessary software operating behind the scenes on your computer.

If the computer was fast enough two years ago and you are essentially using the same programs, then the computer’s hardware is likely not the problem and shouldn’t necessarily be replaced.

If you have no interest in adding any new programs that require additional “horsepower” (gaming, video editing, etc.), and you pretty much live your life on the Internet, then paying to clean up your operating system and adding a little extra RAM will likely be the best bang for the buck (I recently revived my 4-year-old laptop by installing Windows 7 and doubling the RAM).

If your computer has few running processes, isn’t exhibiting strange CPU usage (via the meter) and is just generally too slow for your needs, then getting a new computer is likely your best option.

The reality of the computer world is that everything gets faster and cheaper over time, so the longer you can postpone your next computer purchase, the more you will get for the same money.

While we are on the subject of new computers, let’s make sure you are completely aware of all of the issues surrounding the migration and actual costs should you decide to go the new computer route.

Retailers and manufacturers routinely generate ads to make it look like computers only cost $200 to $300 these days. But if you spend any time looking into these “deals” you’ll likely realize that you’ll end up spending two to three times that amount for a reasonable-performing, properly configured system.

The practice of installing “trialware” (which means that in 30 to 60 days you will have to pay an additional fee to keep using essential programs such as Microsoft Office or even your anti-virus or anti-spyware programs), charging to remove unnecessary programs that shouldn’t have been installed in the first place or using “starter” batteries on low-end laptops are just a few of the hidden-cost tricks played with really cheap computers.

In addition, think about what it’s going to take to get your new computer to look and act like your old computer. Programs and their associated data must be imported from your old computer along with your address book, favorites, desktop images, screen savers, printer and scanner drivers, photo download and editing systems, network settings and a host of other items that most folks don’t take into consideration up front.

Be sure to calculate the additional expense for having the migration work done for you if you are not capable or willing to do it yourself.

Cleaning up and updating your old system eliminates all of these migration issues and costs, so make sure you understand everything that is involved in both scenarios before you make your final decision.

Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) and at Readers may send questions to

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