Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keeping an Older, Slower Computer Going by Making It Newer and Faster -- Add Memory

Wake Up, computer!One of the most common complaints I hear from people with 3 or 4 year old and older computers is, "My computer too slow; I can't get anything done, and I can't stand waiting around for the web page to load." Or something else to happen, whatever. The truth is that computers should wait for people, and people should NOT have to wait for computers.

Sadly, this is not the case for resource-challenged older machines. They ARE SLOW. And we wait for them.

But there is something, or there are a few somethings, you can add to your computer to extend its life by a few years.

You can add memory. This is the biggest bottleneck for 3 year old and older machines -- not enough memory to run current day programs without paging to disk, a very slow process that can be eliminated by adding more memory.

Many of these older systems have only 512K or 1 MB of memory, but most will have 4 memory slots that will accept 1MB of memory per slot, for 4 MB total, which will turn an older 512K machine into comparative race car (so to speak).

And it is EASY to swap out the older memory cards for the newer ones, and it is easy to find and order the correct memory for your computer. You just have to know the make and model of you computer and how much memory it has to begin with.

Most computers, when they boot, show the installed RAM as one of the first screens they display, and any Windows computer will tell you how much RAM it has or recognizes by clicking on the System icon in the Control Panel window. If that amount is less than 2 GB and your machine is too slow when you are loading multiple programs or surfing the web, it is almost certain you can speed up your machine by adding memory.

System will also tell you your processor type -- if it is a Pentium 4, Pentium 3, Celeron, or earlier processor, there may not be much you can do, since these are slow CPUs and their motherboards will likely not accept much more memory.

But let's say, for example that you have a Dell Dimension 9100 computer from a few years back. That machine usually came with 1 GB of DDR 2 RAM in 2 cards, but can accommodate 4 X 1 GB cards of 4 GB total, which can be purchased reasonably, either from Dell, more expensively, or from 3rd parties, at lower prices.

To see what's available for the 9100, just Google "Dell Dimension 9100" memory, and see what results you get.

In this case the top 3 results are from Crucial, Dell, and 4AllMemory, all reputable suppliers I have used with success. They list the memory that will work with this systems, and in some cases there are different specs for different prices, but all will work.

Dell has the 1 GB modules for $34.95 ea -- I need 4 modules, so I'm going to pay a little under $140 for what I need, and which, while not a negligible sum, is a fair price to pay to get your computer to painlessly take you into, say, 2013 or 2014.

As for taking out the old modules, most slots have latching clips at the end and are to be pulled gently away from the modules until they release, at which point the module can be lifted out.

The new modules go back in the same way the old ones came out and are directional -- there is a little slot in the bottom of the module that needs to line up with the plastic tooth in the slot. Press down on the top of the card until the side-latching clips click back into place.

Do be careful to work in a low static environment with decent humidity, say 40% or above. That's hard in the winter! And do hold the memory modules by the sides and not the bottom contacts.

You do have to be willing to open the case and do a little out-patient surgery on your computer, but the time required is very small, 10 minutes max, and the reward is great! Speed!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Replacing an Older Windows XP Computer, When You Really Do Not Want To

We recently had a customer who needed to replace an older Windows XP, Pentium 4 machine that was becoming unreliable, on which, it turns out, his entire reason for owning a computer depended. That is, he NEEDED Windows XP. The critical scanning and printing application, though available for Windows 7 and Vista, is so different, and ease of use so compromised, that the new machine just had to run XP. The older application for an HP C6280, just would not run on the later operating systems.

Now there may be other solutions to this problem, other applications that will do what this person wants, but the prospect of having to learn an entirely new program with a new workflow was so daunting, that it was out of the question, if any other possibility presented itself.

Sure, there are "gently" used machines out there running XP that would serve, but we are looking for the long-term reliability of a new system with the power of a modern quad core processor, something that will age well and offer good performance down the road.

Luckily, Dell is still offering such systems with Windows XP, although apparently only the 64 bit version, which for our purposes is OK, since our application does run on the 64 bit XP. Tiger Direct is also offering a number of XP Pro systems from a few hundred dollars refurbished, or off-lease, to new HP systems.

With the Dell, you do have to pay for Windows 7 Professional 64 bit, and you do pay $120 extra for the privilege of downgrading to Windows XP, BUT, you do get a completely XP compatible machine, with all drivers and updates, with full Dell support, and with the XP operating system fully loaded, and the possibility of ordering a factory extended warranty.

So if you need it, you CAN get it. For how long this will be true, I do not know.

From a support standpoint, Microsoft says "Mainstream Support" for XP ended April 14, 2009, so that's already gone, and from a security patch standpoint Microsoft says support will end April 8 2014. So for all of us who have XP systems, or need them, sometime soon my be the time to get one. At least we will have security protection for the OS itself for 4 more years. And we may not be able to buy a new, warranted machine for windows XP from a first-tier maker like Dell for much longer.

Our customer opted for the 4 year on-site warranty, so if anything goes wrong with the physical computer during that period, Dell will fix it in the customer's home within 24 hours. His Microsoft security support and his Dell warranty will run out about the same time...

So, all of you XP-dependent people, take note, it's just about last call for new XP systems, and you have 4 more years to figure out some alternative to your beloved printer application, or scanner app, or whatever, before you are orphaned by Microsoft.

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