Before you drop the dough on a whole new system, here's a list of upgrades for squeezing a few more months, years even, out of ol' faithful, during these trying economic times.
If your Windows PC is seriously Dark Ages material, you might want to try converting it into something altogether different, like an NAS or media center. But stick around here if you're riding that thin line between acceptable day-to-day use and the scrap heap and try these quick and cheap upgrades first.
1. Reinstall Your OS
Over the years, operating systems inevitably pick up random pieces of clutter that start hogging your limited resources and bring your system to its knees. Forget spyware and malware cleaners-they're often just as guilty of mucking up your machine.
No, the best way to start fresh is of course to reinstall Windows. It's a pain, but thankfully there are a number of tools that will make the process easier.
• nLite and vLite for XP and Vista respectively are great tools for not only automating a large chunk of the reinstall process, but also for slimming down and customizing the installation to make sure you have a version of Windows that's optimized for your old hardware
• Kevin from Lifehacker also has a great guide for slipstreaming XP Service Pack 3 onto a custom install disc so you can avoid hundreds of Windows Update downloads after you reinstall using the older XP disc you probably have lying around.
• There are a ton of tools to help back up your data before a reinstall, but an easy no-brainer (especially if things have gotten so bad that you can't boot) is to boot with a Linux live CD like Ubuntu and move your files from your Windows volume to an external drive before wiping it.
2. Buy a New Graphics Card
A huuuuge part of what we humans perceive as slowness while using a computer are delays and hang-ups in the graphical UI-something that doubling or quadrupling your available video memory and beefing up your GPU rendering muscle will go a long way in alleviating. Graphics cards are super cheap these days, so think about dropping $100 or less on a new video card for your system and see where that gets you before going full monty on the replacement. As you probably well know, Newegg is the place for cheap hardware-for $150 or less you can do very well with a variation on the solid Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT or ATI Radeon HD 4850.
3. Max Our Your RAM
Many of you may be saying "duhhh" here but this can't be more of an important point-if you haven't maxed out your RAM yet, do it. Now. Just like graphics cards, RAM is super cheap, especially if you're running a common motherboard configuration. So head to Crucial or OWC, have it scan your system, and price out some new RAM sticks for you. Remember-matched pairs (in terms of size) are always faster than unmatched, and to taste every last bit of a 4GB upgrade, you'll need a 64-bit OS.
4. Get a Bigger Display
This one is more of head game than an actual upgrade, but I swear, every time I hook my laptop up to the big 22" widescreen monitor here in the office, my machine feels about a year or two faster. Something about having more screen real estate just helps. Plus, once you do finally get a brand new screamer, you can just swap it right over. Cheap LCDs are our daily Dealzmodo Roundups bread and butter, so keep an eye out there for a good bargain on a decent brand.
5. Get a Bigger, Faster Hard Drive
You can never have too much storage. So abiding by this rule, a few bucks spent on a new HD will at the very least free up more space for virtual memory on your boot volume. You could also look at a 10,000RPM drive for a desktop or a 7,200RPM drive for your laptop, which will undoubtedly be faster than your stock drive. Don't worry so much about your new HDD's cache size so long as its at least 8MB (which is common), as anything higher tends to offer diminishing returns. For everything else you'd want to know and more about getting a new hard drive, check out yesterday's Giz Explains on HDDs.
6. Optimize Your Boot Time
Another psychological downer is waiting 5 minutes for your machine to boot. Again, Lifehacker to the rescue: Less than a month ago, Gina published a complete guide to streamlining your Windows startup speed-make that your first stop.
7. Clean Out Your Browser
Your web browser is where you spend most of your time-and just like Windows, Firefox can get bogged down in bloat. If you have a ton of extensions installed that you never use, disable or remove them. You can also dive into the world of about:config and follow the numerous guides to tweaking FF's guts for more speed. Opinions on whether these are real or placebo is mixed, but even so, there are a lot of cool things you can do.
You can also make the leap to Firefox 3.1 (still in beta) with its drastically sped-up TraceMonkey rendering engine. Here is a guide for safely playing with the Firefox 3.1 beta without touching your Firefox 3 profile.
And if you're using Internet Explorer, um, stop it.
8. Ditch Windows Entirely
If things are really dire (on the money or performance front, or both) you might want to think about making a switch to Linux-especially if your main PC usage entails not much more than your typical web browsing, emailing, IMing and media playing/managing. There are a million and half tutorials out there for switching to Linux (Ubuntu's own is pretty good), which will almost certainly run considerably faster on your hardware than Windows does.
Special thanks to the Lifehacker folks for just doing what you're doing.
Dealzmodo Hacks are intended to help you sustain your crippling gadget addiction through tighter times. If you come across any on your own that are particularly useful, send it to our tips line (Subject: Dealzmodo Hack). Check back every Thursday for free DIY tricks to breathe new life into hardware that you already own.
Your regular Dealzmodo hacker John Herrman will be back next week.