When I lived in Oregon, my friend Jim was on a “hot shot” forest fire team. These hot shots parachuted into remote areas and did their best to put out a fire or contain it until land-based crews could reach the scene
One hot summer day, Jim and his crew were working to build a fire line. They were almost out of water and radioed for more supplies. Finally, the supply chopper arrived and everyone raced toward the package—only to find lukewarm chocolate milk, but no water.
What does this have to do with computers? Well, in the computer world, you may buy something expecting it to be the perfect fix or upgrade, only to find out it’s the equivalent of warm milk. You can drink it, but it’s not very satisfying. Knowing when that might be the case can prevent disappointment and save you money. Let’s look at some risk areas:
RAM—Especially with the arrival of Windows Vista, you’ll see the benefit of having up to 2 gigabytes of RAM. But if you still have XP, 1 gigabyte does nicely for most uses. While adding more RAM than this may speed up a computer slightly, you run into the law of diminishing returns. In most cases, adding still more RAM is a waste of money.
Hard disks—My 200-gigabyte hard disk has about 115 gigabytes free. Replacing that disk with a larger one would offer no benefit at all. If your disk is less than half full, there’s no point in replacing it. Instead, if you have the cash on hand, consider adding a second external hard disk. That will give you room to grow as well as providing a handy way to store backup copies of your data.
Computer monitors—I love the way flat-panel LCD monitors look. They take u
p less space on the desk than a tube monitor, and prices have come way down. But if you have the wrong expectations, they can be a waste of money.
Look deeper: Are they relly better than what you have?
Sure, there’s plenty to recommend about them these days—the response time is vastly improved from the first generation of these monitors. In the early days, LCD had trouble handling fast action, such as video or video games.
But if you have a top-notch tube-type monitor, don’t expect even the best LCD monitors to offer better colour or sharper images. Replace your monitor if you want a more modern look, or think a wide-screen flat panel would make life easier. Otherwise, avoid the expense and disappointment.
Routers—Humans have always been fascinated by speed. Me too—I still remember the way the early Pontiac GTOs pushed you back in your seat when you pressed hard on the accelerator.
To take advantage of this craving, you’ll see all sorts of speed claims on the packaging for both wired and wireless routers. I expect those claims are true. But even the slowest router is faster than your Internet connection. So, if you expect to get faster response on the Net based on your router, you are heading for disappointment.
PC tune-up programs—They promise to fix problems, speed up your computer—if you believe the ads, they’ll do almost everything, but cook scrambled eggs for breakfast.
I’ve found these programs to only do a so-so job of fixing problems. And they seem so eager to find and report problems that I suspect they end up fixing things that aren’t really broken at times—a dangerous habit.
My advice: Use one when—and only when—a problem is hurting the performance of your computer. Don’t use them on a computer that is working just fine.
Ironically, my favourite of these tools is free for the download. You can find Ccleaner at www.ccleaner.com. Unlike some of the commercial products, it’s very simple and has no annoying pop-ups.
New PCs—When you spend several hundred, or even several thousand, dollars on a new computer, you expect to experience a real difference.
But if you have a relatively modern PC—with a processor rated at 2 gigahertz or higher, XP installed and 1 gigabyte of RAM—replacing it with a new computer with Vista installed isn’t going to be a life-changing experience.
That’s especially true if most of your computing involves surfing the Web, using email, writing some documents and doing some spreadsheets. Even a hot new PC using a chip with multiple processors won’t give you much—if any—noticeable improvement. Sure, it’ll be faster, but not in ways the average user would notice.
I hope I’ve saved some of you a few bucks by steering you towardsa cool drink of water.
The New York Times