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How to Get the Most Out of an Old PC

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Making an old computer work for you is all about making the most of what you've got.

Most of us can’t afford to buy a brand new computer as soon as the technology changes. We’d probably go through them once a month! Plus, the process of migrating all your files to a new computer is time-consuming and inconvenient. As a result, it’s usually easier (and cheaper) to do what you can to keep your old computer running as long as possible. Here are some tips for making your old computer easier to live with.

Hardware Vs. Software Upgrades

When it comes to upgrading an old computer, the biggest difference is always going to come from changes you make to the hardware. That’s what makes your computer run as fast as it does, and any software upgrades are only going to bring your computer up to the level that the hardware supports. Although old software can be a major efficiency killer, make sure you have as much RAM as you can fit before taking more steps. RAM is cheap and goes a long way toward improving performance. Once you have that taken care of, it’s time to look into updating your old computer’s software.

Tips for Updating Your Old Computer’s Software

  1. Lose the fat, tone the muscle
    When it comes to making your computer run better and more efficiently, the first thing to do is uninstall any software that you don’t use. All these programs are just sitting around, taking up space on your hard drive and slowing down your computer. But you should also optimize the remaining programs. If you use Internet Explorer to browse the Web, for example, upgrade to a faster, slimmer browser like Google Chrome. And make sure to lose those tool bars. Most of these functions can be done online through Web apps, and the tool bars are just one more thing that can bog down your computer and reduce its processing speed.
  2. Lose bloated software
    There’s a lot of bloated software out there, and it goes a long way toward dragging down your computer’s performance. One of the worst offenders in this category are anti-virus programs. If you’re using traditional desktop anti-virus software, consider tossing it. While these programs used to be industry-standard, they are now bloated and take up more system resources than they’re worth. Try something like Microsoft Security Essentials or AVG Free Edition. In addition to being more efficient, they won’t cost you a penny!
  3. Downgrade your software
    At first this seems counterintuitive; software upgrades are supposed to keep your computer running faster, right? Well, with some software, like your operating system, this is true. But with programs like Microsoft Office and Photoshop, using an older version that is designed for slower computers can help speed yours up. Most of the time you won’t use the additional features that the newer versions offer anyway. And older games like the original Sim City are a blast to play as well!
  4. Polish your operating system
    If you’ve done all these things and your computer is still dragging, you may want to consider changing operating systems. If you’re a Windows user, look into Windows 8. It needs at least 4 gigabytes of RAM to run efficiently, but a new operating system will always speed things up, and Windows 8 promises to be one of the most reliable and efficient operating systems yet. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider one of the various Linux distributions, referred to as "distros." Both Lubuntu and Archbang Linux are known for being spritely and responsive on older machines. It may take a while to learn the various subtleties of a new system, but Linux offers everything that you’ll use on a day-to-day basis, and for free. It doesn’t get much better than that if you’re willing to put in the small amount of effort required to learn it. (Learn more about Linux distributions in Linux Distros: Which One’s Best?)

If you can’t buy a new computer, try the next best thing: Make the one you have run better than ever.


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Andrea Eldridge

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. Eldridge writes two weekly columns, "Nerd Chick Adventures" in Redding, California's The Record Searchlight, and "Computer Nerds On Call", a nationally syndicated column for the Scripps-Howard News Service. She regularly appears on ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS on shows such as "Good Day Sacramento", "Good Morning Arizona" and "MORE Good Day Portland", offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle and gadgets. Eldridge also works with Demand Media to produce content for and has written a book, "Smartphone101:…