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It’s been a ritual as old as the personal computer itself. Microsoft releases a new operating system, and PC sales skyrocket as users buy new hardware to take advantage of the new software. Sure, a hardy few buy the new Windows and try to install it on their old machines, but these are folks who often end up doing things like executing their PCs in a fit of computer rage.

So here we are at another such moment in history. Windows 10 will arrive this month, leaving many consumers wondering if it’s time to fork over $500-$2,000 for a new machine. You might even consider financing a new computer. At Dell, for example, you can buy a new $870 computer for as little as $27 a month. Of course, it would take 11 years to pay off the new computer at that rate – meaning you’d be paying for it long after it stopped working — and you would have paid about $2,700 for it. (Interest charges add up on long-term financing, especially if you have bad credit. Before you take out a loan for a computer, check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

But all that may be unnecessary, because this time, things are very different. Microsoft’s last huge upgrade, to Windows 8, was a game-changer – and not in a good way. Windows 8 wasn’t all that popular, as PC sales didn’t spike that time around. Microsoft appears to have learned its lesson. Windows 10 cleans up a lot of the Windows 8 mess, but critically, it’s designed to fit neatly on top of Windows 8. No new computer or hard drive space required. In fact, Microsoft is giving it away for free to most Windows 7 and 8 users. You won’t need to drop a bunch of cash on a new machine to get Windows 10.

Out With the Old…

Still, this is an occasion that might make you consider a new PC purchase anyway, particularly if you didn’t upgrade when Windows 8 was released. After all, consumers tend to replace their machines every four or five years. Aftermarket memory maker Crucial.com says that only 13% of Americans are using a PC that is more than five years old.

So maybe it’s time. Maybe your computer is running slow. Maybe some newer Internet features don’t quite work. Maybe it’s worth $2,000 to you.

Or maybe you can fix the problem for $50.

“Before you reluctantly splurge on a new (PC), you may want to add some memory to your current computer first. It could buy you a few years by speeding up your existing one,” said Brad Harding, at Crucial.com, owned by Micron Technology Inc.

Harding obviously wants to sell memory chips, but he’s right: adding memory to a computer can make it feel brand new. And it’s the kind of do-it-yourself project that will leave you feeling an old-fashioned sense of accomplishment, like changing the oil in your car yourself.

There are other reasons to try adding RAM before taking your old PC to the recycling center (well, that’s one reason. Keeping your old machine is better for the environment). Here’s another: storage space used to be a big factor in PC purchases, but with the advent of the Cloud, that’s become less of an issue.

Barriers to Upgrading

Some consumers are intimidated by the prospect of adding memory, and for good reason. A recent Crucial survey found that 73% of consumers said they wouldn’t even try to change their memory, saying they don’t know how, or it costs too much money.

The biggest obstacle, however, is confusion. There are hundreds of places to buy memory, and hundreds of options, most meaningless to the average user. People rightly feel insecure about picking the right memory module.

Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools that help. Two big independent resellers — Newegg.com and TigerDirect.com, offer easy-to-navigate clickable “memory finders.” Just pick your device and your product line, and see your options.

You can use these tools without buying memory from the sites, just to confirm you are shopping for the right modules. Armed with that information, you can shop around at plenty of other places. Amazon, of course, sells memory through a wide selection of third parties, and it’s worth checking prices listed there. A word of caution, however: bigger sites have better return policies, so if you run into trouble, you might regret trying to save a couple of bucks buying from a small outfit you’ve never heard of.

Some consumers might also be more comfortable buying memory from a firm that makes its own (Crucial is one of those), rather than a third-party reseller. To make things a bit easier, Crucial has a free download that analyzes your computer for current memory status and makes upgrade suggestions (from Crucial’s store, of course. But again, you can use the specifications to shop around).

On most machines, changing the memory itself isn’t hard at all. It’s easiest on desktop machines, which are designed to allow tinkering. You might not even need a screwdriver. Laptops can be a bit more challenging, but generally it’s just a matter of unscrewing a panel and popping in the module.

Adding memory isn’t a panacea. If your computer is sluggish because it’s corrupted by spyware, new memory won’t help. It is possible that your other components are outdated. But it can be worth the $50-$100 investment to see if you can extend your computer’s life, or turn it into a serviceable backup.

It’ll establish you as part of the resistance movement that rejects the notion everything should be disposable. Consider taking advantage of the option while you can: in a pernicious trend, increasingly, hardware makers are sealing laptops so memory can’t be added later. Upgrade on your own while you still can.

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  • Jack

    This article did not mention the most important advice. Find a good, reliable, reasonable cost computer technician or computer repair company near you. And use them to upgrade your computer, answer technical questions and fix problems.

    A good computer technician will know what kind of RAM or hard disk memory is appropriate and reliable for your computer, and will sell and install it for not much more that buying off the internet, trying to install it correctly and then hoping you made the right choice. These upgrades are not expensive.

  • Craig Anderson

    I would also highly recommend upgrading the HD to an SSDD or hybrid. They are about $100 for 1TB hybrid and provides a significant difference in performance. In addition to maxing out the RAM (as per the article) – these two upgrades will refurbish your older beasts to be at par (or better) than a brand new model – and you save more money.

  • Dallan Felisamador

    I keep both of my HP desktops and my Toshiba laptop running very efficiently by Running Ubuntu Linux with the Mate desktop instead of Windows. It does everything I want and several things that I can’t do with Windows and the operating system and all the software is free to download and is constantly updated. The only cost is for the blank DVDs to burn the ISO disk images to. I will never go back to Windows.

  • bf

    Who besides hard core gamers spend $2K on a computer? $600 buys a machine adequate for surfing the net and basic Office.

    • billyboi57

      If you want to watch movies or for entertainment you will need something a little more than $600.00 will buy.

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