Why upgrade?

There are plenty of things to spend your money on, but don't forget your faithful computer. A few well-spent yen can increase its performance. Kristen McQuillin explains when to upgrade.

Unfortunately, it's usually true. The more applications you use at the same time (word processors, web browsers, email programs, spreadsheets, screen savers, Palm-synching, virus-scanning, instant messaging tools) the more RAM you'll need to keep your computer running at a reasonable speed. Buying more memory is usually a good investment.

But how much memory is enough? There's no tried and true calculation to determine the right amount of memory for your computer. You need to investigate a bit. On PCs, benchmarking programs like Winstone compare your computer's performance to standard systems and give advice on how to improve performance. Sometimes a special utility program can free up unused memory and speed up your Windows system without actually adding more memory. You can find benchmarking tools and memory utilities at

If you use a Mac, you can get a quick snapshot of free memory. During your normal workday, go to the Finder, then choose "About this Computer" from the Apple menu. How large is your Largest Unused Block? Anything under ten percent of the total memory installed is living dangerously, and you should consider an upgrade.

Before you buy memory, make sure you're getting the right kind. Does your machine need DIMMs or older SIMMs? SRAM or DRAM? matches computer models and memory specs with their online "configurator," making it easy to find the right RAM. If you already know what you need, has good pricing and comparison shops prices on Mac memory. If in doubt, note your computer's exact model number then ask your local vendor.

Making space: cleaning or buying?
Your storage space may not need an upgrade. You can clean up your disk drive and recover a surprising amount of space without spending a single yen. How do you tidy up a hard drive? Start by moving old but critical files off your computer- copy them onto floppies, Zip disks or CDs- then delete old files, duplicate files and unnecessary email attachments. Empty your Web browser's cache. Uninstall programs you don't use. After cleaning up all the above, defragment your hard drive with a tool like Norton's Speed Disk to speed up performance.

However, if you prefer buying a new disk to doing housecleaning, an external drive will be simpler to add to your system than an internal drive. Firewire (IEEE 1394) or USB drives will lighten your wallet by JY25,000 JY38,000 for a 20 GB drive.

Version X or bust
Mac OS X, available now, overhauls Mac OS under the hood and on the surface. Windows XP, available Oct 25, is scheduled to replace almost all previous versions of Windows. The big question is, should you upgrade your operating system? The answer is "yes," as these new version will improve your computing experience. However, unless you relish experiencing bugs, you should wait for the updates and bug fixes to be published before upgrading your system. All new operating systems have problems and six months usually smoothes off the rough edges. Those extra months also give software developers a chance to rewrite their products to work optimally on the new OS.

Upgrading your applications is another matter. It's expensive to upgrade everything you use, so budget carefully and start with your frequently-used programs. Many companies offer special upgrade pricing for existing customers, but even those prices add up quickly. An upgrade to Office XP is JY22,000; its regular price is JY46,700.

Incremental upgrades (i.e. version 2.3 to version 2.4) may not offer advantages except fixing annoyances or adding minor enhancements. Major revisions (i.e. 5.0 to 6.0) incorporate significant changes. Don't wait for too many major revisions to pass before you upgrade, or you may find yourself using an unsupported version with no easy upgrade path. If you use version 3.7 but the latest version is 7.3, you're overdue for an upgrade.

To find out the latest version and its system requirements, search the online database at For a more comprehensive check of your Windows system (including all drivers, etc.), install ZDNet Updates, a program that creates a list of software installed on your computer then compares it to ZDNet's versions database.

Something you should keep up-to-date is your virus software. (Don't have any? Check out McAfee Virus Scan or Norton's Anti-Virus.) Download the latest profile and upgrade the base software when new versions come out. Being hit by a virus is a huge hassle, and it's easy to keep protected. You'll kick yourself if your machine's infected because your virus checker didn't know about the latest threat.

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