Bar Bulletin

June, 2004


"Do-It-Yourself Hardware Upgrades"
By John Anderson

Upgrading your PC’s insides can be quick and easy or onerous and time-consuming. The more you read beforehand, the better you will feel about tackling an upgrade.

Installing an additional hard drive, Ethernet card, memory or CD-ROM drive are just a few upgrades that you may wish to tackle on your own. It will certainly save you the hassle of unhooking everything, putting it in your car, waiting days until the work is finished and paying almost as much as the item that is being installed.

Having a less-than-perfect experience with an upgrade center was what led me on the path to do-it-yourself upgrades and you don’t have to be a tech guru with nerves of steel to increase the functionality of your home computer. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Preparation is Key
I can’t emphasize enough how important preparation is to upgrading. In addition to anxiety-reducing, deep-breathing exercises, there are things you need to do before even cracking the case.

Give yourself a large, clean work area. You will need the space for the hardware you are putting in, the device you are taking out and all the screws and connectors that go along with it.

Gather all instructions together for your new device and read through everything at least once before beginning.

Back up everything. If anything does go wrong, make sure you can at least go back to the way you had it.

Gather your tools; a small Phillips-head screwdriver, needle nose pliers and a bottle of canned air should be all you need. If you open your computer and it is full of dust, use the canned air to blow away the cobwebs. Don’t use a rag because it may cause a build up of static electricity. If you do have your computer in a dusty environment, you may want to periodically clean your computer. A build-up of dust on your chips and components can cause them to run hotter and not get the ventilation they need.

Avoid the Static
Static electricity is a serious threat; even a small static charge on your body can damage your PC’s delicate circuitry. Touch the system’s metal chassis just before you unplug it from its grounded outlet and wear an antistatic wrist strap. Always unplug your computer when doing any kind of upgrade.

Cracking the Case
This is the scariest part for most of us and will probably void the warranty on a new machine. But if your warranty expired yesterday – which is when things usually fail – read on.

Even with Plug and Play devices, hardware can still be quite tricky to install. Mistakes or problems can lead to hours of trouble-shooting, or even to an unusable PC. These guidelines should help your upgrade go smoothly.

Install your new devices one at a time, and use your PC for a few days between each installation to give problems time to reveal themselves.

Get the latest driver update. The drivers on the floppy or CD-ROM that came with the device may be out-of-date. Check the vendor’s website for newer versions.

I Want to Upgrade My…
Hard drive: Because your new hard disk will be bigger and faster than the one your PC currently uses, plan on making the new drive your primary drive – that is, the new home for your operating system and applications. You can attach the old drive as a secondary hard disk and use it for archives and less frequently accessed data.
All major drive makers pack software with their upgrade kits that prepares the drive for data (partitioning and formatting) and can also copy exactly what’s on your current drive to the new one, helping to make the upgrade a snap.

Make a full backup of your hard drive if you’re able to, or at least back up your vital data and configuration files from your favorite programs. Don’t forget Bookmarks or Favorites from your Web browser.

Sound system: Some of you may be saddled with the sound card that came with your PC. Improving your PC’s sound with a new card is a relatively easy upgrade. When adding a new sound card, it’s essential to wipe out every trace of your PC’s existing sound software first. Go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, and choose Add/Remove Programs. Highlight the entry for the existing sound card software (if any) and click Add/Remove.

Why Upgrade?
Some of you may be wondering if it’s even worth bothering with an upgrade. Maybe just chucking your PC and buying something new is a better idea. I normally decide whether or not to upgrade based on my current hardware and software needs. If my machine doesn’t meet the requirements of a piece of software I want to add or upgrade, I look at what items it needs. If it is only one or two small items, it is probably better to upgrade. If it requires more than two items (or I expect to be using my computer for more resource-intensive purposes), I will start comparing prices for newer machines. But if everything is running fine and you just want to be able to burn DVDs on your computer like the newer ones, buying a $200 component is better than spending 10 times that much on a new system.



Publications : Bar Bulletin: June, 2004

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