Christmas is right around the corner and that means a lot of people will be spending time with their family. Those of us who know anything about computers know what that means: questions about slow computers, bad wireless networks, crashed hard drives, etc.
If you are one of the lucky ones whose family PC is still running without any major problems, then you should be pretty happy. However, it’s probably a good idea to be as proactive as possible and fix any impending disasters before they can occur. That normally means replacing old computer parts or upgrading from Windows 98 or Windows XP to something more a little more with the times.
I’ve learned over the years that if you upgrade these 5 components that I will list below, you will most likely never have to worry about spending hours trying to fix some hardware or software problem. If you have your own regiment for cleaning up the family PC, let us know in the comments.
Essential Upgrade #1 – Operating System
When talking about the operating system, reformatting the entire hard drive and reinstalling the current version of Windows is considered an upgrade! Why? Most parents figure out ways to become infected with all sorts of viruses and malware. No matter how careful they think they are, they eventually click on the wrong link in an email or browse to a website that was definitely not meant for them.
When I visit my parents, if the OS has been on the system longer than 6 months, I automatically copy the data off, format the hard drive and reinstall Windows. I’ve done it so many times now that it doesn’t even take that long anymore. Normally, my parents have photos, some documents and their email setup on the computer. Copying everything from the My Documents and Desktop covers 99% of what is stored on the computer and that I need.
Of course, you can make it easier for them by exporting bookmarks and setting up their email client again if they were using one. My parents use Gmail, so even that is not a big deal. The computer runs a hundred times faster and even though no one knows why, it makes everyone happy all around.
And if you are extra techie like me, you might have a Technet Subscription whereby you can spare a few licenses on your poor parents and just upgrade them to the latest operating system like Windows 7. This is especially useful if they are running Windows 2000 or Windows Vista. Windows XP is perfectly fine, but it’s still best to reinstall the entire OS every 6 months.
If your family PC is running OS X or some Linux distribution, I’m not even worried. Usually that means people know what they are doing and therefore have a clean and fast system running.
Essential Upgrade #2 – Memory
Why oh why do people still use only 1 GB or 2 GB of memory on their computers? Most laptops sport 2 GB+ of RAM much less a desktop computer. If there is anything less than 2 GB of RAM on your parents computer, upgrade them to at least 4 GB. Memory is so cheap that it’s plain silly to have anything less than that installed nowadays.
My favorite place to go for memory is Crucial.com. Even if you don’t buy the memory from their site, you can use it to find the exact memory you need for your computer. It’s the absolutely easiest way to find memory matching your hardware and it’s normally pretty cheap on their site too.
Of course, if you are running the 32-bit (x86) version of Windows XP, Vista, or 7, the max memory the OS can handle anyway is 4 GB, so there is no point in going above that. If you do have a 64-bit system, you should take full advantage of the additional RAM limits, which go all the way up to 192 GB for Windows 7.
Essential Upgrade #3 – Monitor
It may not seem like an essential upgrade, but it really is. The display you use for your parents can make a huge difference in what they think of their computing experience. After I switched my parents from an old TFT monitor to a flat panel display, they suddenly seemed to enjoy working on the computer more. They did more stuff, spent more time and actually felt that the operating system was “better”.
Even if it doesn’t do anything in terms of performance, it will make your parents feel a whole lot better about their computer. And if you really want to make them feel great, go ahead and setup a dual monitor system. You can normally get a decent flat panel for under $200 and if their graphics card supports it, double it up! They will be the coolest parents in town all thanks to you.
Essential Upgrade #4 – Hard Drive
There comes a point when it’s necessary to simply replace the hard drive on a PC. If the computer is older than 3.5 years, it’s a good idea to upgrade. Anything over 4 or close to 5 is definitely a must. Hard drives still crash even today and it always happen to your parents! Unfortunately, they are usually the ones that don’t have extra backups in the cloud, on a NAS or on an external hard drive (upgrade #5!).
If they have an IDE or SCSI drive, it may be a good idea to upgrade to a newer SATA hard drive. If they have been using SATA for a while, maybe you can up the drive to the latest SSD (solid state) drives. Moving to a solid state drive has the great advantages of being way faster and a lot more reliable. With no spinning or moving parts, there is less chance of something breaking or going bad.
Or it may simply be time to add some much needed space to a crammed hard drive. If the computer is a couple of years old, it may only have 100 GB or 250 GB or space. 1 TB SATA drives come pretty cheap and will let your parents copy as many photos and videos to the hard drive as they like.
Essential Upgrade #5 – Data Backup
Even though it’s not physically part of the PC, backing up the PC is the last major upgrade I recommend. My parents want to make backups and try, but a lot of times it’s not the right data or all of the data or done correctly so that it can be restored later on.
Whether you choose a cloud backup solution, NAS backup device, or a straight-up external hard drive, you should have something setup to automatically backup the entire computer every so often. No, your parents will not remember to copy the data manually or run some script you wrote. Use a third-party backup program, free or commercial, that will automatically create an image of the entire hard drive once a month. If your parents store a lot of data that they would not want to lose (photos, videos), then a NAS storage device may be a good Christmas present.
I use Flickr and Picasa for uploading all my photos at full resolution to the cloud and keep a copy on an external hard drive plus the computer. Three copies, one of which is remote, so if the whole house burns down, I still have my data somewhere.
I didn’t mention upgrading the processor in this post because it’s frankly not easy at all. If you have a computer that has an old processor, it may be a good idea to upgrade the entire computer! Black Friday had some great deals as did Cyber Monday. If you missed all of that, you can probably still get some good deals before Christmas on a desktop with decent specs and a good price. Tell us what you normally upgrade on an older computer in the comments. Enjoy!