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How do you extend the life of your PCs?

  • Share any tips you use to get the most life out of your aging PCs here. Favorite tools to clean up a slow-mover? Best applications to maximize small memory? Give us your ideas.

  • Besides treating it carefully the only two items I think you get the ROI are hard drive and RAM memory upgrades. Other upgrades (not repairs) I have not found them to be worth it.  Video cards   giving some a DVD writer are really no improvement in the workplace, I have done a few CPU upgrades and surprisingly user do not see the speed difference. Motherboard,s factoring in your time to replace, are just as much as new machines.

    My 2 cents

  • I tend to focus on small, light programs that do exactly what the user wants/needs, rather than big bloated suites that often run in the background and bring down the system.

    (Often these small light programs are open source, and you can find them off SourceForge.)

    Another way is to start focusing on web-based application programs, like Google Apps, for some what you'd use the other bloated tools, like MS 2003/2007.

  • I blow out the inside twice a year. I re-image the desktops once a year and limit the ability for end users to install there own software. Desktops are shutdown every night.  Heat causes a lot of wear on older machines, specially on some models like a few Gateway SFF. The design was not practical in terms of heat dissipation.

     

    Carlos

  • Ram Memory upgrade $25 to $50 to take Ram to 1 or 2 GB will really improve an OK older machine..

    Use a product like ccleaner to clear Internet and temp file caches and clean the registry. 

    Since Windows 2000 I haven't seen reloading Windows causing as great of an improvemnet as it did in the Win 9x days.  The reimage will eliminate adware, malware, toolbars that tend to collect and slow things down.

    Stay with the level of software that matches the age of the machine.  So with an 8 year old desktop I would stay with office XP or 2003 rather than trying to install current software.

    Put DNR tags on machines over 6 years old.  Don't put the effort into repairing a machine that should have been replaces 2 to 3 years ago.

    Dave

  • ewj

    Besides treating it carefully the only two items I think you get the ROI are hard drive and RAM memory upgrades. Other upgrades (not repairs) I have not found them to be worth it.  Video cards   giving some a DVD writer are really no improvement in the workplace, I have done a few CPU upgrades and surprisingly user do not see the speed difference. Motherboard,s factoring in your time to replace, are just as much as new machines.

    My 2 cents

     

    I would echo that. But even RAM upgrades often don't make much difference for a typical user who doesn't have many apps open at a time.

    The hard drive has by far the greatest effect on perceived computer speed. But replacing one might mean you have to deal with software licenses, transferring data, etc. (More reason to go to Linux and the cloud!)

    About that, a good hard drive defragger/optimizer can make a big difference on old computers. DiskTrix offers its UltimateDefrag in a free public domain version that works well. It doesn't actually defrag the disk totally; apparently they have discovered that where the files are located on the disk makes a bigger difference than the fact that some of them are fragmented.

    CPU? Back when you could count on a socket staying current for more than 6 months, I replaced a few. Doubling the clock rate made a barely perceptible increase in speed.

    Graphics card? No effect on office software.

  • I like to defrag our users machines every few months.  I have it set automatically through the task scheduler.  We like to clean out the case of dust twice a year.  We have moved to some thin client machines for our examination rooms to cut down on the amount of machines that need routine maintenance.   

    Gary Network/Systems Admin Berlin, NH
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  • Keep it off the floor where dust collects. I keep mine on a file cabinet. Air it out as well. It is 7 years old now and I repalced the HD last year.

  • I have PC's as well as workstations as old as 8 years. With proper maintenance they can last. Obviously a power user won't have a workstation for 8 years but many roles can work within it. Buying a decent (Dell Precision) workstation upfront helps.

     

    Smart use of UAD will go a long way in keeping the workstation operating as best as it can. Keep the spyware and malware at bay, and you too can enjoy systems for several years past the 4 year mark.

  • You re-Image once a year? OMG thats alot of work. I do that for my home box though. Your users must love you.

     

    carlos49er

    I blow out the inside twice a year. I re-image the desktops once a year and limit the ability for end users to install there own software. Desktops are shutdown every night.  Heat causes a lot of wear on older machines, specially on some models like a few Gateway SFF. The design was not practical in terms of heat dissipation.

     

  • I upgraded 4 identical computers from W2K to XP recently, on new HDDs, (and also added cheap graphics cards); the performance was very greatly improved. I attribute the improvement to the fresh install of Windows.

    My Windows server got flooded in an accident 3 weeks ago, so I had to replace the proprietary HP mobo, costing about as much as the whole computer did 3 years ago. (Reviving the old server seemed to be the safest way to get the system running.) Then I got a new pair of larger, faster HDDs and a new energy-efficient power supply, and it should be solid for a long time. I would NOT recommend this for a planned upgrade!

  • You have some good advice in there wally, but I would disagree on a couple of points.  Proper RAM is not the sole indicator of whether or not your hard drive becomes fragmented.  Here is some reading material for you on NTFS and fragmentation - and a link to an NTFS support article from Microsoft that suggests you run the Defragmenter.  I've experienced it myself, but mostly on drives that have less than 50% free space.  I won't even talk about FAT32 ;)

    The performance boost factor may not be as great as other tips you've given, but it is important to defragment hard drives that don't have much free space left.  You can even schedule it to run when you're not using the computer, say once a month or quarter.

    I will agree that Adobe Flash Player 9 would run faster, but Flash has been a huge security problem lately.  Running version 9, which Adobe no longer supports, will expose you to a lot of unnecessary risks.  If you must use a less processor intensive flash player, try Gnash.  It will work with those educational sites (if they aren't requiring Flash Player 10 - sigh - but then you're in the same boat) but it won't run YouTube.  They seem to be a little behind on getting it compiled for Windows, but it looks like you can download 0.8.3 - and you won't be exposed to those nasty vulnerabilities in Flash Player 9 that will never be fixed.

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting

  • Wow. Great article. I'd suggest a 2nd version of this same article once everyone has added comments.


    Before I call in the aging PC death squad I take 2 different approaches


    =======================================


    a) is it a home computer or a unique computer in a business or
    b) used in a bigger network, and can easily be re-installed or recloned


    Top priority goes to RAM and autorun inspection. I do this for a home pc. No need to do this on a business PC that can have XP re-installed fresh. That new tool by microsoft "autoruns" sounds promising, but seems hard to use. I tend to use the start menu, run, msconfig.exe tool. Before working on anyone's compuer, I back up the registry and make a restore point. ( note that Viruses complicate such safety measures. ) I do autorun cleanup for category A computers. Somtimes I clone their entire drive before attempting any repair. I show people all the autorun icons down by their clock in a before and after situation. This tends to be the the best way to extend the life of older computers. Cleaning up autorun makes the PC behave like new, and makes the user very happy, and they learn their lesson not to install too much. Sometimes old home computers have gone through several ISP cycles, who often lie to customers and make them run an ISP CD with all the bloatware. Sometimes the home user is better wiping the drive, and re-installing windows.


    As for RAM, that Kingston.com memory tool is good, but I use it only in addition to consulting the vendor by phone or their website, using the model, TAG or ID of the vendor. I've often extended the life of many computers by removing the wrong ram that was ordered in haste and crashes randomly. Ubuntu boot CD roms have a decent memory test that can run overnight and not touch windows on your hard drive.


    ======================================== other notes below ======================================


    While some people swear by defrag, I've never seen it show much life extension. Proper RAM will mean you don't have to worry about disk defragmentation.


    I've worked with a lot of computers where the hard drive croaks suddenly even when the SMART utilites are watching it and giving it a good heath report. The best test is to boot from a cd called boot and nuke. It will wipe the drive and do an intensive write and verify test, the final screen is green=good, yellow or red=bad. Below is a good report on drive / SMART death prediction. http://research.google.com/archive/disk_failures.pdf quote: we conclude that models based on SMART parameters alone are unlikely to be useful


    Windows 98,ME and 2000 can still run firefox and do word processing, but it's unlikely you can connect a majority of devices or install programs you will need. Same goes for OSX 10.3 All these have one foot in the grave. Another thing I suggest is getting windows XP to version SP2 and then stop there. Turn off updates, disable IE, and install a hardware ethernet firewall. You can find them used or new for $5-$20. I've seen windows computers stay working this way for years, and they don't have any virus protection. I'm guessing XP will have good accessory support till the year 2015. http://pcsupport.about.com/od/browsers/ht/disableiedef.htm If you want to use Windows XP at version SP3 or above, your PC will need to have at least 512MB of ram just to run one program.


    If you want to run multipe programs, sound or video I'd suggest well above 512MB. I'd still suggest making Firefox the default browser and disabling IE 7 or 8.


    Whenever I revive an aging home or business PC I duplicate the hard drive. If you know a good used parts shop, you should be able to buy 80GIG IDE drives for about $10 each. Use the bootable GPARTED boot cd to clone the old hard drive to the faster 80gig. Leave the old drive inside the case but unpluged. You will get a speed boost and you have a full backup of the OS at an efficient state.   It is a ten dollar restore point that can't be taken down by a virus. And it can be used in an office that might have 2 or more machines with the same hardware. Beware of the windows serial and net id fixes after cloning. WGA


    And very often before sending the aging PC to a dump, it is best to dump windows and go with Ubuntu 8 ( for 2008) if the user is able to deal with a slightly different desktop and use firefox. Set MS office options to save as DOC, PPT and XLS or get them a google docs account for doing office work.


    If you've got an old desktop that can't run Ubuntu 8, it also can't run windows XP, so you might as well dump it in the hands of a e-waste steward listed on ban.org or svtc.org. However, a old slow laptop is worth the extra effort of installing a lighter weight version of xubuntu. It keeps old laptops with small memory on the net with firefox.


    Do not install flash verion 10 on older computers. It is a huge processor hog on all platforms, and flash 10 will make your browser so slow you want to buy a new computer. Install flash 9 which works just as well. A computer without flash working is nearly useless on the web. http://kb.adobe.com/selfservice/viewContent.do?externalId=tn_14266

  • ooops.  you seem to think i've said that good or lots of memory or bad ( too small of )  memory can affect if a hard drive becomes fragmented faster or slower. 


    what i said is that more memory can ease the negative symptoms of a fragmented hard drive.  I've also said that after de-fragmenting a drive I don't notice much speed increase.   I kind of think that the defrag tools are a placebo effect.  

    thanks for the tip on gnash.   i will try that if they add video ( youtube ) support.  adobe should just fix their unoptimized code. 

  • Aha, yes Wally I understand the distinction you made now.  Good RAM definitely gives you more performance than a simple defrag.  Its not a placebo when you have an old slow drive, though - only if its low on free space.

    Gnash does support video - in Linux :)  They just don't spend a lot of time porting it to Windows, though I'm sure if you wanted to hack around you could.

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting