Upgrade Your Laptop or Replace Your Laptop?

Is it better to upgrade parts on your laptop or just buy a new one?

Question: My laptop is about two and a half years old and still works fine. However, I really wish it had a few more features and a more powerful hard drive. Do I have to buy a new unit to get what I want, or is it possible for me to upgrade my current machine?

Mobile Computing HelpDesk Answers:

It all depends on what your needs are — and how many of them are not being met by your current machine.

Laptop manufacturers are always coming out with new, high-tech features that can usually be added on to newer laptops. But your machine was made before many of these technologies came on the market. If you want 16-bit sound, USB, a faster video chip or the capacity for dual batteries or MMX, you’ll probably have to invest in a new computer.

However, if you just need more disk space or improved performance — and your laptop is otherwise adequate for your needs — upgrading is a more logical option. It’s relatively inexpensive to add extra RAM or a beefed-up hard drive to a laptop, especially if you do the installation yourself. (Be sure to wear a grounding strap to protect your computer from static electricity). RAM is the best performance investment you can make.

If you choose the do-it-yourself route, though, be aware that some PC vendors will void your warranty if you buy and install memory made by another company. So if warranty is an issue for you, you’ll have to buy memory from your PC vendor — often for an inflated price.

Because laptop parts and designs can vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer, CPU upgrades are typically more problematic than RAM upgrades. While some companies offer CPU upgrades for [older] notebooks, they are only available for certain kinds of CPUs. There are other limitations, too. The upgrade has to be done by an outside service, and you have to pay the shipping charge. The procedure takes about a week and can cost $400 or more. And in the end, your machine isn’t likely to run much faster than a low-end Pentium.

Fortunately, upgrading or buying a brand-new machine are not your only options. For $900 or less, you can get a refurbished “newer” notebook — often with an active-matrix screen, a larger hard disk, and more memory than most older notebooks. Some of these machines even come with warranties. For a few hundred dollars more than you’d pay for an upgrade, you can get a complete system that offers far better performance. You can then use your old laptop for another purpose, keep it around as a backup, or sell it to defray part of the cost of the refurbished machine.

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