Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 156 / SEPTEMBER 1993 / PAGE S1

Should you upgrade your processor? (computer processor) (Compute's Getting Stated With: Upgrading Your Processor)
by Richard O. Mann

Will everyone whose PC is powerful enough please raise your hand? Uh huh, just as I thought - only a few hands went up. If there's one thing certain about PCs, it's that any computer more than a few months old is no longer state-of-the-art. it's the curse of modern technology: Technology never stands still.

If your computer is three or four years old like mine is, it's painful to read about the latest computers in the magazines or to see them in the stores. It's frustrating to wait long minutes while windows loads, and you probably wish Links 386Pro could draw its screens in something other than slow motion.

If you can afford a new machine, you've probably already bought it. If not, isn't there something you can do short of totally blowing the family budget?

You bet there is. Upgrade the microprocessor in your computer. There are 486 upgrade kits for most 386 and 386SX computers and some 286s. You can swap out the CPU chip, plug an expansion board with a new CPU into a standard slot, replace the whole mother-board (including the CPU), or in some cases, add a special additional chip called a clock doubler or Overdrive chip.

The trick lies in deciding which parts of your system you should upgrade and how best to go about it. As you work, take note of exactly when you're waiting for the computer. What's happening at that moment? Is the hard disk light flashing as the computer loads programs or data? Are you waiting for the computer to redraw complex screens? If you're in Windows, is the hard disk running all the time as your applications continually swap memory out to disk? Is your computer merely crunching numbers, or is it doing large data sorts and manipulations?

A new motherboard with a faster, wider bus will move data faster, speeding up hard disk and video delays that involve moving mountains of data. A simple chip upgrade can speed up processing time dramatically - resulting in faster sorting, searching, and general number crunching. If Windows is always swapping itself to disk, you may need more memory. Or a combination of these things may be the real answer. If you need to upgrade everything, a whole new computer may be in order.

Other questions arise when selecting an upgrade strategy. For instance, what do you do with your old computer if you buy a new one? You may be able to sell it, but probably not for a significant amount. Perhaps the old one will still be useful - our family often needs more than one computer at a time. If you upgrade the CPU or motherboard, is the rest of the computer going to be able to keep up? Will it be reliable?

All these factors come into play in making the upgrade decision. In general, relatively new but underpowered systems make good upgrade material. The older the computer, the less economic sense it makes to upgrade it - unless, of course, buying a whole new machine is simply out of the question for other reasons.

If you decide to upgrade, you'll find the process isn't unreasonably difficult - even for the mildly fumble-fingered among us - though it does require careful planning. Upgrade kits come with the necessary tools (with the exception of simple screwdrivers) and painstakingly detailed instructions to help you with the swap. The articles that follow give you the straight scoop on upgrading your system.