Different things you do create different amounts of work for your computer. The typist using an ancient DOS version of WordPerfect places relatively small demands on a computer. The host for a network game tournament needs some
memory, a decent processor (also called a central processing unit, or CPU), and high-speed communications. The game player needs screamingly fast CPU and video. The publisher assembling books from text, photographs, and graphics needs it all—lots of memory, a fast CPU, high-resolution video, voluminous storage, and good communications capabilities if files are transmitted electronically.
How you use your computer determines how great a workload you impose on it, so we’ll discuss not only what you use the machine for, but also what programs you use and in what combinations you use them. These factors affect
how powerful a machine you need. For example, suppose you’re still running the computer you bought in 1998. You might have an old version of Microsoft Word on a machine with a Pentium II processor clocked at 266 MHz, 16
megabytes (MB) of memory, and a 4 gigabyte (GB) disk. You’re still running Windows 95 on the machine, but your partner says that you’ll be fantastically better off with Windows XP and the improved reliability of the more recent
versions of Windows. She convinces you to upgrade your software, but now you ask “Will I have to upgrade my computer to run that new software?”
With a computer like that, the answer is Yes. You’ll need more memory, more disk space, and a faster processor. We’ll look at how you can upgrade your machine, and examine the possibility of replacing the main processor board —
the motherboard — as an alternative to piecemeal upgrades. We’ll also talk about whether or not upgrading this machine makes sense compared to purchasing a new computer — sometimes it’s far less expensive to get the same
capabilities with a new machine than by upgrading one you have.
We want to caution you to be hardnosed about upgrades because much of the hype and noise you hear that computers are obsolete six months after you buy them is driven by the notion that people always need the fastest, latest hardware. That’s absurd. If your computer does what you want the way you want, nothing forces you to upgrade your hardware or software. You may need upgrades to do new things, or to do the same things with new software, but that’s an explicit choice you get to make.